Archive of June 21, 2013

Italian cardinal urges strong support of Mideast Christians

Milan, Italy, Jun 21, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - At a conference of Muslim and Catholic leaders in Milan, Cardinal Angelo Scola encouraged greater support for persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

“We need to help Christians more strongly,” Cardinal Scola said at the University of Milan, where the tenth annual meeting of the Oasis International Foundation was held this week.

“We need to support them with real love and a very strong friendship, but also with different means,” the archbishop of Milan told CNA in a June 18 interview.

Cardinal Scola founded Oasis to promote dialogue between Muslims and Christians, and this year's conference discussed the tightrope between secularism and ideology so often walked in the Middle East.

“Above all, many Christians are being pushed to leave their countries, and it’s a very bad thing because Christianity was born in the Middle East,” said Cardinal Scola.

“In certain countries Christians are persecuted, and sometimes they even become martyrs.”

The Cardinal said that although “it’s difficult to imagine the future of Christians in the Middle East, I’m sure they will resist.”

He considered that there is a certain likeness to Jesus when Christians in the Middle East undergo suffering and persecution.

“Once, the previous Latin patriarch, (Michel) Sabbah, explained to me that Jerusalem is the place of Holy Friday. And that seemed to me a very good definition,” Cardinal Scola said during a coffee break of the conference.

“That must provoke all world Christians – above all in Europe and in the United States – to be more assured in witnessing, and offering a real experience of love and support,” the cardinal stated.

He believes that inter-religious dialogue will help the situation and that God is “leading history.”  

Cardinal John O. Onaiyekan gave a presentation at the conference June 17 discussing how Muslims in his country of Nigeria are not a uniform group, and there is much variation in expression of Islam there.

“As Cardinal Onaiyekan said, people in the West need to avoid trying to define Muslims in an intellectual way,” said Cardinal Scola.

“I was impressed with Cardinal Onaiyekan’s speech, who told of the necessity to help Islam in Nigeria to understand the phenomenon of Boko Haram’s terrorism, in order to convince people of the necessity of constantly purifying religion.”

“We must avoid using adjectives (lightly), and enter into contact with the people themselves. And the point of reference must be the common experience of men and women around the world.”

“We are one family of God,” he said, and everyone shares in the fullness of humanity.

He highlighted the need to “avoid revenge and to choose the way of repentance.”

“But it’s a long path and we need to do that in a realistic way.”

The cardinal explained the need to avoid using force to dominate, and that “terrorism is an expression of ideologization and politicization of the faith.”

Cardinal Scola founded Oasis in 2004, after he was asked to do so by seven bishops of Damascus while he was rector of the Pontifical Lateran University. The Damascene bishops hoped for cultural support in the midst of Syrian society.

“They also told me of the necessity to use the Arabic language and to not limit ourselves to English,” he said.

This was because “without Arabic, it would be impossible to enter into real inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue” with Muslims.

“So step by step I found people who wanted to share in the project and we founded this ten years ago, with now around 100 people from around the world,” said the cardinal.

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Catholic and Muslim leaders meet for dialogue on secularism

Milan, Italy, Jun 21, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The members of a foundation seeking to improve Christian and Muslim relations met in Milan this week to discuss the growing problems of global secularism and extremism.

“Secularism and ideology are two problems for Christians and Muslims today, in different ways maybe, but the topic is the same,” Maria Laura Conte, editorial director of Oasis International Foundation, told CNA June 17.

“We want the West and East to share experiences,” she added.

Experts met June 17 and 18 at the University of Milan to discuss the tightrope between secularism and ideology so often walked in both the West and the Middle East. This was the tenth annual meeting of the Oasis International Foundation.

“Through meetings like this where people can share their experiences, we can build a piece of this dialogue every day,” Conte said.

Speakers came from a wide variety of nations, including Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Pakistan, the United States, France and Italy.

They included Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan and the network’s founder; Sami M. Angawi, president of al-Makkiyah al-Madaniyah Institution in Saudi Arabia; La Sorbonne professor Rémi Brague; Cardinal John O. Onaiyekan, archbishop of Abuja; and Jawad al-Khoei, a Shia leader from Iraq.

