Common Ground with Muslims

Jean Hill

Jean Hill, director of the Peace and Justice Department, Diocese of Salt Lake City

Not so long ago, members of the Diocese of Salt Lake City’s Peace and Justice Commission met with two Muslim couples to talk religion. We shared food, stories about our children, and delved into the world of Islamophobia in Utah in general and among Catholics in particular.

The dialogue was fruitful, enjoyable, and enlightening. It was also, sadly, far too necessary.

A recent study from Georgetown University shows just how desperately we need to have such conversations. In a survey of Catholics, researchers discovered that we know little about Islam, one of the five major religions in the world. More concerning, we are also prone to believe the hyperbole spewed against all Muslims, especially when those negative opinions are seen or heard through political channels disguised as Catholic media.

The study found that almost one half of Catholics believe there is no common ground between Muslim believers and Catholics. This despite the fact that both religions believe in one God, and Mary is also venerated in the Islamic tradition. Granted, Islam does not view Jesus as God, but he is seen as a prophet who performed miracles with the permission of God.

Saint Pope John Paul II noted our common cause with Islam in 1999: “I believe that we, Christians and Muslims, must recognize with joy the religious values that we have in common, and give thanks to God for them. Both of us believe in one God, the only God, who is all justice and all mercy; we believe in the importance of prayer, of fasting, of almsgiving, of repentance and of pardon; we believe that God will be a merciful judge to us all at the end of time, and we hope that after the resurrection He will be satisfied with us and we know that we will be satisfied with him.”

Given not only our similarities but also our weekly practice of communion with others, it is distressing to find that most Catholics don’t even know someone who is Muslim. Utah’s Muslim population is admittedly small, but also near. We have Muslim students in our schools, Muslim neighbors, and serve many Muslim refugees. In a time when our church is fighting for religious freedom, it seems imperative that we reach out to those of other faiths, especially faiths that are being negatively targeted within our own country, and learn from each other about the full meaning of such freedom.

Our Muslim brothers and sisters are engaging in deep discussions about religious freedom. In January of this year, Muslim religious and civic leaders and academics gathered at a meeting in Marrakech little noted in American media. These leaders from over 100 Muslim-majority countries met to address the persecution of religious minorities, including Christians, by extremists within their borders and developed a declaration, or “contracts of mutual care,” in which they pledged to protect the rights of these minorities within their countries and to counteract the misappropriation of the tenets of their faith by extremists.

The discussions among attendees reflect the South African spirit of Ubuntu – we are all related and are all responsible for one another; your well-being is mine, and mine is yours; we are all vulnerable and this is our human state. While similar to much of our Catholic teaching, Ubuntu is quite a contrast to the current political discourse in our country, which proposes religious tests for refugees seeking safe passage out of war zones and denigrates all people of one faith based on the misuse of the teachings of the faith by a few.

The leaders at Marrakech and Saint John Paul II were privy to far greater knowledge of the tenets of both Christianity and Islam than I possess. But as I spoke with our Muslim guests at the commission meeting, I found concordance not only in the teachings of our faith, but also within our shared experience. All of our guests faced hardships I could never imagine – escaping wars in their homelands to find themselves in an entirely unfamiliar American culture. But three of us also shared very similar concerns as we prepared to send our children, who were then seniors at Judge Memorial Catholic High School, off to college.

That shared concern for our young sons on the brink of manhood is really what Christian-Muslim relations in the United States should be about – recognizing we are all related, we are all responsible for one another, we are all vulnerable, and this is our human state.

 Jean Hill is the director of the Peace and Justice Department for the Diocese of Salt Lake City. 

First published in the Intermountain Catholic, Nov. 4, 2016.


Going Deeper!
Visit WeAreSaltAndLight.org for helpful resources from the USCCB Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs to reach out to, and collaborate with, other faith traditions.

 

CCHD: A Voice of Hope for Those on the Margins

The USCCB collection to support the Catholic Campaign for Human Development will be taken up in parishes nationwide on the weekend of November 19-20. Please give generously.working-on-the-margins

 

Pope Francis reminds us, “we Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it” (2014 Message for Lent, December 26, 2013).

For the past several years I have served as chair of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) subcommittee, where I have seen how CCHD answers this call by giving voice to those on the margins of society experiencing the stark realities of poverty. I want to share with you the work of a few CCHD-supported groups across the country. These are just some of the many programs that speak to the dignity of each person, opening doors and providing hope for a more just and peaceful society.

