It’s that special time of the year again when kids start heading back to school. And for those who have discovered the fun of learning, school is an adventure! But for millions of working children worldwide, the adventures of a new school year remain but a dream. Sadly, these children will never learn to read or write. They will not acquire computer skills. They will not experience singing in chorus, going on field trips or playing at recess. Their classrooms will be sweatshops, farm fields, and battlefields. Their days will be filled with long, dirty, dangerous work. And the lesson they will learn is that life is cruel and unfair. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) there are 168 million child laborers – ages 5-17 – worldwide. Child labor as defined by the ILO is work that: is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and interferes with their schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school, obliging them to leave school prematurely, or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work. And even worse, more than half of all child laborers – approximately 85 million children – work in hazardous conditions. According to the ILO, hazardous child labor includes working in dangerous conditions in agriculture, mining, construction, manufacturing, domestic service and bars. And it is found in both industrialized and economically developing countries. And it gets worse. Selling and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom, forced recruitment of children for armed conflict, child prostitution, pornography, and drug activities are among the very worst forms of labor millions of children are trapped in. And according to the ILO every year about 22,000 children are killed while working. There is a direct relationship between poverty and child labor. In countless cases worldwide where families are struggling to put food on their table and keep a roof over their heads there is usually no choice but to include their children in the work force. And because children are low-skilled, have no one in authority to represent them, and are often docile, many unscrupulous employers exploit them. In 1910 the United States had 2 million children working in industrial jobs. At that time a leading advocate to abolish child labor, Grace Abbott, astutely observed that “Child labor and poverty are inevitably bound together and if you continue to use the labor of children as the treatment for the social disease of poverty, you will have both poverty and child labor to the end of time." A wonderful U.S. government program that directly addresses a way out of poverty and child labor by giving poor children nourishment for both body and mind is the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program. This program, a bipartisan international aid project which has provided school meals for more than 40 million of the world’s poorest children, will be totally eliminated if Congress agrees with President Trump’s decision to defund it. Please email and call (Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121) your two U.S. senators and congressperson urging them to robustly increase funding for the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program, and for all other international and domestic poverty-focused programs. Child labor will not be eliminated until poverty is wiped away from the face of the earth.
The Catholic Church preaches, teaches and practices total nonviolence. This statement is not true regarding the Catholic Church today. But it was an accurate and true description of the Catholic Church during its first 300 years. The first generations of Christians – even during times of severe persecution – took most seriously Jesus’ commands: “But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. … Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Christian literature from the first three centuries affirms that the earliest followers of Jesus Christ completely rejected all forms of violence and bloodshed – no abortion, no euthanasia, no capital punishment, no war. But this drastically changed when Emperor Theodosius I issued the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 A.D., making Catholic Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire. This marriage of church and state swung open the doors for Christian participation in the military of the Roman Empire. And sadly, Christians have been fighting for empires ever since. But modern era popes have been leading the Catholic Church step-by-step back to its nonviolent beginnings; back to its peace-centered Gospel roots. From St. Pope John XXIII to Pope Francis, popes have strongly condemned violence, war and all forms of bloodshed. The Holy See’s former nuncio (ambassador) to the United Nations, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, said the Vatican attitude for centuries was: “War is inevitable, so let’s put some strict conditions to limit its effects [the just-war theory]. In these last decades we have adopted a different perspective and we say peace is possible, so let’s work tirelessly for peaceful solutions.” The Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM) – in leadership support of 17,000 religious priests and brothers in the U.S. – on Aug. 3, at their national assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution titled “Gospel Nonviolence: The Way of the Church." This resolution is another major step towards recovering the Catholic Church’s nonviolent foundation. It is a cooperative response to Pope Francis’ 2017 World Day of Peace Message which affirmed that “true followers of Jesus embrace his teaching about nonviolence” and “make active nonviolence our way of life.” In their resolution, the CMSM resolve to pray and educate for conversion to Gospel nonviolence in the Catholic Church and beyond – including in their formation programs, schools and preaching. And to those who falsely claim that practicing nonviolence allows those using violence to freely harm and kill with no resistance, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men offers effective nonviolent alternatives to war and all other forms of violence. They have committed themselves to advancing practices of restorative justice which focuses on the harm done and how to heal that harm, unarmed civilian protection which provides direct nonviolent accompanying protection, nonviolent resistance which opposes injustice and violence through non-cooperation as Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement did, and nonviolent civilian-based defense which mounts nonviolent defense as was done in the Philippines during the repressive Marcos regime. Very Rev. Brian Terry, president of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, sums up well the nonviolent challenge of Jesus facing the Catholic Church: “We need always to remember the words of Pope Francis which reminds us that if we are not giving witness to the Gospel of Christ we are giving testimony to something else.”
Think to a time when you were hungry. Remember how it felt, a bit uncomfortable, right? You may have even said, “I’m starving!” But you knew that in a short time the next meal would be there for you. Knowing that a good meal was awaiting you allowed your slight hunger to actually whet your appetite. Now imagine that you are very hungry and have no idea where the next meal will come from for you and your family. In this case your hunger is physically painful and terrifyingly stressful. Imagine now that there is no work to be found, the drought has dried up your crops. Your livestock is dead. And you and your family have eaten the last seeds that were meant for next season’s planting. Now how are you feeling? This is how many Africans are feeling, especially those in South Sudan, Somalia, Northeast Nigeria, and nearby Yemen. In these nations over 20 million people are facing famine and starvation. Armed conflict and severe drought are the main engines driving this emergency – the world’s largest humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II. “Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death” and “many more will suffer and die from disease,” said Stephen O’Brien, U.N. under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs. He emphasized that to avert a catastrophe, immediate adequate funding from wealthy nations is critical. O’Brien said the largest humanitarian emergency was in Yemen – the Arab world’s poorest nation – where two-thirds of the population – 18.8 million people – desperately need aid, and over seven million people are hungry and don’t know where their next meal will come from. Compounding the famine, Yemen is now facing the world’s worst cholera outbreak according to the U.N. which has placed blame on all sides of the nation’s ongoing conflict between the U.S.-backed Saudi Arabia-led coalition and the Houthis. An editor friend of mine in Nigeria put me in touch with Bishop Stephen Mamza, head of the northeast Nigerian Diocese of Yola. Bishop Mamza sent me a report with his assessment of the crisis in Yola. His report states that the U.N. World Food Program’s response to the food crisis in Nigeria is critically underfunded, meaning that hundreds of thousands of food insecure Northeast Nigerians are not being helped. Bishop Mamza wrote that he and other diocesan aid workers visited a makeshift settlement where “we met scores of hungry, malnourished and crying children who told us that they had not eaten for three days.” Please email and call your two U.S. senators and congressperson highlighting this emergency, and urging that instead of slashing funding to programs that feed desperately hungry fellow human beings and programs that assist the poorest of the poor to build self-sustaining lives, the 2018 fiscal year budget needs to robustly increase funding for these life-saving programs. And urge them to stop supplying weapons to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, and instead to broker an immediate cease-fire with total access to humanitarian relief. Catholic Relief Services is on the ground in Bishop Mamza’s diocese and throughout Northeast Africa working to ease the suffering. Please help them expand their life-saving efforts by making a generous donation to CRS’ “Africa Hunger Crisis Emergency Fund." “For I was hungry and you gave me food” (Matt. 25: 31-46).
