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'Disrupt' oppression

Affirming that all human life is sacred and all people are "protagonists of their future," more than 600 grass-roots leaders echoed the call of a U.S. bishop to disrupt practices that cause oppression and violate human dignity.
 
The leaders attending the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements concluded the four-day meeting Feb. 19 saying in a final message that a "small elite is growing wealthy and powerful off the suffering of our families."
 
"Racism and white supremacy are America's original sins. They (the elites) continue to justify a system of unregulated capitalism that idolizes wealth accumulation over human needs," said the "Message from Modesto."
 
The message broadly echoed Pope Francis' regular critiques of the world economy in which he has said the accumulation of wealth by a few people has harmed the dignity of millions of people in the human family.
 
The representatives from dozens of faith-based and secular community organizations, labor unions and Catholic dioceses representing an estimated 1 million people called for eight actions to be undertaken. The actions included inviting faith communities, including every Catholic parish, to declare their sites a sanctuary for people facing deportation by the U.S. government; developing local leadership to hold elected officials accountable and, when possible to recruit grass-roots leaders to seek elected office; and a global week of action May 1-7 in which people "stand together against hatred and attacks on families."
 
"There's too many leaders in this room not to mobilize," Takia Yates-Binford of East St. Louis, Ill., who represented the Service Employees International Union, said as the meeting ended.
 
The delegates called for "bold prophetic leadership" from faith communities to speak and act in solidarity with citizens on the margins of society. Participants in plenary sessions and small-group discussions challenged clergy, including the Catholic hierarchy, to be in the forefront of movements to seek justice on social issues for people outside of mainstream society.
 
In their message, delegates said they wanted to see the seeds planted in Modesto blossom across the country in statewide and regional gatherings to bring the vision of the four meetings of popular movements held to date and the pope's message of hope and courage to every U.S. community.
 
The final message reflected the words of Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego, whose stirring presentation a day earlier invited people to follow the example of President Donald Trump, who campaigned as the candidate of "disruption."
"Well now, we must all become disruptors," Bishop McElroy told the delegates Feb. 18 to sustained applause. "We must disrupt those who would seek to send troops into our streets to deport the undocumented, to rip mothers and fathers from their families. We must disrupt those who portray refugees as enemies rather than our brothers and sisters in terrible need.
 
"We must disrupt those who train us to see Muslim men and women as a source of fear rather than as children of God. We must disrupt those who would take even food stamps and nutrition assistance from the mouths of children."
 
At the same time, Bishop McElroy said, people of faith must rebuild society based on justice for everyone.
 
"We have to rebuild this nation so that we place at its heart the service of the dignity of the human person and assert what that flag behind us asserts is our heritage: Every man, woman and child is equal in this nation and called to be equal," he said.
Bishop McElroy's words in a plenary session on labor and housing followed a video greeting from Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, N.J., in which he said the concentration of wealth and political power in the country "threatens to undermine the health of our democracy."
 
As families cope with economic stress and feel no elected official at any level of government cares about their plight, people tend to withdraw from civic participation and effectively disenfranchise themselves, leaving special interest groups, lobbyists and "even demagogues" to fill the void, Cardinal Tobin said.
Such a situation has given rise to populist and nationalist sentiments in the U.S. under which the blame for the economic struggles of some are placed on today's "scapegoats" including immigrants, Muslims and young people of color, he said, rather than toward the architects of what the pope has called the economy of exclusion. The rising fear and anxiety among people in the dominant culture has given rise to "the sins of racism and xenophobia," he said.
 
Cardinal Tobin used Pope Francis' calls for encounter and dialogue as necessary steps to overcome fear, alienation and indifference. "Encounter and dialogue create the capacity for solidarity and accompaniment," he said.
 
"It is our responsibility to respond to the pain and anxiety of our brothers and sisters. As popular movements, your role is to knit together strong communal networks that can gather up the experiences and suffering and aspiration of the people and push for structural changes that affirm the dignity and value of every child of God," Cardinal Tobin said.
 
Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Vatican's Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, told the gathering as the final message was adopted that the Church was "here to accompany you and support you all."
 
"The Catholic Church believes that the joys and the hope, the grief and the anguish of people of our time, especially those who are poor or who are isolated, these also are the joys and the hope and the grief and the anguish of the followers of Christ," Cardinal Turkson said.
 
Meeting organizers, which included the PICO National Network of congregation-based organizations and the U.S. bishops' Catholic Campaign for Human Development, planned to send the message and a comprehensive report on the proceedings to the pope and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The USCCB and the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development co-sponsored the gathering.
 
