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.

Pope Francis: “Do unto Others” Has Global Implications

photograph of Bishop Oscar Cantu

Most Reverend Oscar Cantú, Bishop of Las Cruces

Pope Francis has now returned to Vatican City, but we remain inspired and moved to action by his words and actions during his visit to the U.S. and the U.N.

As Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, I would like to recall some of his powerful international challenges to our nation and world in his own words.

To the U.S. Congress

On Immigrants and Refugees

“We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners.”

“Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War.”

Immigrants “travel north in search of a better life…for their loved ones. Is this not what we want for our own children?”

On Global Poverty

“How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty!”

“Now is the time for…combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.” Continue reading

A 9/11 Reflection: Peace, Healing, and Reconciliation

headshot of Fr. John Crossin

Fr. John Crossin, OSFS

Like many people, I can clearly remember where I was and what I was doing on September 11, 2001. As I was riding home on a mostly empty Metro train late that afternoon, I saw that the Pentagon Station was closed. As we passed Reagan National Airport, the sky was completely clear, the runways empty, the parking lot vacant, the entrances blocked, the setting eerie. My heart was numb.

Two days later, numbness gave way to admiration as I talked to government workers who worked downtown. At the time, they thought there could be more planes. On the day they thought they might die, they tried to help one another. They thought about their families. They tried in vain to contact them. Even two days later as they processed their feelings of fear and uncertainly, they maintained a focus on others.

Of course, even after all these years, we have scars. Death and trauma leave marks on us.

There still can be a need for healing and reconciliation in our lives—even these many years later. In my experience, healing of major traumas is more an ongoing process extending over time than a ‘once and for all experience.’

Pope Francis will come to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York City on September 25 for a Multireligious Gathering for Peace. Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and other religious leaders from the Metropolitan New York area and beyond will pray in the presence of one another and give a common witness to peace.

This Gathering will be an impetus to peace, healing, and reconciliation. It could become a milestone in the process. But the long-term impact will work itself out in our individual lives as we let the healing power of Christ’s mercy come more deeply into our hearts and as we show that healing mercy to those around us.

 

John W. Crossin, OSFS, is executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs at the USCCB.

 

Solidarity with the Church in Mexico

Granado headshot

Anthony Granado

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Richard Coll

Stories emerge daily illustrating how complex, and at times desperate, the situation in Mexico is becoming. A culture of violence with attacks on human life and a prevalence of corruption have come to dominate the lives of many Mexicans. Innocent civilians are often caught in a web of narco-criminal activity, economic injustice, and corruption at all levels of Mexican society. Yet the Church in Mexico, with deep faith in Cristo Rey (Christ the King) and Our Lady of Guadalupe, and despite seeing the increasing disappearance and murder of priests, is looking for ways to respond. The Church is reaching out to the faithful here in the United States to find areas of mutual collaboration.

Between June 15 and June 19, 2015, Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami and Chair of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop Oscar Cantú, Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, will make a solidarity visit to reflect with the Church in Mexico. The principal goals for this visit flow from concerns analyzed at the 2014 Fall Meeting of the U.S. Bishops, as well as at meetings of the Committees on Domestic Justice and Human Development and on International Justice and Peace. These concerns include: violence and criminality, narcotics and human trafficking, as well as poverty—all “root causes” of migration that also contribute to the increasing suffering in Mexico.

This forthcoming visit will allow a continuation of discussions begun at a meeting last month in Mexico City, with key bishops and staff of the Conferencia del Episcopado Mexicano, or Conference of Mexican Bishops (CEM), as well as with pertinent U.S. and other governmental officials and members of Mexican civil society. Archbishop Wenski and Bishop Cantú will listen, learn and express solidarity with, and support for, the crucial pastoral role undertaken by the Church in Mexico in response to the ever present challenges facing our two nations. The Universal Church, most recently in the statements of Pope Francis, has consistently singled out economic inequality between nations as a global disorder that must be addressed. These topics must remain the subject of an on-going collaboration and dialogue between the Church in Mexico and in the United States. Another major goal of the visit will be to understand better the situation in Mexico, so that the Committees, and the USCCB, can better collaborate with, and advocate on behalf of the Church and people of Mexico, here in the United States.