Cardinal Scola founded Oasis in 2004, after he was asked to do so by seven bishops of Damascus while he was rector of the Pontifical Lateran University.

The Damascene bishops hoped for cultural support in the midst of Syrian society, and the foundation has served as a forum for inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue.

The Knights of Columbus have been supporting the Foundation since its creation ten years ago.

Carl Anderson, head of the Knights, called on Americans to “have some solidarity” and “extend a helping hand” to Christian communities in predominantly Muslim countries.

“If we don’t want Christian communities to disappear altogether, we’re going to have to spend more effort and greater attention to their plight and begin to develop ways of solidarity,” Anderson said at the conference June 17.

Anderson, who is a member of  Oasis, noted that “the first thing is a recognition that there is a crisis in many countries and we have an obligation to respond to that crisis.”

“I hope Americans are more and more aware, because the situation in many countries is very difficult now,” he told CNA/EWTN News. “We Americans, have to redouble our commitment to religious liberty.”

He stressed the need to “understand that in many places of the world, even if we don’t hear about it, the test of the free exercise of religion is going on in various strenuous conditions.”
“It’s requiring many people to make great sacrifices, day in and day out.”

Anderson's comments were echoed by Cardinal Scola, who asked that Christians in the West show “love and support” to their brothers in the Middle East.

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Congressman blasts government's 'anemic' response to Christian persecution

Washington D.C., Jun 21, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) has criticized the U.S. government’s “anemic and at times outright baffling” response to the persecution of Christians in the Mid-East, urging the appointment of an envoy to protect religious minorities.

“America has always been a friend to the oppressed, the persecuted, the forgotten. But sadly today, that allegiance is in question, as religious freedom and human rights abuses around the globe increasingly go unaddressed and unanswered,” Wolf said June 17 during a discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.

“Looking to the Middle East there is often societal and communal violence and repression against religious communities, which specifically targets religious minorities,” he added during the discussion, which was hosted by the Center's Middle East Program.

Wolf, a co-chair of the House of Representatives’ Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, spoke about the situation facing religious minorities in the Middle East.

The congressman noted that the civil war in Syria has killed some 93,000. Its consequences for Syrian Christians are “largely unknown and, unfortunately, rarely addressed by Western media.”

According to Wolf, the plight of Coptic Christians has been neglected by successive U.S. administrations. They now face marginalization under Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-controlled government.

He said the recently drafted Egyptian constitution is “highly problematic,” citing its provisions criminalizing blasphemy and allowing a stricter vision of Shariah law.

The congressman lamented the decline in the Jewish population in countries such as Iraq and Egypt, and the marginalization of the Baha’i community in Iran.

“It appears a similar fate may await the ancient Christian community in these same lands.”

“While it remains to be seen whether the historic exodus of Christians from the region will prove to be as dramatic as what has already happened to the Jewish community, it is without question devastating, as it threatens to erase Christianity from its very roots.”

He pointed to the decline of Iraq’s Christian population from 1.4 million in 2003 to 500,000 today. Churches have been targeted for attacks, while individual Christians face threats of kidnapping and other violence.

The congressman said that the U.S. government’s General Accounting Office found that the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development could not prove that they spent funds Congress specially designated to help Iraq’s religious minorities.

“Perhaps this failure to follow a clear congressional directive was attributable in part to a refusal on the part of this administration – and frankly the previous administration – to acknowledge that minorities were being targeted, rather than merely victims of generalized violence in Iraq.”

The years-long vacancy of the United States’ Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom also gives the impression that religious freedom is not important, Wolf added.

He said that Congress should pass legislation to create an envoy dedicated to advocacy on behalf of religious minorities in the Middle East and south-central Asia.

“This will send an important message to both our own foreign policy establishment and to suffering communities in the Middle East and elsewhere that religious freedom is a priority — that America will be a voice for the voiceless,” he said.

In May, Secretary of State John Kerry released the State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2012. He urged all countries to take action to safeguard the “fundamental freedom” of religious expression.

Critics, however, including Wolf, said the report should have deemed Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan and other nations as “countries of particular concern,” a designation that has consequences for U.S. sanctions policy.

