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July 16, 2010

Collaboration of priests and laity called essential - Gang violence: a Catholic concern - Pope establishes new evangelization council - Vatican sees women's economic empowerment as great value for family and society


In this edition:
1. Pastoral on gang violence: "They are our children."
2. Parish safe havens in midst of gang violence.
3. Church responds to gang violence: 1995 speech revisited.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
Evangelizing communities attract religious vocations;
Pope establishes evangelization council.
5. Priests and laity: Collaboration essential for evangelization.
6. How essential is the collaboration of priests and laity?
7. Empowering women economically aids family and society.


1. Pastoral Letter on Gang Violence: "They Are Our Children"

"Do not let anyone tell you that you must join a street gang to feel loved," Bishop Richard Garcia of Monterey, Calif., said to youths in an Easter 2010 pastoral letter on gang violence.

Titled "They Are Our Children," the letter urged priests and deacons, parents, parishes, religious educators and other community leaders to recognize the reasons gangs attract youths and to offer alternative activities to them.

"Gangs flourish in communities where young people lack a sense of belonging to healthy families and communities where strong moral values are held," Bishop Garcia wrote. Addressing youths directly, he said:

"If you are a gang member (or are thinking of joining a gang), please get help from your parents, a school counselor, therapist, teacher, youth minister or other leader to leave the gang and the violence that is associated with the gang."

Priests and deacons were asked by the bishop to "preach about the dignity of each of our children and young people, and to emphasize the significance of healthy family values that make such a difference in the lives of children." Clergy should encourage youths "to find a sense of belonging in our parish communities," he urged, indicating that the church helps to combat gang membership by providing alternative after-school activities.

Bishop Garcia said he hopes "to develop programs that would include sports, homework help, job skills, arts and crafts, and similar programs that would entice our young people to engage in healthy activities in the hours between the end of school and the time many parents return from work."

Parents were asked by the bishop to "speak to their children with impassioned authority about the dangers of gangs and make the family community a place of belonging and connectedness for children."

Pointing to the prevalence of gang violence in the region, the bishop noted that "the homicide rate in Salinas is staggering, and those losing their lives are our young people." He said:

"Even young children know that those with the red shirts are fighting those with the blue shirts. This understanding has far-reaching concerns, as it ingrains the 'us versus them' mentality that tears apart our communities and allows the culture of death to infiltrate the youngest and most innocent in our society."

Certain "stressors" correlate highly "with the prevalence of street gangs," Bishop Garcia said. Poverty, unemployment and high secondary school dropout rates are just some of those stressors.

"The gangs that are plaguing Salinas, in particular, are made up primarily of Latino young men who dropped out of high school to be more involved in the gang culture," the bishop said. "Make a commitment to stay in school and to return to school if you have left," he said to youths.

"Staying in school and gaining skills to move on to college or to enter the job market are vital components in resisting membership in gangs and building a firm foundation for your future success and security as an adult," he told young people.

The accent the church places on human dignity should be borne in mind when addressing gangs and their violence, Bishop Garcia believes. He wrote, "I am asking that we come together to rediscover the human dignity that we each possess in our innate and primordial orientation to love each other."

He said, "As followers of Christ, it is our responsibility to build the bridge of love between 'us and them,' to destroy evil and violence in our midst and to see God in the face of others."

2. Parish Safe Havens in the Midst of Gang Violence

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago has encouraged pastors and parishes of the archdiocese to combat gang violence by offering "safe havens" to the young. With the arrival of summer, often a season of increased community violence, the cardinal asked parishes and parishioners to pray for peace and to provide safe havens for those affected by violence.

"Gunshots and gang violence, rooted often in verbal and physical abuse at home, can scar children and youth," the cardinal wrote in a letter for parish bulletins. He said: "The sad reality of daily life is that our youth and their families often live under a veil of fear. Such an environment hinders the normal development of children, youth and their families."

Cardinal George said that "the daily threat of violence is greater in inner-city neighborhoods." He noted that "a number of our Catholic parishes in these communities are already providing secure spaces in churches, gymnasiums and other parish buildings for play, exercise and prayer."

However, the cardinal continued, "there is a need for more of our parishes to provide safe havens as well," and he asked "pastors and their congregations to work toward offering this."

3. The Church Responds to Violence: 1995 Speech Revisited

"Violence is aggression dammed up with no place to go. Aggression or self-assertion is related to power," Jesuit Father John Coleman said in a 1995 speech to the annual Catholic Hospital Administrative Personnel Program. Father Coleman, at that time professor of theology and social values at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, described violence as "a misplaced and destructive way to find self-transcendence, community and adventure."

Father Coleman pointed to psychology studies that "ask us to see how violence flourishes where community breaks down." He said, "Isolation is a deep source of the upsurge of violence."

Part of Father Coleman's speech was devoted to gangs. He said, "Church-based gang-rehabilitation programs have been among the successful in the country because they emphasize the importance of self-esteem and religious conversion in addition to the importance of educational and occupational skills."

