During the recent U.S. Catholic bishops’ fall assembly in Baltimore, several bishops and one abbot, gathered with about 25 peace activists – myself included – to share a simple meal and consider the horriblely emotional, psychological and spiritual wounds suffered by combatants of war. In the old basement of historic St. Vincent de Paul Church, on the evening of Nov. 15, Bishops John Michael Botean, Brendan Cahill, Yousif Habash, Richard Pates, Joseph Kopacz, Anthony Taylor, Michael Warfel and Abbot Nicholas Zachariadis broke bread together with members of Pax Christi, Catholic Worker, Catholic Peace Fellowship, and the Community of Sant’Egidio. After prayer and a simple supper, theologian and psychiatrist Warren Kinghorn, M.D., shared with us his spiritual and medical observations regarding the deep wounds war veterans often bring home. While practicing medicine at Durham, VA Medical Center, Kinghorn said he met World War II veterans in their 80s and 90s who hadn’t slept more than four hours a night for 60 years, Vietnam veterans who couldn’t keep a job, a marriage, or stay sober, and veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, displaying similar symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He said many veterans also displayed other symptoms of PTSD: nightmares, frightening thoughts, and flashbacks. He would tell his PTSD war veteran patients, “You went through things that no human being should ever have to go through, and tried to push it away, and now it’s coming back in dreams, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts.” Kinghorn discovered in many of his patients deep psychological and spiritual wounds from things not only done to them, but things done by them in war. He shared that he was seeing and hearing what St. Augustine – ironically the father of the “just-war” theory – called “heartfelt grief” from hurts received during war and from harm done to others in war. Kinghorn said today this is often framed as “moral injury” trauma. “It turns out that the act of killing itself, even when consistent with one’s held values, is psychologically costly. Killing in combat, turns out to be associated with lots of adverse mental health outcomes.” Dr. Kinghorn said there are four key principles that promote healing for veterans experiencing PTSD/“heartfelt grief.” The first principle is working to undo the dehumanization of past enemies by striving to connect with the humanity of others. Second principle is confession. Kinghorn said, “All killing of any sort participates in a broken world.” A confession of sins frees us and facilitates our reconciliation with others. Third principle is community. Liturgies of healing and reconciliation are important ways faith communities can offer help. Fourth principle is calling – giving veterans something meaningful to do. Kinghorn asked, “What role does the church have for returning veterans?” Veterans experiencing PTSD, or any other problems, can receive quality care from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Just call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 or visit http://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/. Maryknoll Sister Elizabeth Salmon, daughter of World War I, Catholic, conscientious objector Ben Salmon, said her father refused to kill his German brothers. He said, “There is no such thing as a just war.” And for his faithfulness in following the nonviolent Jesus, and honoring the commandment “Thou shall not kill,” he was imprisoned for over four years and committed to the criminally insane wing of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. (Please visit www.bensalmon.org.) What a sick, sinful society that honors the insanity of war, and imprisons those who refuse to kill.
For those of us using the Gospel and Catholic social teaching as our voting guide, choosing between the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates was an absolute dilemma. Hillary Clinton’s hawkish military attitude, like her vote to authorize former President George W. Bush to attack Iraq – which opened up the doors to the ongoing bloodbath in the Middle East – along with her aggressive support for the ongoing bloodbath of abortion, made it morally impossible for me to cast my vote for her. And Donald Trump’s threat to deport millions of hard-working undocumented Latinos, his promise to “build a great, great wall on our southern border” insisting that “Mexico pay for that wall,” his temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S., his threat to deport war-torn Syrian refugees, his plan to give massive tax breaks to the rich, his denial of alarming climate change, his determination to greatly increase spending for weapons of war, and his argument that American allies – including South Korea – should build their own nuclear weapons, made it morally impossible for me to cast my vote for him. But I did vote. I cast my write in ballot for the American Solidarity Party’s presidential candidate Michael Maturen. And I did so because this party’s platform reflects Catholic social teaching far better than any other U.S. political party. But voting was the easy part. Now the hard work begins! Deeply committed Christians, who cherish the Gospel’s social justice and peace message, clearly understand that we have a serious moral obligation to tirelessly oppose most of President-elect Donald Trump’s political agenda – which runs counter to God’s command to