For most of us living in the Northern Hemisphere fresh fruits and vegetables are now in abundant summer supply for our sustenance and enjoyment. But how often do we really consider the hard work and long hours that farmers, ranchers and farmworkers exert to put food on our table? It appears most of us do not give it much thought at all. In fact, we often take food for granted. But they don’t mind the hard work, as long as the farm field is a fair playing field. But fairness is often not the case. Jim Ennis, executive director of Catholic Rural Life, told me that small and mid-size family farmers are facing many headwinds. Among the biggest challenges he said are: 1) Access to affordable credit for cash flow operations. 2) Availability to land for beginning farmers. 3) Access to markets for farmers’ products that can sustain the family farm (Consolidation and concentration in the processing and marketing of agricultural products often makes access to markets difficult). 4) Access to farm laborers willing to work on the farm. 5) Lack of affordable health care for farm families and farmworkers. To offer support to family farmers, Ennis said that Catholic Rural Life is asking us to: 1. Buy local whenever possible and urge our local grocery stores to support local farms. 2. Patronize restaurants that use local farm products. 3. Encourage our parishes to buy local farm products whenever possible for parish events. 4. Urge our state and federal legislators to introduce and co-sponsor legislation that supports small and mid-size family farms. 5. Join Catholic Rural Life and keep informed about state and national legislation that impacts family farms. Now consider the plight of farmworkers – often more difficult and unjust than that of family farmers. According to National Farm Worker Ministry, most farmworkers lack workers’ compensation, health insurance and disability coverage, the right to overtime pay and the right to form unions and collective bargaining. Furthermore, they are often low-paid and exposed to dangerous pesticides. And for farmworkers who are undocumented, their hardships are even worse. According to the U.S. Department of Labor over 50 percent of the U.S.’s approximate 1 million farmworkers – farm labor advocacy groups put this figure at over 2 million – are undocumented. The undocumented have virtually no rights whatsoever. And they live, especially under the Trump administration, in constant fear of being deported back to very poor and dangerous places, and often having their families torn apart in the deportation process. Fair, compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform legislation is desperately needed! “Consciousness + Commitment = Change,” is the proven axiom of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (see: http://www.ciw-online.org/about/) – a farmworker-based human rights organization internationally recognized for its achievements in promoting social responsibility, and fighting human trafficking and gender-based workplace violence. Its “Fair Food Program” of hard-won negotiated agreements between farmworkers, tomato growers – from Florida to New Jersey – and retail buyers like Subway and Whole Foods has gained for many farmworkers significant wage increases and decent working conditions. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, under the heading of “The Seventh Commandment: You shall not steal” insists that “The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race.” May we have the moral courage to stand in solidarity with those who seek their fair share of the goods of creation.
If someone’s house was on fire would you pour gasoline on it? Well the answer is obvious: Of course you wouldn’t. Yet that is very similar to what the United States and many other more economically developed nations are doing. Despite the tragic fact that approximately 40 current armed conflicts worldwide are causing over 150,000 deaths annually, countless serious injuries, untold destruction and 28,300 people per day fleeing from their homes, many of the wealthiest countries continue to pour flammable weapons into these volatile conflicts. And the U.S. is leading the pack. Accounting for 33 percent of arms exports to over 55 nations, the U.S. is by far the world’s leading arms merchant, followed by Russia, China, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Spain and Italy. And worse yet, according to the Congressional Research Service, poorer nations continue to be the primary focus for weapons suppliers. The value of all arms agreements in 2014 with economically developing nations was over $61 billion. And as always, the poor suffer. The U.S. ranked first in worldwide weapons sales in 2015 with $40 billion in deals signed. Of the six largest weapons manufacturers in the world, five are American, with Lockheed Martin ranking first. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the 100 most profitable weapon producing companies in the world raked in over $400 billion in arms sales in 2013. Weapons are big business – a bloody business followers of the Prince of Peace should have nothing to do with. Moral courage is needed here. The Gospel demands it! Imagine the good that would be accomplished and the goodwill that would be established if we converted our weapon plants into factories that construct goods that protect and enhance life – especially the lives of the poor, vulnerable and the life of our common home planet Earth. Instead of producing instruments designed to kill like M-16s rifles, F-35 Lightning II fighter jets, M1 Abrams tanks, and abortion vacuum aspiration machines – which are instruments of war against unborn babies – we could massively produce humane products like low-cost house building kits, water pumps, water filtering kits, modern latrines, farm tools, wind turbines, solar panels, mass transit trains, affordable electric cars and mobile hospitals. For those who think this is naïve, consider that the reverse happened during World War II. According to historian John Buescher, no American cars, commercial trucks, or auto parts were made from February 1942 to October 1945. “The auto industry retooled to manufacture tanks, trucks, jeeps, airplanes, bombs, torpedoes, steel helmets, and ammunition under massive contracts issued by the government.” Please email and call your members of Congress (Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121) urging them to significantly reduce funding for the weapons industry and creatively funnel that money into needed peaceful enterprises. And urge them to seriously undertake initiatives aimed at multilateral disarmament. Since history has proven that we can quickly retool industry from building peaceful vehicles of transportation and commerce to constructing instruments for war-making, let’s do the right thing and turn all of this around. Let’s make history, good history! History that future generations will thank us for. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, let us finally beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks; so that nations will no longer raise the sword against one another, nor train for war again. Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. He is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings. Tony can be reached at [email protected] He will be co-presenting a workshop titled “Faith and Reason: Paths to a Consistent Ethic of Life,” at the Consistent Life Network Conference at Eastern University (near Philadelphia) on Saturday, August 5.
