Interreligious Action for Peace

Tom Bamat, CRS' former senior advisor for justice and peacebuilding

Tom Bamat, CRS’ former senior advisor for justice and peacebuilding (Photo by Jim Stipe)

In 2013, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) was awarded a grant to begin a new peacebuilding initiative across six countries on the African continent. Called CIRCA (Capacity for Interreligious Community Action), it has aimed to develop new attitudes, knowledge, and skills among staff and partners for more effective grassroots Muslim-Christian cooperation.  The initiative grew out of local concern about growing interfaith tensions and sporadic acts of violence in East Africa, growing isolation and declining levels of trust among faith communities in Egypt, and the risk of escalating religious extremism in northern Nigeria and Niger.

We were especially blessed in the search for a CIRCA project manager. As I consulted broadly, I was asked to consider a recent graduate of the M.A. program in peacebuilding at the University of Notre Dame named Shamsia.  Not only did she have a solid background in Catholic social teaching and excellent people skills, she was a devout African Muslim.

Since late 2013, Shamsia has been leading workshops with youth and community leaders across Africa on the scriptural foundations and teachings on peace and justice of both Islam and Christianity; on the importance of mutual respect and openness to the “other;” and on practical skills needed to bring people together around local development or “connector” projects. She has simultaneously designed a detailed guidance document for those who wish to replicate or adapt the CIRCA trainings.

On my last international trip before retiring from CRS last October, Shamsia and I joined CRS colleagues in Mindanao in the Philippines to share interreligious experiences from the Philippines and the Balkans, as well as the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. In an extraordinary Oblate parish there, my colleagues and I listened as Muslim, Christian, and indigenous Lumad women told of their shared experiences with armed violence and their efforts for peace.   The mutual respect among them was obvious.  Such respect is foundational to interreligious dialogue and to practical interreligious action for peace.

CIRCA testifies to what Pope Francis stressed in his most recent World Day of Peace message: no religion is terrorist and violence profanes the name of God. Many Christians and Muslims possess a common thirst for interreligious cooperation. I am grateful to have witnessed the impact that Christians and Muslims working together can bring to bear in Africa and so many global contexts.

Tom Bamat is a sociologist and independent peacebuilding consultant.  A former Maryknoll lay missioner, he was CRS’ senior advisor for justice and peacebuilding 2007-2016. 

Going Deeper!

Learn more about CRS’s peacebuilding efforts around the world. Reflect with Pope Francis on his World Day of Peace message, Nonviolence: A Style of Politics for Peace

 

 

 

Lent: A Journey of Encounter

 Photo by Karen Kasmauski for Catholic Relief Services

Photo by Karen Kasmauski for Catholic Relief Services

We Encounter Ourselves

To build a culture of encounter, we must start from within ourselves, from our personal call to discipleship. God knows our true selves, desiring that we, too, discover the person God has called us to be. Through prayer, we encounter ourselves before God; we see ourselves as God sees us. And we realize that God delights in every member of our human family because God is truly present in each of us.

Jesus reminds us, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” To love another, we must come to know our own selves, our own hurts and triumphs, our own joys and challenges. What begins as an interior encounter necessarily goes beyond ourselves, challenging us to live in solidarity with people we may never meet.  How can we hope to go to the margins, to accompany those who are most vulnerable and in need, if we haven’t properly wrestled with our own vulnerability, our own need? Only then can we recognize that each person we encounter can share with us some unique insight about our world, about ourselves and, ultimately, about our God.

We meet Jesus in the desert, a time of introspection and discernment before he begins his ministry. What has he gone there to accomplish? Luke tells us that Jesus “was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil.” There he fasts and prays—and the Enemy takes that opportunity to tempt Christ with those temptations we each encounter daily: material comfort, honor and pride.

Jesus responded by trusting in God, by emptying himself of pride and power and ultimately rejecting the invitations of the Enemy.

We, too, can better understand where we are broken and turning away from who we are called to be by following Jesus’ example and encountering ourselves through prayer and fasting. We may not go into a desert for forty days, but we can and should take the forty-day invitation of Lent as an opportunity to reorient our lives, examining how we are living in relationship with God and our neighbors.

That might mean coming to terms with troubling or disappointing truths. Can we, like Jesus, radically reject the offering of power, of influence? We all want glory, praise, a pat on the shoulder, but as Jesus turned away from the Enemy’s offering, so too must we. And then, where do we turn? We go to the margins with humility and compassion. Only by encountering ourselves can we then encounter our neighbors.