care for the poor with justice, to nonviolently build peace and to protect our earth home. And as an ambiguous late-comer to the defense of the unborn, we need to hold President-elect Trump to his promise to appoint pro-life Supreme Court justices. The expression “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” is most appropriate here. As followers of the compassionate Prince of Peace, we are to comfort the suffering, to soothe their afflictions and to uproot the causes of their pain. And to those who are comfortable in being indifferent to the afflictions of the lowly, we are to prophetically afflict their comfortable indifference, to challenge their hard-heartedness and nonviolently fight against their inhumanity – while praying for their conversion. Responding to Trump’s election during a recent speech at Georgetown University, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the new papal ambassador (nuncio) to the United States, said the Church needs “to assume a prophetic role.” Using refugees as an example, he stated, “we have not done much, to be honest with you, on the issue of refugees in the United States. And we could do much more.” To help us do much more, I have listed below several morally strong pro-life, social justice and peace organizations. I find them very helpful. Please sign-up to receive their action alerts. U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: click “Issues and Action” then click “Take Action Now” Pax Christi USA: www.paxchristiusa.org Catholic Peace Fellowship: www.catholicpeacefellowship.org Win Without War: winwithoutwar.org/category/take-action Churches for Middle East Peace: www.cmep.org Just Foreign Policy www.justforeignpolicy.org Jesuit Refugee Service jrsusa.org Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights: http://www.globallabourrights.org/ Catholic Relief Services www.crs.org/get-involved Bread for the World www.bread.org/get-involved Students for Life www.studentsforlife.org The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform www.abortionno.org Network/National Catholic social justice lobby www.networklobby.org Union of Concerned Scientists www.ucsusa.org Greenpeace www.greenpeace.org Catholic Climate Covenant www.catholicclimatecovenant.org Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns maryknollogc.org/alerts
Most likely you are reading this shortly before, or shortly after the U.S. presidential election. America’s next leader will have the means at hand to do tremendous good or tremendous harm. The new president-elect of the United States will have many opportunities to purposefully move forward policies and legislation that can make not only the U.S., but the world a far better place. Or the next president can dangerously choose to greatly exacerbate the many serious problems facing humanity. Our prayers and political activism will be needed to persuade the fledgling president to reject all that is deadly, and instead choose the way of goodness, the way of life, the way of God (see Duet 30: 15-18). But we should not place all of our marbles in the one basket of the U.S. president. No single human being alone – president, prime minister or pope – can build a world where justice, peace and love reign. Such a vision realized, needs all of us; and not just a mediocre version of ourselves, but rather the best version of ourselves. The world needs saints! Our hurting world needs Christians who are committed to being the very body of Christ on earth – saints. As St. Teresa of Avila said so beautifully, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks [with] compassion on this world. Yours are feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” Imagine if you and I, and every person who professes to be a Christian, decided with the power of the Holy Spirit, to be the body of Christ. Imagine if every disciple of Christ decided to think, feel, pray, speak and act as Christ did when he walked the earth. Just imagine what good could be realized if every Christian would commit to becoming a saint. Pope John Paul I – the saintly smiling pope – said, “If all the sons and daughters of the Church would know how to be tireless missionaries of the Gospel, a new flowering of holiness and renewal would spring up in this world that thirsts for love and for truth.” Just days ago the Catholic Church celebrated All Saints Day to remember all the countless faithful disciples of Christ who now and forever bask in the glorious, loving presence the Almighty Holy One. Through the intercession and example of the saints, may we be given the faith, love and courage to imitate their holiness. For Jesus is calling every single Christian to become a saint. In the Second Vatican Counsel’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Nos. 39, 40) the world’s Catholic bishops solemnly declared “In the church, everyone … is called to holiness.” Franciscan Media will send you an inspiring biography of a saint each day. Sign up at www.franciscanmedia.org/newsletters/. May we more fully realize that becoming holy – becoming a saint – is not meant for our good alone, but for the good of the whole world. Saints spend their lives loving God by loving all others – especially those who are suffering in body and/or soul. By actively practicing the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy (see http://bit.ly/2fF2Ivj) we become the hands, the feet and the eyes of Christ on earth. We become saints!