World Refugee Day, June 20, came and went with hardly a notice. I almost missed it. Sadly, little mention was given in the secular and even religious world to the unprecedented refugee crisis endured by countless fellow human beings who have fled their homes with little more than the shirt on their back. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) latest report titled “Global Trends,” as of 2016 over 65 million people worldwide – a record high – have been forcibly displaced as a result of persecution, violence, conflict or human rights violations. Every single day 28,300 brothers and sisters are forced to flee from their homes. Especially sad is the fact that children account for over 50 percent of the refugee population. In just the last six years the number of displaced persons throughout the world has increased approximately 50 percent – from 45.2 million to the current 65.6 million. Armed conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Burundi, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and Sudan continue to be the major driving force for this dramatic increase in displaced persons according to UNHCR. Although the humanitarian need is tremendous, only less than 1 percent of all refugees are resettled worldwide. According to CNN, at least 2,859 migrants died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in 2016. U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said, “At sea, a frightening number of refugees and migrants are dying each year. On land, people fleeing war are finding their way blocked by closed doors.” And while not entirely closed, the United States’ refugee doors are barely cracked open. In fiscal year of 2016, according to the Pew Research Center, the U.S. under the Obama administration only allowed 84,995 refugees into the country. And from war-torn nations like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Syria, the U.S. only permitted the entry of 16,370 and 12,587 refugees respectively. To make matters worse, President Trump is proposing lowering the total number of refugees permitted into the U.S. in fiscal year 2018 to just 50,000. Granting such small numbers of desperate refugees permission to enter the U.S. is gravely immoral. In contrast, according to the UNHCR, the tiny nation of Lebanon is host to the largest number of refugees relative to its national population – where one in every six persons is a refugee. That’s equivalent to the U.S. taking in 55 million refugees! Please email and call your two U.S. senators and congressperson (Capitol switchboard number: 202-224-3121) urging them to robustly increase funding to poorer nations like Lebanon who are struggling to host millions of refugees. Additionally, urge them to allow at least 110,000 refugees – as proposed by Obama – into the U.S. this coming fiscal year. It is also very important to strongly request your congressional delegation to significantly increase – not cut – Department of State funding for comprehensive negotiated diplomatic interventions into all areas throughout the world suffering from armed conflicts that are causing the refugee crisis. And insist they stop fueling these armed conflicts by ending weapon sales and grants. Also, kindly consider a generous refugee donation to Catholic Relief Services. And please sign this UNHCR pledge. Let’s tirelessly work and pray to be a part of the refugee solution, and not a part of what Pope Francis calls the “culture of indifference.” Editor's note: Tony Magliano will be speaking at Old St. Patrick's Church in Chicago on Wednesday, July 19, 6:30-8 p.m. The theme of Tony's talk is "Advancing the Kingdom of God in the 21st Century." All are welcome.
The highly relevant quote, “Budgets are moral documents,” has been arguably attributed to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. But if he didn’t coin that exact phase, he very well could have. Similarly he surely did say, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” And that is exactly what President Donald Trump’s 2018 Budget Blueprint is aiming to do. He writes, “The core of my first budget blueprint is the rebuilding of our nation’s military…There is a $54 billion increase in defense spending in 2018 that is offset by targeted reductions elsewhere.” And those reductions are targeted at the poor, hungry and our wounded planet. Essential programs like Medicaid, SNAP (food stamps), Food for Peace, and the Environmental Protection Agency face drastic funding cuts. With so much hunger and poverty in the world, so many armed conflicts, the increasing arms trade and the ever present threat of nuclear war, increased military spending by nations is morally reprehensible – especially in the United States’ case. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the U.S. spends far more on its military than any other nation. In 2016 the U.S. spent $611 billion on military expenditures. That astronomical amount is nearly three times what second place China spent. In fact, the U.S. government spends more on its military than the next seven nations combined. In light of these facts, spending an additional $54 billion on the military is extremely wasteful and deeply immoral. In his 1953 speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower – former World War II five-star army general – strikingly declared, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed…The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities…It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals.” That’s what the world needs: more schools and hospitals, not an additional $54 billion of guns, warships and rockets. But instead, Trump is determined to pay for his military spending spree with $54 billion of heartless cuts to essential programs that help care for our desperately poor and hungry brothers and sisters, and cuts to programs like the Green Climate Fund that strives to heal the wounded, endangered planet we all live on. It is absolutely essential that people of faith email and phone (Capitol switchboard number: 202-224-3121) their two U.S. senators and congressperson urging them to significantly decrease military spending and robustly increase poverty-focused emergency and development assistance to the poor of the U.S. and of the world. Please also use this link to provide added pressure. And it is also crucially important to urge Congress to honor the U.S. commitment of transferring the remaining $2 billion promised to the UN Green Climate Fund – funding Trump has cancelled – to help poor nations deal with global warming emergencies. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in his 2009 encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, “It is good for people to realize that purchasing is always a moral – and not simply economic – act.” And that especially applies to the tremendous purchasing power of the federal government’s budget!
As I was trying to discern what God wanted me to write about, I walked into my 16-year-old son’s bedroom to discover a military calendar hanging on the wall. It highlighted young men and women in combat fatigues, fighter jets, an aircraft carrier battle group and plenty of American flags. I knew from personal experience and deep soul-searching that hidden behind this calendar of military glitter was centuries of death and destruction. And as I removed this calendar, I knew exactly what God wanted me to write on. Many years ago as young man in my 20’s I found myself in the midst of U.S. military basic combat training at Fort Dix, New Jersey. While firing my M-16 weapon at life-like pop-up targets, it occurred to me the army was not training me to hit pop-up targets, but was training me to kill some poor guy like me in a far off country who got caught up in the propaganda of his own country’s war machine. I came to realize this was all wrong. And I knew that in my desire to imitate the nonviolent Jesus, I could kill no one. I spoke to my drill sergeant about these deep anti-war feelings I had and my desire to apply for conscientious objector status. He urged me to wait until I completed basic training and apply for CO status when I arrived at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indianapolis for Advanced Individual Training. At Fort Harrison I was being trained as a broadcaster for Armed Forces Radio in Germany. But that inviting future did not deter me. My broadcast instructors tried to convince me that the chances of my having to shoot someone from a radio station were extremely remote. And although they were technically correct, I knew my role as a military journalist and radio disc jockey would be to boost the morale of those who would be pulling the triggers and dropping the bombs. And I knew that I could have nothing to do with this unholy enterprise. In my appeal for discharge as a conscientious objector, I had to write a research paper stating my position from the perspective of Catholic teaching on war. Unfortunately, since the Catholic Church for the last 1,700 years has not been a totally traditional peace church – renouncing all war – like the Amish, Mennonites and Church of the Brethren – it made my case much more difficult. However, since total active nonviolence is at least a part of Catholic doctrine, as clearly exemplified by the first 300 years of its history, I was able to make my case. After undergoing cross examinations by a military officer and psychiatrist, being interviewed by three army chaplains, and having my appeal go up and down the chain of command several times, it was finally ascertained that I was a sincere conscientious objector, and I was granted an honorable discharge. My experience in appealing for conscientious objector status was relatively painless. But many Christians have suffered harsh prison sentences like the late Catholic American Ben Salmon. And some COs have even been executed, like Austrian Blessed Franz Jagerstatter, rather than take the lives of others. For a deeply inspiring testimony of nonviolent Christian witness and heroic conscientious objection in the early Catholic Church, read the authentic ancient Roman trial of St. Maximilian.
