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September 18, 2010

Counteracting fear, hatred and violence - Should we care what happens to Catholic schools? - Pope describes bishop's dynamic service role - Notes on encounters with nonpracticing Catholics



In this edition:
1. The two faces of intolerance: fear and hate.
2. Counteracting fear, hatred and violence.
3. Violence, hostility and Jesus' teaching.
4. Current quotes and statistics:
a) new poverty and health insurance statistics;
b) parish council meetings: personal faith stories shared;
c) on the bishop's rank and station.
5. Encountering nonpracticing Catholics: What type of opportunity?
6. Pope describes a bishop's dynamic service role.
7. Should we care what happens to Catholic schools?

1. The Two Faces of Intolerance: Fear and Hate

Fear and hate are the two faces of intolerance, Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, Texas, said Sept. 10. In an entry to his blog, which appears on the diocesan website (www.cathdal.org), the bishop wrote:

"Fear is bred by insecurity and/or lack of understanding. Hate is the extreme reaction to fear and insecurity; it is basically an urge to eliminate that which is causing our fear and insecurity."

Bishop Farrell's blog entry appeared at a time of controversy in America surrounding a proposal to construct an Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York and shortly before a plan was called off for a Sept. 11 burning of copies of the Muslim Quran at a church in Florida.

America was not built on hate, "but hate feeds on fear and insecurity, and our topsy-turvy economy has bred plenty of fear," Bishop Farrell said. He noted that love of neighbor is mandated by Jesus, the Jewish scriptures and the Quran - a love based on "the inherent, God-given dignity of human beings."

Bishop Farrell believes that "fear does strange things to us." In fact, he said, "when we are gripped by fear, we are driven to do something - anything - but something. Oftentimes our actions are extreme, and they trigger extreme reactions."

Polarization is a factor in American life today, the bishop noted. He said: "Polarization has gripped our nation for several decades and has climaxed in the present schism in our country reflected in religion, in politics and many other aspects of our society."

In the context of polarization, people "no longer attribute good will to those with another point of view, but paint them as evil and deserving of punishment for holding their perspective," Bishop Farrell wrote.

Hate and intolerance "must be eliminated one person at a time," the bishop said. He commented, "I cannot eliminate hate and intolerance in anyone else, but I can work to recognize it and eliminate it in myself."

This, he concluded, is each person's responsibility, and doing less "is unworthy of our God-given dignity."

2. Counteracting Social Violence, Fear and Hatred

"Divisive political rhetoric and sensationalist broadcasting encourage fear, even hatred, which can paradoxically make us more tolerant of the violence we deplore," Australia's Catholic bishops said in a statement for Social Justice Sunday, observed Sept. 26 this year by the church in their nation. The statement asks, "How often do we witness the media 'blame game,' where vulnerable groups are recast as aggressors and conflict among neighbors is inflamed?"

Titled "Violence in Australia: A Message of Peace," the statement was issued by the bishops' social justice council. The statement addresses violence of all kinds and in the many personal, family, social and national contexts where it arises. "Violence can be considered an attempt to control someone else by physical and/or psychological force," the statement explains.

In calling for action by parishes and individuals to construct peace, the statement cautions repeatedly against a human tendency to demonize others. The demonization of individuals and groups represents a failure to recognize their God-given dignity, it insists.

A basic conviction of the statement holds that violence tends to be given birth by failures to recognize the dignity of others.

The statement challenges people to "question assumptions or misinformation" about others. It cautions that "some media coverage can give sensationalized or oversimplified accounts of vulnerable people and can reinforce community bias and misrepresent the facts."

Other people should not be regarded simply as "competitors whom we must defeat to gain the prizes of life. They are not obstacles that we must push out of the way to get what we want," says the statement.

There is a need to cast "a critical eye" upon society's functioning - upon "the way the structures of society operate, public policy is developed and implemented, and media coverage and national debate unfold," the statement urges. It says that "at each level of our lives, many factors encourage violence. But these factors also invite us to build peace."

Bishop Christopher Saunders of Broome, chairman of the social justice council, introduced the statement. "Every day, it seems, we hear news of some act of gratuitous violence: someone bashed in the street or some violent confrontation on the roads." This, however, "is not the only kind of violence that should concern us," he said.

The bishop called attention to all those affected by violence at home - people whose "lives can be damaged for decades." He also wrote: "Young people's lives can be ruined by campaigns of bullying and humiliation by their peers. And we see the culture of abuse that at times infects our politics and our media."

Parishes are challenged by the statement to consider whether they could serve as meeting places for groups in need of reconciliation. It asked, "Can the local church provide a place where community leaders encourage and facilitate community efforts for peace?"

An example of such an effort is a parish in Queensland that "noticed intolerance and the likelihood of racism toward newly arrived refugees" from Sudan. The statement tells of steps the parish took to build community among the people through social activities. As a result, "common ground was established, stories shared, bread was broken and friendships formed." The statement calls this "a simple, yet radical, gesture commencing a process of peace."