The geographical distance between the richest country in the Western Hemisphere and the poorest is only about 700 miles. But the economic distance between the United States and Haiti is astronomical. Poverty certainly exists in the U.S., but the percentage and severity of poverty in Haiti is far worse. According to the U.N.’s World Food Program 2.5 million Haitians live in extreme poverty – on less than $1.90 a day. Approximately 100,000 children under five years of age suffer from severe malnutrition. Fewer than 50 percent of Haitian households have access to safe water, and 75 percent do not have adequate sanitation. The ultimate causes of Haiti’s misery are rooted in human greed and power, says retired Webster University professor Bob Corbett, whom I contacted. Having visited Haiti over 50 times in support of various development projects, Corbett explained that much of Haiti’s suffering is rooted in French colonial exploitation and slave labor, Haitian elites’ continuation of similar exploitation after independence, the international boycott of slave-holding nations against the first black republic, the imposed payment to France for repatriated lands of former slave owners, and the 1915 invasion of U.S. Marines accompanied by a 23 year American occupation of Haiti. Even to this day certain U.S. policies negatively dominate Haiti. According to the Climate Risk Index, Haiti is rated the third most affected nation to extreme weather events. The massive 2010 earthquake that virtually leveled Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, killed more than 220,000 people and destroyed or damaged nearly 4,000 schools. For the last three years Haiti has suffered from a bone-dry drought that has withered up to 70 percent of crops in some areas, contributing to the threat of more than 1.5 million Haitians now facing malnutrition, according to the World Food Program. Enter Hurricane Matthew! According to the BBC approximately 900 people have been killed by this recent hurricane. And parts of Haiti’s south have experienced “complete destruction” according to aid workers. Catholic Relief Services is on the ground in Haiti helping in towns like Jeremie where their workers report tremendous destruction, with nearly everyone out of water. Kindly make as generous a donation as possible to CRS’ emergency work in Haiti. Bread for the World’s director of government relations, Eric Mitchell, asked that readers please email and call their two U.S. senators and congressperson (Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121) urging them to pass a State Foreign Operations Bill that robustly increases the USAID budget for Haiti, as well as for other extremely poor nations. An additional and more personal way of helping this long-suffering nation is to establish a sister-parish relationship between your parish and a parish in Haiti. If your diocese is not twinned with a Haitian diocese, Dr. Mortel, M.D. (firstname.lastname@example.org) from the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s mission office would be glad to help facilitate a twinning arrangement. And here’s yet another way you and your parish can help the poorest country in the Americas: Purchase Fair Trade coffee from Haitian growers here. Always trying so hard to set a Christ-like example for the Catholic Church and world, Pope Francis is sending $100,000 in initial emergency aid to help the hurricane ravaged Caribbean region, particularly Haiti. The Holy Father’s donation is being made through the papal charitable office Cor Unum, which means “One Heart.” May we pray and build a world that reflects the oneness in heart that God wills for all of his children.
Throw your political affiliation out the window! But you’re a loyal Democrat. Or perhaps instead, you’re a loyal Republican. Never mind that. Your political affiliation is not that important. What’s crucially important is your affiliation with Jesus, and your commitment to his campaign – to his divine plan. Are you voting for Jesus Christ? Oh, but Jesus is not running for election. Oh, but yes he is! He is running as an unborn baby threatened by abortion, a starving child, a poor mother whose resources have run out, a war-weary desperate father with five children, a hard-working undocumented immigrant, a Christian refugee fleeing ISIS, a Central American teenager seeking asylum from gang violence, a heroin addicted young man, a little child drinking polluted water, a lonely old woman with meager resources, a young sweatshop worker, a homeless man, a trafficked girl trapped in prostitution, and a seriously ill elderly lady informed that a physician is available to assist her in committing suicide. Oh yes, Jesus is surely campaigning – for the vulnerable and poor, for the care of creation and for peace on earth. However, sad to say, his party – the human race – is not leading in the polls. Most wealthy individuals, corporations and government office holders are far more interested in holding unto their riches and power than in voting for, and working for, the human race. Consequently, countless members of the human race continue to suffer from war, war preparation, poverty, hunger, starvation, homelessness, unemployment, underemployment, environmental degradation, slave labor, trafficking, capital punishment, physician-assisted suicide and abortion. The 2016 U.S. elections are of crucial importance not only for America, but for the human race. Because the U.S. is the world’s strongest military and economic power, the November elections are of great importance to the inhabitants of planet earth. That is exactly why it is crucial for Christians to enter the voting booth with a well-formed conscience based on Gospel values. The compassionate integrity – or lack thereof – of the next president and members of Congress, will significantly determine how well, or how poorly, the human race does in the next several years. “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship”, produced by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is a very good election guide to help Catholics, all other Christians, and people of good will to make the best moral choices. The bishops are urging us to read the entire document. In this document the bishops teach that as each person strives to form her/his conscience, it is essential “to embrace goodness and truth. For Catholics, this begins with a willingness and openness to seek the truth and what is right by studying Sacred Scripture and the teaching of the Church as contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.” The bishops clarify that while we may choose different ways to respond to compelling social problems, “We cannot differ on our moral obligation to help build a more just and peaceful world through morally acceptable means, so that the weak and vulnerable are protected and human rights and dignity are defended.” May voters everywhere commit to voting for candidates who are most likely to work for the common good of the entire human race – especially for the poor, vulnerable, war-torn, and planet earth – our common home. As faithful disciples of Jesus, let us never forget that when it comes to political elections, as well as in all matters, the Gospel trumps everything!
