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Welcoming new Americans

Our commitment to host a refugee family in our home and to acclimate them to American life was to last one week.
 
In 2004, my husband, toddler son and I waited at Burlington Airport as a Somali-Bantu woman named Zahara Arbow came though the arrivals door with a baby knotted to her back. Behind her trailed four youngsters, ages 3, 5, 7 and 9, shuffling in oversized Keds supplied by the resettlement agency.
 
At the 23rd hour, Zahara’s husband stayed behind in the Kenyan refugee camp where she bore each of her children. So she came as a single mother to Vermont, a name that meant nothing to her other than a place of safety where her children could be educated.
 
This stoic woman became excited during one of our first drives around town. A translator communicated her question posed to me as she pointed out the window: “Is that the school where my children will go?”
 
In those first days, I helped round up coats and boots, and prepped the family for the impending cold. The only explanation of the winter season they received prior to resettlement was to hold a small block of ice during an orientation session in the camp. I recall the eldest daughter, Madina, phoning me after the first snowfall, asking if it was safe to go outside; they feared they might die of exposure.
 
We ferried the family to doctor appointments and grocery stores until Zahara got a driver’s license and purchased her own van. My husband arranged mentors for each of the children.
 
Through the years, we attended parent-teacher conferences, graduations and college tours and even provided refuge for two of the girls when they got kicked out of the house by their new stepfather.
 
Why I ever imagined that our hosting commitment would last a week, I don’t know. Thankfully, our connection has continued strong for 13 years to the present day.
 
Our encounter with this refugee family (they are American citizens now) has been nothing short of life changing for our family. We acknowledge the “First World problems” we used to fuss over, such as dropped cell service or a stained favorite T-shirt. Our expectations about what constitutes a meaningful life have shifted — from acquiring things (we downsized our home recently) to engaging with people; from fulfilling wants to serving needs. We fail miserably at times.
 
Still, our relationship with this New American family keeps us anchored in what’s most important as followers of Jesus. At no other time in human history have so many people been forcibly displaced throughout the world — some 65.6 million people, with an increasing 20 people per minute.
 
One of Pope Francis’ signature themes in recent years has been to encourage people of faith to create “cultures of encounter” with refugees and migrants, to fight indifference in ourselves and to share the journey with people outside of our normal lives.
 
The pope predicts an inner transformation of sorts; I can say with utmost humility, I know of what he speaks.
 

--By Marybeth Christie Redmond
 
Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 

Don't wait to be perfect to answer vocational call, pope says

Men and women contemplating a vocation to the priesthood, consecrated life or marriage should not be afraid because God wants only for them to experience the joy that comes from serving others, Pope Francis said.
 
"Our slowness and our sloth" should not delay a response and Christians need not be "fearful of our limitations and sins, but instead open our hearts to the voice of the Lord," the pope said in his message for the 2018 World Day of Prayer for Vocations.
 
"It will not fill our hearts if we keep standing by the window with the excuse of waiting for the right time, without accepting this very day the risk of making a decision," the pope wrote. "Vocation is today! The Christian mission is now!"
 
The papal message for the day of prayer, which will be observed April 22, was released Dec. 4 at the Vatican. The 2018 theme is "Listening, discerning and living the Lord's call."
 
In his message, Pope Francis said God's call "is not as clear-cut as any of those things we can hear, see or touch in our daily experiences" because God "comes silently and discreetly, without imposing on our freedom."
 
Christians, he said, must learn to listen carefully and "view things with the eyes of faith" in order to listen to his voice which is "drowned out by the many worries and concerns that fill our minds and hearts."
 
"We will never discover the special, personal calling that God has in mind for us if we remain enclosed in ourselves, in our usual way of doing things, in the apathy of those who fritter away their lives in their own little world," the pope said.
 
Listening is increasingly difficult in today's society, which is "over stimulated and bombarded by information" and "prevents us from pausing and enjoying the taste of contemplation" and discerning God's plan, he said.
 
