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October 16, 2009

Why strong faith need not walk hand in hand with intolerant faith Church leaders congratulate President Obama on 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Welcoming Hispanic Catholics into parishes Listening to the voices of the young in parishes



In this edition:
1. St. Damien de Veuster: Timely voice for rejected people.
2. Hearing the voices of youth in parishes.
3. Learning a lesson from history: Welcoming Hispanics into parishes.
4. The ties that bind Africans and Americans: What a difference time makes!
5. Must strong faith be intolerant faith?
6. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Essential priestly qualities
b) Viewing the field of law as a service profession
c) Bishops' perspective on U.S. policy toward Afghanistan
7. The U.S. church in the world: Noteworthy remarks by Pope Benedict XVI.
8. Church leadership congratulates Obama for Nobel Peace Prize.

1. St. Damien de Veuster: Timely Voice for Rejected People

What is the reason for a canonization? When St. Damien de Veuster was canonized Oct. 11 in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI rather clearly spelled out at least part of the meaning he saw in this canonization, making clear his hope that the saint, a priest who served people suffering from leprosy and then contracted leprosy himself, would inspire attentive service in today's world to people who find themselves rejected and alone.

St. Damien "invites us to open our eyes to the forms of leprosy that disfigure the humanity of our brothers and sisters, and still call today -- more than for our generosity -- for the charity of our presence in service," Pope Benedict said in his homily at the canonization.

He felt at home with those he served and became one of them, Pope Benedict said of St. Damien. He became "a suffering servant."

The Vatican described St. Damien as a voice for "rejected people of all kinds: the incurably ill (victims of AIDS or other diseases), abandoned children, disoriented youths, exploited women, neglected elderly people and oppressed minorities."

Some might conclude that here, indeed, is a saint for our times!

The Belgian St. Damien entered the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. He worked on the island of Hawaii for eight years before volunteering in 1873 to work at a leprosy colony on Molokai where he became pastor, doctor and counselor to hundreds of patients. It was in 1884 that he contracted leprosy.

He and four others, including St. Jeanne Jugan, foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor, were canonized Oct. 11 by Pope Benedict. He said the perfection of these five saints is found in the logic of a faith that led them no longer to place themselves at the center of things, but to choose to go against the tide by following the Gospel.

In an editorial Oct. 10, The New York Times discussed St. Damien's canonization and the stigma people often still attach to Hansen's disease, or leprosy. A canonization occasions celebrations, but the newspaper said that "beyond the celebrations, those with leprosy are longing for more."

These people "are hoping that the attention for the world's most famous leprosy advocate and patient hastens the progress they have made in escaping the fear, loathing and myths that have clung to this disease since biblical times."

Hansen's disease today is "entirely curable," the Times pointed out. It said Damien de Veuster's message that having a disease should not deprive people of their rights or value "has spread far from a tiny Hawaiian peninsula of 120 years ago." Yet, the newspaper stated, there is still "a long way to go" to end the stigma against the disease.

2. Hearing the Voices of Youth in Parishes

Bishop Dale Melczek of Gary, Ind., "would like to see more attention focused on involving our youth and young adults in the myriad ministries" of parishes. Writing Sept. 27 in The Northwest Indiana Catholic, he said:

"From their youngest years we need to show them how they can contribute their gifts to enrich our ministries. For our part, we adults must have the courage to open our hearts and ears to hear the suggestions and welcome the participation of our youth and young adults."

Adolescents "are still learning how to belong," whether that means how to belong at school, in athletics or in their neighborhoods, Bishop Melczek observed. He asked, "Do youth feel like they truly belong in our parishes?"

The bishop spoke about Gary's Diocesan Youth Council, a representative body of high school teens from parishes throughout the diocese. The council, he explained, "assists in the planning and promotion of diocesan youth events, serves as an additional level of cross-parish networking, support and idea sharing, and also spends significant time forming [the youths'] Christian leadership skills."