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Christian college gets temporary relief from HHS mandate

Pittsburgh, Pa., Jun 21, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Geneva College in Pennsylvania has been given temporary relief from having to provide emergency contraceptives in its health insurance plans, as required by the federal contraception mandate.

“The court has done the right thing in allowing Geneva College to suspend the enforcement of the Obama administration’s abortion pill mandate for the student health plan while the case moves forward,” said Gregory Baylor, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents the college.

As a result of the June 18 order by federal judge Joy Flowers Conti, of Pennsylvania's Western District, protects Geneva College from including coverage for potentially abortion-causing drugs for its students for the time being.

The injunction will last “until this court makes a full determination on the merits of the case, or the United States Supreme Court or United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit renders a decision on the merits of this case or an adverse decision in a substantially similar case.”

“All Americans should be free to live according to their faith rather than be forced into violating their own consciences,” Baylor said. “That’s no different for Geneva College, a Christian college that simply wants to abide by the very faith it espouses and teaches.”

“The government should not punish people of faith for making decisions consistent with that faith.”

The school, located in Beaver Falls about 30 miles from Pittsburgh, is contesting the controversial federal mandate by the Health and Human Services department which requires employers to offer health insurance covering contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates the employer’s deeply-held religious beliefs.

While the mandate includes a narrow exemption for some religious organizations and an “accommodation” for certain non-profit religious employers, it does not offer any protection for faith-based schools like Geneva College.

Geneva College “consciously and deliberately strives to integrate faith in Christ with all aspects of learning and living,” and is associated with the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America.

While the school is not opposed to contraceptive coverage “in general,” it does have moral objections to providing emergency contraceptives which “cause or tend to cause the termination of a pregnancy,” it says.

“As a reformed Christian college, Geneva believes in the sanctity of life and objects, on biblical grounds, to being forced to provide the drugs through its insurance provider,” it added in a June 19 statement.

Conti had initially – in March – dismissed Geneva's suit because it was not yet “ripe.”

The college had only until June 20 to select an insurance plan for its students for the 2013-2014 academic year, and so Conti decided June 18 that the threat to the college's religious freedom was imminent enough to grant the injunction.

Conti found that “three Supreme Court decisions support Geneva's argument that there is a likelihood” it can win the case, on the merits of its rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

She also indicated that the college had made good arguments that its first amendment rights would be violated.

The judge was sceptical that forcing Geneva College to provide its students with contraceptive coverage is a compelling government interest.

“The tens of millions of individuals who remain unaffected by the mandate’s requirements …contradict any notion that the government’s interests are as compelling as defendants argue.”

“Defendants (HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius) in the present case fail to show how exempting Geneva from the mandate will 'seriously compromise (the government’s) ability to administer the program,' particularly where defendants are actively trying to exempt entities like Geneva,” Conti added in her decision.

Conti also noted that without the injunction, Geneva College would “suffer irreparable harm” and that “public interest favors granting injunctive relief.”

The decision does not affect the health insurance plans of Geneva employees, because the mandate will not go into effect for them for another six months, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The school is one of nearly 200 plaintiffs in at least 50 cases across the country that have filed lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate on the grounds of religious freedom.

Geneva College is joined in its lawsuit by the co-owners of Seneca Hardwood Lumber Co., who are Catholics. They have long provided health insurance to their employees, though omitting coverage for contraception and abortion, in accord with their faith.

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Pope: ‘Do I have a tired heart that only wants a good bank account?’

Vatican City, Jun 21, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - We have hearts that are restless and in search of treasure, Pope Francis said in his daily homily at the Vatican's Saint Martha House, and we should seek the treasure of a loving heart.

“What do I have, a tired heart, that only wants to settle itself, three, four things, a good bank account, this or that thing,” he asked June 21. “This restlessness of the heart always has to be cured.”

In attendance at the Mass were members of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts as well as employees from Saint Martha House and from the Roman cathedral, the Basilica of Saint John Lateran.

His reflections were prompted by Christ's saying, “where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”

Christ “joins the treasure to the heart,” he said, showing a relationship between the two.

The Bishop of Rome explained that people should focus on treasures they can take with them to heaven and that “we must be careful not to be confused about true richness.”

