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October 16, 2010

The 21st century's false gods -
And, who are the "lepers" of these times? -
Refugees the world over with no place to go -
Lives of the saints as they really were

1. The saints as they were not: Brother Andre.
2. False divinities of the 21st century.
3. Faith and law: What do the poor desire?
4. Faith and law: Balancing justice and mercy.
5. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Who else applied for the jobs immigrants and undocumented workers hold?
b) Each historical period singles out some as "lepers."
6. No place left to go: The world's vulnerable refugees.
7. Pontifical evangelization council formally established.

1. The Saints as They Were Not: Brother Andre

"Celebrating sainthood is never easy for the rest of us on earth. We tend to create new images of these people because we are afraid of how they challenge us today," Holy Cross Father Ronald Raab, a priest at The Downtown Chapel in Portland, Ore., wrote in the September-October 2010 edition of Celebrate magazine, a publication of Novalis, a Canadian publisher of religious books and periodicals.

Father Raab's article, "Saint Doorkeeper," anticipated the Oct. 17 canonization in Rome of Holy Cross Brother Andre Bessette, the porter beginning in 1872 at Notre Dame College in Montreal, Quebec. Serving as doorkeeper was Brother Andre's "only formal ministry," Father Raab pointed out. Of course, Brother Andre also was to become known widely for the many cures people linked with him.

If truth be told, Brother Andre was not physically strong, Father Raab insisted. Brother Andre "grew up with fragile health and became an orphan at 12 years old. The Congregation of Holy Cross even postponed his religious profession because of his ill health. He lived with the sensitivity of illness that turned him to greater reliance on God," Father Raab wrote.

However, Brother Andre has been reinterpreted in art, the priest observed. He said Brother Andre "was a sickly, illiterate man, short in stature." However, he added, "in stained glass in our Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland, Ore., Andre sits among other North American saints looking healthy and robust."

And, said Father Raab, "in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, Calif., an image of Brother Andre processes in the communion of saints woven in tapestry. There the image of Andre is 6 feet tall, broad-shouldered and looking as if he worked out at Muscle Beach."

The priest made clear his desire that "the image of Brother Andre in our midst" be one "grounded in the humility and love he personified."

Father Raab's ministry in The Downtown Parish brings him into close contact with the poor and sick. "The issues we face in our parish starkly remind us that we carry no real answers to people's addiction to drugs," no "sure-fire answers" for people living with profound mental illness or for the suffering Iraq veteran, he wrote. But, said Father Raab, "people's suffering must lead us all to greater faith and service."

He clings "to the image of Andre welcoming strangers at the door," Father Raab said. The new saint's presence to strangers was a humble one, he stressed. Brother Andre "stood for hours each day speaking with people for just a moment because he believed in God's compassion to those who are suffering."

This image of Brother Andre's ministry "forms our ministry here at the Downtown Chapel and should form the core of every parish no matter how much we want to hide our individual anguish from one another," Father Raab commented. He added:

"The model of ministry of this humble man opens the doors to every worshiping community and crosses the boundaries of race, culture, education and national borders, and any other way we might seek to divide ourselves from one another."

2. False Divinities of the 21st Century

There are "false divinities" - forces and ideologies that "dominate the world" - that serve as obstacles to the world's transformation, Pope Benedict XVI told the special Synod of Bishops for the Mideast as its working sessions got under way in Rome Oct. 11. He described false gods of the 21st century "that impose themselves as the only rationality, as the only way to live."

a) One false god in our times is money in the form of "the anonymous capital" that works within the economy in ways that enslave human beings, Pope Benedict said. This is an "anonymous power served by men," though it also torments and even kills, and needs to be unmasked for what it is, "a destructive power that threatens the world," he said.

b) Another false god is located in today's ideologies of terrorism, according to the pope. The violent acts terrorism perpetrates appear to be "made in the name of God," though in fact "this is not God."

c) Drugs and drug abuse also represent a false deity throughout the world nowadays, Pope Benedict suggested. Drugs, he said, exert a "power" that "like a voracious beast extends its claws to all parts of the world and destroys it." Drugs assume the form of "a divinity, but a false divinity that must fall," he said.

d) "Even the way of living proclaimed by public opinion" can be a false god, Pope Benedict added. When the power of public opinion leads people to believe that they "must do things like this," or that "marriage no longer counts," or that "chastity is no longer a virtue," then it serves in the role of a divinity, a false one, he said.

The false gods of our times are located in "ideologies that dominate, that impose themselves forcefully," ideologies that function as divinities, though they are divinities that "must fall," Pope Benedict said.

His point was that the rise of false gods and the demanding process of weakening and unmasking them has continued throughout religious history and continues today.