In 2007, the youths of the DYC developed a statement on youth evangelization. Bishop Melczek noted that in their statement, the diocesan youth council members said: "Youth need to know they are needed and wanted in the community, and that they have a part. We want to feel that we're all in this together, and we, too, want a better parish community."

Bishop Melczek said:

a) Anyone who ever taught in a Catholic school or served in religious education "knows how difficult it is to get young people to listen to what we have to say."

b) "It is even harder to get ourselves to listen to what they have to say! But if we wish to empower people to be part of the future leadership of our evolving parish communities, we have to plant those seeds and cultivate them now."

In its 2007 statement, Gary's youth council said that "for youth evangelization to happen there must be a commitment from both youth and adult leaders in the parish. Youth and adults must be able to trust one another, communicate effectively and be working toward common goals."

The youth council urged adult leaders in the church to "adopt an 'open door policy' toward youth, recognizing that we have unique qualities, which shows an openness to the Holy Spirit." The council added:

"We need our adult leaders to be our advocates, coming from a great spirit of passion for Jesus Christ. Youth leaders also have a responsibility to minister to their peers by setting an example of a strong faith for others."

3. Learning a Lesson From History: Making Hispanics Welcome in Parishes

"Hispanic Catholics need to be viewed as part of the parish and not as a separate group which has 'their' Mass and is somehow separate from everything else that happens in the parish," Archbishop Thomas Rodi of Mobile, Ala., said in an Oct. 2 article for the Catholic Week Online, a publication of the archdiocese.

Calling attention to the growing number of Hispanic Catholics in Alabama, Archbishop Rodi said parishes in the archdiocese "must attend to the pastoral needs of all Catholics, including those who are Hispanic." He cautioned against repeating the mistakes of past history that resulted in many Catholic immigrants leaving the Catholic Church to join other religious communities.

"If Hispanics feel marginalized in the Catholic Church, it is only natural that they will look elsewhere for a church that will welcome them and treat them with dignity," the archbishop wrote.

Archbishop Rodi recalled that the thousands of Irish Catholics who settled in the South during the 1800s "ultimately became part of the fabric of the South." However, he wrote, "despite the best of efforts, the limitation of resources and the small number of available priests prevented the Catholic Church from meeting the pastoral needs of these new arrivals. The result was that many Irish Catholics drifted away from the Catholic Church."

Past history also offers a lesson about the role of national parishes for ethnic groups, according to the archbishop. He said that while national parishes served an important role, "history has shown that usually only the first one or two generations attended these churches. As families assimilated into American culture, they tended to go to parishes everyone else attended and abandoned the ethnic parish."

Archbishop Rodi said, "It appears that the best approach in our archdiocese is not to try to build national churches, but to welcome the Hispanic into our existing parishes."

More that 20 Catholic churches in the Mobile Archdiocese "celebrate a Mass in the Spanish language," Archbishop Rodi noted. He called this "highly commendable," but said "it is not sufficient only to have a Mass for those who wish to pray in Spanish, and nothing further."

In "as many ways as possible," Hispanic Catholics "need to be part of parish life," Archbishop Rodi wrote. This means parishes "need to examine and discover ways in which this can be done."

And "this will not necessarily be easy," he advised. For, "there are differences in language and culture," and some activities that appeal to one group "may not appeal to another." Despite this, "efforts must be made to build unity in the midst of diversity," the archbishop said.

Hispanic Catholics need to become "a part of parish organizations," he said. Take a look at possible ways that "Hispanic religious education for children can interrelate with other religious education programs," he urged. Furthermore, the archbishop wrote, "where Hispanic Catholics are present, they need to be included in parish pastoral councils."

4. The Ties That Bind Africans and Americans: What a Difference Time Makes

Africans who enter the U.S. today - as visitors or new residents - do not arrive as Africans did at "an earlier moment in time, wearing chains and as human chattel," Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, a former president of the U.S. bishops' conference and one of the nation's black Catholic bishops, said in an Oct. 5 address in Rome to the special Synod of Bishops for Africa.

Instead, he said, today "these new arrivals come as skilled workers, professionally trained businessmen and students eager to make a new life in a land that they view as promising."