“There are risky treasures that threaten to seduce us, but must be left behind. Treasures gathered in life that are destroyed by death.”

“I have never seen a moving van following a funeral procession,” he quipped.

“Love, charity, service, patience, goodness, (and) tenderness are very beautiful treasures – these we bring with us. The other things, no.”

“The treasures we have given to others, that we take with us and that will be our merit, but it is our merit of Jesus Christ in us,” he said.

“There is a treasure we can take with us, a treasure that no one can take away: not those things you’ve kept for yourself, but those you have given to others.”

“If the treasure is a treasure that is not close to the Lord, that is not from the Lord, our heart becomes restless for things that simply don’t work, for these treasures, so many people, even we ourselves, are restless,” he told them.

He alluded to the opening line of Saint Augustine of Hippo's “Confessions,” in which the fifth century bishop said, “our hearts are restless until they rest in you” – in God.

The Roman Pontiff said that “we have a restless heart, which the Lord made this way to seek him out … to find him and to grow.”

If our restless hearts focus on created things rather than on God, “our heart is tired,” he said, “it is never filled. It becomes sluggish, it becomes a heart without love.”

Such a heart is “darkened,” he said, and has lost its “ability to judge things” correctly.

Concelebrants of the Mass were three officials from the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts: its president, Cardinal Francis Coccopalmerio; its secretary, Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta; and its undersecretary, Bishop José Aparecido Gonzalves de Almeida.

Pope Francis concluded by asking the intercession of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, a Jesuit renowned for his purity, for the grace of “a new heart … of flesh” in place of a “heart of stone … attached to worldly treasures.”

“All these pieces of the heart that are of stone, may the Lord make them human, with that restlessness, with that good anxiety to go forward, seeking him and allowing ourselves to be sought by him … and so he will save us,” prayed the Bishop of Rome.

“He will save us from the treasures that cannot help us in the encounter with him … and also will give us the light to understand and judge according to the true treasure, his truth.”

“May the Lord change our heart in order to seek the true treasure and so become people of light, and not of darkness.”

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Pope urges union of faith and charity in Middle East

Vatican City, Jun 21, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Considering the plight of Christians in Syria and across the Middle East, Pope Francis advised aid agencies for Christians in the region to ground their work in prayer and the sacraments.

“I ask you to accompany me in uniting faith with charity … collaborate 'in the faith and in the charity of Jesus Christ our God,'” the Bishop of Rome said at a June 20 audience with the Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches at the Vatican's Consistory Hall.

“Remembering,” he added, “that our work will be effective only if it is rooted in faith, nourished by prayer, especially by the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament of faith and charity.”

The organization unites funding agencies from countries worldwide in order to provide services such as houses of worship and study, scholarships, and social and health care facilities to struggling areas.

The Roman pontiff told the aid workers that charity is “the first testimony” offered by Christians, “and it is only in this way that all of our actions will bear fruit.”

The good works done by ROACO “must be a profession of the love of God that constitutes the Christian identity,” he emphasized.

The pontiff also praised the perseverance of Eastern Catholics who have “faced every difficulty for the Christian name” and have “kept the faith.”

He then appealed to the leaders of nations and to all men and women of goodwill to “put an end to all suffering, to all violence, to all religious, cultural and social discrimination.”

“To all those who suffer I say forcefully: never lose hope!”

Mindful of the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East, Pope Francis said he was renewed in “the vivid ecclesial concern for so many brothers and sisters who live in a situation of insecurity and seemingly interminable violence which does not spare the innocent and most helpless.”

He then urged the committee to especially seek to help those suffering at the hands of violence in Syria, and asked them to remember Syria in their prayers.

“The beloved Syrian people . . . the ever increasing number of refugees and displaced persons,” he reflected.

The war in Syria has dragged on for 27 months, and claimed the lives of at least 93,000 people.

There are 1.5 million Syrian refugees in nearby countries, most of them in Jordan and Lebanon. An additional 4.25 million Syrian people are believed to have been internally displaced by the war.

The pope’s remarks were in keeping with the theme of the first day of the committee’s assembly, which was dedicated to the situation in Syria.