Eric ClaytonEric Clayton is CRS Rice Bowl Program Officer at Catholic Relief Services (CRS).


This Lent, USCCB is partnering with CRS to bring you reflections and stories from CRS Rice Bowl, the Lenten faith-in-action program for families and faith communities. Through CRS Rice Bowl, we hear stories from our brothers and sisters in need worldwide, and devote our Lenten prayers, fasting and gifts to change the lives of the poor. Continue reflecting on how you can contribute to the culture of encounter with the CRS Rice Bowl app.

This reflection was first published in CRS Rice Bowl’s Encounter Lent: Theological & Scriptural Reflections.

Going Deeper

Prayer can open our hearts and minds to God’s love and compassion for every person—no matter who they are. Read about this youth pro-life team, whose prayer for those on death row helps the entire community reflect on our commitment to protect all human life.

This Lent, use this Examination of Conscience in Light of Catholic Social Teaching (also en Español) to encounter God’s love and forgiveness, and to help us discern how to better love those on the margins, whom God loves.

Democracy and the Peaceful Transfer of Power in The Gambia

Steve Hilbert, policy advisor on Africa, USCCB

Steve Hilbert, policy advisor on Africa, USCCB

The United States just completed a long election season. It was at times divisive, unsettling and frustrating.  In the end, our institutions prevailed and delivered a peaceful transfer of power.

Four thousand miles away another transfer of power just took place in The Gambia in West Africa. This one almost ended in disaster.  A political unknown, Adama Barrow, a former real estate agent, took on President Yahya Jammeh, who had been in power for 22 years.  No one thought Mr. Barrow would win, but he won.  People were even more shocked when President Jammeh, known for his human and civil rights violations, conceded defeat.

On a continent where personality politics has yet to give way to strong democratic institutions, President Jammeh subsequently withdrew his concession. He claimed the election, run by his own government, had been fraudulent.  The President also called a meeting with the Islamic leaders and the Christian Council of Churches to demand their support.  For a President who always appears in public with a Koran in hand, this endorsement was symbolically crucial.  Instead, the religious leaders told the President to bow to the will of the people and step down.

Bishop Oscar Cantú, Chair of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, wrote to Bishop Robert Ellison of Banjul to share appreciation for the courage that he and his brother religious leaders had shown. He expressed solidarity with the people of The Gambia.

When the head of the national army pledged his troops’ allegiance to President Jammeh, it looked like democracy for and by the people would fall.   But the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) stepped in to resolve the crisis.  Four West African Presidents met with President Jammeh to convince him to step down.  Jammeh refused.  ECOWAS then announced that they were prepared to use military means to force President Jammeh from power.

President-Elect Barrow fled to Senegal and was sworn in as President in The Gambian embassy in Dakar, Senegal. The Senegalese army with support from Ghana and Nigeria crossed into The Gambia with a final ultimatum.  Mediation trips by two other West African leaders convinced Jammeh to leave the country.  Reports say that he left with a transport plane full of luxury cars and $11.4 million in government funds.

President Adama Barrow hopes to seek the return of state resources. He has also called for a truth and reconciliation commission on past violations of human and civil rights.

This is not the first time West African leaders have intervened to avert a crisis. They ended a coup d’état in Mali in 2012 and supported the ouster of a recalcitrant coup leader in Burkina Faso in 2015.  In the 1990s they sent troops to end a long civil war in Liberia.  These efforts are strong indicators that African leaders are increasingly committed to democratic rule.  Other countries in West Africa like Ghana, Senegal, Benin and Nigeria are building stronger democratic institutions and a solid track record of democratic rule and the peaceful transfer of power.

International support for African efforts to promote democracy, free and fair elections, a vibrant civil society and human rights are crucial. Africa has made slow and steady progress towards democratic rule and economic prosperity.  It has a long way to go and depends on continued support from the United States to meet these goals.  The United States can show positive leadership in the world by working with countries that strive to build democracy and peace.

Steve Hilbert is a policy advisor on Africa for the Office of International Justice and Peace at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Going Deeper!

Explore the work of the USCCB’s Office of International Justice and Peace, which assists the bishops in advancing the social mission of the Church, especially in its advocacy for policies that advance justice, defend human dignity and protect poor and vulnerable communities around the world. Join USCCB and CRS in advocating on behalf of those who are vulnerable around the world, through Catholics Confront Global Poverty.

Catholic Schools: Un-rivaled

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Last week our Church joined ecumenical efforts worldwide in praying for and celebrating our Christian Unity. Perhaps Catholic Schools Week will not only be a time to celebrate the great gift and legacy of Catholic education, but also a time to answer our call to Catholic unity, even if that means working with your high school’s arch-rival!