Christians "are called to be strong in their commitment not only to live peacefully but to be creative makers of peace," the statement stresses. It says, "Our Christian faith compels us to be peacemakers in the face of violence," and "there are often many simple ways in which we can manage anger, prevent violence and build peace at all levels of society."

The statement drives home the message that working for peace means building "a robust, participatory and mature society that is respectful of human rights and the development of people as God intended." (The text of the statement appears online at www.catholic.org.au.)

3. On Violence, Hostility and the "Circuit Breakers" Jesus Provides

The teaching of Jesus is full of "circuit breakers" that "reverse the predictable cycles of quarreling, hostility and violence" in the human family, according to the statement on violence issued by the Australian Catholic bishops' social justice council for their Sept. 26 Social Justice Sunday.

The statement urges Christians to serve as peacemakers not only by refusing to surrender to violent impulses themselves, but by treating others with respect, even if they are hostile. Jesus grounds the "call to peacemaking in our attitude to people we see as hostile. We are to go out to them, not react threateningly to them," the statement says.

The Gospel encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well is an example of "how Jesus' teaching might work in practice," the statement observes. It describes how this encounter unfolded:

"Thirsty on a journey, Jesus asks a Samaritan woman for water from the town well. Samaritans and Jews were sworn enemies, so the woman answers him dismissively. But Jesus' actions in asking a favor of the woman and in keeping the conversation going lead to the transformation of a relationship from one traditionally characterized by fear and loathing into one of peace and understanding."

The Gospel's Good Samaritan also serves as an example of Jesus' approach to ethnic hostility, the statement says. It notes how, in the story, being a neighbor "really means going out to people in need and not worrying about how to classify them as friendly or hostile."

The death and resurrection of Jesus are "God's circuit breaker" for violence and hostility, the statement proposes. It explains:

"What seemed to be the ultimate defeat turned out to be the ultimate victory. Jesus goes to his death, but then God raises him from the dead. This is God's circuit breaker. The Son of God did not fight fire with fire, did not take control, but went to death for us. God, however, fought death with life, violence with peace."

4. Current Quotes and Statistics

New Poverty and Health Insurance Statistics: The U.S. Census Bureau announced Sept. 16 that the number of Americans living in poverty rose to 43.6 million in 2009 (14.3 percent of the population), from 39.8 million in 2008 (13.2 percent). The Census Bureau also announced a rise in the number of Americans who have no health insurance, from 46.3 million in 2008 to 50.7 million in 2009 - the highest number of uninsured people since the bureau began compiling such data in 1987.

Parish Council Meetings, Settings for Telling Personal Stories of Faith: "Our diocesan pastoral council had its first meeting of the new program year on Saturday. We continued our tradition of having a member share with us about her or his faith journey. These personal reflections are always powerful and moving, as we hear the ways the Lord has worked in our lives. I recommend this practice of faith formation for our parish groups and parish councils. After your opening prayer, you might invite a member to share the blessings and challenges of their lives and how the Lord has walked with them." (Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., writing in the Sept. 13 edition of his online "Monday Memo")

Bishops, Their Rank and Station: "There's an old legend about a wandering scholar during the Middle Ages whose name was Mauretus. He was shabbily dressed when he fell ill in a town where he was not known or recognized. Mauretus was taken to a hospital. Some doctors gathered around his bed and, speaking Latin (the language of the educated), they speculated that, since this was obviously a worthless person, they could perform certain experiments on his corpse after he had died. Mauretus startled them when he said aloud, in perfect Latin, 'Call no one worthless for whom Christ died.' An important lesson then; an important lesson now. Christian life and ministry, including a bishop's, are not matters of rank and station but of reverence and respect for, and humble service to, the members of the body of Christ." (From remarks by San Francisco's Archbishop George Niederauer during the Sept. 7 ordination to the episcopate of Auxiliary Bishop Robert McElroy of San Francisco)

5. Encountering Nonpracticing Catholics: What Type Opportunity?

Encounters with Catholics who rarely, if ever, enter a church represent opportunities to put the new evangelization into practice. To make the most of these opportunities, it may be necessary to reassess ways of communicating with people who have drifted away.

Those suggestions stem from the just-released pastoral letter of Washington's Archbishop Donald Wuerl on the new evangelization titled "Disciples of the Lord: Sharing the Vision." The new evangelization calls for sharing faith with Catholics who have drifted away from the faith and others, as well as awakening Gospel values within society, he indicated.

"This is our mandate: to witness to others so that they reawaken to and rediscover the vital and inexhaustible friendship of Jesus Christ," Archbishop Wuerl wrote. It is a matter of becoming "protagonists of hope," he proposed.

Archbishop Wuerl suggested that nurturing "the hidden presence of [the word of God] already among us" can require:

-- Learning "new styles of communication."

-- Opening "our hearts to a more culturally diverse community."

-- Studying "more deeply the mysteries of the faith."

-- Reaching out with confidence and inviting a neighbor to Mass.

-- Forgiving "a long-held grudge."

-- Focusing on "a new and more influential approach with a son or daughter, father or mother, or spouse who is away from the practice of the faith."