They were also reminiscent of Cardinal Leonardo Sandri’s comments at the Mass opening the meeting on June 18, in which the cardinal called to mind the suffering in Syria but also the witness of charity from Christians in the Middle East.

Cardinal Sandri serves as prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, as well as president of ROACO.

In addition to the grave situation in Syria, the conference also discussed the state of Christians in Egypt, Iraq and Palestine.

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Choose bishops carefully, Pope advises diplomats

Vatican City, Jun 21, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - During a gathering organized for the Year of Faith, Pope Francis asked his ambassadors to be careful in helping to select candidates for the episcopacy, making sure they are men of pastoral hearts.

“In the delicate task of carrying out inquiries for episcopal appointments, be careful that the candidates are pastors close to the people,” he told a gathering of apostolic nuncios from around the world at the Vatican's Clementine Hall June 21.

“That they are gentle, patient and merciful; animated by inner poverty, the freedom of the Lord, and also by outward simplicity and austerity of life,” he added.

Hundreds of nuncios gathered at the Vatican for two days of prayer as part of an initiative for the Year of Faith. The meeting had been arranged by Benedict XVI and was announced in Oct. 2012 by Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone at the bishops' synod on the new evangelization.

The asked his nuncios to choose bishops that do not to have “the psychology of princes” or that are ambitious, ensuring that “they do not seek the episcopate.”

The Bishop of Rome also suggested that it is not always best that bishops be moved often from diocese to diocese. “Be careful … that they are married to a (local) Church without being in constant search of another.”

“That they are able to watch over the flock that will be entrusted to them, take care to keep it united, vigilant of the dangers that threaten it,” he advised.

“But above all that they are able to watch over the flock, to keep watch, imbue hope, that they have sun and light in their hearts.”

Saint Joseph, spouse of the Virgin Mary, may be taken as a model for bishops, he said, because of “his care for the family that God entrusted to him.” Like St. Joseph, a bishop should “lovingly and patiently support the plans which God brings about in his people.”

“Pastors must know how to be ahead of the herd to point the way, in the midst of the flock to keep it united, behind the flock to prevent someone being left behind,” reflected the Pope.

The Roman pontiff told his ambassadors that as his representatives, their job is for “one who is really conscious of the fact that he carries Christ with him,” quoting a former Vatican secretary of state.

“I do not want to address purely formal or perfunctory words to you; what I now say comes from deep within my heart,” he assured them.

The Pope underscored that “giving in to worldly spirit exposes us pastors to ridicule.”

“There is always the danger … to surrender to what I call, taking an expression from De Lubac, 'spiritual worldliness': to surrender to the spirit of the world, which leads to action for self-fulfillment and not for the glory of God,” reflected the Bishop of Rome.

This spiritual worldliness, he called a “sort of 'bourgeoisie spirit and life' which leads people to settle, and seek a peaceful and comfortable life.

Pope Francis said that Blessed John XXIII, who himself served in the Vatican's diplomatic corps for 28 years, found that “he had to continually prune the vineyard of his life from that which was merely useless foliage and go straight to the essentials, which is Christ and his Gospel; otherwise there was the risk of ridiculing a holy mission.”

The Pope noted the “nomadic” quality of their life, stressing the challenges of never being able to put down roots, never having their own flock, always having to begin anew in different cultures, “always with a suitcase at hand.”

Pope Francis said this is a sign of the pilgrim nature of the Christian life, always journeying towards our heavenly home.

A primary element in this, he said, was the “mortification” of “stripping oneself of things, friends, bonds, and of always beginning anew.”

The pontiff said their life is “of great worth when lived with an intensity of love.”

“We know that our stability does not lie in things, in our own projects or ambitions, but in being true pastors who keep our gaze fixed on Christ.”

“Goods, the prospects of this world, end up disappointing. They push people to never be satisfied,” he told the diplomats. “The Lord is the good that does not disappoint.”

He noted that this focus on the Lord “demands a self-detachment that can only be achieved through a constant relationship with the Lord and the unification of one’s life around Christ.”

“Familiarity with Jesus Christ must be the daily food of the papal representative because it is the food that comes from the memory of our first encounter with him, and also because it is the daily expression of loyalty to his call.”