Often times, our Catholic schools may unintentionally compartmentalize our efforts for peace and justice formation. An invitation comes to your high school for your students to participate in a social action. “Oh, stick it his box. He is our peace and justice guy.” Does this sound familiar? That was me. I often had many service or faith-based advocacy invitations from religious congregations, local pro-life and human rights groups, or our diocesan social action office with whom I would have loved for my students to become acquainted. It can sometimes feel like one teacher or campus minister is tasked with a colossal project: introducing our students to Catholic social teaching and the discipleship of living out our faith in society. At least that is how it felt to me.

Until one day about 15 years ago.

It was the run-up to the war in Iraq, and our pope and bishops had been speaking out to slow our nation’s rush to military action. I was a busy high school theology teacher, and my conscience was tugging at me to engage my students with the reality unfolding before our eyes. But I felt somewhat overwhelmed and disconnected – the moral stakes of war were just too big a task for one person to address. Little did I know, I was not alone. The Holy Spirit was about to spark a flame of justice in a new generation, bringing to birth Catholic Schools for Peace and Justice (CSPJ) in the Diocese of Cleveland. A former teacher of mine was feeling the same call to act in his school, so he sent an email to several friends and colleagues from various academic disciplines in high schools across our diocese. He invited us all to meet, and it was this motley collection of mostly teachers and campus ministers who came up with an unrivaled proposal. Eventually, we would approach our bishop and ask if we could gather with students at the Cathedral to pray for peace and continue with a public witness at Cleveland’s Public Square. The collaboration was exhilarating. As adult leaders, we found solidarity with one another in our common struggle to support our students in living out our baptismal call to work for justice and peace. The prayer and witness for peace (2003) exceeded our wildest expectations. We had representative participation from nearly all of the high schools in the diocese, totaling around 750 students and teachers. The collaborative spirit of that event began to spread as an inextinguishable fire. Students and teachers found hope and freedom in joining beyond the parochial boundaries that usually separated us. As in many places, folks from our Catholic high schools in Cleveland most commonly met one another at competitive athletic events or in uncomfortable admissions-related encounters. CSPJ was different. We found common ground in our faith and vocation to live the gospel.

Bishop Anthony Pilla believed in us and guided us to work with our Diocesan Social Action Office to formalize our relationship with one another in this work through renewing annual covenants between the CSPJ adult team and the schools we represented. We have since received the vital support of not only Bishop Pilla, but also his successor, Bishop Richard Lennon. Consequently, CSPJ has been graced with a tremendous cast of partners at each of our schools: encouraging administrators, energetic and emerging student leaders, and a contagiously inspiring mix of both veteran and rookie educators. CSPJ has engaged thousands in the past 15 years through countless events. Our creativity is not bound by the divisive political climate that separates us into “either-or” boxes. Rather, our collective energy arises explicitly from our Catholic “both-and” moral conviction and imagination. We gather annually during Respect Life Month in October for a Mass and public witness where our students courageously share their personal stories and dreams for building a Culture of Life.  This is not a one-issue event. Rather, all life issues in the Consistent Ethic are valued and represented. Following the lead of the Ohio bishops, CSPJ has also advocated for the end of the death penalty through our presence at vigils at the

Southern Ohio Correctional Facility during executions. We have organized public witnesses at the Statehouse, including “Wheels for Justice,” a 3-day, 150-mile bicycle trip from Cleveland to Columbus (2006). Other highlights over the years include:

Some may not think it possible that long-time high school rivals can work together. But when we come together with humble hearts, the Holy Spirit may grant us a glimpse of the unity we seek – realizing we’re all on the same team.augie-pacetti

Augie Pacetti is a co-founder of Catholic Schools for Peace and Justice and serves as Director of Campus Ministry at Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Ohio.

 Going Deeper

Read more about Catholic Schools for Peace and Justice on our WeAreSaltAndLight.org website. There, you can also access resources and educational activities to engage high school students in learning about Catholic social teaching and poverty.

 

V Encuentro: An opportunity in the spirit of the new evangelization

headshot of Marco Raposo

Marco Raposo, Director of the Peace and Justice Ministry, Diocese of El Paso

For the past three years, the Catholic Church in the United States has been on a process towards the V Encuentro, which will take place during 2017 and 2018 from the parish to the national levels. As it is an initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), it is a process intended to involve the entire church and invites everyone to be included.

