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November 1, 2009

What the Synod for Africa proposed - Chapter 11 reorganization leads to fresh awareness of laity's role - Understanding addictions: pastoral support for addicted persons - The demands of justice and peace.

In this edition:
1. Understanding addictions and supporting recovery.
2. Diocese's reorganization renews awareness of laity's role.
3. What sort of model is the newly canonized Damien de Veuster?
4. Current quotes to ponder: a) Are truth and charity to be found in the Catholic blogosphere? b) What the church is and is not. c) International rule of law called necessity.
5. Church in the world: Pope examines hard-to-achieve balance for leaders.
6. Synod for Africa leader speaks on demands of justice.
7. A look inside the Synod for Africa.
8. What the Synod for Africa proposed.

1. Understanding Addictions and Supporting Recovery

"The church is always ready to listen to those who are suffering with addiction. They have to tell their story and express their pain, which helps them to yield to grace," Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia writes in his new book, "Let the Oppressed Go Free: Breaking the Bonds of Addiction" (Basilica Press, Dallas; $5.95).

This easy-to-read little book is pastoral in tone and may prove helpful not only to pastoral leaders, but to anyone living with an addiction. "Pastoral experience tells us that persons of all backgrounds and ages can be affected by addiction," the cardinal says.

The church's response to people suffering from an addiction is modeled "on that of Jesus in the Gospel. Jesus directed his mission in a particular way to those afflicted and suffering," Cardinal Rigali says.

Pain often is an underlying factor in an addiction, he points out. "Even low levels of pain over time can affect us to the extent that we develop unhealthy ways of coping."

The person who becomes addicted to a substance or activity may be hoping to attain relief from pain, the cardinal says. He notes that addictions may arise "out of misguided attempts to heal pain from earlier in life."

Thus, it is important that all people address the pain in their lives in healthy ways, "and that we relate in a mature fashion to our responsibilities and relationships," Cardinal Rigali states.

This book explains what addictions are and the many forms they assume. It urges people to confront their addictions realistically and with support, and to bring prayer and the sacraments into their recovery.

The author cautions that "even after a person has been in recovery from an addiction, he or she may fall back into the old patterns. A transition in life, the loss of a loved one, a change of job, school or health can bring back old vulnerabilities." He says this is why "ongoing support is so necessary for maintaining good health."

I found the cardinal's discussion of the Serenity Prayer insightful. The widely used prayer reads, "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference."

Addiction often is "fueled by our ways of thinking, our refusal to accept reality. We would rather escape," the cardinal said in discussing the Serenity Prayer. For example, people may have difficulty accepting the reality that they do not have as much money or talent as they might like, or that they do not have the same type of children or parents as some others have. With these thoughts, they may seek an escape from reality.

"Negative thinking sets us up to want to escape life through becoming attached to something we think we can control that will make us feel better," the cardinal says. However, "the Serenity Prayer reminds us to accept what we cannot change, to have courage to accept responsibility for our own lives and to change the things that we can, and to choose wisely in discerning between the two fields."

The Serenity Prayer does not reflect "a laissez-faire attitude of resignation," said the cardinal. It does call for "a more or less steady abandonment to divine providence." And it reminds people that while they "may make mistakes," they themselves "never are a mistake."

The cardinal tells people dealing with addictions that "the decision to stop" is not in itself sufficient. This must also "be a decision to begin - to begin a new way of life, to entrust oneself to God, to change the daily self-defeating thought process which so often leads to the painful behaviors of addiction."

2. Diocese's Chapter 11 Reorganization Brings Laity's Role Into Focus

The parish incorporation that resulted from the Diocese of Tucson's bankruptcy settlement plan in 2005 has led to a fresh awareness of the valuable roles of lay people in parishes, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson said in an early October column published by The New Vision, the diocese's newspaper.

Lay people "were anxious for the chance to make a difference" in the life of the church, said Bishop Kicanas. "Now, with four years of experience of our parish corporations, I can see the great benefit that has resulted from the inclusion of so many laity" in the leadership of parishes, he wrote. "They bring expertise. They bring a deep commitment to their parish community. They bring wise counsel."

Bishop Kicanas explained how the parish reorganization in 2004 worked. He told how, "as part of our Chapter 11 reorganization, each of our parishes became a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit corporation under Arizona law. Prior to that, parishes in our diocese, like in most dioceses in the U.S, were considered within the structure of the 'corporation sole' that was the corporate identity of the Bishop of Tucson."

However, the prior situation "contradicted the Code of Canon Law in which parishes are seen as 'juridic persons' with separate identity of their own," Bishop Kicanas said. He added, "Parish incorporation aligned us with canon law by creating an individual corporate civil identity for each of our parishes."