3. Faith and Law: What Do the Poor Desire?

It was in the late 1990s that "the World Bank conducted what is the widest ever consultation of people living in poverty in developing countries," a consultation titled "Voices of the Poor," Dublin's Archbishop Diarmuid Martin recalled in an Oct. 4 homily during a Mass for the opening of the new law term in Ireland, similar to what is called a "Red Mass" in the U.S.

The World Bank consultation "asked people living in poverty -- and especially those who were exploited, even by those who were institutionally charged with their protection -- what it was that they felt they most needed if they were ever to come out of poverty," Archbishop Martin said.

The response to this question surprised many, the archbishop noted. For, "the dominant answer was not about food, or jobs, or subsidies to alleviate their poverty. The most important thing they felt they needed was voice."

They meant, he explained, that "they wanted to be heard, listened to and respected in what they said -- respected in the fullness of their dignity, respected in their innate talents." The poor "wanted to have an active voice in the society to which they belonged."

The archbishop said that this is what a democratic system ought to provide. A democratic system is one "in which all have voice and all assume responsibility, in respect for others," he said.

What is a democratic system not? It is "not just about voting people in or out of office, no matter how vital that is," according to Archbishop Martin. It is more than that. "A democratic system is one which fosters a vibrant civil society that has the ability to develop new forms of societal discourse, the ability to challenge any of the powers, whether in the court of public opinion or, if necessary, in the courts of law," he said.

On the one hand, the archbishop continued, "voice without the support of law" will find itself "stifled." On the other hand, "law that does not hear the voice of society becomes arrogant and tyrannical."

It is essential in building a just society that people "know how to listen" and not simply how to "assert themselves and their interests," Archbishop Martin said. Moreover, he commented, people want not only that their words be understood, but that they as persons be understood for who they are.

4. Faith and Law: Balancing Justice and Mercy

"If true human justice could be achieved by the effortless application of written legal codes, we would be able to accomplish that feat much more efficiently today with our computers," Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta said in a homily during a Sept. 16 Red Mass for the opening the new court year. The reality is, though, that "human beings demand more than the rote application of norms and regulations to the infraction of laws."

In fact, human justice requires the careful balancing of laws "with the circumstances of the human condition. And such an endeavor inevitably always allows for errors in judgment," Archbishop Gregory said during the Mass in Atlanta.

Judicial officials carry a heavy burden and face a daunting responsibility, the archbishop told members of the legal profession present for the Mass. He explained:

"As our judicial officials, you are entrusted with the heavy burden of keeping us safe from criminal violence and with the equally daunting responsibility of responding compassionately when circumstances warrant it to those whose life situations are deserving of mercy. And you must fulfill both responsibilities simultaneously."

His remarks suggested that judicial officials hoping to hear words of praise may well find themselves disappointed. For, he said:

-- "You will be soundly and harshly rebuked for failing to safeguard us from the activity of violent criminals."

-- And, "rarely, if ever, will you be publicly recognized for the prudent application of mercy in your legal decisions."

The pluses and minuses of sentencing guidelines for law courts were addressed in the archbishop's homily. For the past quarter-century, he said, judges have followed sentencing guidelines in many decisions. "These protocols are intended to regularize and standardize the way that justice is applied in many notorious cases," he noted.

The problem is that "even these guidelines, as carefully as they are crafted, sometimes fail to establish perfect justice," Archbishop Gregory said. A reason for this is that "standardized applications often fail to take into account the human condition, and no true justice can ever fail to consider the human person in all of his or her totality."

Justice for the poor was another concern reflected in the archbishop's homily. "In all of the sacred literature of people of faith, the image of the lowly person -- the poor one -- is always a prominent theme," he observed.

Rich and powerful people "know how to command the reins of justice, and society is often inclined to grant them a sympathetic consideration," Archbishop Gregory said. However, "those who are poor, lowly and marginalized are those who frequently fail to command a fair -- much less a merciful -- hearing."

Yet, these people "are the ones who time and again in our religious texts are held up for our compassion, and so they must always be uppermost in our thoughts and minds when considering the true justice of the laws of a nation."