The V Encuentro is part of an encuentro tradition started back in the 70’s and that finds its ultimate roots in the Latin American church’s spirituality since Vatican II. It is a process of encounter with Jesus as we encounter each other as members of His body. Saint Pope John Paul II tells us about this encounter in his apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in America and Pope Francis has emphasized it since the beginning of his pontificate. Encounter is listening, dialoguing, mutual respect, inclusion, service, and collaboration, as we carry out our mission to evangelize.

The V Encuentro pastoral approach, centered on our call to be missionary disciples, helps us to see who we are as Catholic Hispanics in the United States in the 21st century with all the spiritual, cultural, and social challenges and assets that this entails. The process helps us to focus on the pastoral vision of Jesus for life in abundance for all, to develop our assets as Hispanic Catholics, and put it to the service of the entire Church in the United States, as we work to overcome the many barriers that keep us from achieving that vision. The social dimension of this call to encuentro is very clear.

As we continue the process of preparation for the V Encuentro here in my Diocese of El Paso, this pastoral vision with its strong social dimension has been very helpful to the ministry of peace and justice I coordinate and, even though it is only in its beginning stages, I can see how it will help to strengthen the seeds of this ministry in the parishes where it has been planted and to open furrows to new seeds in those parishes where it is not as strong.

I am full of hope in this V Encuentro, as I perceive it to be a great opportunity for growth through collaboration for the social mission of the church and the ministries of social justice amongst Hispanics and beyond, at the grassroots and the diocesan levels.

I invite you, ministers of peace and justice, to open yourselves to encounter and embrace this opportunity in the spirit of mission of the new evangelization.

Marco Raposo is Diocesan Director of the Peace and Justice Ministry in the Diocese of El Paso.


Going Deeper!

The USCCB Dept. of Justice, Peace and Human Development offers numerous resources to assist Spanish-speaking Catholics in their efforts around social mission.  For example, Dos Pies del Amor en Acción (Two Feet of Love in Action) and Los Sacramentos y la Misión Social (Sacraments and Social Mission) are two of our most popular bilingual resources.

Encountering Our Muslim Brothers and Sisters

After a moment of silent prayer on Wednesday afternoon, July 27, 2016, I offered the following prayer, as we sat down for a light lunch:

God our Creator, God of compassion,

 pour out on us a spirit of truth, understanding and good will,

that we may come to know with all our hearts

 what is truly pleasing to You and with one accord,

pursue together all that pleases You.

May our coming to know one another more deeply give You glory

 and may the manner of our lives give You honor.   

AMEN.

Thus began a meal and conversation with our Bosnian Muslim neighbors who are preparing to dedicate their mosque here in St. Louis, Missouri. We ate with Imam Eldin ef. Susa, the spiritual leader of the Bosnian Muslim community; Alija Dzekic, President of the Board of the St. Louis Islamic Center; and, Akif Cogo, who is the President of St. Louis Bosnians Inc., a local nonprofit, and planned to be married in the new mosque in mid-August.

We discussed the experience of Bosnian immigrants in the United States and here in St. Louis.  We shared some of our feeble knowledge of the religion of Islam and asked some clarifying questions.  Our Bosnian friends appreciated our welcome, our interest in their welfare, and our curiosity about their religion.  At our own parish, Fr. Lydon and I felt the need to preach about welcoming the stranger as our Bosnian neighbors were building a mosque in the neighborhood.  The construction site created some tension in the community because Islam is misunderstood.  The true religion was hijacked by extremists, and just as secularists in our modern culture misunderstand and stereotype Catholics, so do many Muslims suffer from the same kind of stereotyping.

Muslims do not want us to conclude that their religion is best represented by ISIS or the Taliban.  Neither do I want Muslims to conclude that Christianity is best represented by The Army of God, a network of violent Christians that promotes the killing of abortion providers, or the Jim Jones cult or The Phineas Priesthood, who believe in white superiority. These groups are no more representative of Christianity than the Taliban and ISIS are of Islam.  Vatican II taught that Islam, Judaism, and Christianity are the three great monotheistic religions in the world, all of which claim Abraham as our father in faith and believe in the one God who reveals Himself in history.

Muslims prize religious freedom, family ties, education and morality in social and personal realms.  With the overwhelming power of secularism in our society, those of us who believe in the One God who reveals Himself in history have far more in common than not.

We must work together to protect and cherish religious freedom in the public arena.  Our parishioners visited the St. Louis Islamic Center NUR (The Light) Mosque Open House recently, where we received the warm welcome and hospitality of our Bosnian neighbors.

