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September 1, 2007

In this edition:
-- Words to ponder on listening and dialogue.
-- How listening makes way for dialogue.
-- Listening: What goes right, what goes wrong?
-- Replacing debate with dialogue through listening.
-- Division, unity and love's learning curve.
-- Diocesan Web site for parishes in need.
-- How many lack health insurance?
-- Statistics on new immigrants.
-- Ministry and new immigrants.
-- Parishes of the future.
-- Project cites marks of vibrant parishes.

Current Words to Ponder

What listening is. "Paul VI said that dialogue is the ability to hear not just what other persons have to say, but what they have it in their hearts to say. To do that takes powerful listening and letting go of our own agendas, particularly in our culture where listening is seen as weakness and is highly underrated. But listening does not mean that we give up who we are. Adnane Mokrani describes it as 'a way of deepening our religious life -- a continual discovery of the face of God in the cosmos and in man.'" (From the Aug. 4 presidential address by Sister of St. Joseph Mary Dacey to the assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in Kansas City, Mo.)

The difference between strong convictions and anger. "Passion and strong convictions can be good things. I have plenty of both. However, anger is no substitute for wisdom, attacks are no substitute for dialogue, and feeding fears will not help us find solutions." (Bishop Nicholas Dimarzio of Brooklyn, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Domestic Policy Committee, commenting on the U.S. debate over immigration reform in his 2007 Labor Day statement on behalf of the bishops)

Listening Makes Way for Dialogue

"Dialogue becomes real when we listen with attention, when we are present to the other. Dialogue places the other before me," Cardinal Paul Poupard said in a speech to the Aug. 3-4 interreligious summit for peace at Mount Hiei in Japan. The cardinal heads the Pontifical Council for Culture.

Divided people may arrive at a meeting with suspicion -- "the aggrieved and the aggressors, the victims and the perpetrators," Cardinal Poupard said, commenting on the dynamics of interreligious dialogue gatherings. However, "attentive and sympathetic listening" can help "each to see the other as a brother or sister" who is "capable of loving, speaking the truth, seeking justice, offering forgiveness and sharing compassion." The cardinal's text was presented on his behalf by Msgr. Felix Machado, a Vatican official.

Listening: What Goes Right, What Goes Wrong?

Listening is a skill that "involves more than hearing words." Moreover, listening is related to empathy, and "empathy is a relational skill that can be learned and nurtured" - an important skill for church ministry, according to an article in the Luke Notes published by the Saint Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Md. (www.sli.org/page_109_sam.htm).

Empathy is important in church ministry, the article suggests, because it involves being aware of others, what they are thinking and how they are feeling.

What does empathy have to do with listening? The Luke's Note article, titled "Sam," was written by Father Gerard Kalinowski, an Australian priest. He says: "Listening involves being attentive, being 'present.' We intuitively know when someone is truly present to us. A listener who interrupts or offers a point of view or solution, or who comes with preconceived ideas rather than allowing the person to tell their story, is neither empathic nor helpful." The priesthood candidate called Sam who is chronicled in the article needed "to learn that listening includes setting aside his perspective and focusing on the other," it says. Sam was "having trouble interpersonally, especially empathizing with parishioners and staff," the article comments.

St. Luke's Institute is a well-known treatment center promoting the health and well-being of women and men religious, clergy and others in church ministry. The institute's official newsletter is titled Luke Notes; it includes many case studies covering a wide variety of issues. You can find the case studies on the institute's Web site (www.sli.org).

Replacing Debate With Dialogue

Through Listening

One way to move beyond patterns of debate and toward dialogue and reconciliation is to "listen to each other to understand and build agreement rather than listening to find flaws and reasons to disagree," Franciscan Sister Katarina Schuth said in an address just a couple of years ago at Loyola University Chicago.