Often stifled by "the temptations of ideology and negativity," he said, Christians need spiritual discernment which allows them to "discover the places, the means and situations through which" God's calls them.
 
"Every Christian ought to grow in the ability to 'read within' his or her life and to understand where and to what he or she is being called by the Lord, in order to carry on His mission," Pope Francis said.
 
He also urged men and women to live out their calling once it is discovered and "become a witness of the Lord here and now," whether in marriage or priesthood or consecrated life.
 
"If (God) lets us realize that he is calling us to consecrate ourselves totally to His kingdom, then we should have no fear!" Pope Francis said.
 
"It is beautiful -- and a great grace," he said, "to be completely and forever consecrated to God and the service of our brothers and sisters."
 
  • Published in World

Prayers for peace in South Sudan, Congo

Although it was not possible to visit South Sudan as he had hoped, Pope Francis said that "prayer is more important, because it is more powerful. Prayer works by the power of God for whom nothing is impossible."
 
With hundreds of women and men from dozens of religious orders, with migrants from Africa and representatives from a number of Christian churches and a variety of religions, the pope presided thismonth over an evening prayer service for peace in South Sudan and Congo.
 
As the service began in St. Peter's Basilica, religious carried in procession large photographs of women and children from the two war-torn countries. The images were placed on easels at the foot of the sanctuary steps.
 
Flanking the photos were paintings of St. Josephine Bakhita from Sudan and Blessed Anuarite Nengapeta from Congo.
 
On the cross, Pope Francis said, Jesus "took upon himself all the evil of the world, including the sins that spawn and fuel wars: pride, greed, lust for power, lies."
 
The pope's brief reflection at the service ended with a series of prayers that began: "May the risen Lord break down the walls of hostility that today divide brothers and sisters, especially in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo."
 
Echoing the petitions read during the service, he prayed that God would "comfort those women who are the victims of violence in war zones and throughout the world."
 
"May he protect children who suffer from conflicts in which they have no part, but which rob them of their childhood and at times of life itself," he prayed. Then he added, "How hypocritical it is to deny the mass murder of women and children! Here war shows its most horrid face."
 
He also prayed that God would sustain those who work for peace and would "strengthen in government officials and all leaders a spirit which is noble, upright, steadfast and courageous in seeking peace through dialogue and negotiation."
 
The morning after the prayer service, the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development announced Pope Francis was sending financial aid to dioceses in Congo's Kasai region, which has been particularly embroiled in violence. The dicastery said an estimated 3,400 people have been killed there in recent months.
 
An early November note from Caritas Internationalis, the confederation of Catholic charities, said that in addition to those killed in the fighting, "hundreds have been mutilated and raped. Villages have been sacked and burned, and homes, churches, schools and health centers destroyed. By July 2017, the United Nations had already documented 80 mass graves."
 
"An estimated 1.4 million people are internally displaced in the country," the report said. "The conflict has since degenerated into inter-ethnic fighting and the recruitment of children as soldiers by the militias is commonplace."
 
  • Published in World

First World Day of the Poor

People have a basic choice in the way they live: either striving to build up treasures on Earth or giving to others in order to gain heaven, Pope Francis said.
 
"What we invest in love remains, the rest vanishes," the pope said in his homily Nov. 19, the first World Day of the Poor.
 
Between 6,000 and 7,000 poor people attended the Mass in St. Peter's Basilica as special guests, the Vatican said. While almost all of them live in Europe, they include migrants and refugees from all over the world.
 
Among the altar servers were young men who are either poor, migrants or homeless. The first reader at the Mass, Tony Battah, is a refugee from Syria. Those presenting the gifts at the offertory were led by the Zambardi family from Turin, whom the Vatican described as living in a "precarious condition" and whose 1-year-old daughter has cystic fibrosis.
 