Many of those who do not practice the faith nonetheless "come to baptism or marriage preparation class, make appointments to have their children baptized, attend evening meetings for back-to-school preparation or attend confirmation retreats with their children," Archbishop Wuerl observed. And these people "may come to Mass on Christmas and Easter, or on the anniversary of the death of a loved one," or they may be seen during "our pastoral rounds in hospital visitation."

The archbishop recommended that these encounters be regarded as "moments to invite, not to scold." He wrote:

"These are times which are, by the power of the Holy Spirit, already made new and contain a summons for us tirelessly to invite and cheerfully to welcome, in a personal and caring way, the return of someone we have missed for a long time."

The new evangelization aims to "stir up again and rekindle" in the concrete situations of people's lives "a new awareness and familiarity with Jesus," Archbishop Wuerl said. However, he advised, "we are called not just to announce, but to adapt our approach so as to attract and to urge an entire generation to find again the uncomplicated, genuine and tangible treasure of friendship with Jesus." This does not mean, though, "that we have to reinvent our structure," he said.

Whether for individuals or parishes or others, "the new evangelization can be the outlook that impels all of us to discover fresh resources, to open original avenues and to summon new strength to advance the good news," Archbishop Wuerl wrote. But he said that "we cannot simply invite from a distance. Instead, we search actively and carefully for our sisters and brothers who are away from the practice of their faith."

6. Pope Describes Bishop's Dynamic Service

Bishops receive a ring at their ordination as a "sign of fidelity" and are called upon to preserve their local church. But Pope Benedict XVI told a group of bishops Sept. 13 that this mandate to preserve or safeguard the church "does not mean only to preserve what has been established, although this must never be lacking."

In fact, the pope said, the bishop's mission ought to be dynamic, encompassing "a perpetual and concrete tendency toward perfection" as the church and its members face new situations. Of course, the bishop has the mission of leading and guiding the community, and this involves concerns about fidelity to church teaching; but a bishop "is not a mere governor or bureaucrat, or a simple moderator and organizer of diocesan life," the pope said.

Rather, the bishop is a "father, brother and friend" to the people and to all who search for God. Based upon this fatherhood and brotherhood in Christ, the bishop is called "to create a climate of trust, welcome and affection, but also of frankness and justice," the pope added.

He suggested that to grasp a bishop's mission, it is necessary to look beyond "efficiency and efficacy" and to avoid focusing primarily on "what needs to be done."

Pope Benedict addressed two groups of bishops the second week of September. His Sept. 13 address at Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence, was delivered during a meeting with newly ordained bishops from the more established dioceses of Europe, North and South America, Australia and parts of Africa and Asia. He delivered another speech Sept. 11 at Castel Gandolfo to recently appointed bishops in mission territories.

Speaking Sept. 11, Pope Benedict said he knows the challenges bishops in mission territories face, "especially in Christian communities that live their faith in contexts that are not easy" and where, in addition to "various forms of poverty, they sometimes suffer forms of persecution because of the Christian faith."

In almost every mission diocese where Catholics are a minority, the bishop is called to increase people's hope, Pope Benedict said. Because he is called to share the people's difficulties, the bishop must take an interest in their problems and serve them with "attention, tenderness, compassion, welcome [and] openness" - a role in which he derives inspiration from Christ's own charity, said the pope.

7. Should We Care What Happens to Catholic Schools?

Are we facing a "crisis of closure for the Catholic school in America?" Yes, according to an article in the Sept. 13-20 edition of America magazine by New York's Archbishop Timothy Dolan.

To illustrate the situation, the archbishop cited National Catholic Educational Association statistics. He wrote: "From a student enrollment in the mid-1960s of more than 5.2 million in nearly 13,000 elementary and secondary Catholic schools across America, there are now only half as many, with just 7,000 schools and 2.1 million students enrolled."

One "crippling" factor in this picture is found in "an enormous shift in the thinking of many American Catholics," Archbishop Dolan said. He meant that Catholics today often view "a Catholic education as a consumer product, reserved to those who can afford it."

The predictable result is that U.S. Catholics "as a whole" have tended to disown "their school system, excusing themselves as individuals, parishes or dioceses from any further involvement with a Catholic school," since their own children don't go there or their own parish doesn't have a school.

But Archbishop Dolan believes that "the entire church suffers when Catholic schools disappear." In light of this, he cautioned against succumbing "to the petty turf wars that pit Catholic schools against religious education programs and other parish ministries." He wrote, "Strong Catholic schools strengthen all other programs of evangelization, service, catechesis and sanctification."

The archbishop said there are "plenty of reasons" for Catholics in America "to take proud ownership" of Catholic schools. He said the schools are academically strong, and the values and faith fostered by inner-city Catholic schools contribute significantly to "the success" of their students, whether or not they are Catholic.

Furthermore, it has been found that Catholic schools influence the future faith lives of Catholic students in significant ways, Archbishop Dolan indicated. And he said graduates of Catholic schools become "good citizens" who are "deeply committed to social justice," to caring for the environment and to serving their church and community as "proud volunteers."