The California Catholic Conference works with dioceses throughout California to advocate for criminal justice reform and provide spiritual outreach for communities. With a grant from CCHD, the California Catholic Conference expanded its Nightwalk programs in neighborhoods all over California. During Nightwalk—an event led by community leaders, elected officials, and clergy—community members walk the streets of violence-prone neighborhoods together in an effort to promote peace and reconciliation. These walks unify communities and give them a chance to find pathways out of violence together. Just as it is important to unify communities, it is also important to heal the wounds of individuals affected by crime and violence. The California Catholic Conference also sponsors healing circles that bring both victims of crime and families of the incarcerated together for honest dialogue and healing. By training more leaders to facilitate these meetings, the restorative power of God’s compassion and mercy is more widely spread. As Bishop Richard Garcia of the Diocese of Monterey said, “It’s really a question of reaching out to everyone with that merciful love of our God.”

 Through a CCHD national strategic grant, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has been working across the country to promote the safe, effective entry of citizens returning from incarceration into communities and into the workforce. Through St. Vincent de Paul’s partnership with local Catholic institutions and the business community, as well as through programs like job training, returning citizens are able to find jobs, stability, and a future. In an effort to break the cycle of crime and prison reentry, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul also empowers returning citizens to work for the systemic changes needed to promote criminal justice reform. With these new skills, they have been able to advocate for policies that will support fair hiring practices. Through these programs and partnerships, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is shifting systems to ensure the success of returning citizens.

Pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati's prison ministries are seen in Rome Nov. 3. Pope Francis will celebrate a Mass for those who work in prison ministry Nov. 6 in St. Peter's Basilica. (CNS photo/Junno Arocho Esteves)

Pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s prison ministries are seen in Rome Nov. 3. Pope Francis will celebrate a Mass for those who work in prison ministry Nov. 6 in St. Peter’s Basilica. (CNS photo/Junno Arocho Esteves)

Often, when juveniles are arrested their record follows them their whole lives, decreasing their chances of finding gainful employment and increasing their chances of reoffending. Together with the Catholic bishops, groups like the Direct Action and Research Training Center (DART) in Miami are working to reduce the number of juvenile arrests, giving children a real chance at success. Thanks to a strategic national grant from CCHD, DART works with school and law enforcement officials to decrease the number of school-based arrests and promote alternative, constructive interventions that give children a second chance at their future. Because of their work, school systems are now able to implement restorative justice practices affecting over 65,000 students and resulting in a decrease in suspensions and arrests.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) works to be a voice of hope for those on the margins of society experiencing the realities of living in poverty. CCHD supports programs to heal the wounds of crime and violence, advocate for more just policies, protect God’s creation, and develop strong communities.

The Mercy of Jesus is abiding and always urgent. CCHD sustains the Holy Father’s initiative to bring the joy of the gospel to our brothers and sisters living on the margins of American life. Although we will soon conclude the Year of Mercy, a time of extraordinary grace, we know that our work has just begun.

Bishop Soto

Jaime Soto is the bishop of Sacramento and the chairman of the USCCB’s Catholic Campaign for Human Development.


CCHD: Dando Voz a Los Que Viven en la Periferia de la Sociedad

El papa Francisco nos recuerda que “los cristianos estamos llamados a mirar las miserias de los hermanos, a tocarlas, a hacernos cargo de ellas y a realizar obras concretas a fin de aliviarlas” (Mensaje para la Cuaresma 2014, 26 de diciembre de 2013).

Durante los últimos años me he desempeñado como presidente del subcomité de la Campaña Católica para el Desarrollo Humano (CCHD), donde he visto cómo la CCHD responde a este llamado dando voz a los que viven en la periferia de la sociedad experimentando las crudas realidades de la pobreza. Quiero compartir con ustedes el trabajo de algunos grupos apoyados por la CCHD en todo el país. Son sólo algunos de los muchos programas que ponen de manifiesto la dignidad de cada persona, abriendo puertas y brindando esperanza para una sociedad más justa y pacífica.