Describing a multipronged church program he knew of related to gangs, Father Coleman told of Dolores Mission in East Los Angeles, staffed by Jesuits and their lay associates, that was successful in reaching out to gangs. He said:

"The mothers in the neighborhood began organizing (through a church-based organizing strategy) to take back their streets, allow themselves to sit on the stoop. They went out to the gang leaders to both confront them and invite them to become engaged religiously; they adopted a program of outreach to gangs, not to coddle them or retaliate in vengeance, but to demand a change of behavior and an invitation to community."

He said the mission ran an alternative school for children of the area and had started a tortilla factory to provide employment.

Other church programs targeting neighborhood drug use were mentioned by Father Coleman. He said that "slogans of 'just say no'" need to be "united to some alternative imagination of hope for something worth saying yes to."

Father Coleman insisted that "the violent need to be incorporated back into communities" and that "community will root out violence." An emphasis on "the building of community" is therefore vital, he indicated. (You can locate the text of Father Coleman's speech titled "How Should the Church Respond to Violence in Society?" in the edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service, dated Aug. 24, 1995: Vol. 25, No. 11.)

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

Do Evangelizing Communities Attract Religious Life Vocations? "Vocations ministry and evangelization are different facets of the same mission -- helping people discover and journey toward a life in Christ so that they may find their true selves in him. It is perhaps no coincidence that so many of those religious congregations which are attracting and retaining younger members have evangelization at the heart of their ministry. They live out the Gospel in a radical and visible way, which is deeply attractive to today's young Catholics." (Comment by Judith Eydmann of the British bishops' National Office for Vocation during a June 16 study day on religious life held at London's Westminster Hall)

Pope Explains New Evangelization Council: "I was able to state at the beginning of my Petrine ministry that the church is young and open to the future. And I repeat this today. Human beings of the third millennium want an authentic, full life; they need truth, profound freedom, love freely given. Even in the deserts of the secularized world, man's soul thirsts for God, for the living God. There are regions of the world that are still awaiting a first evangelization; others that have received it, but need a deeper intervention; yet others in which the Gospel put down roots a long time ago, giving rise to a true Christian tradition but in which, in recent centuries the secularization process has produced a serious crisis of the meaning of the Christian faith and of belonging to the church. From this perspective, I have decided to create a new body, in the form of a pontifical council, whose principal task will be to promote a renewed evangelization in the countries where the first proclamation of the faith has already resonated and where churches with an ancient foundation exist but are experiencing the progressive secularization of society and a sort of 'eclipse of the sense of God.'" (From the First Vespers homily June 28 by Pope Benedict XVI for the feast of the apostles Peter and Paul)

5. Priests and Evangelization: Collaboration Is of the Essence

Priests will not achieve the goals of evangelization without collaborating with the people they serve, according to Bishop Howard Hubbard's July monthly letter to the Diocese of Albany, N.Y.

He explained that within the area of the 14-county diocese, there are 1.2 million people, "approximately 400,000 of whom are Roman Catholics." The diocese has 116 active diocesan priests, in addition to the retired and religious order priests who continue to serve.

A large number of the area's 1.2 million people are unchurched, Bishop Hubbard said. Furthermore, "only about 30 percent of our Catholics attend church weekly."

The bishop commented that some Catholics "fall away because of spiritual apathy or indifference, others because of alienation caused by disagreement with church teaching on issues of human sexuality, marriage or women's roles, others because of an unhappy experience with a church representative, usually around faith-formation policies or admission to the celebration of the sacraments." Yet other Catholics feel "hurt, disappointed and angry about church closings," he added.

Bishop Hubbard's point was that there is "no way our limited number of priests can reach out to all these people and address their diverse concerns." But "even if we could," he said, "it wouldn't be appropriate, because evangelization is the mission of the whole church."

Priests, nonetheless, "have a vital role to play" in this, he said, pointing to the diocese's "Amazing God" evangelization program. Priests "are called to be catalysts for initiating and coordinating the evangelizing effort," Bishop Hubbard said. Priests "must work with diocesan officials and other priests, deacons and lay ministers in forming parish or cluster evangelization teams and in supporting [the diocese's] multifaceted efforts over the next three years to invite people to participate in" this evangelization effort.

Collaboration was just one aspect of priesthood discussed in the bishop's letter. He noted, for example, that recent years have witnessed a debate in the church "about whether the cultic dimension of the priesthood, its sacred ritual and sacramental aspects, has been overshadowed by an emphasis on the call of the priest to be a servant leader within the community."

In his mind "this is a false dichotomy," Bishop Hubbard said. For him, "the priesthood is not either cultic or servant, but both cultic and servant. Jesus on the night of the Last Supper "instituted the Eucharist and established the priesthood," the bishop observed. But he said that "this action was immediately preceded by [Jesus'] washing of the feet of his disciples," with the instruction that they follow his example.

Bishop Hubbard said priests "are called to be spiritual leaders: to celebrate the Eucharist and the sacraments, to preach and teach and to oversee right order among the faithful." However, he added, priests "must do this not in an authoritarian, elitist or self-righteous fashion, but with the gentleness, meekness, compassion and selfless love of Jesus, who came 'not to be served, but to serve.'"