“Always do everything with deep love!” he exclaimed. “Always seek the good, the good of all, the good of the Church and of every person.”

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Despite protests, archbishop assures safety at World Youth Day

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jun 21, 2013 (CNA) - The archbishop of Rio de Janeiro has reassured young people planning to attend World Youth Day that the protests occurring in various cities in Brazil will not affect the massive event.

Archbishop Orani Joao Tempesta told Vatican Radio June 21 he has spoken with Brazilian intelligence officials who have guaranteed that World Youth Day will be a safe event.

Millions have taken part in protests across Brazil in recent days, over an increase in the cost of public transportation, the high costs of the 2014 World Cup, and demanding an end to government corruption.

Demonstrators have called for more investment in healthcare and education, rather than funding the soccer tournament.

Archbishop Tempesta said the demonstrations “are expressions that are part of a democratic country.”

The archbishop acknowledged the legitimacy of the protests, but he rejected the acts of violence that have resulted from confrontations between demonstrators and police.

“This is not cause for concern with regards to personal safety because these demonstrations are taking place in very specific places in the city, with the protection of the police.”

Archbishop Tempesta said World Youth Day 2013 is a great experience for young people not only from Brazilbut from all over the world, to remind them that they can make a difference if they live according to Christian values.

Young people who live according to these values can bring about change in the world “with a heart of justice and peace, and they can give a different meaning to the nature of these protests in Brazil by following the desire to seek a better future.”

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Vatican rep at UN stresses family's role in development

Washington D.C., Jun 21, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Family, education and work are central to economic development, the Vatican's representative to the United Nations told an assembly preparing sustainable development goals.

“As the fundamental unit of society, the family provides the first lessons of interpersonal relationships, transmits cultural, ethical, social and spiritual values as well as many of the skills which serve to promote the common good of the society,” Archbishop Francis A. Chullikatt, apostolic nuncio to the United Nations, said to the organization June 18.

“It is of the utmost importance, therefore, that policy-makers respect and promote this fundamental role of the family.”

“Work, education, the family – these three – cannot (but) be spoken of severally, if not also jointly: they are interrelated and interdependent,” the archbishop explained, saying each element is necessary for the others.

Archbishop Chullikatt is the official representative of the Vatican City State at the United Nations and is the Holy See's permanent observer at the international group.

The archbishop offered his statements at the fourth meeting of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals, which will help to form worldwide development goals.

The archbishop stressed the place of education in world development, saying that it “is the point upon which these discussions must begin; for without education young people lack the knowledge necessary for adulthood, adults lack the skills needed to adapt to changing work environments, and the wisdom of our older persons is not passed from generation to generation.”

While education provides the knowledge and skills necessary for contributing to society, work is a fundamental right of all human beings, he said.

This right is inherently linked to human dignity and provides for the needs of the individual and their families and is thus, by its very nature, essential to integral human development and the common good of the human family.

He stressed the role of the family in education, saying noting that “the family plays an essential role” in the passing on of knowledge to children.

“As the fundamental unit of society, the family provides the first lessons of interpersonal relationships, transmits cultural, ethical, social and spiritual values as well as many of the skills which serve to promote the common good of the society. It is of the utmost importance, therefore, that policy-makers respect and promote this fundamental role of the family.”

He also commented on the role families play in supporting educational institutions, saying that these institutions “play a vital role in providing the integral training necessary for young people and those looking to improve their knowledge and skills.”

Archbishop Chullikatt also noted the necessity of providing “decent work” to individuals, noting that a longstanding unemployment “is a social injustice undermining freedom and stifling human creativity. It is a cause of great suffering for society in our time.”

The archbishop also commented that the provision of decent work “requires adopting social protections to ensure that respect for the rights of the employed is maintained.”

He specifically highlighted the need to protect children against child labor, “a real form of slavery which gives rise to mistreatment, exploitation and discrimination of over 10 million children worldwide.”

“Juridical and social protection systems must recognize and respect the rights of all workers: to a just wage, to a decent life and subsistence, to rest, to a safe working environment, to personal conscience and moral integrity, to their pensions, to unemployment support, to social security for maternity, to the right to assemble and to form associations,” Archbishop Chullikatt advised.

