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May 16, 2010

Viewing 2010 mining disaster as a faith concern …
What U.S. bishops learned from the sexual abuse crisis …
Understanding the church's young adults …
The riches of diversity within the church

In this edition:
1. Pastoral tool: This Web site's audio interview on "becoming more."
2. Connecting with the church's young adults.
3. Why the April mine disaster is a faith concern.
4. Convocation assesses strengths of church's cultural diversity.
5. What the church means by "diversity."
6. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Finding God in cracked and broken lives.
b) Rekindling mercy and compassion. 7. What the U.S. bishops learned from the sexual abuse crisis.
8. Ethics of the economy: Cardinal Turkson's insights.

1. Audio Interview on This Web Site: Discussion Starter for Groups

I think you'll enjoy an audio interview on this Web site's home page - one that I know proved valuable to a group of 10 lay Catholic adults during a recent retreat. The interview examines how people "become more" - how they grow as people of faith in the context of the lives they actually lead and the commitments they make. To listen to the interview, just click on the jknirp.com home-page entry titled "Father Vernon, OSB: Psychology Complementing Spirituality."

Father Eugene Hemrick and I jointly conducted this interview at St. Vincent's College in Latrobe, Pa., with Benedictine Father Vernon Holtz, 80, chairman of the school's psychology department. I've transcribed a bit of the interview in the hope that you will find Father Holtz's comments thought provoking.

Near the start of the interview, Father Holtz said: "I see the person as he or she develops through life as becoming more and more and more, and unfolding in truth." And he suggested that "as we humans become more, we're becoming more like God."

I broke in at one point to ask Father Holtz what this means. I said: "You talked about us becoming more. But what does it mean for me to become more?"

He responded: "How do you become more of a human person? Any time you're faced with your life commitment - married couples have to decide if they're going to stick it out in their marriage … -- at that time is when you become more." He indicated that the possibility of becoming more is in the ongoing decision making our commitments require.

Father Holtz next said that in any human encounter "that demands the most of us, [demands] honesty, or faithfulness, or altruism - something that demands a lot from you is an example of when the spirit and the self expand."

This is "not an egotistical thing, it's an altruistic thing," he said.

Forgiveness, he said, is an occasion for becoming more. "I tell [my] students, 'Don't believe me, [but] when you forgive yourself for making a mistake or forgive others, you will expand, you will become more."

Father Holtz added, "That's a psychologically experienced sense of the 'more' which you can then hypothesize as a hint of God."

Father Hemrick and I responded to him that it sounded as though the process of becoming more takes some real effort on our part. He agreed and said, "It's not going to be easy." And he suggested that becoming "more" calls for making many real, demanding decisions in our human encounters and our daily environments.

2. Connecting With the Church's Young Adults

How do young adult Catholics relate to the church? Bishop Dale Melczek of Gary, Ind., in his April 25 column for the Northwest Indiana Catholic, Gary's diocesan newspaper, reported on an opportunity he had to dialogue with a group of young adult Catholics from the region during a February symposium on young adult ministry.

What did Bishop Melczek learn from these young adults? He reported that:

-- "The young adults placed an emphasis on networking and experiencing a connection with other Catholics. Almost all in attendance agreed to connect with one another via Internet social networking."

-- As a group, they are "not at all parochial." They "prefer that their own parish establish more programs specifically created for younger Catholics, [but] are willing to travel to other parishes to feel supported in their faith and seek fellowship."

-- They "placed a great deal of importance on preaching and felt a desire for clergy to connect the Word to their everyday lives."

-- "When asked to surface reasons for a lack of Mass attendance, uninspired liturgy was cited most often."

-- They would welcome "more opportunities for adult education. Those present showed a real sense of pride in being Catholic but admitted that they lack an adequate knowledge of Catholic doctrine."

Bishop Melczek wrote that most of the young adults at the symposium "agreed that much of the disconnection between them and the church was due to a lack of young adults being offered leadership roles." However, he said, "they did not point a finger of blame at their parishes." Instead, the young adults "pledged to make concerted efforts to volunteer to participate in dynamic ministries and assume roles on parish pastoral councils."

For Bishop Melczek, the symposium's young adults were "not unlike their peers nationwide and across faiths." For, "they seek an experiential faith, and they are open to the church - especially if it understands their worldview, which is very idealistic, proactive, tolerant of others and socially conscious."

3. Bishop Views April 5 Mining Disaster as Faith Concern

What makes the April 5 Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion that killed 29 people in West Virginia a concern for people of faith? Bishop Michael Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston, W.Va., responded to that question with an April 30 pastoral letter titled "On My Holy Mountain."