The ministerial or cultic priesthood "is at the service of the common or baptismal priesthood, not vice versa," the bishop commented. Priests, he said, "must not be aloof or apart from the daily struggles of their people, but must be among them, serving as brothers among their sisters and brothers."

6. How Essential Is the Collaboration of Priests and Laity?

"The specific authority of a priest is abused if he does not welcome and foster full participation of lay men and women in the activity of his parish," Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, said July 10.

"The church needs priests; the church also needs committed laypersons; both charisms, though distinct, belong together," the archbishop said in a homily during a Mass for the ordination of one new priest and the commissioning of 10 parish pastoral workers.

Commenting on the fact that both a priestly ordination and the commissioning of new pastoral workers occurred during the same liturgy, Archbishop Martin said: "We are not talking in any way about a leveling out of all ministries within the church or of a leveling out of the specific gifts which are given to each one."

He said that "the church needs priests" and that it was a "cause of concern" that just one priest was ordained this year. "The number of priests in the diocese is going down, our priests are getting older, and yet there is more work than ever to be done," he pointed out.

Lay parish pastoral workers, "on their part, have brought a spirit of renewal within our parishes," Archbishop Martin said. He explained that "lay pastoral workers are not an alternative to priests. They exercise a specific ministry as baptized lay men and women that has already produced positive fruit in encouraging an even wider participation of lay people in parish life."

A priest, the archbishop said, "has a specific and irreplaceable mission. The priesthood is a calling which cannot be reduced to a 9 to 5 assignment, after which priestly identity is switched off or dimmed down. Priesthood is not simply a function to be carried out at certain times. Priesthood belongs to the identity of the priest as a person."

Archbishop Martin described priesthood as "a personal gift which must elicit a personal response and personal renewal." However, he added, "priesthood is never something which brings with it status, or privilege, or caste in a worldly sense."

The "growing commitment of lay men and women who wish to be active in the pastoral structures of the diocese" is a cause of happiness, the archbishop continued. He commented:

"There is still a long way to go. We have excellent parish pastoral councils which have shown the way forward in enriching ministry. We also have pastoral councils which have not yet grown in their task and, indeed -- in a small number of cases -- pastoral councils which may not have been allowed to grow because of their priest."

Archbishop Martin also spoke of the relationship of priests and laity in late June during the annual pilgrimage to Knock of the St Joseph's Young Priests Society. He said, "Lay involvement is not something due to a shortage of priests, but to a different and more correct understanding of the nature of church." Lay involvement in the church and the world "comes from an understanding of the meaning of our baptism."

The archbishop said that "the changing role of lay people will, however, have an effect on the day-to-day life of the priest." He noted that "in addition to re-establishing a more correct understanding of the church community, greater involvement of lay people will also free the priest from many tasks which were never really his."

Asking what this freeing-up of the priest means, he said that "in some cases it means giving the priest a little more space for himself as an individual. Priests are often really overburdened, and so many priests, even young priests, live under pressure on their health and spirituality."

However, this freeing-up above all means freeing the priest "to carry out the specific mission that has been given" him. Archbishop Martin advised priests "that doing fewer things can actually mean enhancing rather than diminishing the role of the priest." For, he stated, "the role of the priest is not about activities, much less about power, but about witness."

7. Empowering Women Economically Aids Family and Society

"Women's economic empowerment is essential for the economic development of the family and of society," Archbishop Celestino Migliore said in remarks this month to the U.N. Economic and Social Council. He said, "Access to land and property, credit facilities and equal opportunities for financial services for women will help ensure their economic stability."

Archbishop Migliore spoke July 1, the same day the Vatican announced he had been named papal nuncio to Poland. The archbishop became head of the Vatican's U.N. delegation in 2002.

Women's economic development assumes particular importance at this time, in light of the upcoming World Summit on the Millennium Development Goals - goals aimed at improving the standard of living among the world's poorest peoples, Archbishop Migliore suggested. The summit takes place at the United Nations Sept. 20-22.

"The more the dignity of women is protected and promoted, the more the family, the community and society will truly be fostered," said the archbishop. However, he called it tragic that "violence against women, especially in the home and workplace, and discrimination in the professional field, even on the pay and pension scale, are growing concerns."

The "empowerment of women" calls for "recognition of the gifts and talents of every woman," the archbishop said. It requires "the provision of better health care, education and equal opportunities" for women.

If women are to be empowered and their dignity is to be respected, it is also essential that "their capacity to serve and devote themselves to society and to the family through motherhood" be honored, he said. Thus, "family friendly working arrangements, shared family care leave and redistribution of the burden of unpaid work" ought to "be given the attention they rightly deserve."

Inequalities in the health care afforded the world's women need to be eliminated, Archbishop Migliore said. "The real advancement of women is not achieved by concentrating on a particular health issue to the neglect of others," he added. Instead, it is "their overall health" that needs to be promoted, which "necessarily includes giving more attention to addressing women-specific diseases."