The U.S. government, through the “Mérida Initiative,” provides significant amounts of foreign aid to this region. But U.S. aid and assistance should prioritize development rather than focusing mostly on militarized security investments in Mexico. U.S. policy should ensure that projects and resources emphasize, for example, the agricultural sector and small businesses development in Latin America. In addition, more emphasis on the institutions of sound governance needs to be encouraged by international and local national policies including: combatting corruption, fostering a stable and fair judiciary, and promoting the rule of law and human rights.

U.S. policies should reflect the importance of controlling demand for illegal drugs and curbing the illicit drug trade, and curtailing the arms trade, weapons and human trafficking, as well as the resultant violence that accompanies these illicit activities. All these areas are subjects for continuing fruitful discussion with the bishops and staff of the CEM, as well as with governmental representatives and leaders in civil society in Mexico.

The forthcoming solidarity visit to Mexico offers an opportunity for our two nations, but one Church, to stand in solidarity and promote a culture of life, mercy and peace.

Anthony Granado is a policy advisor for the Office of Domestic Social Development and Richard Coll is a policy advisor for the Office of International Justice and Peace at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The U.S. Bishops on Moral Questions Regarding Nuclear Weapons

The review conference for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) meeting at the United Nations in New York City concludes today. What follows is an excerpt from a recent speech by Stephen Colecchi, Director of the Office of International Justice and Peace, on the bishops’ work for nuclear non-proliferation.

At the time of Senate ratification of the New START Treaty in 2010, Cardinal Francis George, OMI, then President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, whose death we recently mourned, declared:

“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 Cardinal was standing on a firm foundation of longstanding teaching when he made that assertion. The 1983 pastoral letter, “The Challenge of Peace,” established the U.S. Catholic bishops as a moral voice on nuclear disarmament. The bishops argued that “[e]ach proposed addition to our strategic system or change in strategic doctrine must be assessed precisely in light of whether it will render steps toward ‘progressive disarmament’ more or less likely.”

Ten years later in the “Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace,” the bishops declared: “The eventual elimination of nuclear weapons is more than a moral ideal; it should be a policy goal.” This vision continues to shape their public engagement.

Today the Conference of Bishops is working with others to revitalize Catholic thinking and engagement on issues involving nuclear weapons today.

Over the years, in light of Church moral teaching, the bishops have also exercised leadership regarding specific elements of U.S. nuclear policy. In the late 80s they raised moral questions regarding missile defense initiatives. The bishops supported the Strategic Arms Reduction treaties (Start I and II) in the early 1990s. And in the late 90s they supported the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, lamenting its defeat in the Senate. The bishops welcomed the 2002 Moscow Treaty as a positive step, but called on the United States, and by implication other nations, to do much more.

During the past decade, the Conference of Bishops has opposed federal funding for research on the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, the Reliable Replacement Warhead and new nuclear weapons. They weighed in on the Nuclear Posture Review, asking President Obama to narrow the purpose of the nuclear arsenal solely to deterring nuclear attack. They made a major effort to offer vigorous support for Senate ratification of the New START Treaty in 2010, and have supported and welcomed the P5+1 dialogue with Iran over their nuclear program, as has the Holy Father and the Holy See.

U.S. Church leaders are not naïve about the challenges that lie along the path to a world without nuclear weapons. Cardinal Francis George wrote a letter to President Obama in 2010 in which he “…acknowledge[d] that the path to a world free of nuclear weapons will be long and difficult. It will involve many steps:

  • verifiably reducing nuclear arsenals as the new START Treaty continues to do;
  • ratifying and bringing into force the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty;
  • reducing our nation’s reliance on nuclear weapons for security as the [2010] Nuclear Posture Review [began] to do;
  • securing nuclear materials from terrorists…;
  • adopting a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty to prohibit production of weapons-grade material;
  • strengthening the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor nonproliferation efforts and ensure access to peaceful uses of nuclear power; and
  • other actions that take humanity in the direction of a nuclear-weapons-free world.”