He asked, "Why is it safer to travel in space than to work in a West Virginia mine?"

"West Virginia needs coal mines," a man whose father died several years ago in another mine explosion told Bishop Bransfield. "But," the man said, "West Virginia doesn't need unsafe coal mines." That, the bishop wrote, "is the attitude that we, a people of faith, must take as we strive to support those who make their living by supporting us and our lifestyle. The church has always been responsive to the concerns of workers."

Bishop Bransfield said it is the church's obligation "to remain vigilant" in matters related to work, matters such as the relationship of employers and workers, and issues of safety and of justice, including the rights of workers. The church is concerned in such areas "that justice is served and human dignity is protected." This, said the bishop, "is an essential part of proclaiming the Gospel of Life."

By virtue of their human dignity, "all persons have a right to a safe work environment and one in which unsafe conditions can be reported without fear of blacklisting or loss of one's job," the bishop wrote. He said that in the weeks and months ahead, as issues related to the mine disaster are probed, "people of good will" not only ought to encourage such inquiries, but should remind their representatives of the "human face" that is basic to their concerns.

Safety was a key point of emphasis in Bishop Bransfield's pastoral letter. It reasonably can be expected "that miner safety be a higher priority than coal production," he wrote. "Experts are clear," he said, that explosions such as the one April 5 "are preventable. We must ask: Is our mining technology in 2010 equal to the technology that is easily available in other industries?"

The bishop wrote: "We owe it to our miners and mine operators alike to demand that mines become 'zero accident' workplaces, where an accident is unacceptable to all and where production would always be halted rather than risk an accident."

Physical health concerns, along with the environment, must also be addressed, he insisted. The present time "is a time of transition in the coalfields. It is certain that the nation will need our coal for years to come," Bishop Bransfield said. However, he continued, "just as certainly, our nation's energy needs must increasingly be met by sources that contribute less carbon to the atmosphere."

In the mining of coal, "more attention must be devoted to the increased incidence of black lung disease. Attention must also be paid to the health of communities situated near mines, and to the purity of water flowing through and leaving the coalfields," Bishop Bransfield said.

In a nation "as technologically advanced" as the U.S., "the real limitation on safety" in mining "would seem to be whether we have the desire to make it our first priority," he commented, adding that "as a people of faith, it is the church's duty to encourage this."

4. Convocation Accents Strengths of Church's Diversity

The unity of diverse peoples within a single nation such as the U.S. differs from the unity of diverse peoples in the church, according to Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta. In a May 7 homily during the Catholic Cultural Diversity Network Convocation held at the University of Notre Dame, Archbishop Gregory said:

"Our efforts at national unity often depend upon bringing peoples' diversity into something of an artificial harmony that seeks to minimize the uniqueness and distinctiveness of people. The Catholic Church, on the contrary, focuses upon what we all share in common, which is our faith and our oneness in Christ.

"To be a Catholic one need not abandon one's individuality. In fact, the Catholic Church is most perfectly herself when all of her children display that rich diversity that God has fashioned into the very heart of humanity. We are most Catholic when we reflect our oneness of faith and worship that is achieved in response to our rich mixture of human variety through the grace of the Holy Spirit."

The cultural diversity convocation represented the first step toward developing and disseminating intercultural competency guidelines within the U.S. church, a priority set by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The bishops' Committee on Cultural Diversity was a convocation sponsor.

"It's no secret that most U.S. Catholic parishes, dioceses, schools and organizations as well as the ranks of the clergy, religious and lay leaders are undergoing a profound change as a result of dramatic demographic shifts," Jesuit Father Allan Figueroa Deck, executive director of the cultural diversity secretariat at the bishops' conference, said earlier this year.

Over the years, diverse cultural and racial groups often participated in the church by working within their own groups, Father Deck observed. He said, "While there is nothing wrong with this -- indeed, it is necessary to create a sense of security and strengthen leadership among fledgling ecclesial communities -- today it is becoming clear that for the common good there must be more dialogue across the boundaries of race and culture."

Archbishop Gregory's homily referred to the diversity convocation as "but the latest chapter in a long history of reminding all of the members of the church that we all belong to Christ, and in him we belong to one another through the grace of the Holy Spirit." The archbishop said:

-- "We need not, indeed we must not, neglect our individuality and the uniqueness of our heritage."

-- "Yet these differences must never be barriers that separate us from Christ or one another."

