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October 2, 2009

Online forum solicits "big ideas" for cutting poverty rate in half - The priest in the third millennium, more than a provider of sacraments - Youth: advocates of justice, often victims of injustice too - Ministry and the new communications media.

In this edition:
1. Youth as advocates, but also victims, of injustice.
2. New online forum solicits your ideas for cutting poverty in half.
3. Charities services challenged to expand during recession.
4. Promoting authentic global human development: three steps.
5. Current quotes to ponder:
a) ministry and the new communications media;
b) pope links environment to human development.
c) the financial crisis, the economy and the human person.
6. Third millennium priests: more than providers of sacraments.
7. The priest and the ministry of the word.

1. Youth as Advocates of Justice, Victims of Injustice

"Young people are among the strongest fighters in the cause of justice, but at the same time they can be among the most vulnerable to injustice," Australia's Catholic bishops said in a statement for their Social Justice Sunday, celebrated Sept. 27.

Their statement forcefully praised the commitment of many young people to social justice causes, but just as forcefully committed the bishops and others in the church to the defense and support of young people Young people often are "the first victims of injustice. In many places and situations, youth are disempowered, excluded and deprived of basic dignity," said the bishops.

The bishops said they take seriously their "role as advocates" for young people, called to speak out when youths "are unable to be heard or when society is unwilling to listen."

I found particularly noteworthy what the bishops said about mental illness and the young. "Some young people suffer significantly from mental illness, and many need special assistance in order to grow and flourish," the bishops said.

They cited data indicating "that one in five young people aged 13 to 17 years in Australia suffers from a mental illness of some type." That statistic rises to one in four among young people 18 to 24 years old, the bishops noted. They called this "especially disturbing when we realize that mental illness is the strongest risk factor for youth suicide."

However, mental illness is not just a health issue, "it is a justice issue for young people, because at a time in their development when they are especially vulnerable they need particular attention and support. Too many cannot find that support."

As a result, the bishops continued, too many young people "end up marginalized, alienated and even in danger of physical harm or imprisonment." The bishops said they recognize "the impact of family breakdown, homelessness and substance abuse in the lives of many young people."

The bishops commented that "as a community, we are yet to provide sufficient support to those living with mental illness. We can work much harder to prevent it. Our society must act to minimize the known risk factors contributing to mental illness, and we must expand services to meet the needs of those suffering from it."

The bishops pledged the church to offer compassion and understanding to "children and young people" who suffer the effects of mental illness and to "work to overcome the last remnants of stigma that attach to mental illness, allowing the inviolable dignity of all people to be honored."

Praising the giftedness of youth in the area of social justice, the bishops said they view young people "as ambassadors of hope" and constantly are "amazed, energized and inspired by their honesty and vitality."

While young people "demand a just world and a fair society," they also "commit themselves to this quest and often show us new paths and initiatives," said the bishops. Young people, they added, "bring fresh compassion and new hope."

2. New Online Forum Solicits Your Big Ideas for Cutting Poverty in Half

Do you have a big idea for responding to the problem of poverty in America? If you do, Catholic Charities USA would like to hear it and is making it possible for you to share your ideas on addressing poverty in an online forum found at http://ccusa.socialsphere.net/index.php.

During the September 2009 annual Catholic Charities USA convention, held in Portland, Ore., Father Larry Snyder outlined his vision of a plan for addressing America's poverty. Father Snyder is president of Catholic Charities USA. A Campaign to Reduce Poverty in America, sponsored by Catholic Charities, aims to cut the poverty rate in half by the year 2020.

To follow up on Father Snyder's presentation, Catholic Charities created an online forum where, it says, the "goal is simple: Think big!" Catholic Charities says it wants this space "to be an incubator for new, big ideas and perspectives that will help us end poverty in America."

"Poverty in the 21st century is very different from what it was" many decades ago when America was developing programs "that were supposed to prevent the Great Depression from ever happening again," Father Snyder told the Catholic Charities convention. Thus, poverty cannot be addressed as it was then, he said. "The 21st century calls for 21st century solutions. We must think and act anew."