Recently I emailed questions to the auxiliary bishop of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Bishop William Shomali, asking him to share his first-hand insights regarding the many injustices and violent environment in the land of the Prince of Peace. He graciously sent back a recorded audio response upon which this column is based. Bishop Shomali said one of the most pressing problems facing Palestinians is Israeli imposed restrictions on movement. For example, he said Palestinians living in Bethlehem or Ramallah need to obtain a permit to go just six miles to Jerusalem. And permits are only given during principle feasts. He said the ongoing illegal building of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land in the Occupied Territories is an extremely serious roadblock to a peaceful solution. To correct these and other injustices, Israel needs to participate in good-faith negotiations toward the two-state solution: the establishment of an independent viable Palestinian nation coexisting peacefully with a fully recognized state of Israel. He emphasized the two-state solution continues to be firmly supported by the Holy See. “Negotiations could be successful if there is good will. Some settlements can be given to Palestinians and Israelis can keep some of the settlements close to Israel. Other land exchange agreements can be reached as well,” said Bishop Shomali. “But unconditional U.S. support for Israel negatively affects the situation,” he said. A two-state solution could be agreed upon by the U.N. Security Council, but the U.S. continues to block a U.N. binding resolution that would set a timetable for the establishment of the nation of Palestine, said Bishop Shomali. He added, “The U.S. continues to keep telling Palestinians that statehood should come through negotiations. But negotiations with Israel continually fail. We then seek statehood through the U.N. Security Council, and America blocks our way. We go back to negotiations with Israel and they fail again.” Bishop Shomali lamented, “We live in a vicious circle.” And to get out of this circle, the American government should not veto or otherwise block a U.N. approved resolution establishing a viably independent Palestine. In terms of justice and peace the U.S. should be impartial. Bishop Shomali stressed the paramount importance of prayer. But added that prayers alone are not enough, there must also be a serious effort to reach a peace accord. He praised the generosity of Catholics in the U.S. and throughout the world in assisting parishes, schools, and many humanitarian projects in the Holy Land. But added that so much more help is desperately needed. Please kindly consider making as generous a donation as possible to Catholic Near East Welfare Association for aid to Palestine. The U.S. gives Israel approximately $3 billion each year, far more than it gives any other nation. Thus the American government has the ability to exert tremendous pressure upon the Israeli government to negotiate in good faith a fair and just two-state solution. But sadly, it does not have the political courage and moral integrity to do so. Therefore, it is up to us to pressure the administration to do the right thing. Please contact President Obama, urging him to leave a jewel in his presidential legacy by using every diplomatic tool at his disposal to set the stage for all Arab nations to recognize Israel’s right to exist, and for Israel to fully cooperate in the establishment of a totally independent and viable Palestinian nation.
As the first Pope in history to write an encyclical letter on the environment, Pope Francis demonstrated to the Catholic Church and world, the urgent importance of caring for God’s creation. But Francis’ challenging green encyclical Laudato Si’ (subtitled “On Care for Our Common Home”) was but the first major initiative of a papacy significantly dedicated to teaching us to care for both humanity and the earth – which he insists are intimately connected to each other – “integral ecology.” The Holy Father’s next major environmental step was establishing the “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation” celebrated every first day of September. In this year’s Sept. 1 message titled “Show Mercy to our Common Home”, Pope Francis highlights, along with Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, “the moral and spiritual crisis at the root of environmental problems.” Supported by overwhelming scientific evidence, the pontiff warns, “Global warming continues, due in part to human activity: 2015 was the warmest year on record, and 2016 will likely be warmer still. This is leading to ever more severe droughts, floods, fires, and extreme weather events. … The world’s poor, though least responsible for climate change, are most vulnerable and already suffering its impact.” The Holy Father points us to another fact: “Human beings are deeply connected with all of creation. When we mistreat nature, we also mistreat human beings. … Let us hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” In highly prophetic language, Pope Francis challenges us to personal and ecological conversion. He writes, “As individuals, we have grown comfortable with certain lifestyles shaped by a distorted culture of prosperity and a disordered desire to consume more than what is really necessary. “And we are participants in a system that has imposed the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature. “Let us repent of the harm we are doing to our common home.” In “Show Mercy to our Common Home,” Pope Francis then takes another major environmental step forward by adding “care for our common home” to the traditional works of mercy. As a spiritual work of mercy, “care for our common home” should inspire us to have “a grateful contemplation of God’s world which allows us to discover in each thing a teaching which God wishes to hand on to us,” says Francis. And as a corporal work of mercy, “care for our common home,” should move us to exercise “simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness,” and thus should lead us to actively build a better world. The Union of Concerned Scientists has some great ideas to help us “build a better world”. Called “America’s Best Idea,” the 1872 designation of Yellowstone National Park – the world’s first national park – inspired a worldwide national park movement comprising over 100 nations. This outstanding example of wise and loving care for our common home proves that we are capable of cherishing God’s creation. In “Show Mercy to our Common Home,” Pope Francis urges us to ask ourselves, “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” How we answer this piercing question, will significantly determine the fate of our common home.