5. Current Quotes to Ponder

Who Actually Applied for the Jobs Immigrants and Undocumented Workers Hold? "Normal life and business in Southern California would come to a screeching halt without undocumented workers doing all kinds of important work to sustain us all. Recently I was at an Embassy Suites hotel , and I told the manager that it seemed like everyone on his hotel staff were immigrants. He looked at me with surprise, and told me: 'Well of course, only immigrants come here and apply for jobs. Do you think ordinary "Americans" are going to do any of this kind of work?' The California state employment department regularly advertises all across the state for people to work in the harvest of peaches, plums, nectarines, grapes and all kinds of fruits and vegetables. Guess how many 'Americans' show up for this type of employment. You're correct, practically no one. Immigrants are subsidizing our food production and processing with their low wages, few worker benefits and unsteady employment." (From an Oct. 4 online entry to his blog by Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles)

Each Historical Period Singles Some Out as "Lepers": "In Old Testament times as well as the time of Jesus, almost any disease causing blemish, acne, skin cancer or any disfigurement, Down syndrome or any neuromuscular disorder such as Parkinson's disease was thought to be leprosy. What are the forms of 'leprosy' today, which our moment in history has created to be set apart, feared and kept always at arm's length? Perhaps immigrants? Ah, but they are illegal some would say, they are criminals. In the diocese in which I am privileged to serve, one-third of those who offer the Eucharist this Sunday, priests who preach and preside at Mass, are newcomers, not always sure whether they can remain or not. The central moment of our Catholic faith, the Eucharist, depends more and more in this country on 'outsiders.' The Diocese of St. Petersburg in the winter months likely has more undocumented Catholics than registered Catholics. We depend on them for our food, our creature comforts. Yet we often treat the visitor, the undocumented with fear and loathing, and as such the stranger too often today wears the face of political and/or social leprosy. Our country indeed has both a right and responsibility to secure our nation's borders, but our faith must open our hearts to those who today yearn to breathe free and are already in our midst." (From an Oct. 10 homily by Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., delivered in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.)

6. No Place Left to Go: The World's Vulnerable Refugees

The protection of the world's millions upon millions of refugees and the recognition of their rights at a time when there are an inadequate number of places and spaces for them to go are matters that greatly concern the Vatican, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi told the executive committee of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Oct. 5. The archbishop is the Vatican's permanent observer to U.N. agencies in Geneva.

He asked how "vulnerable, forcibly uprooted people" who find themselves in legal "gray areas" are to be protected. Criteria are needed to guide nations in the treatment of such people, the archbishop stated.

Archbishop Tomasi expressed particular concern about a process known as "refoulement," by which a nation forcibly returns refugees to their homelands. This process could leave many refugees at risk.

The great number of credible reports of "refoulement" demonstrate that many vulnerable people do not receive the protection they need in the international community today, Archbishop Tomasi said. And if the reported and unreported cases of "refoulement" and "'push-back' to unsafe countries" were added together, "we would be face-to-face with a protection deficit of considerable proportion," he stressed.

At issue is "how to give priority to people even though protection space is shrinking," the archbishop said.

"The practice of detention of asylum seekers" also is viewed unfavorably by the Vatican, Archbishop Tomasi said. He called the practice "particularly lamentable" when it separates families or involves the detention of children.

"Refugee protection is inextricably linked to recognition" of a refugee's status and human rights, Archbishop Tomasi said. His remarks suggested that reducing the number of refugees in need of protection will come about only when their political, social, cultural and economic rights are recognized, defended and fostered, and their human dignity is affirmed - in all nations and in their homelands.

The current shortage of space for refugees was highlighted by Archbishop Tomasi. He said that "even with the welcome commitment to formal new resettlement programs by a number of countries, resettlement places worldwide have fallen to a level less than half of the resettlement need the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has identified for the coming year."

7. Pontifical Evangelization Council Formally Unveiled

The Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization promised earlier by Pope Benedict XVI was formally unveiled Oct. 12 with the release of his apostolic letter calling for renewed action against the de-Christianization of nations that first were evangelized centuries ago.

The pope said the church's evangelizing mission is essential to its very nature. However, he said, this mission assumes new forms in every historical period due to the needs and realities of the times.

Today the church is challenged to find the right means and the right words for presenting revelation to people in the changed societies they inhabit, the pope said - societies profoundly influenced by scientific and technological advances, far-reaching changes in the economy, large-scale migration or the increased interdependence of peoples.

Furthering the aims of the new evangelization is not a matter of coming up with a single formula to apply to all circumstances, said the pope. He insisted also that indifference to religion on the part of already-evangelized people is no less worrisome today than genuine atheism.

The Vatican's evangelization council is charged with reflecting upon and promoting the new evangelization, according to the pope's apostolic letter and its accompanying "motu proprio," the document laying out the goals of the new council.

The council also will share information about new evangelization efforts already under way in the various regions of the church, foster the use of the contemporary communications media in the new evangelization and promote use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The new council's first president, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, commented during a Vatican press conference for the release of the apostolic letter that missionary activity in modern societies requires a systematic effort against "the lack of awareness of the basic contents of the faith" among many Catholics.

Highly important is that the "new evangelization" not be reduced to an abstraction of some sort, the archbishop advised. He said: "We need to avoid, above all, that 'new evangelization' comes across like an abstract formula. We need to fill this idea with theological and pastoral content."