Catholic Charities wants its message on the moral and social realities of poverty to be communicated not only to individuals, but to the private sector and government throughout America. "We want to engage our fellow Americans through every means possible, from community meetings, to Facebook, to Wiki platforms," Father Snyder said.

In other words, Catholic Charities leaders made clear during their Portland convention that they believe it is time for people to make themselves heard in a call for effective responses to poverty.

Father Snyder stressed that Catholic Charities does not approach this issue "from an abstract moral perspective." Rather, he said, the work of Catholic Charities is rooted "in receiving each person with dignity and respect. Ultimately, we make a difference one person, one child, one senior citizen at a time." That, he said, is the reason "we are well-positioned to move our values forward in America."

Candy Hill, vice president for social policy and government affairs at Catholic Charities USA, said in an address in Portland that "America requires the political will to change, and we must be the loudest of the voices demanding this change and offering the best solutions that we know will work."

Hill said, "We can no longer leave our halls of government unaccountable for our lack of progress or bolder vision." She added:

"From the city council to the state house to Congress and the White House, we must demand that all are entitled to a life of dignity and respect from conception to natural death" - that all are entitled to "opportunities to reach their full potential and to live a life of sustainable independence."

3. Charities Services Expand Under Stress During Recession

"Last year the number of people Catholic Charities agencies across the [U.S.] served grew by 10.2 percent, to 8.5 million. That doesn't include the first nine months of 2009," Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, reported to the annual Catholic Charities convention in Portland, Ore.

Father Snyder said that in September 2008 "when Wall Street collapsed, we could not have known what we were about to face - the jobs lost, the growing number of unemployed." He reminded Catholic Charities leaders that within weeks, the faces of the people they "worked with for years changed dramatically."

Catholic Charities agencies are proud of their "ability to meet the growing demands for services," but are "humbled by the desperate lives of the people who come to us for help," Father Snyder said.

Yet, he added, "when you really examine what we do, it is not a cause for celebration." For, the "goal is not to increase the number of people we serve! We want to serve fewer people - for the reason that they would no longer need our services."

Catholic Charities agencies "are serving and turning people away in record numbers," even as these agencies themselves "have to make difficult decisions about reducing overhead and infrastructure, and trying to serve more with less," Father Snyder said.

He commented, "By any measure, this has been a difficult year."

Still, Father Snyder said, "we need to boldly seize this moment in our history to build a new nation that is better for everyone and leaves far fewer behind." And this is not a casual consideration for Christians, he suggested, stating: "After all, Jesus did not ask us to 'think' about caring for our neighbor. He gave us the Great Commandment: 'Love your neighbor.'"

4. Promoting Authentic, Worldwide Human Development: Three Steps

Faith traditions that "celebrate the human dignity and divine spark in all individuals" are essential to the basically "moral decisions and actions" needed today to "confront materialism and inequality in the global community," according to John DeGioia, president of Jesuit-run Georgetown University in Washington. Overcoming the world's materialism and inequality will happen only when these issues are not viewed "as simply economic problems" but "as having significant moral dimensions," he said.

DeGioia spoke Sept. 7 in Krakow, Poland, to an interreligious gathering of leaders representing many of the world's religions. The meeting, which focused on the world's need for peace and the role of religious dialogue in fostering peace, was organized by the Rome-based Community of Sant'Egidio and the Krakow Archdiocese.

"It was 70 years ago this month that Poland was invaded from the west and the east by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union," DeGioia told participants in the interreligious gathering. "No two better examples exist than Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia of governments that totally embraced the ideal of materialism -- the belief that physical material is the only reality," he observed.

The ideal of materialism "destroys human dignity and denies the existence of both God and the soul -- the spiritual essence, animating force and divine spark that exists in all of us," DeGioia continued. This belief, he said, "would help lead the Nazis and Soviets to a view of women and men solely as economic units, as producers of goods."