La Conferencia Católica de California trabaja con diócesis de toda California para abogar por la reforma de la justicia penal y brindar acercamiento espiritual a las comunidades. Con una subvención de la CCHD, la Conferencia Católica de California expandió sus programas Nightwalk en vecindarios de toda California. Durante Nightwalk, un evento dirigido por líderes, funcionarios electos y clérigos de una comunidad, miembros de la comunidad caminan juntos por las calles de vecindarios propensos a la violencia para promover la paz y la reconciliación. Estas caminatas unifican a las comunidades y les dan la oportunidad de encontrar juntas salidas a la violencia. Así como es importante unificar las comunidades, también es importante curar las heridas de las personas afectadas por el delito y la violencia. La Conferencia Católica de California también patrocina círculos de curación que reúnen a víctimas del delito y familias de los encarcelados para sostener un proceso honesto de diálogo y curación. Al capacitar a más líderes para facilitar estas reuniones, el poder restaurador de la compasión y misericordia de Dios se difunde más ampliamente. Como dijo el obispo Richard García, de la diócesis de Monterey, “es realmente una cuestión de acercarse a todos con ese amor misericordioso de nuestro Dios”.

Mediante una subvención estratégica nacional de la CCHD, la Sociedad de San Vicente de Paúl ha estado trabajando en todo el país para promover la entrada segura y efectiva de los ciudadanos que regresan del encarcelamiento a las comunidades y a la fuerza de trabajo. Mediante la asociación de San Vicente de Paúl con instituciones católicas locales y la comunidad empresarial, así como mediante programas como capacitación laboral, los ciudadanos que regresan pueden encontrar trabajo, estabilidad y un futuro. En un esfuerzo por romper el ciclo de delito y reingreso a prisión, la Sociedad de San Vicente de Paúl también empodera a los ciudadanos que regresan para que trabajen por los cambios sistémicos necesarios para promover la reforma de la justicia penal. Con estas nuevas habilidades, han podido abogar por políticas que apoyen prácticas equitativas de contratación. A través de estos programas y asociaciones, la Sociedad de San Vicente de Paúl está cambiando sistemas para asegurar el éxito de los ciudadanos que regresan.

A menudo, cuando los menores son arrestados sus antecedentes penales los siguen toda su vida, disminuyendo sus posibilidades de encontrar empleo decente y aumentando sus posibilidades de reincidir. Junto con los obispos católicos, grupos como el Direct Action and Research Training Center (DART) de Miami están trabajando para reducir el número de detenciones de menores, dando a los niños una oportunidad real de éxito. Gracias a una subvención estratégica nacional de la CCHD, DART trabaja con funcionarios escolares y de aplicación de la ley para disminuir el número de arrestos dentro de las escuelas y promover intervenciones alternativas y constructivas que den a los niños una segunda oportunidad en su futuro. Debido a su trabajo, los sistemas escolares pueden ahora implementar prácticas de justicia restaurativa que benefician a más de 65,000 estudiantes y que disminuyen suspensiones y arrestos. La Campaña Católica para el Desarrollo Humano (CCHD) trabaja para ser una voz de esperanza para los que viven en la periferia de la sociedad experimentando las realidades de vivir en la pobreza. La CCHD apoya programas para curar las heridas del delito y la violencia, abogar por políticas más justas, proteger la creación de Dios y desarrollar comunidades fuertes.

La Misericordia de Jesús es permanente y siempre urgente. La CCHD apoya la iniciativa del Santo Padre de llevar la alegría del Evangelio a nuestros hermanos y hermanas que viven en la periferia de la vida estadounidense. Aunque pronto concluiremos el Año de la Misericordia, un tiempo de gracia extraordinaria, sabemos que nuestro trabajo recién ha comenzado.

Bishop Soto

Jaime Soto es el Obispo de Sacramento y el presidente del subcomité de la Campaña Católica para el Desarrollo Humano (CCHD).

Inspiring Students to Transform Themselves and the World

At Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, everything we do springs forth from a foundation of love–love for each other; love of knowledge, service, and God; and love for the world. For the past twenty years we were blessed to have a colleague, Kevin Duffy, who would often remind us, “We are not educating the girls for college; we are educating them for heaven.”

This articulates a value that we all share: we are not teaching individual subjects alone; we are always teaching, according to our mission, inspiring students “to lead and serve, through lives of purpose that integrate faith, intellect, community, social action, and personal growth.” As we think about how to form our students “in accord with human reason and the teaching of the Church,” we are guided by the call of our foundress, Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat, to “Repay our God love for love, heart for heart.”

Our love and faith are made manifest through the Social Action program, with twelve Wednesdays a year devoted to social justice and service. The program’s mission states, “Through preparation, action, and reflection, Social Action cultivates critical consciousness of issues of justice, inculcates a life-long commitment to service, and develops students’ potential for leadership in building and maintaining just partnerships.”

These are lofty goals for a high school, and yet through our focus on solidarity and seeing God in those we serve, we have crafted a model that works. We introduce students to real world challenges and offer them the space to apply and reflect on what they are learning.