The incorporation, he explained, "involved establishing parish corporation boards of directors that included the pastor as president, the moderator of the curia of the diocese as vice president, two elected lay people to serve as either secretary or treasurer, with the bishop as the fifth member."

Thus, Bishop Kicanas said, the incorporation "immediately brought to positions of corporate responsibility 150 lay people to assist their pastors in the administration of their parishes."

Since that time there have been lay board members in parishes who "pressed for greater financial transparency" and others who "pushed for more compliance with diocesan safe environment policies." In other parishes these laity "have found ways to lead their parish out of debt or helped plan for the parish's expansion or renovation," he said.

A few pastors still fear or resist greater involvement on the part of the laity, Bishop Kicanas said. He acknowledged that "collaboration with the laity, or with anyone for that matter, can be difficult." For, "it clearly is easier for a pastor to act on his own, to decide without consultation." That approach, however, "holds great risks," he said.

Laity in the church "are not 'enemies' to be avoided or shunned when it comes to running a parish." Instead, they are "friends" to embrace "as co-workers who are ready and willing to help," the bishop wrote.

The gifts of lay people "can complement those of the pastor," Bishop Kicanas stressed. "When asked, invited and welcomed," lay people "will give of themselves to assist and help the pastor." That is because the laity "love and care for their parish, oftentimes as much as their pastor."

With the laity's "involvement, much more can be done and done better," the bishop said.

3. The Kind of Model St. Damien Provides

Every era "has its own incurable diseases and its unsolvable problems," just as the era in which Damien de Veuster lived confronted leprosy, which at that time was incurable, Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Mechelen-Brussels said Oct. 18 during a Mass in Brussels to honor the newly canonized St. Damien, who was Belgian.

"Each time one disease has been cured, another one is waiting," said Cardinal Danneels. Every era "has its own outcasts, its own pariahs and marginalized" people. In fact, the cardinal said, "they are countless: alcoholics, drug patients, AIDS sufferers, the mentally depressed, desperate youngsters opting to die, foreigners and homeless refugees" - and "so many others of whom we hardly ever think but who fall through the gaps of the social safety net."

Underneath that net, what always is needed to catch those who fall through is "Christian charity," he said. Damien's example suggests that "for those who have faith, nothing is hopeless."

Cardinal Danneels asked what else is involved in following Damien's example and recalled that the saint contracted leprosy on the island of Molokai through his service to those suffering from it. "Damien was unable to leave Molokai because he became a leper himself. But what he could do was stay with" the people he served, said the cardinal.

His point was that one way to follow the saint's example is by not running away. "Staying around, even with a fatally ill person, is perhaps the purest form of loving," the cardinal said.

St. Damien said yes to "unexpected questions," even in going to Molokai. So saying yes to unexpected questions is another factor in the example he provides, according to Cardinal Danneels.

Similar unexpected questions arise in everyone's life, he observed. "Circumstances that we could never have anticipated require us to do something that we could never have expected or thought of." Damien's advice would be to "say yes," because in these circumstances "God is speaking," Cardinal Danneels commented.

Third, he said, this saint provides an example of strong faith coupled with action. "Damien does everything for his people," from giving them medical treatment to building a church and setting up a musical band"; he "makes the island into a place socially, religiously and culturally comfortable to live in."

Damien would say that "without active involvement, faith is dead," said Cardinal Danneels.

Finally, attributing one's strength to God is a way to follow Damien's example. Cardinal Danneels said, "Today's Christians do a lot for other people, but there is something they are afraid of, namely to say openly where they got their strength from, that is, from their faith in God."

The cardinal urged people "to repeat much more often and much more clearly" that they believe in God, have "high hopes in God" and "live from God's love" - and to do so "without any reservations and without arrogance." Damien "would not understand our remaining silent about God," said the cardinal. (His text appeared in the Oct. 29 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

Can Truth and Charity Be Found in the Catholic Blogosphere? "Charity needs truth, and truth needs charity. Anyone speaking publicly as a Catholic has to have those ethical values that are part of a serious, honest form of communication. In the past, the church's educational efforts included helping people decide what they should or should not watch. Now it must also help them decide what they should or should not produce [on the Internet]." (Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, during an Oct. 26-29 meeting of church leaders and Catholic media professionals at the Vatican. Participants devoted time to discussing what constitutes Catholic communications and what, if anything, "can be done about those who use the word 'Catholic' to describe themselves while using all sorts of nasty adjectives to describe anyone who doesn't agree with them," said a Catholic News Service report.)