“International cooperation is imperative, therefore, if we are to halt this exploitation of the poor by upholding a living wage for all so that they too may enjoy a life befitting their human dignity.”

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Muslims 'people of good will,' head of Catholic aid group says

Rome, Italy, Jun 21, 2013 (CNA) - The head of a papal agency that gives assistance to Christians in the Near East says local Muslims are largely positive towards their Christian neighbors and even appreciative of their presence.

“The broad majority of Muslims are people of good-will,” Monsignor John E. Kozar, president of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, told CNA June 21.

“Not only are they tolerant of us Christians, they’re even supportive. They value the schools and clinics that we have.”

“We hope that their influence will calm the radicals, or (even) convert the radicals to a more balanced and tolerant approach of peace among all men and women everywhere,” he added.

The Catholic Near East Welfare Association, founded by Pius XI in 1926, works with Eastern Catholic Churches to help poor Christians in the Middle East, North Africa, India, and Eastern Europe.

Monsignor Kozar, a native of Pittsburgh, voiced support for a Palestinian state, suggesting it could help “solve” the turmoil in Syria, Egypt and Iraq.

“There has to be some kind of a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a Palestinian state,” he said.

“Right now it is, but it isn’t (a state),” he said.

Palestine is a non-member observer state at the United Nations, as is the Holy See. It is recognized as a state by some 130 countries, yet its territory has been occupied by Israel since 1967.

Monsignor Kozar noted that the major players – Russia, France, England, the United States – “all have to lend support to some kind of a resolution.”

He stated that this would also help prevent Arabic Christians from fleeing or being persecuted in the region any further.

Christians “have always been messengers of peace,” he said.

The Catholic Near East Welfare Association is a member of the Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches, which met in Rome June 19 and 20.

The Reunion is an association of funding agencies dedicated to helping Eastern Catholic Churches, particularly in the Middle East.

During the meeting, testimony was given by the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon and Archbishop of Baghdad, Louis Raphael I Sako; Archbishop Mario Zenari, Apostolic Nuncio to Syria; as well as a nun and a Franciscan priest who work in Syria.

Monsignor Kozar said that although his organization has more experience in helping persecuted Christians after having worked in Iraq, Syria and Egypt “have been unraveling in different ways.”

“The Patriarch of Iraq kept looking at the Patriarch of Egypt and he said, ‘I pray for you … be ready, you don’t know how this will unravel’,” the priest reported at his office in Rome.

The Chaldean patriarch had told his Egyptian counterpart that the number of Christians in Iraq is two thirds less than it was only five to eight years ago.

Despite this exodus, Monsignor Kozar said Reunion of Aid Agencies for the Oriental Churches have a sense of solidarity with Middle East Christians and witnessed a message of “fraternity”.

Pope Francis met with the Reunion yesterday, encouraging its members to ground their work in prayer and the sacraments.

“The Pope said specifically in our audience, ‘please pray for Syria,'” Monsignor Kozar remarked.

“The Pope gave a short exhortation to us to not forget this area, and he singled out Syria.”

Syria is in the midst of a 27-month long civil war which has claimed more than 93,000 lives, and has driven some 1.5 million people out of their home country.

Msgr. Kozar said that he found the Franciscan priest’s testimony the most interesting during the gathering.

“He is working in a war ravaged town (in Syria) and he is under threat from both sides.”

Syrian rebels complain that the priest is “not taking up arms or encouraging it,” and government supporters ask “why aren't you with us?”

Monsignor Kozar told of how after both sides asked the Franciscan to stop ringing his church's bell, he refused to do so.

“We are who we are, I will ring my bell, give people a little ray of hope,” Monsignor Kozar said, repeating the Franciscan’s words.

“I found that very inspiring.”

The priest said the organization gives everyone help, including both Christians and Muslims, because “we never bar anyone in the name of Jesus.”

He explained that people in the West tell him “it’s not worth it, get out: let happen what will happen.”

“But as someone very eloquently told us, the Middle East without Christians is not the Middle East,” he affirmed.

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