DeGioia noted that "Nazi brutality and Soviet tyranny have faded into the mists of history." Nonetheless, he said, "exploiting individuals as economic units, as instruments of profit, as resources for production remains very much a part of our present reality." For evidence of this, he suggested that one need only "look at the current state of the global community."

Today's "era of free-market globalization," in which "people are more interconnected and individuals more interdependent," has yielded "opportunities and possibilities that were unthinkable just a generation ago when barbed wire still scarred the face of Europe," DeGioia said; but "it has also produced staggering differences in wealth and well-being."

According to DeGioia, more than 3 billion people today live on just $2 a day, a statistic that "increased by 90 million this year alone, due to the world financial crisis." In fact, he continued, "entire communities are being exploited, neglected and marginalized, and one of the great injustices of the contemporary world is the contrast between the few who possess so much and the many who possess so little."

In order to confront the materialism and inequality in the world today, "we must undertake three things," said DeGioia. "We must look within ourselves, we must work to promote authentic human development and we must advance global solidarity."

1. "To confront materialism and global inequality, we must first take a deep and penetrating look within our hearts and minds to seek out -- and acknowledge -- the dark roots of injustice, hatred, conflict, fragmentation and marginalization that grow there in the shadows. We must then actively engage in a world where exploitation, fragmentation and marginalization demand our response."

This means accepting "responsibility for the most vulnerable, the most needy, the most wounded in our midst," DeGioia said. It means advocating "a global economy that benefits not the few, but the many."

2. "As we work to change our hearts and minds, we must remember that our goal is not simply to help others overcome economic inequality but to work for authentic human development," DeGioia said. And authentic human development, he explained, "must be judged on the basis of whether it leads to conditions which facilitate human flourishing at its deepest levels."

Georgetown's president said that authentic human development is impossible if individuals - through exploitation, abuse or marginalization - are denied opportunities to achieve fulfillment.

3. Global solidarity must be promoted if authentic human development is to be advanced, DeGioia said. "Solidarity demands that we recognize the innate human dignity of every individual," he pointed out. "And it demands more than simply service to the exploited, to those in need, to the marginalized. It demands a true love of others that seeks to express itself in works of social justice."

Concluding his presentation, DeGioia said today's materialism "cannot be challenged simply by economic measures. It must be confronted by moral actions -- actions influenced by our traditions of faith, and actions which require us to look within our hearts to promote authentic human development and to embrace everyone in the global community." (The text of DeGioia's presentation appeared in the Sept. 24, 2009, edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service)

5. Current Quotes to Ponder

Ministry and the New Communications Media: "The new communications media, if adequately understood and exploited, can offer priests and all pastoral care workers a wealth of data that was difficult to access before, and facilitate forms of collaboration and increased communion that were previously unthinkable. If wisely used, with the help of experts in technology and the communications culture, the new media can become -- for priests and for all pastoral care workers -- a valid and effective instrument for authentic and profound evangelization and communion." (From a Sept. 29 communique of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications announcing that the theme of the Jan. 24, 2010, World Day of Social Communications will be "The Priest and Pastoral Ministry in a Digital World: New Media at the Service of the Word")

Discovering How the Environment Is Linked to Development: "The church considers that matters concerning the environment and its protection are intimately linked with integral human development. The natural environment is given by God to everyone, and so our use of it entails a personal responsibility toward humanity as a whole, particularly toward the poor and toward future generations. The economic and social costs of using up shared resources must be recognized. It is essential that the current model of global development be transformed through a greater, and shared, acceptance of responsibility for creation: This is demanded not only by environmental factors, but also by the scandal of hunger and human misery." (From a video statement by Pope Benedict XVI to the Sept. 22 U.N. summit in New York on climate change)

