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Study puts dollar value of religiously motivated volunteering in the U.S. at $1.2 trillion

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Can you put a dollar value on religion? 

One Georgetown University researcher has attempted something close to it, releasing findings from a study that says organized religion and behaviors associated with it contribute, by one estimate, nearly $1.2 trillion to the United States.

Brian Grim, of the Religious Liberty Project at Georgetown University, unveiled on Sept. 14 findings of a study he conducted with Melissa Grim, of the Newseum Institute, and which analyzed the economic impact of 344,000 religious congregations, "from Adventist to Zoroastrians," around the country.

Depending on which factors one considers, religion contributes $378 billion, by the most conservative of estimates, and up to $4.8 trillion to the U.S. annually, Brian Grim said of the study sponsored by Faith Counts, a nonprofit organization of religious groups, whose aim is promoting the value of faith.

University of Pennsylvania professor Ram Cnaan, who also is program director for the Program for Religion and Social Policy Research at the school, said at the unveiling of the study that while some may consider putting a dollar value on religion a sacrilege, it's important to point out organized religion's benefits to society to balance out news about clergy abuse, extremism, fraud and other ills that are frequently reported on the news and that involve members of faith communities.

It's also important to consider the benefits of organized religion, the study said, when the U.S. seems to increasingly step closer to a more secularized society, such the one painted in the Pew Research Center study "'Nones' on the Rise," about the growing ranks of the religiously unaffiliated.

Cnaan, who said he is not affiliated with a religion, said he believes it's important to gauge, not if religion is important but how much it is important, in terms of its dollar value to society. That's because churches and other centers of worship benefit society, financially and otherwise, through schools, hospitals, charitable institutions, by providing certain social services and volunteer work that help people in need in their local communities.

Think of organizations, Grim said, such as the Knights of the Columbus, 1.9 million members strong, who have provided help to communities in distress, physically and financially, at a moment's notice.

Given increasing secularism, "think of what would happen if everyone in America woke up like me. I'm not religious," Cnaan said, encouraging others to ponder a society in which the many social and financial benefits of organized religion are no longer there because there are fewer or no church members left. Would others pick up the slack?

Grim said there are organizations that are not faith-based that do good works.

"We wouldn't see the good of society disappearing but it would be significantly less," he said.

William Galston, of Brookings Institution's Governance Studies Program, said the $1.2 trillion estimate Grim offered, is the "Goldilocks estimate," not too high and not too low, but consider what it means to have programs, people and services originating from a religious base that contribute to 7 percent of the country's GDP, he said. That's exactly what the study finds if you go by the mid-range estimate, he said.

"It's a sensible number to use as a baseline for national discussion," Galston said.

Cnaan said in his interactions with clergy and religious leaders, he sometimes finds people who are apologetic. But the study shows that they should be proud and should be a boost of confidence to all communities of faith in the U.S., he said.

"I wish I could have gone to every place and every people and say, 'Be proud, you're part of something very big and very important,'" he said.
  • Published in Nation

Cleveland diocese educates on ‘Faithful Citizenship’

While Republicans gathered in Cleveland to confirm their nominee and settle on a platform, the Diocese of Cleveland, too, began preparing for the upcoming national election.

As director of the diocesan Social Action Office, Sister of Notre Dame Kathleen Ryan, oversees efforts to educate Catholics in the diocese on “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” the U.S. bishops’ quadrennial document on political responsibility.

“They (the bishops) make it very clear that we don’t give up any aspect of citizenship to be a Catholic,” Sister Ryan said. “In fact, because we have a values system, we can use it to enhance and influence the democracy that calls for — by its very definition — participation.”

The document reflects on long-held concerns related to abortion and the needs of poor people. It also references emerging issues related to court decisions on same-sex marriage, public policies that impact religious freedom and a rising concern for the environment as climate change affects more people around the world.

An introductory note states that the document is meant to offer “our guidance for Catholics in the exercise of their rights and duties as participants in our democracy.” The bishops call on Catholics to study the document “prayerfully and in its totality.”