The Cardinal went on to say, “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.”

Given these longstanding concerns of the U.S. Bishops to reduce nuclear weapons and secure nuclear materials, in April 2015, Bishop Oscar Cantú, Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, spoke on a panel on “Nuclear Weapons and the Moral Compass” sponsored by The Permanent Observer Mission

of the Holy See and The Global Security Institute at the UN Headquarters in New York, and in November 2014, Bishop Richard Pates, a member of the Committee, spoke at a seminar on “Less Nuclear Stockpiles and More Development” sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in Rome.

The bishops of the United States are deeply engaged in the moral enterprise of working for a world without nuclear weapons. As Bishop Cantú said in his April UN talk: “To achieve this goal, we must, in the words of Pope Francis, acknowledge that ‘[n]ow is the time to counter the logic of fear with the ethic of responsibility, and so foster a climate of trust and sincere dialogue.’”

Bishop Cantu on the Iran Nuclear Framework

Iran (US Government image).

Iran (US Government image).

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday, Bishop Oscar Cantú, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, welcomed the adoption of a framework by the United States and its P5+1 partners with Iran over Iran’s nuclear program.

The adoption of this framework is important in advancing a peaceful resolution of the serious questions that have been raised regarding Iran’s nuclear program. On Easter Sunday, Pope Francis prayed that “the framework recently agreed to in Lausanne…may be a definitive step toward a more secure and fraternal world.”

Since 2007 the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, reflecting the longstanding position of the Holy See, has urged the United States to pursue diplomacy to ensure Iran’s compliance with its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. For years, the Conference has supported dialogue and a negotiated resolution of the conflict, in collaboration with international partners.

It is no small achievement that the United States, the United Kingdom, the Russian Federation, China, Germany and France have reached another milestone in the process of negotiations with Iran, one that aims to curb the unacceptable prospect of Iran developing nuclear weapons. In order to achieve this goal, parties should work to finalize the details of the agreement and ensure its full implementation. As the USCCB has noted in the past, Iran has threatened its neighbors, especially Israel, and contributed to instability in the region. This agreement is a hopeful first step in fostering greater stability and dialogue in the region.

Despite the challenges, it is vital to continue to foster an environment in which all parties can build mutual confidence and trust in order to work towards a final accord that enhances peace. For this reason, the USCCB will continue to oppose Congressional efforts that seek to undermine the negotiation process or make a responsible multi-party agreement more difficult to achieve and implement. The alternative to an agreement leads toward armed conflict, an outcome of profound concern to the Church.

In January 2015, Pope Francis said, “I express my hope that a definitive agreement may soon be reached between Iran and the P5+1 Group regarding the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, and my appreciation of the efforts already made in this regard.” Let us share the Holy Father’s hope.

The Conference welcomes the most recent step the United States and its international partners have taken with Iran. Our nation ought to to continue down this path. Now is the time for dialogue and building bridges which foster peace and greater understanding.

***

ISIL & Religious Freedom: The Role of the Use of Force

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Christian refugees fleeing ISIL live in tents on the grounds of a Catholic church in Erbil, Iraq.

You’ve likely heard the alarming reports. Last month, twenty-one Coptic Christians were murdered in Libya by the self-declared Islamic State.  A week later, hundreds of Assyrian Christians were taken hostage by the group in Syria. Since the first major territorial gain by ISIL in early 2014, when they took over much of Anbar province in Iraq, millions of people have been displaced from their homes, including Christians and other religious minorities. As ISIL made territorial gains, it terrorized all those who didn’t subscribe to its warped interpretation of Islam and support its power grab. The group has made its acts of brutal violence well known throughout the world.

It’s clear that something must be done to stop these horrendous attacks and protect all who are threatened, including religious minorities. Pope Francis and the Holy See have reminded the international community on several occasions that it is morally licit to use force to stop an unjust aggressor. At the same time, they have also emphasized that any use of military force must be proportionate and discriminate, and employed within the framework of international and humanitarian law.