Allow me to share with you one of the highpoints of my life – a short, yet deeply enriching encounter with a saint. Nearly 30 years ago, I worked at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington’s emergency food warehouse. Missionaries of Charity sisters caring for HIV/AIDS patients at their Gift of Peace House in Washington, D.C. use to regularly stop by for food assistance. Since I helped with food distribution, I got to know the sisters. One day while picking up food, one of the sisters said to me, “Mother is coming.” I said, “Do you mean Mother Teresa?” She said, “Yes.” I excitedly replied, “May I come?” And she said, “yes.” A few days later, standing in front of the Gift of Peace House with about 20 other guests, I saw Mother Teresa get out of a car and walk towards the house. Immediately the sisters affectionately ran to greet her. Then, as we stood in a circle, Mother Teresa began to walk to each guest silently placing a Miraculous Medal of the Blessed Mother in each of our hands. I remember she seemed to keep her head humbly bowed as she approached each of us. But when she reached me, I said to her “Namaste” – which is the normal greeting in Hindi. Lifting up her head, and looking at me somewhat surprised, she greeted me back saying “Namaste.” Then I said to her in Hindi, “Kaise hain?” Inquiring, how are you? And she replied, “Theek” which means OK. Having exhausted my Hindi vocabulary, my brief encounter with Mother Teresa of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) had ended. But the personal experience of conversing with a living saint continues to spiritually enrich my life to this day. In a few days, on Sept 4, Pope Francis will canonize Mother Teresa – officially designating her as one of the saints of the Catholic Church. Imperfect like all of us, yet holier than the vast majority of us, Mother Teresa truly exemplified what it means to pick up one’s cross and follow Jesus. And what a heavy cross she carried. Leaving the comfort of her convent, she ventured out into the slums of Calcutta with practically nothing, to care for the poorest of the poor – the unloved, the starving, the homeless, the stigmatized victims of leprosy, the abandoned and forgotten, the dying and the unborn. In her 1979 Nobel Peace Prize lecture, Mother Teresa said “I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a direct war, a direct killing … if a mother can kill her own child, what is left for me to kill you and you kill me – there is nothing between.” She went on to speak about a man she and her sisters picked up from the gutter. With worms eating away at him, they brought him back to their home and cared for him. He said, “I have lived like an animal in the street, but I am going to die like an angel, loved and cared for.” There is an excellent new DVD titled “The Letters: The Untold Story of Mother Teresa” (see: http://bit.ly/2bv2mpM). This movie will inspire you and me to step out of our comfort zones for the sake of those who suffer, and for the health of our own souls. Consider the power of this reflection from St. Mother Teresa: “I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.”
Imagine, right now at this very moment you and your loved ones need to run for your lives! With hardly more than the clothes on your backs, you and your family must flee from an invading armed force. Or imagine your quick exodus is due to the fact that gang members have threatened to kill your family because your teenage son or grandson has refused to join their murderous drug gang. Or imagine that because of your religion, race, nationality, political belief or membership in a particular social group you and your family are being persecuted. So, you decide that despite the very dangerous risks involved, the only reasonable hope you and your family have is to move as quickly as possible towards somewhere, anywhere, where life is safer than where you’re at now. That’s exactly what over 65 million desperate people have done! According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) recent report titled Global Trends, 65.3 million people were displaced by the end of 2015 – greater than the combined population of Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Last year well over 3 million fellow human beings sought emergency asylum in foreign countries, while more than 40 million people were displaced within their own country – the highest number of asylum seekers and internally displaced people in history, according to the UNHCR (please view the Global Trends 2015 video http://bit.ly/2aJuC4T). The UNHCR says the reason for the increasingly huge numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons is significantly due to armed conflicts in Syria – arguably the worst – Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Burundi, Ukraine, Central African Republic and South Sudan. Followers of the crucified Christ cannot ignore all this suffering. We must not allow ourselves to be part of what Pope Francis calls a “globalization of indifference.” In similar sentiments, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said, “We are facing the biggest refugee and displacement crisis of our time. Above all, this is not just a crisis of numbers; it is also a crisis of solidarity.” For Catholics there should never be a crisis of solidarity. For solidarity is one of the essential principles of Catholic social teaching. The opening words of Vatican II’s “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” beautifully reveal what being in solidarity with the poor and vulnerable means for the Christian: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.” As an act of solidarity, please email and call your two U.S. senators and congressperson (Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121) urging them to robustly increase emergency and fiscal year 2017 funding for refugees and internally displaced persons throughout the world. Also urge them to significantly increase the number of thoroughly vetted refugees into the U.S. And insist they stop funding extremely harmful military actions in numerous conflict zones. As an additional act of solidarity, please make a generous donation to Catholic Relief Services on behalf of impoverished and battered South Sudan (go to: http://bit.ly/2b7hvfx and in the “special request” box type “for South Sudan”). You might also kindly consider helping extremely war-torn Syrian refugees and displaced persons by giving a gift through Catholic Near East Welfare Association (please go to http://bit.ly/2b73v5k). Let us take to heart the words of St. John Paul II, “We are all really responsible for all.”