Archbishop Gregory told the synod that while the U.S. "has made outstanding and blessed progress in our own struggle for racial reconciliation and justice, we have not yet achieved that perfection to which the Gospel summons all humanity."

Much of the archbishop's address was devoted to the relationship between the church in Africa and the church in the U.S. He said, "We recognize that the greatest resource that the church in Africa has are its people," and he pointed out that the church in the U.S. benefits from those very people, who, arriving in America, "bring with them a profound and dynamic Catholic faith with its rich spiritual heritage." The archbishop added:

"These wonderful people challenge us to rediscover our own spiritual traditions that so often are set aside because of the influence of our secular pursuits."

The Catholic community in the U.S. "has benefited directly during the past generation from a growing number of clergy and religious from the great African continent who now serve Catholics throughout our nation and who serve them generously and zealously," Archbishop Gregory told the synod. He said, "We know through their presence of the deep faith and generosity of the church in Africa."

The archbishop also noted that the church in the U.S. serves the local churches of Africa through Catholic Relief Services, various missionary ventures, financial aid and in other ways. He said the agencies of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops "have a long history of working with" the church in Africa "in the pursuit of peace and justice."

Archbishop Gregory said that Americans increasingly find themselves "drawn in by issues and events that occur on the African continent. We, like people everywhere, feel ever more acutely the impact of the intensifying global character of our world."

While in Rome Archbishop Gregory blogged about the synod on the Atlanta Archdiocese's Web site. As the synod got under way Oct. 4, he wrote: "The issues that face [Africa] are as vast as is the territory itself. Yet Africa is a land blessed by great resources; the primary one of course are the people themselves and their rich spiritual vitality."

In a blog entry Oct. 11, Archbishop Gregory said it has been his experience that during a Synod of Bishops the discussions among the participants always seem, over time, "to settle on a number of significant issues." He wrote:

"The second Synod for Africa is beginning to follow that same dynamic. The pastoral issues that confront the great African continent are beginning to be ranked and highlighted -- the challenge of political instability and corruption, and tribal and ethnic violence, the ecological crises that threaten this land so rich in natural resources, the devastation of HIV-AIDS on the population, the rampant poverty that people face in spite of the great material wealth that is available, the threats to traditional African morality and customs because of the intrusion and influence of Western secular values and communication dominance, and the role of women in African society."

5. Must Strong Faith Be Intolerant Faith?

"Tolerance" and "indifference" are not synonyms, according to Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco. In a Sept. 27 homily in Boise, Idaho, he suggested that knowing the difference between these terms makes a big difference when it comes to interacting with others whose faith is not the same as our own, even with others whose tolerance for our faith is low.

The practice of tolerance does not encompass the practice of weak faith, the archbishop proposed. But he suggested that strong faith need not become the companion of hostility toward others who are different. The archbishop delivered his homily during the annual meeting of the Northwest region of the Equestrian Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

"Tolerance is not the same as indifference. If we admit that there may be more than one way to God, that is not the same as saying we believe that every way is equally good or that it doesn't really matter which way you choose," Archbishop Niederauer said. "To admit that all truth is bigger than any one man's grasp of it is not the same as saying that no one can know the truth or that there are no real answers anywhere. That is not what we Catholics believe," he added.

The human tendency to lash out and attack others who appear to be intolerant was among concerns addressed by the archbishop.

What if someone attacks our faith? "When someone attacks our Catholic faith, we need to be informed and committed enough to respond, and to respond vigorously as well as respectfully. However, a vigorous defense is different from a savage attack on the faith of someone else," the archbishop said.

The archbishop called attention to the human temptation "to be intolerant of others and very tolerant of ourselves." He said, "We easily condemn in someone else what we overlook in ourselves. Making excuses for ourselves comes more easily than making excuses for others."

Thus, the archbishop said, Jesus taught people to save their passionate intensity for their commitment to their own faith, "and not to spend it on attacking others." Jesus wanted people "to be passionate and wholehearted in [their] effort to follow him, to apply his teaching to every aspect of [their] lives, to every relationship, so that nothing is 'off-limits' to [their] living as a Catholic Christian," Archbishop Niederauer said.