We look forward to continuing our mutually enriching encounter with our Muslim brothers and sisters in the future.

Fr. Paul Rothschild is pastor of St. Dominic Savio parish in St. Louis, Missouri.


Going Deeper
Learn how to reach out and encounter your Muslim brothers and sisters in your community using these resources from the USCCB Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. You may also be interested in this video on Catholic-Muslim dialogue and the Generations of Faith video and manual on interreligious, intercultural, intergenerational dialogue.

Church Sounds Warning on Nuclear Weapons (Once Again)

Demonstrators in Washington protest nuclear weapons April 1. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Demonstrators in Washington protest nuclear weapons April 1. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

It will not surprise anyone that Pope Francis has warned of nuclear catastrophe. In connection with the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in December 2014, Pope Francis declared plainly, “The humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons are predictable and planetary.” He went on to call for nuclear weapons to be “banned once and for all, to the benefit of our common home.”

What may surprise casual observers is that the Pope’s vision of a world without nuclear weapons is not new. In 1963, Saint John XXIII wrote in his encyclical, Pacem in Terris: “Nuclear weapons must be banned. A general agreement must be reached on a suitable disarmament program, with an effective system of mutual control.”

The Church’s profound concern for nuclear armaments was reinforced by Blessed Paul VI, Saint John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI. In his 2006 World Day of Peace Message, Pope Emeritus Benedict had a particularly poignant passage: “What can be said, too, about those governments which count on nuclear arms as a means of ensuring the security of their countries? Along with countless persons of good will, one can state that this point of view is not only baneful but also completely fallacious. In a nuclear war there would be no victors, only victims.”

What motivates the Church’s engagement in the nuclear question? The answer is at once simple and profound. The Gospel requires the Church’s teachers to defend human life and dignity. In an April 2010 letter to President Barack Obama, the late Cardinal Francis George, OMI, then president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote: “The horribly destructive capacity of nuclear arms makes them disproportionate and indiscriminate weapons that endanger human life and dignity like no other armaments. Their use as a weapon of war is rejected in Church teaching based on just war norms.”

The Church is careful to stay in its own lane in public debates over nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. Church teachers do not possess military and technological expertise, but they can provide moral guidance. In that same April 2010 letter Cardinal George admitted, “We are pastors and teachers, not technical experts. We cannot map out the precise route to the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons, but we can offer moral direction and encouragement…Although we cannot anticipate every step on the path humanity must walk, we can point with moral clarity to a destination that moves beyond deterrence to a world free of the nuclear threat.”

Despite the fact that the Catholic Church has a longstanding goal of pursuing a world without nuclear weapons, this is not to say that there has been no development in the Church’s moral analysis. It is fair to say that the 1983 judgment of the U.S. Bishops in The Challenge of Peace on nuclear deterrence, a judgment they made citing Saint John Paul II, is undergoing development in light of current circumstances.

Even in 1983, the “strictly conditioned moral acceptance of nuclear deterrence” was not considered “adequate as a long-term basis for peace.” Such deterrence was morally acceptable only as “a step on the way toward progressive disarmament.” At the time, the bishops called for ongoing evaluation of deterrence policy in light of the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

In more recent years, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, has articulated a shift in the moral evaluation of nuclear deterrence: “Today there is no more argument, not even the argument of deterrence used during the Cold War, that could ‘minimally morally justify’ the possession of nuclear weapons. The ‘peace of a sort’ that is supposed to justify nuclear deterrence is specious and illusory” (April 2015).

Nuclear deterrence is increasingly seen as an excuse for the permanent possession of nuclear arsenals that threaten humanity’s future. Most of the nuclear powers have embarked on incredibly expensive programs of “modernization” of their nuclear arsenals, hardly an encouraging sign of moving toward disarmament. The dire specter of miscalculation or human error could lead to a nuclear calamity.

Pope Francis in characteristically direct language said, “Spending on nuclear weapons squanders the wealth of nation. … When these resources are squandered, the poor and the weak living on the margins of society pay the price.” This is another reason why he sounds the alarm, “Nuclear deterrence and the threat of mutually assured destruction cannot be the basis for an ethics of fraternity and peaceful coexistence among peoples and states.”

Colecchi headshotStephen M. Colecchi is director of the Office of International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

This article first appeared on the Berkley Forum, November 17, 2016.


Going Deeper

The Catholic Study Guide for Use with the movie, Nuclear Tipping Point, can help small groups reflect on Catholic social teaching and nuclear weapons while watching the film. Use this guide along with the 2017 World Day of Peace message resources.