Financial Crisis, Economic Policy and the Human Person: "A key factor to mitigate the adverse effects of the [financial] crisis, we believe, is placing the human person at the center of economic and social policies at the international and national levels. The human person is not only a receiver of aid but also the real actor of his or her integral development and of the relations among peoples and persons. As restated in the recent encyclical 'Caritas in Veritate,' 'man is the source, the focus and the aim of all economic and social life.'" (From a statement by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Vatican representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva, to a U.N. Human Rights Council session)

6. The Priest in the Third Millennium: More Than a Provider of Sacraments

Many priests these days, when a smaller number of priests serve a growing population, carry heavy workloads and are "overworked," Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles said Sept. 18 in a speech at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. As a result, he observed, priests often "express their desire to focus on what they were ordained to do and leave the rest - the day-to-day operations and the like - to laypersons, religious or deacons."

What priests who say this "have in mind, of course, is sacramental ministry, as well they should," the cardinal said. But there is a risk, he explained:

"Such a singular focus on sacramental ministry at a time when many dioceses are merging, twinning and clustering parishes, which are sometimes directed by a lay or religious parish life director, brings with it the risk of the priest being understood -- by himself and by the parish community or communities -- as a sacramental provider who enters and exits the parish or parishes to provide for their sacramental life and then moves on."

Cardinal Mahony probed the relationship between the ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood of all the faithful. "We now have a better understanding that the priestly ministry is not only for the purpose of celebrating Mass, hearing confessions, anointing the sick and dying, and officiating at marriages," he said. "The priest is ordained to be a leader within a community of co-responsibility."

However, with today's "strong emphasis on participation and collaboration" by all the church's people, "some priests wonder about the distinctiveness or uniqueness of the ordained ministry," Cardinal Mahony noted. He said at one point:

"In understanding the ministry of the ordained priest in the church today, what is so important is the gift of presiding over the life of a community and its prayer. The priest must know how to evangelize, to catechize, to preach, to pray, to celebrate, to discern, but above all he must know how to draw all the members of the Catholic community together into communion and mutual service."

7. The Priest and the Ministry of the Word

Asking what, precisely, a priest is ordained "to be and to do," Cardinal Mahony focused in his Sept. 18 speech at the University of Notre Dame on the priest as a teacher and his ministry of the word.

"The service of the word is the context within which sacramental ministry is to be exercised. Further, as a corrective in the face of the tendency to understand the priest almost exclusively as a supplier of sacraments, we would do well to recognize that in the most effective exercise of priestly ministry, the service of the word is prior to the priest's sacramental ministry," he said.

The priest's ministry of the word is more than a matter of preaching and "delivering a good homily," according to Cardinal Mahony. He said, "The priest must be able to evangelize and catechize, to guide and lead people in the ways of prayer, to teach and to encourage the Christian people in exercising their baptismal priesthood. This is to say that he must exercise his service of the word in manifold ways, not least of which is teaching."

Cardinal Mahony proposed that priests in the current Year for Priests "consider how those in the ministerial priesthood might direct their efforts to teach those who share in the common or baptismal priesthood about the church's social teaching" as found in Pope Benedict XVI's 2009 encyclical "Charity in Truth."

The priest, as is true of others in the church, "is called to work toward integral human development at the heart of a renewed social order," Cardinal Mahony said. But, he added, the priest's "part in this mission lies primarily in teaching and in guiding those who are intimately and integrally involved in the various spheres and disciplines that must interact with one another in finding solutions" to the problems and demands of the times we live in.

Cardinal Mahony said that in his use of the term "teaching" he did "not mean telling people what they must do to carry out this mission in the world." Rather, the cardinal said, the priest "must 'learn the tricks' or develop a savoir-faire for working in a community of co-responsibility for the life and mission of the church."

Today's priest "needs not only to focus on his own spiritual life and discipline, the uniqueness of his identity and ministry, but on how in service of the word he might teach and guide, assist and encourage his parishioners, members of a royal priesthood, in their vocation to bring about an integral human development by means of a 'truth-filled love' that runs through all that the parish does, all that the diocese does" and all that the church does, said Cardinal Mahony. (His speech appeared in the Oct. 1, 2009, edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service)