There are cases when "our neighbors will not permit us to live our Catholic lives in peace and with respect" - a problem much more pronounced in other countries than in the U.S., though "it happens in this country as well," he said. Even so, "that is not an excuse for us to treat others with hatred or contempt or sarcasm. Instead, we need to give a good example of the tolerance everyone should practice."

Archbishop Niederauer urged his hearers "to rejoice over the goodness in everyone, including those who do not share our faith."

Furthermore, he said, "we need to welcome and value the people whose backgrounds and beliefs differ from our own, especially when we can make common cause with them in working for peace and justice."

The archbishop pointed in his homily to the challenging interreligious situation in Jerusalem and the Middle East. He said, "It is fear of violence, weariness with oppression, and the impossibility of a free life of civil peace and of gainful employment that have so severely diminished the Christian presence in the Holy Land in recent decades."

He encouraged his audience "to pray, sacrifice, witness and work for peace and justice for all who live in the Holy Land." A reality in this part of the world, he suggested is that "without the mutual regard and respect that tolerance demands, peace and justice will forever be just a few more negotiating sessions away."

6. Current Quotes to Ponder

Essential Priestly Qualities: "Today more than ever, the priest, a man of the divine word and of the sacred, must be a man of joy and hope. To people who can no longer conceive that God is pure love, [the priest] will always affirm that life is worth living and that Christ gives it its full meaning because he loves human beings, he loves them all." (From Pope Benedict XVI's Sept. 28 video message to an international retreat for priests in Ars, France)

Why Have Lawyers? Justice Always an Issue: "The legal profession is one of the first of human activities and bodies of human knowledge to receive the word and accolade 'profession.' Its systematic knowledge has always been technical, and nowadays the increasing specialization within the law is dizzying. Such wondrous formal knowledge frequently becomes semimechanical and distancing. A person can forget that the basis of that knowledge is something much more natural in the human condition, that the law and lawyers are around because justice among human beings is always an issue. There are always smoldering wicks and bruised reeds needing our human attention, an attention that cries out and says that even sophisticated, knowledgeable 'human' lawyers need reminding, need a purifying divine fire from the Lord, both in their personal lives and in their profession itself. . The many smoldering wicks are our 'clients,' but more than clients. They are poor and wealthy, confused and lucid, polite and impolite. In some cases the clients are voiceless, for they lack influence; in others they are literally voiceless, not yet with tongues and even without names, and require our most careful attention and radical support." (From the homily of Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Texas, during the Oct. 4 Red Mass in Washington at St. Matthew's Cathedral marking the start of the new judicial year)

A Perspective on Afghanistan: "We recognize that the situation in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan is at a critical juncture. Should these states fail, particularly with Pakistan possessing nuclear weapons, there are grave implications for regional and international security. Electoral problems and corruption have led many, including Afghans, to question the legitimacy of the Afghan government. In the face of terrorist threats, we know that our nation must respond to indiscriminate attacks against innocent civilians in ways that combine a resolve to do what is necessary, the restraint to ensure that we act justly and the vision to focus on broader issues of poverty and injustice that are unscrupulously exploited by terrorists in gaining recruits." (From the Oct. 6 letter on U.S. policy in Afghanistan sent by Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, to retired Marine Gen. James Jones, the national security adviser, as the Obama administration reviewed U.S. strategy in the region)

7. The U.S. Church in the World: Remarks by Pope Benedict XVI

"The crisis of our modern democracies calls for a renewed commitment to reasoned dialogue" whose goal is to discern "wise and just policies" designed to express respect for "human nature and human dignity," Pope Benedict XVI said in remarks Oct. 2 when he accepted the credentials of the new U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Miguel Diaz.

In his remarks the pope spoke not only of U.S. policies and President Obama's administration, but at two specific points spoke of the church in the U.S. and its goals vis--vis public policy. Pope Benedict received Diaz at Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence south of Rome. The two exchanged prepared texts but did not read them aloud.