Even in the church's earliest days, the people of God "continually welcomed others into their fellowship," Archbishop Gregory told convocation participants. The first Christians were inspired by the Holy Spirit "to see beyond the limits of their own ethnicity, and religious backgrounds, and comfort zones to bring Christ to the entire world," said the archbishop.

Vibrant stories in the Acts of the Apostles "provide a convincing narrative of how the first disciples grappled with the challenges of becoming a Catholic Church in the most fundamental sense of that title," Archbishop Gregory observed. It can be seen, he said, that "the infant church began encountering people in communities like Antioch, Syria and Cilicia, including those who may not have been Jewish in their background."

The challenges at that time "of bringing people together established the rich legacy that" the church's people "continue even today, as peoples from throughout the world find their rightful place around the Lord's altar," said Archbishop Gregory.

The Acts of the Apostles "does not conceal the fact that bringing together people from diverse backgrounds was and remains a challenge, and sometimes misunderstandings did and continue to occur," the archbishop noted. Nonetheless, he said, "it was always the presence and the grace of the Holy Spirit that led the church to welcome those new members, accommodating their uniqueness as they were incorporated into Christ Jesus."

5. What the Church Today Means by "Diversity"

"For us Catholics diversity is not just about tolerating each other, getting along or a pragmatic necessity," Jesuit Father Allan Figueroa Deck said in an April 19 speech in Las Vegas, Nev. Neither is diversity "a zero-sum game in which one group has to win at the expense of all the others," he added. Father Deck, who heads the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat of Cultural Diversity, addressed the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership.

For the church, the encounter of diverse cultures "has to do with giving and receiving at the deepest levels of humanity. It can never be a one-way street," Father Deck commented. He said that "while involving tension and even conflict, the encounter of cultures is viewed by the church as primarily an enrichment and a blessing."

Father Deck related the church's catholicity to its diversity. In this, he cited the work of Jesuit Father Marcello Azevedo, calling him "one of the first missiologists to unpack the meaning of 'inculturation' as a foundational element in the church's mission to evangelize." Father Deck explained:

"By catholicity is meant the remarkable quality of the church of Jesus Christ that allows it to achieve unity or communion while being incredibly rich in diversity." (The text of Father Deck's speech appears in the May 20 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service)

6. Current Quotes to Ponder

Finding God in Cracked and Broken Lives: "It is often when our relationships, our ministry, our health are pruned or cracked and broken open, that the Spirit of Jesus can blow through us and heal our fractured lives. God sometimes puts us on our backs precisely to make us look up!" (A comment on welcoming "the Spirit of the risen Lord into the depths of our being," from the May 10 homily by Bishop Peter Ingham of Wollongong, Australia, during a Mass opening the assembly of the Federation of Catholic Bishops' Conferences of Oceania)

Rekindling Mercy and Compassion: "I would like to ask you, in your role as leaders and ministers of charity in the church, to rekindle, in yourselves as individuals and as a group, a sense of mercy and of compassion in order to respond to grave social needs. New organizations must be established, and those already existing perfected, so that they can be capable of responding creatively to every form of poverty, including those experienced as a lack of the meaningfulness in life and the absence of hope. … Join your voice to the voices of the least powerful, whom you have wisely helped to gain a voice of their own, without ever being afraid of raising your voice on behalf of the oppressed, the downtrodden and those who have been mistreated." (From Pope Benedict XVI's address to the bishops of Portugal May 13 at Fatima)

7. What the Bishops Learned From the Sexual Abuse Crisis

The current crisis in Europe involving clergy sexual abuse dominates most news of the church at this moment. In the U.S. there is a sense of "déjà vu," as discussions unfold in Rome and other parts of Europe on policies the church ought to have for responding to cases, largely at this point in the past, involving the sexual abuse of minors by anyone representing the church. Some observers wonder openly whether the church in Europe has learned as much as it might in this matter from the experience of the church in the U.S.

With that in mind, allow me to mention a brief article titled "Twelve Things the Bishops Have Learned From the Sexual Abuse Crisis," written by Bishop Blase Cupich of Rapid City, S.D. The article appears in the May 10 edition of America magazine. Bishop Cupich chairs the U.S. bishops' Committee for Child and Youth Protection.

One thing the U.S. bishops learned is that the church must "maintain the mandatory safe environment efforts that have been developed," Bishop Cupich wrote. He suggested that experience will show that when standards are voluntary, institutions are less effective at protecting children.