This year’s Social Action theme is “Profiling Peacebuilders.” For our Wednesday on “Peacemaking and Poverty,” we brought in a speaker who had worked directly with Mother Teresa.  Then the students spent most of the day doing service with one of our partner organizations in the greater D.C. area. When they returned to campus, they worked in their student-led reflection groups, engage in an online poverty simulation, in which participants are asked to make the choices of those living in poverty, and reflecting in their journals. Beyond the Social Action day itself, some students participated in a county-wide interfaith coalition advocating for affordable housing and after school programs. This is one example of how through Social Action, students are able to connect Catholic social teaching to what they are experiencing in the classroom, seeing in their communities, and hearing on the news.

Our goal is to inspire and encourage students to transform themselves and the world around them. One student recently described the impact of the program stating, “Social Action forces people to think bigger, to relate to global issues, and encounter injustices that put many of our own daily struggles to shame. Most importantly, Social Action requires that we identify ourselves as agents of change in not only our immediate community, but also the global community.”

Our students are positing in their own way what Maya Angelou once wrote, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Through Social Action, we empower students to be their best selves. We are educating them for heaven.

Lauren BrownleeLauren Brownlee is Director of Social Action and U.S. History Teacher at Stone Ridge School of Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Maryland.


Go Deeper!

Get Catholic Social Teaching learning activities, such as the CST Timeline Activity, the Biblical Justice Challenge, and more at WeAreSaltAndLight.org

 

God Weeps

A carved wooden crucifix sits atop a green and white woven basket from RwandaLast night I dreamed of rows of machetes emerging from a farmer’s field, point first, like the tips of corn stalks. I saw many machetes during my recent trip to Rwanda – sharpened steel used to trim back vegetation and cut paths through the thick foliage of “the land of a thousand hills.”

Rwanda is also the land of a thousand views –the hills and mountains of the lush terrain provide endless scenic vistas of neatly-maintained crops. Rwanda’s equatorial location means that seasons are defined by rainfall. The rainy season is about to peak, and with it the annual April period of national mourning – the 22nd anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. God weeps from the skies.

Rwanda’s complex history – prerecorded, colonial, political and institutional – setting the stage for tragedy, may be another window on the land of a thousand views, or perhaps, viewpoints. To visit some of the genocide memorial sites, many of them Catholic churches where men, women and children seeking sanctuary were shot and hacked to death by the thousands, is to encounter, in the mounds of faded, bloodstained clothing and stacks of skulls and bones, a lesson we have not yet grasped. The murder of up to a million people over several months by their neighbors, fellow parishioners, family members and leaders, cries out to heaven – and to us, wherever we live.

How could they do this? How could we do this, within the last century or so – to indigenous Americans, Armenians, Jews, Cambodians, Bosnians and so many others? As Good Friday approaches we line the route to Golgotha once again, watching the innocent led to slaughter.

How can we do this? By using real or contrived differences of race, socio-economic class, religion, lifestyle, language, or ethnicity to create communities of scapegoats, onto whom we pour the verbal venom of our fears, our hatreds, our ignorance, our insecurities. Once dehumanized and separated from “us,” the “final solution” can seem logical, necessary, patriotic.

At one parish genocide site, the Eucharist in the tabernacle was destroyed by gunfire before the terrified members of the Body of Christ, crowded into the liturgical space, were murdered. The heroes of genocide in Rwanda are those who hid their neighbors, sometimes at the cost of their own lives; those, like Sister Felicitas Niyitegeka, who chose to die with the targeted rather than be separated from their brothers and sisters in Christ and live. Accompaniment and solidarity were expressed in the laying down of lives.

Healing and restoration linger on the horizon in Rwanda. Many of those who survived, scarred and traumatized, have not been able to speak their stories – it can be dangerous to do so. Counseling resources are inadequate. The broken church is trying to be a vehicle for healing and wholeness. Many significant tensions are unresolved, as seen in the most recent refugee situation involving neighboring Burundi.

How do we move forward with justice, mercy and love, learning enough about ourselves as human beings to ensure that such crimes never happen again – anywhere? Such a perspective includes hard work, and open hearts, minds and ears; solidarity in action. The way forward is to experience and to share God’s love – the love, as the Easter Vigil testifies each spring, that never dies. Love that sees each life as precious. Love that finds new, respectful relationships, not weapons, emerging from ground soaked with the blood of our scapegoats.

Headshot of Susan Stevenot Sullivan, USCCB

Susan Stevenot Sullivan is director of education & outreach at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.


Go Deeper!

Now is the time for peace!