"The church in the United States wishes to contribute to the discussion of the weighty ethical and social questions shaping America's future by proposing respectful and reasonable arguments grounded in the natural law and confirmed by the perspective of faith," Pope Benedict said in his prepared text. He insisted that "religious vision and religious imagination" do not hamper or hinder "political and ethical discourse"; instead, they "enrich" it.

The church in the U.S. contributes to the discernment of wise policies that respect human nature and human dignity "through the formation of consciences and her educational apostolate, by which she makes a significant and positive contribution to American civic life and public discourse," Pope Benedict said. This, he added, brings to mind particularly the need for clear discernment of "issues touching the protection of human dignity and respect for the inalienable right to life from the moment of conception to natural death, as well as the protection of the right to conscientious objection on the part of health care workers and indeed all citizens."

Repeating a theme of his most recent encyclical, "Charity in Truth," Pope Benedict pointed out that "the church insists on the unbreakable link between an ethics of life and every other aspect of social ethics." Here the pope borrowed words from Pope John Paul II's encyclical "The Gospel of Life," where he said that "a society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak or marginalized."

Among his other points, Pope Benedict told Diaz that the world's nations need to work together to address more than "purely economic and political questions." The pope said that a "whole spectrum of issues linked to the future of humanity and the promotion of human dignity" needs to be addressed, including "secure access to food and water, basic health care, just policies governing commerce and immigration, particularly where families are concerned, climate control and care for the environment, and the elimination of the scourge of nuclear weapons."

With regard to the latter issue, Pope Benedict said he wanted to express his "satisfaction for the recent meeting of the United Nations Security Council chaired by President Obama, which unanimously approved the resolution on atomic disarmament and set before the international community the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons."

8. Church Leadership Congratulates President Obama on Peace Prize

The announcement Oct. 9 that President Obama will receive the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize "was greeted with appreciation at the Vatican," Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican Press Office, told journalists that day.

The Vatican responded as it did "in light of the president's demonstrated commitment to promoting peace on an international level and, in particular, in recently promoting nuclear disarmament," he said in a written statement. He added:

"It is hoped that this very important recognition would offer greater encouragement for such a difficult but fundamental dedication to the future of humanity so that it may bring about the desired results."

Though more than a few commentators freely expressed their view that President Obama had not yet earned the peace prize, a number of Catholic Church leaders congratulated him directly and/or viewed the prize as a charge to the president to work strenuously for a new era of world peace.

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, congratulated the president Oct. 12 in the name of the U.S. Catholic bishops "on his receiving the Nobel Peace Prize." The cardinal's brief statement, strongly positive in tone, comes in the midst of the ongoing struggle within the U.S. church to work out an approach to the new president and to determine to what extent its relationship with him will be one of confrontation over issues such as abortion, or of engagement involving issues such as the promotion of peace and social development -- or some balance of both confrontation and engagement.

The cardinal observed that as the president "has graciously said, much of the work of realizing a more peaceful and just world for all persons and nations remains to be done." But, the cardinal continued, "the prize was given because as president of the United States he has already changed the international conversation."

The significance of President Obama's election in terms of interracial relationships and the import of this for world peace also were discussed in Cardinal George's statement. He wrote:

"In our own country, the remarkable and historic achievement of his election has changed the relationships between men and women of all races. The rich diversity of U.S. society is now more surely anchored in a national unity that is better able to foster the peace we all are challenged to pursue. Our prayer is that almighty God will bless the president and his family."

Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, speaking from Rome where he was participating in the special Synod of Bishops for Africa, said the Nobel Peace Prize clearly came as "an unexpected honor" to President Obama. The archbishop said he hopes the award "leaves an invitation for greatness."

A signal has been sent, "at least insofar as the Nobel Prize is concerned," that the world "has high expectations for [the president] and hopes he will live up to the energy and the positive things that he has thus far set on the world stage," Archbishop Gregory said.

In announcing the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, the Nobel Committee said it attached "special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons." The committee said President Obama has "created a new climate in international politics."