At any moment, you could be within 30 minutes of being incinerated from nuclear weapons! You are in harm’s way if you live in or near a large U.S. city or major military installation. And considering that radiation fallout from a nuclear attack would hurt virtually everyone, and cause irreparable harm to our earth-home, we are all threatened by nuclear weapons. Dr. Bruce Blair, a former military officer responsible for 50 Minuteman nuclear missiles in Montana, and now co-founder of Global Zero (www.globalzero.org) – an international organization dedicated to eliminating all nuclear weapons – shared with me a highly dangerous little known fact: Both the United States and Russia each have hundreds of nuclear warheads still aimed at each other. And what’s even worse, these weapons of mass destruction are programmed at launch ready alert – otherwise known as hair-trigger alert – meaning they are fully armed and ready to be launched within just 30 minutes of a perceived nuclear attack. The risk of misinterpreted information or system failure could lead to accidental nuclear war. The world has already experienced several close calls. During the 2008 presidential election, candidate Barack Obama pledged that he would “work with Russia to take nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert.” That has not happened. Instead, to the contrary President Obama has proposed an unprecedented and dangerous $1 trillion modernization over the next three decades of the U.S. nuclear war triade – currently composed of air (B52 and B2 bombers), sea (about 8 Trident ballistic missile submarines at sea at all times), and land (approximately 450 ICBM nuclear missile silos buried in the U.S. Great Plains). The thought of all this should send chills down our spines. In their 1983 landmark pastoral letter “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response,” the U.S. Catholic bishops wrote that a reliance on nuclear deterrent strategies must be an interim policy only. And they firmly added, “We cannot consider it adequate as a long-term basis for peace.” That was said 33 years ago! The world needs now the courageous leadership of the U.S. bishops to declare that nuclear deterrence has become an entrenched, intractable part of American war preparation, and, therefore, is completely morally unacceptable. And that a systematic plan must be quickly put in place to move toward total multilateral disarmament of all nuclear weapons. Dr. Blair told me that Global Zero has just such a plan. The Global Zero Action Plan calls for the United States and the Russian Federation – who together hold more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons—to negotiate major cuts in their arsenals, followed by negotiations with the remaining seven nuclear weapons nations. Through a phased-in multilateral reduction of nuclear weapons, with a rigorous comprehensive verification and enforcement system, all nuclear powers proportionately would move to total nuclear disarmament and dismantlement by 2030. Sounds like a plan – a reasonable, common sense, morally correct, doable plan! Blair explained that “The barriers to getting to a world without nuclear weapons – global zero – are not technical, scientific, or economic. The barrier is one of political will.” Watch this challenging and inspiring short video http://www.globalzero.org/demand-zero/prague-speech. And then join the global zero movement. As we approach the sad anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, let us remember that our God is the God of life! And let us honor him, and his creation, by tirelessly praying and working for the day when nuclear weapons will be confined to history.
During this month of political conventions, when America’s two major parties adopt platforms designed to further their particular goals, it’s clear that neither party’s goals reflect a genuine total commitment to God, all of God’s people and all of God’s creation. What is needed is a platform for all the people – that protects the life and promotes the dignity of every single human being from the first moment of conception to natural death. And those most in need must come first. It’s what Catholic social teaching calls a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable. Therefore, a political platform for all the people must insist that poverty in the U.S. and throughout the world be eradicated. As a wealthy nation, the U.S. cannot excuse the sad fact that approximately 47 million of its people live in poverty. Tonight 300 million of the world’s children will go to bed hungry according to the U.N. Children’s Fund (see: http://www.unicef.org/mdg/poverty.html). Indifference to this tremendous suffering is not compatible with a truly lived Christianity. This should prick our consciences into action! Everyone deserves adequate and nutritious food, clean water and sanitation, a decent dwelling, humane working conditions with a living wage, basic education, quality health care, and security when old or disabled. That’s what St. John XXIII taught us in his encyclical Pacem in Terris (“Peace on Earth”). Jeffrey Sachs, special advisor to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, explained to me that for an additional approximate $100 billion dollars annually in poverty-focused development aid, extreme poverty could be completely eradicated from the face of the earth. This $100 billion, he said, could easily be transferred from the huge U.S. military budget. And even with this $100 billion cut in military spending, the U.S. would still be allocating more money for its military than the combined military budgets of the next six nations. This is doable! A political platform for all the earth’s people would make it an absolute priority to abolish all nuclear weapons, completely end the arms trade, engage in a multilateral effort to disarm all nations, and in the words of the world’s Catholic bishops at the Second Vatican Council “strain every muscle in working for the time when all war can be completely outlawed by international consent.” The near unanimous scientific consensus affirms that the world is dangerously warming – causing increasing floods, droughts, wildfires and super storms. And that this warming is generated