Pic 1 posterA poster with the message, “Now is the time for Peace,” greeted bishops from Europe, South Africa, Canada and the United States when they arrived in Jordan for a solidarity visit. The “peace now” theme permeated meetings with Iraqi and Syrian refugees.

Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces represented the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at the meetings in Jordan. Then the Bishop and I went on to Lebanon to meet with the local Church and more refugees.  The situation in both Jordan and Lebanon is a humanitarian crisis of staggering proportions.

In Jordan, we learned that they are hosting about 1 million Syrian refugees and 60,000 Iraqi refugees. This is a heavy burden for relatively small country of modest means with about 7 million people.

In Lebanon, the statistics are even more startling. With a native population of only 4.5 million, Lebanon is hosting about 2 million refugees, mostly Syrians, but also some Iraqis.  That would be the equivalent of the United States taking in some 140 million refugees over five years!  We are scheduled to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees this year, not exactly our fair share.

pic 2 mass for migrants refugees

Maronite Patriarch Béchara Boutros Cardinal Raï distributes Communion at Mass for Migrants and Refugees at the Basilica of the Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon in Beirut.

But statistics only tell part of the story of the suffering that war, violence and persecution have brought to the region. Caritas Jordan and Caritas Lebanon are doing amazing work assisting both refugees and local people.  With the support of Catholic Relief Services and others, they serve Muslims and Christians.  It makes you proud to be Catholic.  They enabled us to meet with refugees, to hear their stories.

An Iraqi Christian family told us they had good relations with their Muslim neighbors before they fled the Nineveh plains in the wake of so-called Islamic State. They found refuge in Dohuk in the Kurdish region of Iraq, and now Jordan.  They hope to be resettled in a country of refuge.  They cannot contemplate going back to Iraq.

We also met a woman who had fled Mosul. Her family left in the middle of the night with only the clothes on their backs.  She, a teacher and her husband is a hospital worker, escaped with their three daughters, ages 28 to 24.  It took them ten tense hours at night in constant fear to reach nearby Erbil. Protecting their daughters from being raped or kidnapped was a challenge.  They witnessed killings and saw young women who were taken hostage as they fled.

Another woman reported that her father was kidnapped in Syria because Christians are being persecuted. When her brother reported the kidnapping he was put in jail for two days.

Refugees struggle in Lebanon where everything is expensive. One man said he works long hours but barely makes enough for them to live in Lebanon.  Life was better in Syria.  They want to go to Australia where they have been accepted, but their UN file is not moving.  A mother reported that her children only get milk once a day.  She is willing to go back to Syria if the situation improves because her son needs medical assistance.  Originally, they thought they’d be in Lebanon for two months.  It has been years.

These encounters and many others give a face to the statistics. There are lives and families behind the numbers.  At these and many other encounters, Bishop Cantú assured the refugees that they are not forgotten.  And he affirmed what we heard time and time again, “Now is the time for peace.”  For only peace can alleviate the refugee crisis.  I hope all sides realize that at the peace talks in Geneva.

Colecchi headshot

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


Go deeper:

Read Archbishop Kurtz’s statement regarding refugees fleeing Syria.

Learn about the work of Migration and Refugee Services/USCCB in resettling an supporting refugees in the United States.

Join Catholics Confront Global Poverty, an initiative of USCCB and Catholic Relief Services, in advocating to improve the lives of poor and vulnerable people worldwide.

 

Remember Israel, Remember Gaza

Image of Rachel Weeping statue and base at the Holocaust Memorial in Richmond, VA

Image of Rachel Weeping statue and base at the Holocaust Memorial in Richmond, VA

Years ago when I served in Richmond, I had a view of a Holocaust Memorial on the grounds of the Cathedral outside my office window. It depicted Rachael weeping for her children amidst flames.  On the base there was a single word carved in Hebrew and English, “Remember.”  It is indeed important for humanity to “remember” this singularly heinous event in human history.  It is important for us to “remember” people wherever and whenever they suffer.

I recently returned from a visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Israel and the Palestinian Territories are tense places these days.  Israelis fear random knife attacks; Palestinians fear the harsh realities of occupation and the lack of freedom of movement. Continue reading

Living Joy and Hope as a Global Church

Welch_RomeIt was the writings of great Church thinkers such as Augustine, Aquinas, and Newman who first introduced me to the intellectual heritage of the Roman Catholic faith. At that time, I was a young student on the campus of what was then a conservative Protestant Christian college. Reading these thoughtfully deliberative texts seemed like a provocative act. When I moved on to the papal encyclicals, I was fascinated by the way in which the Church outlined principles for how people of faith might relate to the world, particularly with regard to social issues and issues of justice that affect those on the margins.