Jesus said to his first disciples, and to all future disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” But political leaders, governments, corporations and countless people seek the false and fleeting peace of the world which seduces the senses, minds and even souls into believing that having more stuff – including more weapons of war, more money for war, more training for war – will bring peace. To the contrary, this self-centered, materialistic, militaristic mentality and lifestyle only leads to personal emptiness, tense truces, war, and more war. True and lasting peace, the peace our hearts are hungry for, the peace our world longs for, comes only from God. It is the “Shalom” – the right-relationship, serenity and harmony with the Creator, with ourselves, with each other and with all creation, best exemplified by the Father’s incarnate Son – which Jesus himself offers to us. But the reception of God’s peace – the very indwelling of the Holy Spirit – requires the humility, trust and openness of a soul ready to attentively listen to God’s word and faithfully follow in his footsteps. But there always exists a tension between listening to and following the Holy One and listening to and following the evil one. The choice is ours. “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, obeying his voice, and holding fast to him” (Deut. 30: 19-20). As is so much the case today, 100 years ago so much of humanity was bent on choosing death and the curse. Europe and beyond was embroiled in World War I which claimed approximately 17 million lives and caused untold destruction. The era surrounding 1917 was one extreme persecution for the church. From Mexico to France, from Portugal to Russia the followers of Christ were under fierce attack. In Portugal, the newly installed atheistic republic pillaged Catholic churches and convents. Legislation was passed suppressing religious orders, religious feasts and the teaching of religion in schools. Most bishops were exiled and many priests were imprisoned. But in the midst of human sin and pain, the God of life always chooses to suffer with his people. He always gives us the strength and courage to persevere in faith. And when necessary, he sends his mother. One hundred years ago, on May 13, 1917, near the town of Fatima in Portugal, the Blessed Mother appeared to three children saying “Please don’t be afraid of me…I come from heaven.” With a rosary in her hand, she requested that they pray and devote themselves to the Holy Trinity. And she asked them to “say the Rosary every day, to bring peace to the world and an end to the war.” The rosary is a beautiful and powerful heavenly gift. The Marian intercessory prayers are comforting. The mysteries centering on the life, death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord are awesome to meditate upon, and can lead the soul into a sublime contemplative experience of our peaceful God. In praying the rosary and other prayers for peace we become more peaceful persons who are more willing to spread the peace of God – the peace the world cannot give.
“A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system,” warns Pope Francis in his landmark environmental encyclical Laudato Si (“On Care for Our Common Home”). Indeed, the scientific consensus is very solid. According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), “97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities.” The Earth’s hottest year on record was 2014. That was until 2015, which then became the hottest year. And that was until 2016, which is now the Earth’s hottest year. As reported in The New York Times, of the 17 hottest years on record, 16 have now occurred since 2000. For decades scientists have warned that humanity is on a disastrous global warming course – increasing floods, droughts, storms, wildfires – by failing to drastically reduce fossil-fuel use – coal, oil and gas – and move quickly to clean sustainable wind, solar and geothermal energy. Yet climate change deniers – with little sustainable scientific evidence – insist that global warming is not happening. And the president of the United States is their chief spokesperson. Trump posted on Twitter that climate change is a hoax devised by China to secure an unfair trade advantage. He has irresponsibly proposed cutting necessary funding to the Environmental Protection Agency by approximately 30 percent, and has promised to pull the U.S. out of the crucial international Paris Agreement on climate change. Leading us in the opposite direction of Trump, Pope Francis in his environmental encyclical Laudato Si (“On Care for Our Common Home”) insists “public pressure has to be exerted in order to bring about decisive political action. Society… must put pressure on governments to develop more rigorous regulations, procedures and controls. Unless citizens control political power – national, regional and municipal – it will not be possible to control damage to the environment.” The recent People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C. was good, but far from enough. The citizen pressure the Holy Father is urging must be strong and ongoing. Because most politicians don’t see the light until they feel the heat! Consider signing up to receive information and action alerts from the Catholic Climate Covenant, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. And parishes would do well to order/download the Eco-Parish Guide for Catholic Parishes. Skeptical Science is a scholarly website recommended to me by a highly respected climate scientist. I hope you find it as informative as I do. Each month I purchase 100 percent clean renewable energy for my home. And you and your parish can too. Like St. Francis, Pope Francis sees all of God’s creation as interrelated and worthy of protection. And so should we! In “On Care for Our Common Home” – a must read – the Holy Father warns: “When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected.” And thus Francis invites us to live with an attitude of the heart, fully present to each person, and accepting “each moment as a gift from God to be lived to the full.”