"Any backsliding on this endangers children first of all, and also the credibility gained through the efforts to eradicate the effects of this scourge," according to Bishop Cupich. He said, "Parishes must be the safest places for a child to be."

The bishops also have learned something about why Catholics feel hurt by the sexual abuse crisis, he observed. Yes, Catholics feel hurt "by the moral failings of some priests." But, the bishop explained, Catholics "have been hurt and angered even more by bishops who failed to put children first."

Another point learned by the bishops is that they "need to resist the defensiveness that institutions often fall back on in crisis moments," Bishop Cupich said. Problems are only prolonged by "resorting to a conspiratorial interpretation of attacks and adopting a 'circle the wagons' approach," he stated.

But today's priests "have a resiliency that future generations will recall with admiration," and this too is something Bishop Cupich said the bishops have learned. "Despite suffering from the actions of those who have besmirched the priesthood they love," priests "have remained committed to their vocation" and in the process have "built a reservoir of good will with our people." Bishop Cupich called this "a major factor" when it comes to explaining why Catholics remain faithful to the church "during this terrible crisis."

What else have the U.S. bishops learned? They've learned that "the injury to victims is deeper than nonvictims can imagine" and that "despite the justified anger felt by victims toward the church, bishops still need to reach out to them as pastors," Bishop Cupich wrote. He noted that meetings with sexual abuse victims can be "challenging for all involved," but can also prove to be moments "of grace and insight."

In another of the 12 points, Bishop Cupich said the bishops learned that the causes of clerical sexual abuse are complex, "and it is simplistic to reduce them to easy answers." While "many factors have been alleged to 'explain' this misconduct by clergy," the fact remains "that sexual abuse of minors is found in many different circumstances, perpetrated by family members, leaders of youth organizations, doctors, teachers and others." The bishops learned that "easy answers" will "underestimate how wide the scope of this problem is in our society."

The bishops also learned that they need to "partner with public authorities by complying with civil laws" when it comes to "reporting allegations of sexual abuse of minors and cooperating with their investigation." This, of course, has been an important point of discussion among European church leaders in their recent discussions of sexual abuse.

Bishop Cupich said the U.S. bishops learned that "all leaders of the community, whether religious or secular, need to work together to protect children and young people."

8. The Ethics of the Economy: Cardinal Turkson in Chicago

Ethics and the economy were high on Pope Benedict XVI's list of concerns in his July 2009 encyclical "Caritas in Veritate" ("Charity in Truth"). But the encyclical "is not an economics policy paper" as such, Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said in an April 22 speech in Chicago on the encyclical.

Economic activity ought to be viewed as an ethical enterprise, the cardinal suggested. He said that in the encyclical's view this happens when the economy ranks the authentic needs of the human family and "integral human development" as priorities. Cardinal Turkson analyzed themes of the encyclical in an address to a conference on church social teaching at DePaul University.

How does Pope Benedict view the globalization that more and more characterizes our world? The encyclical "proposes an integral model of human development in the context of globalization," Cardinal Turkson observed. He noted at the same time that while globalization has "lifted millions of people out of poverty, primarily by the integration of the economies of developing nations into international markets, the unevenness of this integration leaves us deeply concerned."

Too often, he indicated, globalization fails to accord human dignity its due; human communities continue to be ravaged through "inequality, poverty, food insecurity, unemployment, social exclusion, violations of religious freedom and materialism." Thus, the challenge in the encyclical's view is to humanize globalization. Among other things, this calls for "business education."

"Business education and business practice must always be understood in conjunction with our moral responsibility, Cardinal Turkson said. This responsibility encompasses "effective governance and aid that provides support for development," he added. However, he continued, "the challenge to 'humanize' or 'civilize' globalization through the mechanism of business education and practice does not necessarily mean more government. It does, however, demand better government."

In a world of globalization, "ethical business practice demands fairer and freer trade, and assisting the poor of the world to successfully integrate into a flourishing global economy," according to the cardinal.

Despite its focus on the authentic demands of integral human development, the encyclical does not demonize "economics, market, technology, globalization, trade and other economic activities," Cardinal Turkson noted. Rather, there is "a commendation for development, entrepreneurship, market, technology, etc., as expressions of the human spirit" that are not evil per se. What the encyclical cautions against "is their abuse in the hands of sinful humanity against humanity's good."

Humanity's "ultimate goals" ought to be borne in mind by "governments, nongovernmental organizations and individuals alike," Cardinal Turkson said. In the encyclical's view, he indicated, finance and the economy indeed face difficult choices, but "there can be no purely financial and economic response. We must look higher!"