While the use of force is licit, it must not be the only tool used to counter the brutality of ISIL. ISIL was able to gain power through its manipulation of political and economic exclusion in the region. These grievances must be addressed if we hope to truly put an end to the group’s threat. In a February 23rd letter to President Obama and leaders in Congress, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the USCCB, and Bishop Oscar Cantú, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, made the powerful observation that “inclusive governance and meaningful participation in political and economic life inoculate populations against the false promises of extremism.” These are just two elements among many that should be part of a holistic intervention to undermine ISIL.

Developing a multi-faceted approach to such a complex problem is no easy task, but it is one worthy of our energy and resources. People’s lives are at stake. The brutal acts we hear about on the evening news only begin to give us a picture of the harsh reality facing those living in areas threatened by ISIL. Bishop Cantú recently returned from a solidarity visit to the Kurdish region of Iraq where he encountered some of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians and Iraqis, Christians, Yazidis and Muslims alike, who have abandoned their homes in order to flee the terror of ISIL. Bishop Cantú witnessed the important work of development agencies, like Catholic Relief Services, that are serving those in need. There is a great need to support those who are displaced as well as those countries and communities that have taken them in.

ISIL has shone a light on the reality of religious persecution in our world. More must be done more to promote international religious freedom and protect religious minorities. While grateful for our nation’s commitment to supporting humanitarian assistance and for its efforts to encourage the formation of an inclusive government in Iraq that respects human rights and religious freedom for all, we know that these efforts must be strengthened and new strategies developed in order to truly transform the conflict with ISIL and counter their extremist message and brutal tactics. As Congress looks at the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) currently pending before it, we must remember these lessons – that limited force, consistent with international and humanitarian law, may continue to be necessary, but it cannot replace other diplomatic and political tools necessary for a lasting peace in the region.

Colecchi headshot

Dr. Stephen M. Colecchi is director of the USCCB Office of International Justice and Peace.

Go deeper:
Read the USCCB’s call for prayer and action on behalf of those facing religious persecution in the Middle East and around the world.

Read the letter of Archbishop Kurtz and Bishop Cantu to President Obama and Congressional leaders on religious persecution in the Middle East and the Authorization for Use of Military Force pending before Congress.

CSMG: The Globalization of Solidarity

“To the extent that he reigns within us, the life of society will be a setting for universal fraternity, justice, peace and dignity.” Pope Francis (Evangelii Gaudium #180)

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Dylan Corbett, USCCB

The 2015 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering is in full swing. Hundreds of leaders in the Catholic community from across the country and as far away as Cameroon, Australia, Canada and Vatican City, have come together for this annual conference sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The climax of the gathering will take place when these leaders bring an agenda driven by justice, truth and the common good to lawmakers in Congress this coming Tuesday. These latest blog entries have attempted to throw into relief the different issues that CSMG participants are praying about and discerning in the light of Catholic social doctrine. This one will briefly explore spending priorities in the federal budget.

Last evening, Father Daniel Groody, CSC, from the University of Notre Dame, laid bare for CSMG participants what he considers the heart of Catholicism. According to Fr. Groody, “Catholicism is about bringing fractured humanity back into unity and communion.” It’s humbling to consider that Christ’s work of building solidarity is taking place mysteriously even now, in hearts, families, charitable works, in the Church’s work of prophetic announcement of the Kingdom of God and in the prophetic denouncement of injustice and fractures to the community of humankind.

Injustice, division and poverty are scandalous contradictions to the Kingdom. Our response to each of these defines us as believers. This is no less true when considering our efforts as a nation to address the fractures in our own commonweal.

The bishops of the United States have identified significant imbalances in the allocation of our nation’s resources to promote our common good, particularly in the federal budget. We are all familiar with the pervasive economic imbalances that continue to generate poverty, unemployment and underemployment. We’re also familiar with the need to resolve the problem of our federal debt. But because of the politically motivated rhetoric that often distorts perceptions of federal funding priorities, it’s not as commonly known that over half of the federal discretionary budget goes to defense spending.