The U.S. bishops at their fall general meeting in November approved revisions to the document. It is longer than its predecessors, issued for the previous presidential election years.

“Faithful Citizenship” draws on the words of Pope Benedict’s 2009 encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”) and Pope Francis’ “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) and “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home.” The revision includes at least 25 quotations from Pope Francis.

“There are Catholic issues and we raise these issues to both parties,” Sister Ryan told Catholic News Service. “We are very anxious to see the platforms of both parties.”

She noted that “Faithful Citizenship” could instruct Catholics active in politics about Church teaching and who in turn might influence the positions of their respective parties.

“Things like Catholic education, Catholic health care, Catholic social services are all an outgrowth of what we do on Sunday,” Sister Ryan said. “The last thing our priest tells us is, ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.’ We are not a worship-only Church.”

The Social Action Office distributes materials, including a CD with other resources, the USCCB’s suggested ways that parishes can educate their voters, and USCCB’s list of what to avoid. Supplied with this information, individual parishes choose activities to reach their members, such as discussion groups and formal presentations.

Before the past two national elections, Father Gerald Bednar, who is vice rector of St. Mary Seminary and teaches theology there, addressed Catholics at well-attended meetings. He described the principles set forth in “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” and he advised attendees to consider factors such as a candidate’s past performance and whether or not a nominee avoids issues or “plays fast and loose with the facts.”

“There is no perfect candidate,” Father Bednar said. “It’s difficult in this election because both candidates have expressed opinions opposed to Catholic principles.”

To give a fair hearing to both sides, Father Bednar recommends that voters read a liberal newspaper, like The New York Times, and a conservative newspaper, like The Wall Street Journal for two weeks and then compare views reported there to Church teaching.

Sister Ryan said the Social Action Office does not overlook the youngest voters. She serves as the diocesan liaison to the Catholic Schools for Peace and Justice network, a longtime fixture in each of the diocese’s 20 Catholic high schools. Representatives in individual schools deliver materials to designated teachers or guidance counselors to use as they choose. Students in schools that hold mock elections, for example, apply the information when selecting candidates.

“In the (Catholic) colleges, we have a similar relationship,” Sister Ryan said. “We have a long history of social action in this diocese, and so we have very good relationships with all these different entities.”

She hopes Catholic voters will familiarize themselves with “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” before the November election.

“I’m very grateful to the bishops for coming out with this document as a way of informing people of the issues that are of importance in our day (and) of their hope and encouragement to be an active citizen,” Sister Ryan said. 

Article written by Jerri Donohue, Catholic News Service.

Read the document: “Faithful Citizenship” 
  • Published in Nation

Franciscan may be Canada’s next saint

Canada owes him the return of the Franciscans, the founding of the country’s largest Marian sanctuary and the development of strong and lasting ties between the French Canadians and the Holy Land. Yet, 100 years after his death and though he might become Canada’s next saint, Blessed Frederic Janssoone still remains largely unknown to many people in Quebec.

Franciscan Father Roland Bonenfant, vice postulator of his sainthood cause, said Pere Frederic’s “first and foremost heritage is the way he developed strong bonds between the Catholics of Canada and the spiritual roots of their religion – namely the Middle East places where Jesus, the apostles and the first witnesses of Christ have lived.”

Born in 1838 in northern France, Frederic Janssoone joined the Franciscans in 1864 and was ordained in 1870. From 1876 to 1888, he was the custodial vicar of the Holy Land, assisting the custos with care of holy places. These 12 years left a strong imprint on him; he developed a deep attachment to the Holy Land as he got more and more involved in its development and renewal. He re-established the Way of the Cross processions on Jerusalem’s Via Dolorosa – a first in almost 250 years.  He also built ecumenical ties with representatives of other Christian churches.

In 1888, his superiors sent him to Canada to resurrect the Franciscans and establish the Commissariat of the Holy Land.