Although it is Easter season, for much of the world it still feels like Good Friday. Countless people throughout the world continue to carry painfully heavy crosses – crosses overwhelming due to man’s inhumanity to man. Sin, which starts in each individual human heart, if not repented of, joins with the sins of many, forming a collective critical mass of sin which leads to the building of what St. Pope John Paul called the “structures of sin.” And it is these structures of sin – like unjust government public policies and laws, corporate greed, economic disparity, militarism, the abortion industry and secular cultures devoid of God – with their selfish raw power that condemn billions of human beings to lives of misery and death. Countless human lives – from the first moment of conception to old age – are of little value not only to the majority of those who control power and wealth, but also to millions of average people. Even many Christians give only token attention to our hurting world. It is what Pope Francis calls a “culture of indifference.” Challenging this indifference the Pope declared, “It is important for the whole church that welcoming the poor and promoting justice not be entrusted solely to ‘experts’ but be a focus of all pastoral care, of the formation of future priests and religious, and of the ordinary work of all parishes.” In a world where over 1 billion children live in poverty, and 300 million children go to bed hungry every night (see: http://uni.cf/2pL2UKf), Pope Francis says, “Poverty is the flesh of the poor Jesus, in that child who is hungry, in the one who is sick, in those unjust social structures.” One of the most dangerous and harmful unjust social structures is the arms race. Warning us about this, the world’s Catholic bishops at the Second Vatican Council declared, “While extravagant sums are being spent for the furnishing of ever new weapons, an adequate remedy cannot be provided for the multiple miseries afflicting the whole modern world… “Therefore, we say it again: the arms race is an utterly treacherous trap for humanity, and one which ensnares the poor to an intolerable degree. “It is much to be feared that if this race persists, it will eventually spawn all the lethal ruin whose path it is now making ready.” With hundreds of Russian and U.S. nuclear weapons aimed at each other on hair-trigger alert, recent American airstrikes in Syria, the dropping of the largest U.S. non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan and a U.S. aircraft carrier battle group steaming towards the Korean Peninsula, the world is on edge (see: http://bit.ly/2oivpig). To all the indifference to the poor, war-making and saber-rattling, the resurrected Jesus offers to the whole world his gift of peace, his “Shalom” – serenity and harmony with God, with ourselves, with each other and with all creation. And to his disciples, those of us who gladly accept his “Shalom,” the risen Lord entrusts the sacred task of urgently advancing his kingdom of universal love – where no one is poor and hungry, where war and war preparation yield to dialogue, where astronomical military spending gives way to full funding for comprehensive health care, quality education, decent jobs and housing, clean water and sanitation for everyone. And where all of God’s creation – especially human life from conception to natural death – is protected and cherished!
Fifty years ago, Blessed Pope Paul VI gave to the world a truly prophetic encyclical letter Populorum Progressio (“The Development of Peoples), and just days later Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his powerful speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” As kindred spirits in Christ, they both knew the grave dangers facing humanity – dangers still staring us in the face. And they wrote and spoke with urgent appeal to a largely blind and deaf world. In “The Development of Peoples” Pope Paul wrote, "God intended the earth and everything in it for the use of all human beings and peoples. Thus, under the leadership of justice and in the company of charity, created goods should flow fairly to all… “All other rights, whatever they may be, including the rights of property and free trade, are to be subordinated to this principle. They should in no way hinder it; in fact, they should actively facilitate its implementation” (No. 22). Blessed Pope Paul’s emphasis on the priority of the common good over profit, free market completion and private ownership of production, led him to condemn these aspects of capitalism that have “given rise to hardships, unjust practices, and fratricidal conflicts that persist to this day” (No. 26). While that was certainly true in 1967 – 50 years ago when Pope Paul wrote those words – it is even truer today. According to a post at the Institute for Policy Studies (see: http://bit.ly/2o29Inc), the money handed out last year as bonuses on Wall Street was double the amount made by all U.S. minimum-wage workers combined. The poorest half of the population own 2.5 percent of American wealth, while the top 1 percent owns 35 percent of the wealth. And globally it’s even worse. The poorest half of the earth’s population owns 1 percent of the earth’s wealth, while the richest 1 percent owns 46 percent of world’s wealth. In response to the tremendous disparity of wealth between rich and poor, Pope Paul declared, “The superfluous goods of wealthier nations ought to be placed at the disposal of poorer nations.” He asked world leaders to “set aside part of their military expenditures for a world fund to relieve the needs of impoverished peoples.” With prophetic words Blessed Paul declared, “We cannot approve a debilitating arms race. It is our solemn duty to speak out against them. If only world leaders would listen to us, before it is too late!” Enter Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Remarkably, just 10 days after Pope Paul’s landmark encyclical, Rev. King delivered his like-minded speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” (see: http://bit.ly/2nihVXe). Dr. King lamented the U.S. war on poverty’s surrender to the U.S. war in Vietnam. He said America would never make the needed investments to end poverty as long as wars like “Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube.” And to those who criticized his linking the evils of racism and poverty with the evils of war he responded, “Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the one who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What can I say to the Vietcong or Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this one? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?” Good Friday lessons that lead to Easter joy, from two kindred spirits.
Recently I was given a unique opportunity to taste some of the bitter hardships endured by fellow human beings fleeing drug-gang violence, oppressive poverty and economic injustice south of the U.S. border. Starting the day after a talk I gave at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Parish in Tucson, Arizona, I entered into a migrant immersion experience. Arranged by my kind host Salvatorian Fr. Bill Remmel, my migrant immersion journey started with joining a team of Tucson Samaritans. The Samaritans are a faith-based group who regularly patrol – mostly on foot – very remote areas of the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona. They leave jugs of life-saving water along hot rugged terrain traveled by very poor migrant children, women and men seeking a safe, decent place to live in the U.S. Because there are relatively few legal visas issued annually by the U.S. government for much needed low-skilled laborers, and due to an already existing 700 mile wall/fence along the U.S.-Mexico border coupled with thousands of Border Patrol agents, most undocumented workers in order to try to avoid being arrested, dangerously trek through the desert to hopefully reach a U.S. workplace. On the day I went out with the Tucson Samaritans, appropriately enough we met up at Southside Presbyterian Church – where the modern sanctuary movement in the U.S. was born. We traveled south stopping close to the U.S.-Mexico border. Donning backpacks loaded with first-aid supplies, water and nutritional food bars we hiked for four hours up into the Las Guijas Mountains looking for unchartered migrant trails. The mountain desert was hot and dry. Staying well-hydrated was absolutely essential. We discovered rugged trails that provided sure evidence – empty backpacks and water bottles – that migrants had hiked these paths. On a 4,000 foot steep desert mountaintop we paused to try to determine where the overgrown trail continued. As I looked out in all directions I could easily imagine many of the dangers facing me if I was a migrant – running out of water, heat stroke, hypothermia, rattlesnakes, thorny cacti, a debilitating fall, disorientation and getting lost. The next day at the federal courthouse in Tucson, I attend an immigration hearing of arrested migrants prosecuted under the federal program “Operation Streamline,” which tries migrant cases quickly, in large groups, with only brief access to legal counsel. That day 14 migrants were given between 30 and 180 day prison sentences ending in deportation. The third day, together with a few migrant ministry volunteers, I crossed the border into Nogales, Mexico where the Catholic operated Kino Border Initiative provides humanitarian assistance to deported children, women and men. While I was there 38 recently deported men entered the small modest clean dining facility. They reverently prayed before eating. And as I was leaving I said to several of them “Dios te bendiga” – God bless you. And they sincerely asked God’s blessing upon me too. Before leaving Nogales I touched “The Wall” – the approximately 25 foot high steel barrier blocking Mexicans from entering the U.S. It looks and feels unholy. Well over 2,500 migrants have died trying to walk far around the wall and through the unforgiving Arizona Sonoran desert since its construction. My final migrant immersion experience was participating in a desert cross planting. About 20 of us traveled to Cochise, Arizona where we planted a cross and prayed for Ramon Contreras Ramos, 36, who perished nearby trying to make his way through the desert. Ramon was a Mexican carpenter who had a wife and two small children. Anyone or any group seeking to experience an eye-opening and enriching migrant immersion experience similar to mine, contact Fr. Bill Remmel ([email protected]). Accurate information is available to correct the numerous myths surrounding immigration. Compassionate, just, comprehensive immigration reform legislation is desperately needed. While journeying along a desert mountain migrant trail, a Tucson Samaritan volunteer handed me a little girl’s broken hair barrette he found. It’s now sitting on my desk. And as I write this column, every so often I pause to look at it, and hold it. I sure hope that little girl made it. And I hope that we will commit to becoming a deeply welcoming society to all those in need; so that my new little friend, and all the needy migrants like her, will never again be forced to walk dangerous, unjust paths to a better life.