In addition to the bread and wine that were consecrated at the Mass, the offertory included a large basket of bread and rolls that were blessed to be shared at the lunch the pope was offering after Mass. Some 1,500 poor people joined the pope in the Vatican's audience hall for the meal, while the other special guests were served at the Pontifical North American College -- the U.S. seminary in Rome -- and other seminaries and Catholic-run soup kitchens nearby.
 
Preaching about the Gospel "parable of the talents" (Mt 25:14-30), Pope Francis said the servant in the story who buried his master's money was rebuked not because he did something wrong, but because he failed to do something good with what he was given.
 
"All too often, we have the idea that we haven't done anything wrong, and so we rest content, presuming that we are good and just," the pope said. "But to do no wrong is not enough. God is not an inspector looking for unstamped tickets; he is a Father looking for children to whom he can entrust his property and his plans."
 
If in the eyes of the world, the poor they have little value, he said, "they are the ones who open to us the way to heaven; they are our 'passport to paradise.' For us it is an evangelical duty to care for them, as our real riches, and to do so not only by giving them bread, but also by breaking with them the bread of God's word, which is addressed first to them."
 
Where the poor are concerned, the pope said, too many people are often guilty of a sin of omission or indifference.
 
Thinking it is "society's problem" to solve, looking the other way when passing a beggar or changing the channel when the news shows something disturbing are not Christian responses, he said.
 
"God will not ask us if we felt righteous indignation," he said, "but whether we did some good."
 
People please God in a similar way to how they please anyone they love. They learn what that person likes and gives that to him or her, the pope said.
 
Offering special prayers for people living in poverty because of war and conflict, the pope asked the international community to make special efforts to bring peace to those areas, especially the Middle East.
 
Pope Francis made a specific plea for stability in Lebanon, which is in the middle of a political crisis after its prime minister announced his resignation. He prayed the country would "continue to be a 'message' of respect and coexistence throughout the region and for the whole world."
 
  • Published in World

'Papal' Lamborghini gift to be auctioned for charity

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While a Lamborghini would make a stylish popemobile, Pope Francis has decided to auction off the one he was given by the Italian automaker to aid several charities close to his heart.
 
The pope was presented with a one-of-a-kind white and gold Lamborghini Huracan by the luxury car manufacturer Nov. 15, just before making his way to his weekly general audience in the standard popemobile.
 
The pope signed and blessed the automobile, which will be auctioned off by Sotheby's. The proceeds, the Vatican said, will be given to the pope, who already has chosen to fund three projects: the resettlement of Christians in Iraq's Ninevah Plain; support for women rescued from human trafficking and forced prostitution; and assistance to the suffering in Africa.
 
Specifically, part of the proceeds from the auction will go to Aid to the Church in Need, a pontifical foundation, which is working to rebuild homes, houses of worship and community buildings that were destroyed by the Islamic State and caused thousands of Iraqi Christians to flee their homes.
 
The pope also will give funds to: the Pope John XXIII community, an Italian organization that assists women victims of prostitution and human trafficking; and to the International Group of Hand Surgeon Friends to support its projects to provide specialized medical care in Africa; and to the Italian group Amici di Centrafrica, which helps women and children in the Central African Republic.
 
  • Published in Vatican

World Day of the Poor is Nov. 19

Pope Francis will celebrate the Catholic Church's first World Day of the Poor Nov. 19 by celebrating a morning Mass with people in need and those who assist them. After Mass, he will offer lunch to 500 people in the Vatican audience hall.
 
As the Year of Mercy was ending in November 2016, Pope Francis told people he wanted to set one day aside each year to underline everyone's responsibility "to care for the true riches, which are the poor."
 
The result was the World Day of the Poor, which is to be marked annually on the 33rd Sunday of ordinary time on the Church's liturgical calendar.
 
An admonition from St. John Chrysostom "remains ever timely," Pope Francis said in a message for the 2017 celebration. He quoted the fifth-century theologian: "If you want to honor the body of Christ, do not scorn it when it is naked; do not honor the Eucharistic Christ with silk vestments and then, leaving the church, neglect the other Christ suffering from cold and nakedness."
 