“When he arrived here, he was surrounded by the aura of the Holy Land and the aura of the Recollects, who were deeply loved, back then,” said Father Bonenfant. As time went by, Pere Frederic became more and more involved in the spiritual life of the Canadian Church. He contributed to the foundation and the development of a Marian shrine in Trois-Rivieres.

One key aspect of his work often overlooked today are his door-to-door visits to the local people. “He was considerate and had a special connection with the French Canadian families, as well as with poor people,” said the vice postulator.

Local historian Rene Beaudoin also stressed the impact of Pere Frederic’s visits in the Trois-Rivieres region.

“It gave him the chance to build ties with families and to become a popular figure in the region. This has had a tremendous impact,” said Beaudoin, who teaches history at Trois-Rivieres’ Lafleche College.

Over the years, however, the Church has been faced with a challenge: How is the faith of Pere Frederic still relevant, today? The Franciscan and his austere piety were grounded in the Church of his time, but might seem outdated in today’s reality.

“We now live in a thoroughly secular world and in a society that has a tormented relationship with its own history and religious heritage. We’re not trying to adulterate the spiritual journey of an individual such as Pere Frederic. Yet, we try to put forward the aspects (of his spirituality) that are the most universal,” said Oblate Father Pierre-Olivier Tremblay, rector of Our Lady of the Cape Shrine.

Father Bonenfant said he hopes his fellow Franciscan will be canonized sometime in 2017.

“I’m only sure of one thing: His canonization will happen in due time. “He’s somehow special and has an extraordinary stature, as his own personal story is interwoven with the land of Jesus of Nazareth,” he said. “And he’s injected that in the bloodstream of the Canadian people.” (CNS)

What is the connection between the Gospel and the food we eat?

This edition of Viewpoints looks at the question: What is the connection between the Gospel and the food we eat? Tom Sheridan, former editor of the Catholic New World, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and a deacon ordained for the Diocese of Joliet, Ill., says that creating justice and ending hunger are both rooted in the good earth. Liz Quirin, editor of The Messenger, newspaper of the Diocese of Belleville, Ill., says that each day, farmers rise and face whatever challenges they meet, and they need our prayers.

Planting crops and growing justice

It’s a good bet that Mary never tossed Jesus a couple of coins and sent him to the grocery store for a quart of milk and a loaf of bread.

That’s what kids did when I was young. I sure did.

First was the grocer on the block where I lived. It was an old-timey place, high ceilings, wood floors, baskets of fruits and vegetables scattered around. Not much self-service; clerks plucked boxes from the high shelves with long tongs.

A few years later and a few blocks away a new world dawned: The era of the supermarket had begun. Clean aisles, bright lights, easy-to-reach shelves and row after row of meat, veggies and other staples crisply wrapped in gleaming plastic.

Jesus wouldn’t have recognized it.

The people of Jesus’ time knew where their food came from — the fields and farms and pastures on the nearby hillsides. Sadly, we’ve become disconnected from the food that nourishes us. It’s easy to forget that our food isn’t created, plastic-wrapped, in the supermarket. It comes from farmers and agricultural workers.

There’s a Gospel connection to our food that Catholics must never forget.

Pope Francis, perhaps calling on his Latin American heritage, uses farm-based metaphors. He likes to tell clergy that they must to be close to the people they serve. They should smell of the flock, he says. The smell of the flock is also the smell of the farm. Sheep may be a reference to people, but they are also, well, sheep. Think lamb chops and wool.

Farms and food production are too often overlooked in today’s world in which fewer and fewer people actually live and work on farms. Overlooked, too, is the need for justice for those workers. The church is concerned about farm-and-food issues such as the environment, hunger and justice for small and family farmers, and workers, who are often immigrant laborers.

In 2003, the U.S. bishops released a pastoral letter, “For I Was Hungry and You Gave Me Food: Catholic Reflections on Food, Farmers and Farmworkers.”

It recognized the role food and food production play in today’s world and decried the injustices that affect the system. It’s a good read for those who forget that tonight’s dinner didn’t magically appear on the plate.