primarily by the human burning of fossil fuels. Therefore, a people’s platform must insist that fossil fuels remain in the ground and that clean renewable sources of energy like wind, solar and geothermal be put on the fast track. Finally, a platform for all the people cannot morally justify, for any reason whatsoever, the murder of its most vulnerable persons – unborn babies. Such a platform must be deeply committed to completely ending abortion nationally and worldwide as soon as possible. Not just the unborn, not just the poor, not just the hungry, not just the war-torn, not just undocumented migrants, not just the sick, not just the imprisoned, not just the lonely, not just the environment and not just the spiritually troubled, but all of the above must be included in a political platform for all the people. For such a platform best reflects Gospel love. As stated in the closing words of the Pledge of Allegiance, may the United States truly become “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Over 37 years-ago when Annunciation House – a sanctuary and home of hospitality that has served over 100,000 refugees, homeless poor and undocumented workers – was started in El Paso, Texas, founding director Ruben Garcia and a few friends wanted to place themselves among the poor, to see where the poor would lead them. He said, "They took us to the undocumented – the most vulnerable." Garcia explained to me that since the undocumented have no legal status in the United States, they are forced to take undesirable, poorly paid jobs, which offer no benefits. Unlike poor U.S. citizens, undocumented workers and their families cannot receive food stamps, Medicaid, or housing assistance. They are at the lowest rung of American life. So why do they come? Garcia said, “They come because most often they and their families are extremely poor, and they cannot find jobs in their native countries that pay a living wage. And that the U.S. has many more low-skilled jobs than there are Americans who are willing to take them.” But why don’t they enter legally? Because there are not enough low-skilled temporary worker visas available. And yet the demand for such workers is quite high. Plus the expense and burdensome government red tape required of employers tempts many of them to use “contractors” who often unscrupulously recruit undocumented workers. According to “The Hill” (http://bit.ly/1rm6iF0), certain segments of the U.S. economy like agriculture, are overwhelmingly dependent upon illegal immigrants. “In terms of overall numbers, The Department of Labor reports that of the 2.5 million farm workers in the U.S., over half (53 percent) are illegal immigrants. Growers and labor unions put this figure at 70 percent.” Kevin Appleby, director of international migration policy for the Catholic-based Center for Migration Studies, told me the situation is filled with hypocrisy. Among many employers and politicians “there is a nod and a wink” to keep the system benefitting numerous employers at the expense of undocumented workers who have virtually no rights. Therefore, millions of foreign workers are forced to cross deserts and often face drug gangs to fill vacant American jobs in order to support their very poor families. Please email Hillary Clinton (https://forms.hillaryclinton.com/contact) urging her to boldly campaign in support of fair and just immigration reform legislation that would grant all hard-working undocumented persons and their families legal status. And then email Donald Trump (https://www.donaldjtrump.com/contact) urging him to do the same. Also, email and call (Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121) your two U.S. senators and House representative asking them to sponsor similar legislation. To learn more visit Farmworker Justice (www.farmworkerjustice.org). Saint John XXIII, in his encyclical Pacem in Terris (“Peace on Earth”) wrote, “Every human being has the right … when there are just reasons for it … to emigrate to other countries and take up residence there.” Garcia asked that I raise the following questions on behalf of the undocumented: "Should undocumented immigrants have to live in an underground world? Is it right to use closed borders for the purpose of exploiting cheap labor? Why is it so acceptable to have undocumented workers perform the jobs few Americans are willing to do – pick our fruits and vegetables, wash dishes, and work in meat slaughterhouses?" Lord Jesus, heal our nation’s indifference, and inspire us to welcome these strangers as valuable members of your one human family, so that on the Day of Judgment we may gladly hear you say, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
It’s the worst mass shooting in modern American history. With at least 50 people murdered as a result of gunshot wounds, and dozens more critically injured, a gay/LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida now has the sad distinction of being the site of the U.S.’s worst terror attack since 9/11. The gunman, Omar Mateen, 29, was reportedly able to legally purchase an AR-15-style semi-automatic assault weapon with a 30 bullet magazine clip, and a Glock semi-automatic pistol – both used in the attack – even though the FBI interviewed him twice for suspected terrorist ties. Shortly after the San Bernardino, Calif. mass shooting in 2015, the U.S. Senate rejected legislation that would have expanded background checks for guns purchased online and at gun shows, and also rejected legislation that would have prevented individuals on the terror watch list from purchasing firearms. Such laws would have most likely prevented Omar Mateen from legally purchasing his murder weapons. Furthermore, in 2004 a federal law banning many assault weapons expired. And Congress has not passed a similar ban since then. Congress has let organizations like the powerful National Rifle Association – with their millions of dollars poured into political campaigns – to continue to influence them from enacting obvious common sense gun control measures. Congress has even blocked funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which would have researched the underlying causes of gun violence. Posted on the Facebook page of “Parents Against Gun Violence” is