What the Church Is and Is Not: "The church is not a club for its members. It is a sign for the world. We have a vocation to be this visible sign." (Words of Matthew Ogilvie, former University of Dallas professor now teaching in his native Australia, during the Oct. 23-24 University of Dallas Ministry Conference)

International Rule of Law a Necessity: "The rule of law serves as the foundation for a more just society. With too many people somewhat excluded from the protections and benefits of the rule of law and with a global financial crisis affecting all regions, to promote the rule of law at the international level becomes an increasingly vital tool for achieving the goals originally established by the U.N. Charter. Widespread corruption, international and national conflicts, terrorism, sexual violence as a means of war and other human rights abuses too often are perpetuated by or are due to the lack of adherence to a just rule of law at various levels. The Holy See and its various organizations remain committed to supporting the rule of law at the national and international levels. The reform of the United Nations and its various bodies is of utmost importance to promote the rule of law at the international level." (Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Vatican ambassador to the United Nations, speaking Oct. 15 to the U.N. General Assembly)

5. Church in the World: Pope Discusses Balance of "Spiritual" and "Political"

A challenge religious leaders encounter in bringing the insights of faith to bear on the needs of the world around them was raised by Pope Benedict XVI during a luncheon at the Vatican Oct. 24 with participants in the special Synod of Bishops for Africa, which was just concluding. He said this challenge was apparent in the very theme of the three-week synod, "Reconciliation, justice and peace." He felt the synod handled this challenge well.

The synod theme appeared to have "a strong political dimension," though at the same time "it is obvious that reconciliation, justice and peace are not possible without a deep purification of the heart, without renewal of thought, a metanoia, without something new that can only come from the encounter with God," the pope said.

The "spiritual dimension" of the synod's theme was "profound and fundamental," but the "political dimension" was also "very real, because without political achievements, these changes of the Spirit usually are not realized," the pope told the synod participants. One temptation for them might therefore have been to politicize the theme, and "to talk less about pastors and more about politicians" - and thus to conduct their sessions "with a competence that is not" theirs, he explained.

A somewhat opposite temptation for the synod participants would have been to situate their discussions in "a purely spiritual world, in an abstract and beautiful world, but not a realistic one," the pope continued.

A "pastor's language," however, "must be realistic, it must touch upon reality, but within the perspective of God and his word," said Pope Benedict. A challenge for pastors is that of "being truly tied to reality, taking the care to talk about what is," while on the other hand not falling "into technically political solutions." He described this as a challenge to demonstrate "a concrete but spiritual word."

6. Synod for Africa Leader Views Demands of Justice

"On a continent, parts of which live under the shadow of conflict and death, the church must sow seeds of life: life-giving initiatives. She must preserve the continent and its people from the putrefying effects of hatred, violence, injustice and ethnocentrism," Cardinal Peter Turkson of Cape Coast, Ghana, told the special Synod of Bishops for Africa.

Cardinal Turkson was named president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace Oct. 24. His appointment came at the conclusion of the Oct. 4-25 special Synod for Africa where he played a key role, serving as recording secretary. As president of the pontifical council, the cardinal succeeds Cardinal Renato Martino, who retired from the post.

Addressing the synod as it got under way Oct. 5, Cardinal Turkson said the church in Africa "must purify and heal minds and hearts of corrupt and evil ways, and administer her life-giving Gospel message to keep the continent and its people alive, preserving them in the path of virtue and Gospel values such as reconciliation, justice and peace."

"Reconciliation, justice and peace" was this synod's theme.

The church must serve as salt of the world, which means that "the church-family of God in Africa" must "expend herself (dissolve) for the life of the continent and its people," Cardinal Turkson said.

If the cardinal is a spokesman for justice and peace concerns, he also is recognized as a proponent of interreligious dialogue, a particularly important concern on a continent where Islam often is strong.

A Catholic News Service report on Cardinal Turkson's appointment noted that in a 2007 interview he said Catholics in Ghana were being taught the Quran, the sacred book of Islam, to further the work of dialogue and foster community cohesion. He said the church had adopted a "dialogue of action" in which Muslims and Catholics come together to cooperate on concrete projects such as drilling wells and building schools.

7. A Look Inside the Synod for Africa

A very wide range of issues related to justice and peace, and the role of the church on the continent were addressed by the October special Synod of Bishops for Africa. The synod accented Africa's great strengths and history, while not mincing words on government corruption and other social problems.

Inculturation of the faith, marriage and the family, women in church and society, interreligious dialogue, poverty, the natural resources of Africa and care for the environment were just some issues the synod participants addressed.

And what a difference time makes! Not many years ago the Vatican sought to prohibit publication of any Synod of Bishops' concluding propositions (recommendations) to the pope. But now the Vatican itself publishes the propositions, and does so immediately.

U.S. Catholics will recognize a challenge similar to their own in the concern the Synod for Africa expressed about refugees and migrants. One of the synod's 57 propositions noted that "on the African continent there are about 15 million migrants who are looking for a homeland and a place of peace. The phenomenon of this exodus reveals the face of socio-political injustices and crises in some areas of Africa."