Sister Schuth invited her university audience to "consider for a moment the many communities" of which they are part -- "nation and state, worship and work, neighborhood and family." Then she asked, "What quality or virtue might be valuable in generating hope in these settings of our daily lives?" She proposed that "cultivating a spirit of reconciliation - bringing into agreement or harmony those people and things that are estranged - would go a long way in creating decency and peace in these troubled times." Sister Schuth is a noted church researcher at St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minn.

Among the stances that block people from this kind of "concern about others," said Sister Schuth, is "a perpetual desire to make the winning point over our opposition." What could counter this stance is "a certain generosity of spirit." Sister Schuth said: "It feels so good to 'win' after all. But at what cost to the greater good! If we can discipline ourselves to think beyond ourselves, the payoff is great for us personally and for the company we keep and the world we share."

Sister Schuth said, "All the tensions arising from political and economic concerns, from religious and personal worries, require of us a reflective stance that leads to a calming, reconciling presence as we incorporate into our thoughts and actions the hopes and longings of others." She said:

"The world is reconciled to God through Christ. In turn we are commissioned to become that reconciling presence of Christ in our fractured world and church."

Words to Recall:

Division, Unity and Love's Learning Curve

"Sadly, the harshness and divisiveness of contemporary society also influence members of the church," Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., said in his presidential speech opening the U.S. bishops' national meeting last fall. He said: "I am sometimes pained to find even in Catholic media judgmental and uncharitable commentary that seems to come equally from all parts of the spectrum of the Catholic community. The point seems to be not to seek the truth or to build up the body of Christ, but to strive for a sort of victory by overcoming others, preferably by crushing those who disagree."

Bishop Skylstad said that "such discourse seems to presume the worst of intentions or motivations of others." He questioned whether this attitude is consistent with being a follower of Christ. "We see each person as made in the image and likeness of God, and so we must look for good in them and in their intentions even when they are mistaken, acting wrongly or in disagreement with us."

Of course, unity among Catholics "is based upon adherence of heart to the doctrine and teaching of the church," Bishop Skylstad said. "Our unity cannot simply devolve into an endless debate that would keep us from articulating our faith in a definitive way." At the same time, the bishop said, "we must also foster attitudes and discourse based in charity." Bishops have a mission, he told the bishops' conference, "of building charity among the faithful entrusted to us."

Bishop Skylstad said: "The call to love is as challenging as it is radical. We are all on a learning curve of profound love of neighbor."

Did You Know?

The Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska, has a "Current Parish Needs List" on its Web site where parishes seek financial help in making important renovations or necessary purchases, and where interested donors can make a contribution. For example, a church in an Eskimo village on the Bering Sea Coast made known its need for new flooring; another such parish requested help with getting running water into the church. A new baptismal font, new lighting fixtures and storm windows, and a new motor for a boat used to travel between parishes along the Yukon River were among numerous other parish necessities made know to potential donors via the Web site of the bishop of northern Alaska (www.cbna.info/).

Statistically Speaking: Health Insurance

The number of people in the U.S. who have no health insurance rose from 44.8 million (15.3 percent) in 2005 to 47 million (15.8 percent in 2006), the U.S. Census Bureau reported Aug. 28. The Census Bureau said also that the official U.S. poverty rate declined slightly from 2005 to 2006, from 12.6 percent in 2005 to 12.3 percent in 2006. However, this decline meant that 36.5 million people in the U.S. were in poverty in 2006, and this was "not statistically different from 2005."

Commenting on the health insurance statistics, the Catholic Health Association of the United States noted that since the year 2000 the number of those lacking health insurance in the U.S. increased from 38.4 million to 47 million. Meanwhile, 36.5 million people in the U.S. lived in poverty in 2006, nearly 10 percent of the nation's families. In a report on the Census Bureau's announcement, Catholic News Service said, "As of 2006, more than one-third of all Hispanics and one-fifth of all African-Americans lacked health insurance."