The pope chose "Love not in word, but in deed" as the theme for 2017.
 
The Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization is coordinating the celebration and issued a resource book -- available online at pcpne.va -- that includes Scripture meditations, sample prayer services and suggestions for parishes and Dioceses.
 
An obvious starting place, the council said, is to reach out "to places such as soup kitchens, shelters, prisons, hospitals, nursing homes, treatment centers, etc. so that the words of the pope could arrive to everyone at the same time on this day."
Every parish and Catholic group, it said, should organize at least one practical initiative, such as "taking groceries to a needy family, offering a meal for the poor, purchasing equipment for elderly persons who are not self-sufficient, donating a vehicle to a family or making a contribution to the Caritas fund for families."
 
One of the primary goals of the day, the council said, is to help Catholics answer the question, "Who are 'the poor' today, and where are they around me, in the area in which I live?" and then to find ways to share and create relationships with them.
 
The resource book also offered 18 "saints and blesseds of charity of the 20th and 21st centuries" as examples. The list is led by St. Teresa of Kolkata, but also includes Blessed Oscar Romero of San Salvador and U.S. St. Katharine Drexel and Blessed Stanley Rother.
 
  • Published in World

Example of the saints

Like stained glass windows, the saints allow the light of God to permeate the darkness of sin in the world, Pope Francis said on the feast of All Saints.
 
Just as light enters a church through multi-colored windows, the lives of saints shine forth "according to their own shade," the pope said Nov. 1.
 
All the saints "have been transparent, they fought to remove the stains and darkness of sin so that the gentle light of God can pass through," the pope said. "This is the purpose of life, even for us."
 
Before reciting the Angelus prayer with people gathered in St. Peter's Square, the pope said the day was a "feast for us not because we are good but because God's holiness has touched our lives."
 
The day's Gospel reading from St. Matthew, in which Jesus proclaims the beatitudes, contains the road map for "a blessed and happy life," which the saints followed through in their own lives and deeds, he said.
 
"Happiness is not in having something or in becoming someone," the pope said. "No. True happiness is being with the Lord and living for love."
 
The beatitudes, he continued, do not require "extravagant gestures" or superhuman strength, but are for those "who live through the trials and hardships of daily life."
"That is how the saints are," Pope Francis said. "Like everyone, they breathe the polluted air of evil that is in the world, yet they never lose sight of Jesus' footsteps along the way."
 
Departing from his prepared remarks, the pope said the feast of All Saints also is "a family feast" that celebrates the lives of people who deserve recognition for helping further God's work in the world.
 
"Today, there are so many," the pope said. "Thanks to these unknown brothers and sisters who help God bring the world forward, who live among us. Let us greet them all with applause."
 
Recalling the first beatitude from St. Matthew's Gospel, Pope Francis said Christians should emulate the lives saints who while "poor in spirit," believed their true treasure was in God and not "in power or money."
 
"At times, we are unhappy because we lack something or we are not recognized as we would like to be," the pope said. "Let us remember: Our beatitude does not lie here but in the Lord and in love. Only with him, only loving others can we live a blessed life."
 
  • Published in World

Share the Journey

A prayer here, a share on social media there, a voice of support in a letter to the editor, even a get-to-know-others potluck.
 
Supporting refugees and migrants can take many forms, and Pope Francis is hoping Catholics around the world will act over the next two years to encounter people on the move.
 
In the U.S., the Church's leading organizations have developed a series of activities, including prayers, that families, parishes, schools and individuals can undertake during the Share the Journey campaign the pope is set to open Sept. 27 at the Vatican.
 
Share the Journey is an initiative of Caritas Internationalis, the global network of Catholic charitable agencies. It is meant to urge Catholics to understand and get to know refugees and migrants who have fled poverty, hunger, violence, persecution and the effects of climate change in their homeland.
 
In addition to Pope Francis' formal announcement at his weekly general audience, key church representatives, including Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines, president of Caritas Internationalis, were to conduct a media conference the same day.
 