People are beginning to starve to death in South Sudan. The United Nations has formally declared that a state of famine exists in this east African nation, with 100,000 people immediately facing starvation, and 1 million additional South Sudanese teetering on the brink of famine. “Many families have exhausted every means they have to survive,” said Food and Agriculture Organization representative in South Sudan, Serge Tissot. These predominately farming people have lost livestock, sold farming tools and eaten their stock of planting seeds. They have nothing left to live on. And as things stand now, this monumental human crisis will get worse. The U.N. warns “The total number of food insecure people is expected to rise to 5.5 million at the height of the lean season in July if nothing is done to curb the severity and spread of the food crisis.” And according to U.N. Children’s Fund representative in South Sudan, Jeremy Hopkins, “More than 1 million children are currently estimated to be acutely malnourished across South Sudan; over a quarter of a million children are already severely malnourished. If we do not reach these children with urgent aid many of them will die.” South Sudan, the world’s newest nation – just over five years old – has been struggling to survive since its birth. Not only is it one of the very poorest countries on earth, it has also suffered during most of its short life from an ongoing civil war. Just days ago, the Catholic Bishops of South Sudan issued a pastoral message to their suffering brothers and sisters saying “Our country is not at peace. People live in fear. The civil war…continues. Despite our calls to all parties, factions and individuals to stop the war, nevertheless killing, raping, looting, displacement, attacks on churches and destruction of property continue all over the country…There is a general lack of respect for human life.” The South Sudanese bishops then note that while poor rains have affected parts of the country, the famine is man-made. And with deep insight they say, “Hunger, in turn, creates insecurity, in a vicious circle in which the hungry man, especially if he has a gun, may resort to looting to feed himself and his family.” President Trump wants to increase already astronomically high military spending by $54 billion, while making deep cuts in poverty-focused foreign aid, which is a tiny portion of the U.S. budget – less than 1 percent. Therefore, it is very important for us to email and call our two U.S. senators and congressperson (Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121) urging them to provide supplemental emergency funding now for the suffering people of South Sudan. And to pass a 2018 federal budget that significantly increases, not decreases foreign poverty-focused development assistance and emergency aid to poor nations. Since war is fueling the famine, also ask your congressional delegation to urge President Trump to request that the U.N. Security Council impose a total arms embargo on South Sudan and actively attempt to negotiate a permanent cease fire. And in the spirit of Lent’s call to deepen our efforts of prayer, fasting and alms-giving, please consider making a generous donation to Catholic Relief Services. Just click this link and in the box labeled “special request” type “For South Sudan.” Now consider that Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria are on the brink of famine. I know, it’s overwhelming. But what do you think it’s like for them?
You may not have heard about it, but it was a big deal – big enough to inspire Pope Francis to get involved. The big deal was the under-reported U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements (WMPM) that recently gathered (Feb. 16-19) in Modesto, Calif. Drawing together hundreds of faith-based and social justice organizers from across the United States and the world, the WMPM focused on the themes of “land, labor and lodging,” along with immigration and racial issues. (http://popularmovements.org/) Sponsored in part by the Vatican’s department of Integral Human Development and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the WMPM in California was the first such regional gathering to follow three previous international meetings. In 2014 Pope Francis convened the first-ever World Meeting of Popular Movements at the Vatican to address the basic need of everyone for adequate land, housing and work. (http://bit.ly/2mdiMnK) In a letter read to participants at the recent U.S. Regional WMPM in California, Pope Francis said, “It makes me very happy to see you working together towards social justice! How I wish that such constructive energy would spread to all dioceses, because it builds bridges between peoples and individuals. These are bridges that can overcome the walls of exclusion, indifference, racism and intolerance.” “There are fundamentalist and violent individuals in all peoples and religions – and with intolerant generalizations they become stronger because they feed on hate and xenophobia.” In Francis’ call to dioceses to build bridges that overcome societal and economic injustices, it’s important to note that those bridges need to be built on the solid foundation of Catholic social teaching – unfortunately our best kept secret. Sadly, many Catholics – clergy and laity alike – view Catholic social teaching as a minor sub-topic of Catholicism. On the contrary, the social doctrine of the Catholic Church is nonnegotiable. It is an extremely important, absolute central part of Catholic teaching. (see: http://www.catholicsocialteaching.org.uk/principles/) Therefore it is essential for every diocese and parish to finally make a firm commitment to learn about, pray over, and live out Catholic social teaching. Then the essential bridges between peoples and individuals that Pope Francis is calling us to construct will be built on solid rock like that of the wise man in the Gospel whom Jesus praises for building his house on firm ground so that when the storms came the house stood strong. And make no mistake about it, when we courageously stand with the poor and vulnerable, the evil one together with the violent forces of “the world” will mount a powerful storm against us. But if we are anchored firmly in the Gospel, and Gospel-based Catholic social teaching, we too will stand strong within the invincible armor of God! Turning to the environment, Pope Francis also warned that “The ecological crisis is real. A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system…Let us not fall into denial.” Continuing his remarks to the U.S. Regional WMPM the Holy Father said, “I am speaking of a system that causes enormous suffering to the human family, simultaneously assaulting people’s dignity and our common home in order to sustain the invisible tyranny of money that only guarantees the privileges of a few.” No mere window dressing will fix this immoral mess. The entire money-hungry, greed-driven system needs to be dismantled and replaced with an economic system that places human beings – every human being – above money and things. “By confronting terror with love, we work for peace.”