Fast forward many years to early November 2015 and I found myself standing in the Papal Basilica of St. Peter in the heart of the City of Seven Hills. I had entered the basilica from a side door and it took a minute for my eyes to adjust from the bright light of the Mediterranean sun to the soft interior glow of the sacred space. I heard a dull roar to the right and looked over to see myself dozens of yards from a rope line that separated me from a throng of tourists. This was my third visit to the Vatican, but my first as a Catholic and certainly my first time on that side of the rope.

Mass at St. Peter’s that day was the highlight of a special celebration of the 50th anniversary of Gaudium et Spes, which is considered a landmark document of the Second Vatican Council that promoted interfaith dialogue and reinvigorated the Church’s approach to social justice. The Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace coordinated the Young Generations at the Service of Mankind that assembled members of the council, heads of institutes for social doctrine, representatives from international youth movements based in Rome, and a handful of selected young adults to represent the future of the Catholic faith across the continents. I was incredibly honored to be selected by Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of USCCB, who had been invited by Cardinal Peter K. A. Turkson to send one young person from the United States.

During two days of intensive conference presentations and panel discussions facilitated by leading Catholic scholars, I became more familiar with the substantive message of Gaudium et Spes, which challenges Catholics and all people of good will to be responsive to what is happening in the world. Economists, political scientists, theologians, historians, and other experts spoke about pressing global concerns related to family, immigration, economics, technology, and good governance. Each of the young adult representatives was asked by Cardinal Turkson to present synthesizing remarks at the conclusion of the sessions. In this way, the council sought to create a “dialogue among generations.”

GaudiumetSpes_DocsThe group also gathered at the New Synod Hall in Vatican City for a ceremonial handing over of the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes. The six young representatives received a parchment and, in keeping with the future-oriented theme, a flash drive containing the social doctrine. These were handed out by individuals who had been part of the 1962-1965 Vatican II council. I was particularly moved, as a layperson, to receive my materials from Alain DeLauney who was a lay expert on financial matters at the Council.

Being part of the Gaudium et Spes conference and celebration reinforced my initial pull to a faith tradition that creates space for thoughtful dialogue. The robust discussion and interactions with young people from around the world also reminded me that today’s young adults desire to practice a real, engaged faith. They are eager for a global voice—a prophetic voice—that can speak boldly and exhort world leaders and structures. Pope Francis is offering us that opportunity, to root ourselves in Scripture and Church teaching, that we might go forth to practice mercy, sustained by the Eucharist, and emboldened by joy and hope.

 

Bethany Welch 2014Bethany J. Welch, Ph.D. is the founder of the Aquinas Center in Philadelphia, PA and recipient of the 2014 Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award granted by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

 


 

Learn more about Catholic Social Teaching in our new CST 101 videos, a collaborative video series between Catholic Relief Services and the USCCB that explores the 7 themes of Catholic Social Teaching.

 

Humble Listening in The Year of Mercy

Sr. Kathleen McManus Credit: Clarice Keating/Catholic Sentinel

Sr. Kathleen McManus, OP
Credit: Clarice Keating/Catholic Sentinel

She is brilliant and beautiful, and she was my student in an Introductory Theology course. She is Muslim, and she spent the better part of her childhood growing up in Kurdistan.  At semester’s end, I learned of the atrocities she witnessed as a child, including the murder of her grandfather. And I learned that she keeps that part of her story hidden from others, because she wants to be normal; she wants to fit in. She is safe now, but the people she left behind are not.

Victims of poverty, violence, and political turmoil, all of those who are disenfranchised by society, all who dwell on the margins – these are the ones who reveal to us the Reign-of-God-not-yet-come. They reveal it by contrast, precisely through their cries for deliverance from all the ravages of the anti-Reign. How do we train our ears to hear the voice of God in these cries? Moreover, how do we attune ourselves to the silence of the countless voices rendered mute by systems of dominance? From what do we need to empty ourselves in order to encounter the Truth to Whom we claim to belong?

In every global context from which the cries of suffering arise, women bear a unique burden of voicelessness, even as they bear the burden of care for life in its most basic, embodied form. Witness streams of refugees seeking safe haven from violence and torture: Amidst this dire pilgrimage, it is women who struggle to sustain children and the infirm on their perilous journey in the hope of freedom. And, as terror spreads a global shadow, we who are accustomed to dwell secure are startled by the prospect of our own vulnerability.