Why do people migrate? The synod said that "thousands have tried, and are still trying, to cross deserts and seas to reach 'greener pastures' where they believe they will receive a better education, earn more money and, in some cases, enjoy greater freedom." Unfortunately, said the synod, many of these people end up "languishing in prisons; hundreds have already died."

The precariousness of the situation for migrants and refugees "ought to win the solidarity of everyone; instead it causes much fear and anxiety," the synod said. "Many consider immigrants a burden, view them with suspicion and indeed consider them a danger and a threat. This often gives rise to expressions of intolerance, xenophobia and racism."

8. What the Synod Proposed

It will not be possible in this brief space to summarize every concern that the Synod for Africa addressed. Let's look, however, at what the synod had to say in just a few areas of particular interest to the church everywhere:

Interreligious dialogue: "Peace in Africa and other parts of the world is very much determined by the relations among religions," the synod said. "Therefore, promoting the value of dialogue is important so that believers work together in associations dedicated to peace and justice, in a spirit of mutual trust and support, and families be taught the values of listening patiently and fearlessly respecting one another."

Women: African women "make a great contribution to the family, society and the church with their many talents and resources," but "not only are their dignity and contributions not fully recognized and appreciated, but [they] are often deprived of their rights," the synod said. It condemned "all acts of violence against women, e.g. the battering of wives, the disinheritance of daughters, the oppression of widows in the name of tradition, forced marriages, female genital mutilation, trafficking in women" and other abuses, including "sex slavery and sex tourism." The synod called for "the integral human formation of girls and women." Among other actions, it encouraged "the greater integration of women into church structures and decision-making processes."

Armaments: The synod condemned "the production of nuclear arms, biological arms, anti-personnel and every sort of weapon of mass destruction." It demanded "that these be banned from the face of the earth."

Governments: The synod welcomed positive developments "in the political and socio-economic sphere in those African countries which are governed according to their constitution and where human rights, justice and peace are upheld." But the synod "noted the sad fact that in many countries in Africa there are rampant violations of human rights," along with injustices and corruption that fuel "violent conflicts and wars." It is the church's mission, the synod said, "to promote a culture of respect for the rule of law and the rights of all." Thus, it called upon "all pastors to offer present and future leaders in political and economic life a fitting doctrinal, pastoral and practical formation as well as spiritual support (by setting up chaplaincies)."

Respect for ethnic diversity: In carrying out its mission to reconcile all things in Christ, the synod said the church "acknowledges and respects the rich ethnic, cultural, political and religious diversities of the African peoples by seeking a unity in diversity rather than in uniformity, by emphasizing what unifies rather than what divides them and by tapping the positive values of these diversities as a source of strength to forge social harmony, peace and progress."

Inculturation of faith: "A thorough study needs to be made of African traditions and cultures in the light of the Gospel so as to enrich Christian life, to set aside any aspects which are contrary to Christian teaching and to animate and sustain the work of evangelizing the peoples of Africa and their cultures," the synod said. It proposed that "positive cultural values be promoted and inculcated in all [the church's] institutions of learning and training," and that "positive elements of African traditional cultures be incorporated into the church's rites." The synod asked pastoral agents to "learn the local languages and cultures so that Gospel values can touch people's hearts."

In addition to the propositions it forwarded to Pope Benedict XVI for his use, presumably in writing a post-synod apostolic exhortation, the synod issued a "Message to the People of God," as a Synod of Bishops usually does.

"We live in a world full of contradictions and deep crisis," the message said. For, while "science and technology are making giant strides in all aspects of life, equipping humanity with all that it takes to make our planet a beautiful place for us all," nonetheless "tragic situations of refugees, abject poverty, disease and hunger are still killing thousands on a daily basis."

In all of this, "Africa is the most hit," the message continued. It said: "Rich in human and natural resources, many of our people are still left to wallow in poverty and misery, wars and conflicts, crisis and chaos. These are very rarely caused by natural disasters. They are largely due to human decisions and activities by people who have no regard for the common good."

Yet, the synod message added, "Africa must not despair." God's blessings "are still abundant, waiting to be prudently and justly employed for the good of her children."

Today "there is much good news in many parts of Africa," but the communications media "often tend to emphasize bad news, and thus seem to focus more on our woes and defects than on the positive efforts that we are making," the synod message commented.

"Nations have emerged from long years of war and are moving gradually along the path of peace and prosperity," it noted, and "good governance is making an appreciable positive impact in some African nations, challenging others to review past and present bad habits."

The signs abound of "initiatives seeking to bring effective solutions to our problems," the message said. It urged that everyone "join hands to address the challenges of reconciliation, justice and peace in Africa," and said: "Many are suffering and dying; there is no time to waste."