In many places throughout the world there is a widening gulf, chasm, gap between races, tribes, classes, cultures, economic factions, political parties, religions and nations. And these divides often pit the powerful against the vulnerable. The desire, and even addiction, of so many of the wealthy and powerful for more wealth and power is causing tremendous suffering – suffering largely untold. Consider these facts: According to the World Bank approximately 700 million human beings live in extreme poverty struggling to survive on less than $1.90 a day, while according to the anti-poverty organization Oxfam eight billionaires now own as much wealth as half the world. Imagine, eight extremely wealthy men have as much wealth as 3.6 billion of the world’s poorest people. Governments throughout the world spend approximately $1.7 trillion annually to beef-up their militaries – with the U.S. being the biggest spender – while approximately 16,000 children are left to die every day from hunger and hunger related illnesses. While 56 million unborn babies worldwide are the victims of abortion every year, and while approximately 1 million unborn babies are aborted every year in the U.S, Planned Parenthood – America’s largest abortion provider – took in over $1 billion in 2016. And while dangerous amounts of fossil fuel generated global warming gases are emitted into the atmosphere – due mostly to human activity – wealthy fossil fuel corporations are receiving huge U.S. taxpayer subsidies (see: http://bit.ly/2jPftFW). These examples, and many more like them, are in the words of Pope St. John Paul II “a war of the powerful against the weak.” This teaching from his prophetic encyclical Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”) is bolstered by these accompanying words: We are confronted by a “structure of sin” which is “characterized by the emergence of a culture which denies solidarity and in many cases takes the form of a veritable ‘culture of death.’ ’’ In the midst of this “war of the powerful against the weak,” and the “structure of sin” – where many dominant individuals, numerous government laws and a myriad of corporate policies crush the poor and vulnerable – it is imperative that followers of the God of love, life, justice and peace grasp hands and hearts to form one united voice on behalf of all who suffer. Sadly, this is easier said than done. Among many Catholics, and numerous other Christians, there exists a tremendous pro-life, social justice and peace divide. And it is a monumental obstacle to advancing the Kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven.” Many Christians committed to ending the mass murder of abortion often rationalize and thus accept the mass murder of war. And conversely, many Christians committed to ending the mass murder of war, often rationalize and accept the mass murder of abortion – or at least look the other way. And many other similar comparisons concerning poverty, hunger, homelessness, the environment, etc., can be made here. This unnecessary ranking of the issues, this false dichotomy is harmful to building a world where everyone matters. Saying that human beings in certain circumstances deserve protection of their lives and dignity, while in other certain circumstances do not, is not only immoral, it is illogical. St. John Paul drives home this point perfectly: “Where life is involved, the service of charity must be profoundly consistent. It cannot tolerate bias and discrimination, for human life is sacred and inviolable at every stage and in every situation.”
What a sight! Over 25 times from the top of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., I have seen a sea of people marching to proclaim the dignity of unborn human life, and how death-dealing abortion sends the unholy message that some human beings are disposable. As I write, I am a just one day away from marching with and viewing that sea of people once again. It’s always a moral and spiritual shot-in-the-arm for me. But good as they are, the Washington “March for Life” (Jan. 27), the “Walk for Life West Coast” (Jan. 21), the “Midwest March for Life” (Feb. 4) and dozens of similar events at state capitols throughout the U.S., they simply are not enough. While significant progress has been made to lessen the number of abortions, nonetheless, according to the National Right to Life Committee over 1 million unborn brothers and sisters are brutally dismembered by abortion each year. And according to the World Health Organization over 55 million unborn babies worldwide are aborted every year. Throughout the entire year believers in the God of life need to pray, educate, peacefully protest at abortion facilities, donate and lobby on behalf of the unborn – the unborn can’t do it for themselves. Signing-up to receive legislative alerts from your state Catholic conference will greatly help. This will easily allow you to promote legislation protecting the lives and dignity of unborn and born human beings alike. Additionally, please email and call your congressperson (Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121) urging her/him to fully support “The Heartbeat Protection Act” (H.R. 490). And urge your two U.S. senators to sponsor and support a companion bill in the Senate. If passed into law, this bill would prohibit abortions on unborn babies whose heartbeat is detectable. And urge your senators to vote for the recently passed House bill “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act” (H.R. 7), which would ban taxpayer funded abortions. The execution of over 300,000 abortions every year makes Planned Parenthood the largest abortion provider in the U.S. Therefore, please urge your congressional delegation to defund Planned Parenthood Federation of America and redirect funds to the thousands of non-abortion comprehensive health centers nationwide. How can any person who truly respects life support abortion – the barbaric dismembering of tiny innocent unborn babies. There simply is no morally acceptable reason to perform an abortion. The developing human being in utero is nothing short of miraculous! Watch this fascinating video produced by Alexander Tsiaras, mathematician and former chief of scientific visualization at Yale University’s Department of Medicine. And after watching it ask yourself, “How is it possible that anyone could destroy such a marvelous work of God.” A civilized nation does not kill babies waiting to be born. And if we dare carry this life-affirming perspective to its logical moral conclusion, we must also declare that a civilized society does not kill anyone, for any reason, period. That was the life-affirming perspective of the early church. In their theology no blood could be spilled – no abortion, no capital punishment, no war. It was a Gospel-centered theology based on the unconditional love of God towards every person, as best exemplified by Jesus. We would do well to walk in the footsteps of the nonviolent Master and his early followers, proclaiming in word and deed that no life is disposable, and that every person is a beloved child of the God of life!
I believe it is no mere coincidence that the U.S. national holiday celebrating the inspiring life of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Jan. 16) is positioned within the same week as the Jan. 20 presidential inauguration of Donald J. Trump. I believe a king has wise and holy advice for the president. If King could advise Trump face to face, he would surely urge him to always do what Jesus would do. And likewise, to always refrain from doing what Jesus would not do. King would advise Trump to humbly read the Gospel every day to gain divine insight into what the merciful, compassionate, nonviolent Jesus would do today. With the Gospel as his guide, King said, “The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.” King would quote John F. Kennedy to Trump: “Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.” And continuing with his firm conviction against war, King would quote his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, “Man must evolve for all human conflict a method, which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” In light of the tremendous disparity of wealth between rich individuals and corporations compared to tens of millions of Americans living in poverty, and hundreds of millions of people throughout the world struggling to survive in extreme poverty, King would admonish the billionaire Trump’s apparent indifference. He would say to him “It is obvious that if a man is to redeem his spiritual and moral lag, he must go all out to bridge the social and economic gulf between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have not’s’ of the world.” And Dr. King would add, “There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we have the resources to get rid of it.” And in 2017 that fact is even truer. The renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs, special advisor to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, told me that for approximately $100 billion dollars more per year, extreme poverty could be totally eradicated from the face of the earth. That’s less than one-sixth of the U.S. military budget. King’s niece, Dr. Alveda King said, “I know in my heart if Uncle Martin were alive today, he would join with me in the greatest civil rights struggle of this generation – the recognition of the unborn child’s basic right to life.” Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who harbored no discrimination concerning the protection of every human life, would surely urge President Trump to energetically work to fully protect the miracle of all unborn human life (See this fascinating video: http://bit.ly/1XezTp2). King took the broad-minded approach to the meaning of life. And he summarized it well in his 1967 Christmas sermon (see: http://bit.ly/2i6mNao), saying “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated.” King’s final words to Trump – and all of us – could very well be: “If we are to have peace on earth … our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone; no nation can live alone, and as long as we try, the more we are going to have war in this world. “Now the judgment of God is upon us, and we must either learn to live together as brothers or we are going to perish together as fools.”