The attacks on Paris drew an immediate response of solidarity from the Western world, especially the U.S. Why? With the constant violence inflicted upon people in the Middle East, why the dramatic response to this incident? We know why: They are us. And that became all the more evident in the tragic San Bernardino shootings. We are vulnerable, and we Americans don’t like to think of ourselves as vulnerable.

Answers are elusive. Perhaps our call is to a saving question: Might this glimmer of felt vulnerability be our means of solidarity with the truly helpless vulnerable masses? Might it open the ears of our hearts to the voices drawing us into communion with Truth? Might it mark out a path of encounter mediating the healing of relationships, systems, and perceptions that will enable the reign of God’s mercy to come on earth as in heaven?

Pope Francis has inaugurated a Year of Mercy. And now we approach Christmas, when we celebrate God’s Mercy born in human flesh. How might we bear God’s Mercy in our flesh? How might our persecuted and suffering sisters and brothers teach us the vulnerability that issues in mercy? The Year of Mercy is a time for humble listening.

Kathleen McManus, OP is Associate Professor of Theology (Systematics) and Director, Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry Program at the University of Portland

 


Sr. Kathleen McManus will present at the 2016 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering on The Global Suffering of Women as an Ethical Imperative for the Church. See registration information and schedule.

 

On the Tragedy in San Bernardino

IMG_2131The mass shooting on December 2nd has devastated our communities here in the Diocese of San Bernardino. We continue to pray for the repose of the souls of the 14 victims that lost their lives in this terrible shooting.

The husband of the principal of our Catholic Parish School at Sacred Heart in Rancho Cucamonga was one of the victims. His name was Mr. Damian Meins. His funeral was on Friday, December 11th. Our prayers go out to the family of Mr. Meins and all of the families who have lost their loved ones. Mr. Damian Meins worked for the County of Riverside for 28 years and had recently begun working for the San Bernardino County of Environmental Health Department. He was also the physical education teacher at St. Catherine of Alexandria School in Riverside and for the past few years had dressed up as Santa for the school. He is remembered as being kind-hearted, compassionate, and caring.

Before the shooting happened, we at the Social Concerns Office of the Diocese of San Bernardino had organized a Taize Prayer in collaboration with the Global Solidarity Diocesan Committee, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and Sacred Heart Parish in Rancho Cucamonga. The Taize prayer vigil was to show solidarity for refugees and the victims of the Paris attack. We had distributed the flyer months ahead of time. It is a deep mystery to see that the same parish that helped organize a prayer to show solidarity for victims of terrorist violence was now directly affected by senseless violence in their own city.

On December 4th, two days after the mass shooting, the organizing committee gathered to revise the Taize Prayer to integrate a special prayer to show solidarity for the 14 victims of the San Bernardino tragedy and specifically for Mr. Meins and his family. The diocese, parish, and school community gathered to pray and light candles for healing and peace. Most Reverend Bishop Barnes, Bishop of San Bernardino and Rev. Benedict C. Nwaschukwu, Parish Pastor guided us in our prayer.

IMG_1948The presence of Bishop Barnes was especially meaningful to the healing process of the Sacred Heart Parish community. Bishop, our pastor, was with us.

In times of deep suffering it is healing to experience clear signs of Emmanuel: God with us. “Even though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage.” ( Psalm 23:4) Bishop Barnes was with his people and expressed his empathy and solidarity. He said: “For some of us, it will take much longer to heal. And we respect where each person is in their pain, in their anger, in their sorrow, in their confusion.”

He added: “Let your hearts and your minds be open to God’s message for you, for all of us, for our communities and our families. Be open to where our God, a God of mercy and love, leads us.”IMG_2237

At the end of the prayer, the students of Sacred Heart Parish School offered fresh roses in memory of Mr. Meins.

On December 7th, two days after the Taize Prayer at Sacred Heart Parish, an interreligious prayer vigil at San Bernardino’s Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral was organized in order to comfort friends and families of the victims, first responders and other civic leaders affected by the Dec. 2 attack. Inland Congregations United for Change, a group Catholic Campaign for Human Development has supported, was key in organizing the interfaith prayer vigil. Bishop Barnes gave the opening address and expressed: “We want what is good for our community. We do not want evil to win over our hearts, our pain to paralyze our future. We do not want our hearts to turn against any person, any race, any religion.”