U.S. partners in the effort are the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and its Migration and Refugee Services, Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA.
 
The effort will give Catholics the opportunity to learn and explore Catholic social teaching on refugees and migrants, said Joan Rosenhauer, executive vice president of U.S. operations for CRS.
 
"Catholic social teaching has clear messages of caring for strangers, the importance of hearing their stories and understanding their needs," she said.
 
Much of the effort will be focused on sharing stories about migrants and refugees, the struggles they face and why they chose to seek a better life elsewhere, said Kristin Witte, coordinator of domestic Catholic educational engagement at CRS, which is the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency.
 
"The hope is that through the stories that are presented, the images presented, that people will be moved from their place of comfort to a place of encounter. That's what the church is calling us to. That's what the pope is calling us to," she said.
 
The coalition of Catholic organizations has developed a toolkit in English and Spanish that includes prayers, suggestions for activities for families, prayer groups, classrooms and clergy, and utilizing social media with references to #sharejourney.
 
"We're giving people clear direct ideas, not just in their neighborhood but to mobilize communities. To create an environment or an opportunity for action is critical especially at this time," Witte said.
 
Mark Priceman, communications for the bishops' Migration and Refugee Services, said the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that about 22 million people are on the move around the world, making the Christian community's awareness and response to their situation critical.
 
The number of refugees to be admitted to the U.S. was capped at 50,000 by President Donald Trump for fiscal year 2017, which was to end Sept. 30. It is less than half of the ceiling of 110,000 set by President Barack Obama. A presidential determination on the number of refugees to be accepted for fiscal year 2018 was due by Sept. 30.
 
Since 1996, the number of refugees admitted has fluctuated between 70,000 and 90,000 annually. The number of refugees to be accepted each year is determined by the president under the Refugee Act, which was signed into law in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter. The act amended earlier law, created a permanent and systematic procedure to admit refugees, and established a process for reviewing and adjusting the refugee ceiling to meet emergencies.
 
Share the Journey looks to mobilize people quickly. Soon after the opening, the campaign is calling for a week of prayer and action for migrants and refugees Oct. 7-13.
 
Special prayers at Masses, prayer vigils, simulation exercises, school announcements, lesson plans and speaking events are among the activities suggested as ways to learn about people on the move.
 
Similar activities will be taking place worldwide throughout the campaign, Rosenhauer said.
 
"It is a reflection of the Holy Father's leadership, but it's also a reflection of the commitment of leaders around the church around the world," she explained.
Nearly three dozen cardinals, archbishops and bishops as of Sept. 25 have pledged to participate in the campaign, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
 
Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami addressed the concepts of the Share the Journey campaign in an op-ed column Aug. 28 in the Sun Sentinel in Broward County, Fla.
 
"'Share the Journey' invites us to see through the eyes of others rather than turning a blind eye," he wrote. "As Pope Francis says, 'Not just to see but to look. Not just to hear but to listen. Not just to meet and pass by but to stop. And don't just say, 'What a shame, poor people,' but to allow ourselves to be moved by pity.'"
 
The campaign will take advantage of specially designated days throughout the year to raise awareness, including the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe Dec. 12; Lent; the church's observance of National Migration Week in January; World Refugee Day June 20 and the September 2018 United Nations meeting to consider two global compacts on refugees and migration.
 
There also is an advocacy component to Share the Journey, Rosenhauer said, giving U.S. Catholics the opportunity to take what they learn about migrants and refugees and approach federal policymakers to better allocate international assistance to address the factors that cause people to flee.
 
Together with Catholics worldwide, the U.S. organizers said they hope the campaign will begin to ease the burdens under which migrants and refugees live.
 
"We're mobilizing the worldwide Catholic Church to serve," Witte said. "There are so many networks that the Catholic Church already has that we can infuse an opportunity allow them to live their baptismal call and to stand up for the most vulnerable."
 
  • Published in World
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