Other Notable Statistics: New Immigrants

Roughly 600,000 to 900,000 people from throughout the world come to the United States each year, and one-third of them identify themselves as Catholic, according to Amy Newlon, an educational development consultant for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees. Newlon addressed the second national U.S. convention of Caribbean Catholics, held Aug. 17-19 in Rochester, N.Y.

Immigrants arrive in the U.S. today from the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, the former Soviet Union, Latin America and the Middle East, Newlon noted. She commented that while new immigrants come to the U.S. from widely different places, they come "for very much the same reasons" - for freedom, safety, and economic and social stability.

More on Immigrants

"There are an estimated 11 million undocumented, foreign-born people in [the United States] and that fact is not likely to change. These people live under the radar, and they live in constant fear," Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., said in his Aug. 16 diocesan blog. He described immigration as a "very complex" matter involving "human rights, respect for our country's laws, economic development and global competitiveness."

Bishop Lori said that at some point U.S. legislators "must address meaningful [immigration] reform, but that seems unlikely to happen until after the 2008 elections." He continued: "Until then I will speak to this issue as I always have, and that is as a pastor. Immigrants are human beings first and foremost. They deserve to be treated with respect, and if they have basic needs we need to offer help. We are a country of immigrants, and we will always be a country of immigrants."

Parishes of the Future

What will the parish of the future be? Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, commented on this in a July 11 speech, saying there will be "no one-size-fits-all model" for future parishes. "There will be various models," and "we may not find ourselves totally at home in some models, but others might!" All of which "does not mean encouraging exclusiveness or sectarianism among movements or ecclesial groups," the archbishop added. Rather, the parish must become "the primary place in which these various communities will come together in communion."

Archbishop Martin added: "The parish will be a community of communities. It will be that place open to all, where all will come together, with different talents, with different charisms, with different individual God-given capacities and bring them to the one table."

Leaders of Vibrant Parishes

Pastoral leaders "must be able to care for the overall welfare and needs of the community, while empowering the members of the community to care for one another." These leaders "are called to be faithful to the mission of the church and to the building of the kingdom." One characteristic of a vibrant parish is that it has such leaders, according to "The Emerging Models Project" sponsored by six national Catholic organizations.

Another mark of the vibrant parish is that it is welcoming, according to the project. It says: "Welcoming leaders ensure that all who desire a closer relationship to God are genuinely received and welcomed in a spirit of heartfelt hospitality, openness and eagerness both to give and to receive."

The Emerging Models Project is aided by funding from the Lilly Endowment, which has awarded grants, ecumenically, to a large number of churches and church-related organizations for the study of pastoral excellence. This project's partners are the National Association for Lay Ministry, the National Federation of Priests' Councils, the Conference for Pastoral Planning and Council Development, the National Association of Church Personnel Administrators, the National Association of Diaconate Directors and the National Catholic Young Adult Ministry Association.

According to the project, leaders in a vibrant parish also are collaborative, ethical, inclusive and prophetic. That means they:

-- "Empower the gifts of all the baptized while working together toward a shared mission. They bring the fullness of the Catholic tradition to the community: communal, sacramental, pastoral and prophetic. They respect the Spirit that is present and active in the community and in its members."

-- "Respect the dignity of the person. They are faithful to the Gospel and the mission and ministry of Jesus. They exhibit appropriate behavior in both the personal and professional arenas."

-- "Invite, support and animate diversity in the parish, paying particular attention to diverse cultures, languages, ethnicities, gender, generations, abilities and beliefs in ways that are respectful and mutually enriching."

-- "Move the parish in a direction that is faithful to the Gospel and into mission. They are ecumenical, evangelistic, justice-focused and mission directed, providing outreach to the community. They are servant leaders, concerned about being faithful to the ministry of the church while at the same time building the kingdom."

The project partners plan to conduct a national ministry summit April 20-23, 2008, in Orlando, Fla. For additional information, contact the National Association for Lay Ministry at 202-291-4100, or e-mail nalm@nalm.org.