The U.S. gathering was the first regional meeting in a series encouraged by Pope Francis to bring people working to improve poor and struggling communities around the world through organizing initiatives, prayer and social action. Three previous meetings since 2014 -- two in Rome and one in Bolivia -- have focused on land, labor and housing. The U.S. meeting added immigration and racism to the topics being discussed.
 
Along with the grass-roots volunteer leaders and professional organizers, 25 prelates attended the California meeting and several addressed the plenary sessions including Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president, on immigration, Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, La., on racism, and Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., on the environment.
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The full Message from Modesto can be read online at popularmovements.org/news/message-from-modesto.
 
  • Published in Nation

Respect earth and others, says pope

Development projects involving indigenous communities must be planned in consultation with them and must respect their traditional relationship to the land, Pope Francis said.

Having the "prior and informed consent" of the native communities who could be impacted by development projects is essential for "peaceful cooperation between governing authorities and indigenous peoples, overcoming confrontation and conflict," the pope said Feb. 15 during a meeting with about three dozen representative of indigenous communities.

The representatives from Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean were in Rome for continuing discussions with the U.N.-related International Fund for Agricultural Development. Their talks aim at ensuring development projects impacting native communities are carried out in consultation with them and that they respect their land, cultures and traditions.

"I believe that the central issue is how to reconcile the right to development, both social and cultural, with the protection of the particular characteristics of indigenous peoples and their territories," the pope said. "This is especially clear when planning economic activities which may interfere with indigenous cultures and their ancestral relationship to the earth."

While none of the representatives were from North America, several news outlets immediately connected the pope's remarks to the ongoing protests over the construction of a leg of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would go through indigenous land in North Dakota. Several Sioux tribes have protested the pipeline project saying it endangers the Standing Rock reservation's water supply and infringes on sacred tribal grounds.

Departing from his prepared text, Pope Francis praised the indigenous communities for approaching progress "with a special care for Mother Earth. In this moment in which humanity is committing a grave sin in not caring for the earth, I urge you to continue to bear witness to this. And do not allow new technologies -- which are legitimate and good -- but do not allow those that destroy the earth, that destroy the environment and ecological balance, and which end up destroying the wisdom of peoples."
  • Published in Vatican

Pope Francis to visit Fatima

The Vatican has confirmed that Pope Francis will visit Portugal in 2017 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions of Fatima.
 
The pope, who accepted the invitation made by President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and the bishops of Portugal, "will go on a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima from May 12-13," the Vatican announced in December.
 
The pilgrimage will mark the anniversary of the Marian apparitions, which first began on May 13, 1917, when three shepherd children reported seeing the Virgin Mary.
 
The apparitions continued once a month until Oct. 13, 1917, and later were declared worthy of belief by the Catholic Church.
 
Following the announcement, Father Carlos Cabecinhas, rector of the Fatima shrine told Agencia Ecclesia, the news agency of the Portuguese bishops' conference, that the visit was a "cause for joy" for the shrine.
"For the shrine of Fatima, it is a great joy to receive this confirmation of Pope Francis' visit," he said.
 
"We know that those days will be a pilgrimage marked by this festivity that, on the one hand is for the centennial of the apparitions and, on the other hand, marks the presence of the pope in our midst and a pope as beloved as Pope Francis," Father Cabecinhas said.
 
While the Vatican confirmed the dates of the visit, the pope had already said that he intended to go.
 
"Certainly, as things presently stand, I will go to Portugal, and only to Fatima," he told journalists during his return flight to Rome from Azerbaijan Oct. 2.
 
Pope Francis will be the fourth pontiff to visit the Marian shrine, following the footsteps of Blessed Paul VI, St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, who each paid homage different years to Mary on the anniversary of the first apparition May 13.
 
 
 
  • Published in World

Pope leads prayers for migrants, trafficking victims

Marking the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, a former slave, Pope Francis urged Christians to help victims of human trafficking and migrants, especially the Rohingya people being chased from Myanmar.

For the Catholic Church, St. Bakhita's feast day, Feb. 8, is a day of prayer for victims of trafficking.

Pope Francis asked government officials around the world to "decisively combat this plague" of human trafficking, paying particular attention to trafficking in children. "Every effort must be made to eradicate this shameful and intolerable crime."

Describing St. Bakhita as a "young woman who was enslaved in Africa, exploited, humiliated," Pope Francis said she never gave up hope and, finally, she was able to migrate to Europe.

Holding up a booklet with a photograph of the Sudanese saint, who died in Italy in 1947, the pope continued telling her story. In Europe, he said, "she heard the call of the Lord and became a nun," joining the Canossian Daughters of Charity.