This real imbalance comes at the expense of programs at home and abroad intended to address poverty and create opportunity. Not only does our nation’s discretionary budget devote disproportionate resources to the military, but the United States spends disproportionately relative to other countries. Indeed, the U.S. spends more on military and defense than the next 10 highest countries combined, most of those being U.S. allies. Investment in nuclear weapons modernization programs, currently being pursued by President Obama, undercuts the long-term goal of working for a world free of nuclear weapons.

The needs of national security cannot be denied; however, one ought not pit national security against the common good and the needs of the poor and vulnerable. Indeed, recent events around the world have given the lie to the belief that peace can be achieved by military force alone. Even national security is only at the service of the common good. Nuclear weapons modernization is but an example of the unnecessary spending that undermines both national security and human security.

When the bishops speak out on these and similar issues, it is commonly objected that they lack the necessary competence on matters of economy and federal spending. One ought to consider the consistency over the decades with which the bishops have raised these issues and the degree to which their words have been prophetic. Pope Francis’ words are also instructive here:

The Church’s pastors, taking into account the contributions of the different sciences, have the right to offer opinions on all that affects people’s lives, since the task of evangelization implies and demands the integral promotion of each human being. It is no longer possible to claim that religion should be restricted to the private sphere and that it exists only to prepare souls for heaven.

The serious immediate and long-term challenges facing our national economy demand a just and equitable balance of needs and resources. These choices have real consequences on people’s lives.

Dylan Corbett is manager for mission & identity outreach at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.

Go deeper:
Check out the USCCB backgrounder, A Peace Economy: Rebalancing Spending Priorities.

CSMG: The Path of Peace Must Be Taken Up Anew

Bishops gather at the Separation Wall in Jerusalem.

US bishops gather at the Separation Wall in Jerusalem.

Today marks the first day of the 2015 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering. Catholic leaders from across the country are spending the day building community, studying Catholic social teaching and preparing to engage legislators on issues important to their faith. One of the international issues these leaders will bring to Congressional lawmakers is their support for a just peace in Palestine and Israel and continued aid for the Palestinian people.

In the past year US led peace negotiations between Palestine and Israel stalled, outbreaks of violence spawned yet another terribly destructive round of fighting between Hamas and the Israeli military and the humanitarian situation throughout the Palestinian Territories deteriorated, especially in Gaza. This was another startling reminder that the status quo is not sustainable, that there is no military solution to this conflict, and that courageous leadership is needed now more than ever. CSMG participants will raise their voices to support US leadership for peace and a two-state solution to the conflict in the Holy Land. They will echo the longstanding position of the Church that lasting peace requires the emergence of a viable and independent Palestinian state living alongside a recognized and secure Israel. A two-state solution will enhance Israeli security, preserve Israel as a Jewish majority democratic state, give Palestinians the dignity of their own state, allow access to the Holy Sites of all three faiths and promote economic development. It will also contribute to stability in the region and undermine extremists who exploit the conflict.

Both parties to the conflict have taken actions the other side and much of the international community deem inflammatory, most notably Israeli settlement expansion and Hamas’ rocket attacks. Most recently, the Palestinian Authority joined the International Criminal Court, a move that upset the Government of Israel and that the United States Government called counterproductive. In an effort to punish the Palestinian Authority for this action, some Members of Congress have sought to terminate the roughly $400 million in annual aid to the Palestinian people. If such legislation were to pass, it would have devastating humanitarian consequences and could undermine the Palestinian Authority’s ability to build capacity for a Palestinian State and continue its security coordination with Israel. Catholic leaders will bring these concerns to Congress during CSMG by advocating to preserve FY 2015 assistance to the Palestinian people in the federal budget, assistance that is in the best interest of Israelis, Palestinians and all who hope for peace in the Holy Land.

During previous Catholic Social Ministry Gatherings, leaders brought a similar message to Congress: work for peace in the Holy Land. While some may be discouraged by the deterioration of the negotiations in the past year, as Catholics we are people of hope. Peace is possible. During his pilgrimage to the Holy Land this past summer, Pope Francis reminded us, “The path of dialogue, reconciliation and peace must constantly be taken up anew, courageously and tirelessly.” Through their advocacy, CSMG participants will demonstrate that our Church remains committed to the important message of peace and is ready to be a peacemaker in our world.