Because of the high percentage of farmworkers who are migrants or people living in the country without legal permission, our dinner plates are also connected to a just immigration policy. And a wise stewardship of the land is a keystone of preserving a wholesome and safe environment for our children’s children.

Those fields and farms and pastures outside Jesus’ growing-up village provided a good diet: grain for bread, grapes, olives, fish and lamb, vegetables. What goes around comes around: Today we call that the Mediterranean Diet. And it’s quite a fad, even if our fruits and veggies come from California or Chile. But it is healthy.

But there’s a dark side, too: hunger. As many as 48 million Americans — and three-quarters of a billion worldwide — suffer from food insecurity. Farmworkers and family farmers are often among those who are affected.

There’s enough food, but a “culture of waste,” overconsumption and distribution difficulties create what Pope Francis has called a “paradox of plenty.” It’s sad that in a world of plenty there is need. The pope has called for more investmentin agriculture and a rethinking of food distribution to reduce global hunger. 

Perhaps we should call it the gospel of food because creating justice and ending hunger are both rooted in the good earth.    

Making sure God’s creation remains good

While my parents grew up on farms, I know next to nothing about real farming because I grew up in a city. But my parents brought a tiny piece of the farm along with them.

We had animals — dogs, cats, geese and chickens — but no cows, horses, hogs or other four-legged critters known on the farm. We had fresh vegetables, which I didn’t like, preferring canned vegetables as more exotic. I was, in short, woefully misinformed with a very low-class palate. 

These days, I look at family farmers with awe because of the high costs, the regulations and the dangers of farming they live with daily, while pursuing a way of life they love. While it must be satisfying to plant in the spring and look forward to watching the plants push their way through the soil, I would be worrying about the bugs, the sun, the rain, the various bacteria that could kill this crop before it ripens for harvest.

Farmers watch and sometimes worry but somehow that doesn’t stop them from looking forward to the next day’s sun, the next week’s rain and hoping it will come on time and in the right amount. At their core, farmers must be believers, optimists that pray and trust God.

Without God, farming would be a lonely and more difficult way to live.

When the crops look good and the summer sun shines down on a cornfield with ears growing well on stalks straight and tall, farmers offer prayers of thanksgiving. However, in the late summer when everyone is thinking of harvest, and floodwaters rise to drown those crops, it’s discouraging to say the least.

 Problems — or “challenges,” as people would rather say — abound for farmers: the cost of fertilizers and chemicals continues to rise; regulations about seeds continue to cause consternation among various groups of people, and water-use rights are driving people apart, to name just a few issues plaguing those who grow our food.

Add to that, people who shop at stores and live in towns don’t really know what goes into growing the food they so nonchalantly put into their carts. 

Jesus didn’t talk about the fertilizers to be spread, the tractors needed, the literal, emotional, philosophical and theological “costs” of farming, but He did talk about workers in the vineyard, about sewing seed and soil; and God, in Genesis, talks about creating the Earth.

We, through our Catholic faith, are united to farmers on a deep level even if we don’t know them personally. If we were more connected to farmers and the land, perhaps we would be more understanding of some of the challenges they face in trying to provide the world with food. 

Each day, farmers rise and face whatever challenges they meet, and they need our prayers.

Too often, the small farmers can’t make it when their crops burn or drown, their equipment breaks down and can no longer be repaired, or when the bank must be paid even when the money isn’t in the account. It doesn’t happen every time, but it can happen.

Large farms face problems as well, and we often describe “corporate” farms in negative language. If the farm owners are completely removed from the land and the animals, it’s difficult to see anything but the bottom line, which obscures what’s happening to soil and animals.

Those issues must be addressed and problems rectified, or we will eventually reap the whirlwind.

We have to remember that God saw what he created as “good,” and we must continue to make sure God’s creation remains good.

Articles written by Tom Sheridan &  Liz Quirin for CNS
  • Published in World
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