"Let us pray to St. Josephine Bakhita for all migrants and refugees who are exploited and suffer so much," the pope said.

"And speaking of migrants who are exploited and chased away, I want to pray with you today in a special way for our Rohingya brothers and sisters," the pope continued. "These people, thrown out of Myanmar, move from one place to another because no one wants them."

Pope Francis told the estimated 7,000 people at his audience that the Rohingya, who are Muslim, "are good people. They are our brothers and sisters. They have been suffering for years. They have been tortured, killed, just because they want to keep their traditions and their Muslim faith."

He led the audience in praying the Lord's Prayer "for our Rohingya brothers and sisters."

In a report released Feb. 3, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said since October, there had been escalating violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar. The report cited eyewitness reports of mass gang-rape, killings -- including of babies and young children -- beatings, disappearances and other serious human rights violations by the country's security forces.

An estimated 66,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since October, the report said.

The recent violence, the U.N. said, "follows a long-standing pattern of violations and abuses; systematic and systemic discrimination; and policies of exclusion and marginalization against the Rohingya that have been in place for decades in northern Rakhine state."

In his main audience talk, Pope Francis continued to discuss the characteristics of Christian hope, which should be both tender and strong enough to support those who suffer and despair.

The Gospel does not call Christians to pity the suffering, but to have compassion, which means suffering with them, listening to them, encouraging them and offering a helping hand, the pope said.

The Gospel calls Christians "not to build walls, but bridges, not to repay evil with evil, but to defeat evil with goodness (and) offense with forgiveness, to live in peace with all," he said. "This is the church. And this is what Christian hope accomplishes when it takes on the strong and, at the same time, tender features of love."
 
  • Published in Vatican

U.S. bishops call for pursuit of peace

In a letter issued yesterday congratulating Secretary Rex Tillerson on his confirmation as Secretary of State, Bishop Oscar Cantú, chair of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), called on the Secretary to work for peace in Israel and Palestine.

Bishop Cantú, who recently participated in a solidarity visit to Israel and Palestine, enclosed a joint communiqué by bishops from Europe, Canada, South Africa and the United States. The bishop notes that “2017 marks the fiftieth anniversary of a crippling occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, crippling for both peoples.”  Quoting the joint communiqué of the bishops, he goes on to state that “[t]he occupation violates ‘the human dignity of both Palestinians and Israelis.’  Settlement expansion on occupied Palestinian lands undermines a two-state solution, destroying the homes and the livelihoods of Palestinians as well as the long-term security and future of Israelis.”

Decrying “egregious injustices and random acts of violence,” Bishop Cantú expressed the opposition of U.S. and international bishops to Israeli settlement expansion and confiscation of Palestinian lands. In addition, he implored the Secretary to maintain the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv. He wrote, “Moving the embassy to Jerusalem would erode the U.S. commitment to a two-state solution, and is a threat to pursuing peace and ending conflict. Its impact would incite and destabilize the area, compromising U.S. security. As Pope Francis declares, ‘the two-state solution must become a reality and not merely a dream.’”

Bishop Cantú called on Secretary Tillerson to work “to end fifty years of occupation and build a brighter future for both Israelis and Palestinians.” He concluded, “[T]he United States has always provided leadership and support to the peace process. We continue to profess hope for a diplomatic solution that respects the human dignity for both Israelis and Palestinians and advances justice and peace for all.”

Read the full text of the bishops’ joint communiqué and Bishop Cantú’s letter to Secretary Rex Tillerson.
  • Published in Nation

Pope offers prayers for Trump as he becomes 45th U.S. president

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis sent best wishes and prayers to incoming President Donald J. Trump shortly after he took the oath of office.

"I offer you my cordial good wishes and the assurance of my prayers that almighty God will grant you wisdom and strength in the exercise of your high office," the pope's message said.

Saying that the human family faces "grave humanitarian crises" that demand "far-sighted and united political responses," the pope said he would pray that Trump's decisions "will be guided by the rich spiritual and ethical values that have the history of the American people and your nation's commitment to the advancement of human dignity and freedom worldwide."

The pope also said he hoped that America's "stature" continued to be measured by "above all its concern for the poor, the outcast and those in need who, like Lazarus, stand before our door."

The message concluded with the pope saying he would ask God to grant the new president, his family and all Americans "peace, concord and every material and spiritual prosperity."
  • Published in Nation

The need for unity among Christian churches

Disagreements among Christians have existed from the beginning, but there is a way to live in unity until disagreements can be resolved, said a U.S. theologian speaking about the need for unity among Christian churches around the world.
 