To learn more about the situation in the Holy Land and the work of USCCB to promote peace, check out this backgrounder.
Julie Bodnar

Julie Bodnar is an intern at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.

What a Week!

Ralph McCloud, USCCB

Ralph McCloud, USCCB

What a powerful week to be Catholic.

On Monday, Pope Francis wrapped up his apostolic visit to the Philippines. We participated in the nation’s remembrance of the powerful preacher and civil rights activist, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We also marched for life, and prayed for that day when the rejection of innocent life will be no more.

If there is a thread uniting this week’s powerful events, no doubt it can only be the power of people to rise from poverty.

Pope Francis in the Philippines. A pastor by nature, Francis goes out of his way to be close with people, caressing them, touching them, and speaking plainly with them. His visit to the Philippines was no different.

But what was different on this trip was the transparent impact the people of the Philippines had on Pope Francis. The awesomeness of a vibrant, young and engaged church risen up from the pain of poverty and disaster visibly moved Francis. On multiple occasions he simply set aside his prepared text, overwhelmed by the sturdy faith and perseverance of a people knocked down by colonization, poverty, typhoons and hurricanes. Celebrating Mass with the people of Tacloban, devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, he asked forgiveness for having nothing to say in the midst of their pain: “I can only be silent; I accompany you silently, with my heart…”

For Pope Francis, poverty is where faith is tried and refreshed by the Cross. The poverty of words in the face of death and disaster, the poverty of a people beset with tragedy, are not without meaning. As the pope told young people before his last Mass in Manila, “Certain realities of life are seen only with eyes that are cleansed by tears.” Indeed, faith in Jesus Christ completely transforms these experiences. As Francis said, “Jesus goes before us always; when we experience any kind of cross, he was already there before us.”

Poverty is also the key to evangelization. Speaking to the Filipino clergy, the pope said: “Only by becoming poor ourselves, by becoming poor ourselves, by stripping away our complacency, will we be able to identify with the least of our brothers and sisters. We will see things in a new light and thus respond with honesty and integrity to the challenge of proclaiming the radicalism of the Gospel in a society which has grown comfortable with social exclusion, polarization and scandalous inequality.”

Finally, poverty is the key to our own evangelization. Rounding out his speech young people in Manila, he asked a challenging question: “Do you let yourself be evangelized by the poor?”

#ReclaimMLK. Many remember, and rightly so, Dr. King for his activism in the struggle for civil rights for the descendants of that archetypical American tragedy, slavery. Often forgotten today is the challenging trajectory of Dr. King’s activism towards the end of his life and his preaching against systemic injustice and poverty.

You may not have seen it on the news, but on Monday, community organizations across the country, including many groups supported by CCHD, took to the streets to reclaim Dr. King’s prophetic legacy. In the twilight of his life, with the US Government losing its stomach for the War on Poverty, King saw the horrors of Vietnam and racism as inextricably bound up with the plague of poverty. Though marginalized even by many in the movement for civil rights for taking his Christian convictions of peace and non-violence to their conclusions by opposing structures that perpetuate poverty, Dr. King dedicated the last months before his assassination to developing a Poor People’s Campaign.

That often forgotten legacy is the one CCHD groups marched on Monday to reclaim. We should all pray for their success.

March for Life. Finally, on Wednesday Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley gave a powerful homily during the Vigil for Life. Recalling Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement, he related the struggle for rights then to the struggle for the rights for the unborn and the struggle against poverty today. Connecting abortion to what Pope Francis has called a “throw away culture”, Cardinal O’Malley said “today we also have to say ‘thou shall not kill’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have a throw away culture that is now spreading.”

The antidote to the individualism and alienation that lead to abortion, he emphasized, will be solidarity and community.

Ralph McCloud is the director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the official anti-poverty program of the USCCB.