As a community, we are discerning ways to continue our healing process. WeIMG_1972 understand it may be a slow and long process. People are afraid and have many mixed emotions. However, we as a faith community would like to be a source of hope because as Bishop Barnes expressed at the interreligious prayer vigil: “We believe that love is greater than hate; courage greater than fear; unity greater than separation.”

We, at the Diocese of San Bernardino, are thankful to all the people who have expressed their support in these challenging times. Thank you for letting us know that we are not alone; that you are with us in your prayers and acts of solidarity.

Sr. Hortensia Del Villar, SAC is the Director of Social Concerns in the Diocese of San Bernardino.

Photos by Andres Rivera, courtesy of the Diocese of San Bernardino


Related: Statement from Archbishop Kurtz, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, on December 14, 2015

A look ahead to Pope Francis’ visit to Africa

Pope Francis holds dove before his weekly audience at the Vatican

Pope Francis holds a dove before his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican May 15. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Later this week, Pope Francis will make his first pastoral visit to Africa. He will visit Kenya, Uganda, and if the security situation allows, the Central African Republic. Throughout his pontificate, the Holy Father has championed the cause of those living in poverty. On the world scene, Sub Saharan Africa is where the marginalized of the world are concentrated. According to the World Bank, in 1990 50% of the world’s poor lived in Southeast Asia while Africa accounted for only around 15%. The Bank projects that in 2015 those continents will change places with Africa holding about half of the world’s poor. Yet, Africa represents only around 15% of the world’s population.

Pope Francis very likely will make this disparity a key message to the world. He will probably call on the world’s developed countries to increase their investment in poverty eradication where the poor are concentrated – in Africa.

November 25-27, Pope Francis will be in Kenya. There, Pope Francis may address the long-term ethnic conflict that has been instigated and used by political leaders for decades. Conflict over land, especially in the fertile areas of the country, is closely linked to ethnic tensions. Ethnic groups tend to be concentrated in particular areas of the country, and some groups feel their land has been taken by the more powerful and politically connected ethnic groups. Church leaders have spoken out against ethnic-based politics and the resulting violent conflicts. The Holy Father may urge the Church and the government to defuse tensions through more systematic and sustained dialogue and reconciliation programs.

For decades, Muslims and Christians have lived side-by-side in relative peace in Kenya. When Somalia descended into conflict, refugees streamed into Kenya, but Muslim-Christian relations remained positive. When the Kenyan army intervened in Somalia, however, that changed. The Westgate Mall attack and more recent terrorist acts have created significant anti-Muslim sentiments, resulting in heavy-handed actions by government police and military against Muslims. This in turn has fostered grievances among peaceful people in the Muslim community. The Holy Father will perhaps stress the need for greater Muslim-Christian dialogue.

Governance issues and corruption have been long standing problems in Kenya. They are some of the root causes of the worsening ethnic conflict. The Holy Father may call for greater inclusive, transparent, and responsive government in a pastoral way.

While South Sudan is not on the Pope’s visit schedule, the Holy See has followed the tragic civil war there closely. Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council on International Justice and Peace, visited South Sudan last year. Pope Francis may make a statement on the situation in South Sudan and encourage the Catholic Church and the South Sudan Council of Churches to persist in their efforts to promote reconciliation, dialogue between political leaders, and regional cooperation to help South Sudan achieve peace.

From November 27-29, Pope Francis will be in Uganda, a country that has been relatively peaceful. Tensions are rising due to worsening corruption and neglectful governance and increasing civil rights violations by President Museveni’s government, in power for almost 30 years. The Holy Father may address governance issues by evoking his themes of caring for the poor and the marginalized.

On November 29-30, Pope Francis is expected to visit the Central African Republic, which is struggling to recover from decades of bad governance and two years of violent conflict. The country is trying to organize elections and inaugurate the first legitimate government in its history. Violence between militia groups continues, and the fate of a peaceful transition hangs in the balance. The Church leads the Religious Leaders’ Platform that is calling for donor nations to give the transitional government the time and resources it needs to organize a credible election. The Pope’s visit could be the catalyst for real positive change if he can encourage the belligerents to reject their violent ways, empower religious leaders, and urge donors to fund peacebuilding efforts.

Throughout his journey, we expect to see Pope Francis bringing the hallmarks of his Papacy: preaching joy of the Gospel, being close to the poor and marginalized, and spreading message of mercy and reconciliation.

In advance of the Pope’s visit to Kenya, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops has released a special prayer for the visit. We invite you to follow Pope Francis’ visit in the news and ask that you pray for him and for peace in South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

See the full schedule for Pope Francis’ Visit to Africa, November 25-30.

 

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