"We will have disagreements, that is predictable, but must we have divisions?" asked Michael Root, a member of the U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue, in a reflection during a Jan. 17 prayer service in Washington on the eve of the 2017 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
 
"There are real disagreements among those who claim the name of Christ, disagreements about sacraments, about how we live out the Christian life, about how the church reaches decisions. Some differences may mean that we cannot do together some things Christians must do together to be one church," Root said. "The ecumenical quest is about overcoming those differences, but also about how we live with them in meantime."
 
Catholic Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of Springfield, Mass., presided over the event attended also by Bishop Richard Graham of the Washington, D.C. Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Bishop Rozanski is chairman of the bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
 
The event was similar to others around the world where religious leaders gathered to mark the annual event, taking place Jan. 18-25 this year.
 
Pope Francis Jan. 18 said he believes unity and reconciliation among Christian churches is possible.
 
"We look more to that which unites us rather than that which divides us," said the pope during his weekly general audience while referencing the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
 
The pope traveled in October to Sweden to an event commemorating the Reformation. The 16th-century Protestant Reformation began when in 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany, separating from the Catholic Church. The event subsequently gave rise to a variety of Christian churches. It also led to violence on both sides.
 
On Jan. 18, the Anglican archbishops of Canterbury and York in England, while mentioning the blessings of the Reformation, also said the events surrounding it had caused "lasting damage done five centuries ago to the unity of the church, in defiance of the clear command of Jesus Christ to unity in love."
 
Root, the theologian at the Washington event, said that over the last century, Christian churches have experienced "a renewed commitment to the pursuit of a deeper unity with one another." While it's yielded fruits, it's also important to learn how to "live with the limitations of our pursuit of greater unity. The call to unity is not a call to ignore realities," he said.
 
Franciscan Father Larry Dunham, guardian of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land, where the event was held, said the week's theme "Reconciliation: The Love of Christ Compels Us" is not only appropriate given current world and international events but also because this year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
 
"How far we've come in these past 500 years and how far we have yet to go," Father Dunham said.
 
 
  • Published in World

Cry of the Earth; Cry of the Poor

Since the release of the encyclical, “Laudato Si,’” last year, Pope Francis has continued to emphasize the importance of ecological justice.
 
In the document, he demonstrates how “living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue.” He reemphasized this point during the Year of Mercy: making care for creation a prayer intention; suggesting that care for creation be added to the traditional lists of works of mercy; and proposing, “Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home” as one of six new beatitudes. Pope Francis proclaims that ecological justice is inherently a part of the Christian mission of mercy, service and love.
 
In October, we saw one of the strongest storms ever to hit the Caribbean in Hurricane Matthew. This is a direct effect of reckless human use of natural resources, of disrespect for the world created by God. Yes, storms exist as part of the natural weather patterns on the planet, but rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere contribute to the rising temperature of the planet. Warmer oceans produce stronger storms with heavier rains, which in turn contribute to increased flooding in coastal areas.
 
Pope Francis explains, in addition to the immediate dangers of flooding, “many of the poor . . . are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited.” The long-term effects of climate change, such as the migration and/or death of animals and plants, also “affects the livelihood of the poor, who are then forced to leave their homes, with great uncertainty for their future and that of their children.” They become ecological refugees, fleeing from poverty caused by environmental degradation. Furthermore, the communities to which they flee often do not greet them with a welcoming embrace or a more beneficial ecology.
 
We often think of climate change as primarily affecting poor communities in other areas of the world, in the future, and this is true, but the distinction is just as much one of socioeconomics as it is of geography. The pope turns to the ecological experiences of the poor in our cities, “which have become unhealthy to live in, not only because of pollution caused by toxic emissions but also as a result of urban chaos, poor transportation and visual pollution and noise.
 
Many cities are huge, inefficient structures, excessively wasteful of energy and water.” Some of us are privileged to reap the benefits of living near a city while retreating to fresh air and open space anytime we wish. Many are not so fortunate.
 
He continues, “Some forms of pollution are part of people’s daily experience. Exposure to atmospheric pollutants produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes millions of premature deaths.”
 
The poor are met with ecological adversity in urban, rural, coastal and inland communities. As people who stand for life and human dignity, we cannot remain blind to this reality, and once informed, we cannot remain complacent. We must “hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor,” as “Laudato Si’” urges us to do.
 
The effects of climate change are vividly present in all of creation’s communities, right now.
 
Pope Francis asserts, “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded and at the same time protecting nature.” Social justice initiatives require attention to ecological justice if we truly wish to better our world and the lives of those who call it home.
 
  • Published in World
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