“May charity and nonviolence govern how we treat each other as individuals, within society and in international life.” This statement written by Pope Francis in his Jan. 1 World Day of Peace message – the 50th annual papal peace message to the world – extols nonviolence as an essential and nonnegotiable key to true and lasting peace. In his peace message titled “Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace,” the Holy Father says, “When victims of violence are able to resist the temptation to retaliate, they become the most credible promoters of nonviolent peacemaking. “In the most local and ordinary situations and in the international order, may nonviolence become the hallmark of our decisions, our relationships and our actions, and indeed of political life in all its forms.” Throughout this extremely challenging New Year’s peace message, Pope Francis boldly raises the moral bar, calling each of us, and each nation, to heed the clear nonviolent way of Jesus: “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52). Most unfortunately, in contrast to Jesus’ nonviolent message over 50 countries are involved in armed conflicts (see: http://bit.ly/2irdlju), Pope Francis accurately laments: “Today, sadly, we find ourselves engaged in a horrifying world war fought piecemeal.” The Holy Father powerfully declares: “Violence is not the cure for our broken world.” Francis points out that meeting violence with violence produces tremendous suffering, not only in death and destruction, but by diverting necessary resources for human life to military ends. And judging from recent dangerous comments of President-elect Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the world could get far more violent. Responding to Putin’s recent comment about strengthening Russia’s nuclear weapons capabilities in 2017, Trump – a day after meeting with Pentagon and defense contractors – called on the U.S. to “greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability” until the rest of the world “comes to its senses” regarding nuclear weapons (see CBC News http://bit.ly/2irt2Ha). With hundreds of nuclear weapons currently aimed at each other on hair-trigger alert, it’s Putin and Trump (as well as Obama) who need to come to their senses. For a nonviolent, reasonable way to reverse this violently dangerous course, visit Global Zero (http://www.globalzero.org/no-first-use) to learn the facts and what you can do to help rid the world of these most monstrous weapons. Pope Francis writes, “To be true followers of Jesus today also includes embracing his teaching about nonviolence.” Francis reminds us that Jesus’ teaching of God’s unconditional love calls us to turn the other cheek, love our enemies and faithfully live the Sermon on the Mount. Francis counters the frequent mistaken criticism that “Nonviolence is sometimes taken to mean surrender, lack of involvement and passivity,” saying, “this is not the case.” He cites famous effective nonviolent examples like Mahatma Gandhi, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and “Leymah Gbowee and the thousands of Liberian women, who organized pray-ins and nonviolent protest that resulted in high-level peace talks to end the second civil war in Liberia.” And currently international groups like the “Nonviolent Peaceforce” (see: www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org) are courageously, nonviolently and effectively helping to reduce and even stop violent conflict. Please carefully reflect on Pope Francis’ “Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace (go to http://bit.ly/2hj78oP). A prayerful reading of this short, powerful papal teaching, will deepen your resolve to be a true peacemaker – in the nonviolent footsteps of the Prince of Peace.
During this wonderful time of the year, when Christians throughout the world focus minds and hearts on the coming of God himself upon the earth as one of us, our attention naturally turns to the place where the incarnation occurred. While all the earth is a holy creation of the Almighty, Bethlehem and the surrounding lands that Jesus walked upon, taught upon, miraculously acted upon, suffered and died upon, and gloriously resurrected upon is uniquely holy, and thus deserving of the title Holy Land. In the Holy Land the Prince of Peace taught humanity the way to true peace. In word and deed Jesus showed the world that justice, merciful forgiveness, solidarity, compassion, special care for the poor and vulnerable, nonviolence, and complete trust in God – not trusting in material wealth and military might – are the necessary steps we must take if we truly desire to walk the path to peace. But sadly, so many people, corporations and governments, arrogantly ignore the wisdom of the Prince of Peace – even in the Holy Land. Catholic Relief Services’ country representative for Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, Hilary DuBose, explained to me that after nearly 50 years of Israeli occupation, with no foreseeable end to the conflict, and no reasonable expectation for a totally independent and viable nation, Palestinians feel hopeless. The very high unemployment rate in the West Bank remains over 25 percent. And in Gaza it’s much worse. Israel has imposed an air, land, and sea blockade around Gaza. DuBose said, “On the humanitarian side, it is hampering our ability to coordinate and support our work there. Gazans themselves feel trapped, and describe their lives as if living in an open-air prison.” According to the World Bank, in 2016 the Palestinian unemployment rate reached a staggering 27 percent in the Israeli occupied West Bank. And in Gaza the rate was far worse at 42 percent, with youth unemployment at 58 percent. According to The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, even Palestinian citizens of Israel often face discrimination in work opportunities, pay, and conditions. To help correct the discriminatory challenges faced by Palestinians, Irish-born American Father Sean McManus has put forth the Holy Land Principles. The eight Holy Land Principles, in summary, call on U.S. companies operating in Israel and Palestine to adhere to equal and fair employment practices in all areas without discrimination, to actively recruit underrepresented employee groups, and to work with governmental and community authorities to eliminate ethnic, racial and religious disparities in government spending on education, training, access to health care, and housing. Please go to www.holylandprinciples.org to learn more about these important moral principles and how you can help advance them. You can also help our suffering Palestinian brothers and sisters in the Holy Land by giving a Christmas gift to Catholic Near East Welfare Association. To give online please go to http://bit.ly/2hxXcZm. The International Court of Justice has declared that Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories are illegal according to international law. The ecumenical organization Churches for Middle East Peace is asking Americans to contact their two U.S. senators asking them to urge President Obama to support a U.N. Security Council resolution that clearly states that all Israeli settlements are illegal. To send your senators this message, please go to http://bit.ly/2hGQ6Vj. By acting on behalf of our suffering brothers and sisters in the Holy Land, we are doing our part to keep Christ in Christmas.