this quote: “children and teens injured or killed by guns every year in the US: 7,000 – solutions enacted by Congress in the last twenty years: 0.” With very weak gun control laws, many U.S. states fare no better. San Bernardino, Colorado Springs, Newtown, Fort Hood, Aurora, and now Orlando are just a few of the U.S. mass shootings sites in recent years. In fact, according to the British publication “The Guardian” during the same weekend of the Orlando shooting, there were five other U.S. mass shootings. Mass shootings have become tragically common in the U.S. “The Guardian” reports that from Jan. 1, 2013 to June 12, 2016 there have been 1,000 mass shootings – defined as four or more people shot in a single incident – in America (see: http://bit.ly/1Gpx4o1). The Guardian also reports that so many people die annually from gunfire in the U.S. that the death toll between 1968 and 2011 totals more people killed than in all wars ever fought by the country. According to research by Politifact, there were about 1.4 million firearm deaths in that period; compared with 1.2 million U.S. deaths in every conflict from the Revolutionary War to Iraq (go to http://bbc.in/1II788u). Compared to other economically developed nations like Canada, the U.S. has by far the most gun related deaths and injuries. It is important to note that Canada’s gun control laws are much tougher than the U.S.’s (go to: http://bit.ly/1jEB9zp). “The Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence” (http://www.bradycampaign.org/) offers excellent ways for us to help reduce gun deaths and injuries – like signing their petition urging federal background checks on all gun sales, including those sold at gun shows and through private sales. Gun violence, and every other form of violence, is not the way of the Gospel; and that certainly includes violence against persons who disagree with traditional Christian doctrines. For violence is evil and runs counter to the way of Jesus who calls us to unconditionally love everyone. No exceptions. However, this absolute teaching does not mean that we are to accept objectively speaking sinful words, actions or lifestyles. To paraphrase St. Augustine of Hippo, we must love the sinner, but hate the sin. Thus, we must charitably resist sin within ourselves and sin outside ourselves – including immoral laws. There have been unfair charges directed at the Catholic Church (and various other Christian churches) claiming that its teachings on sexual morality – especially that sexual relations are meant to be solely reserved for marriage, which is divinely revealed as the unbreakable union between one man and one woman – are anti-gay/anti-LGBT. And some have even claimed that such teachings promote hateful and violent attacks against LGBT groups – like the tragic shooting in Orlando. While a relatively small number of “Christians” have shamefully exhibited hateful and incendiary remarks towards LGBT persons, the Catholic Church has not. In fact, Catholicism firmly teaches that we are to respect the life and dignity of every single human being. But this does not mean we should condone immoral behavior and silently submit to the passage of “politically correct” immoral legislation; whether it is transgender/neutral sex restroom policies, or same-sex “marriage” laws. In the Gospel according to Matthew, certain Pharisees approached Jesus, and tried to test him, saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?” Jesus replied, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? … Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” The footnotes referring to this passage in the revised edition of the New American Bible, note that Matthew tells us how Jesus recalls at once two texts from Genesis that “show the will and purpose of the Creator in making human beings male and female (Gn 1:27), namely, that a man may be joined to his wife in marriage in the intimacy of one flesh” (Gn 2:24). This is clearly points to the will of the God. To try to reformulate the divine design of marriage, sexual intimacy and pro-creation is to play God. And confusing the role of Creator and creature is always disastrous. Our all-wise, all-loving God has a cosmic plan for all creation and an individual plan for each one of us. But often instead of wisely and humbly following his way, the evil one and our self-centered ego erroneously rationalize that our way is God’s way. Instead of saying, “I’m OK, you’re OK,” or “it’s all relative,” we should always help each other to better understand and follow God’s way – the only way that will truly fill our hearts’ desire. For people with same-sex attractions who desire to live chastely, there is a very supportive Catholic organization ready to help, called “Courage” (www.couragerc.org). After all his follies, the converted St. Augustine famously wrote in his autobiography – Confessions – “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” May our hearts always rest in God. Image: Vigil held for Orlando shooting victims by Governor Tom Wold via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
In the Garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus was prayerfully agonizing over his impending violent death, a large crowd with swords and clubs sent by the chief priests moved in to arrest him. Seeing this, one of Jesus’ disciples “put his hand to his sword, drew it, and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.’” Tragically, throughout the centuries much of humanity has failed to heed the Lord’s wisdom. And worse, today’s swords are far more lethal. Bullets, bombs, missiles, tanks, land minds, aircraft carriers, fighter jets inflict far more carnage than ancient swords could ever do. And modern nuclear weapons could obliterate life on earth. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, (http://bit.ly/1TW3Gj5) world military expenditure was estimated at more than $1.7 trillion in 2014. President Obama’s proposed fiscal year 2017 Department of Defense basic budget comes in at a whopping $582.7 billion. More than the next seven largest military budgets combined – including China, Saudi Arabia and Russia. As reported by the New York Times (http://nyti.ms/1XgNZWD), American foreign arms sales rose to $36.2 billion in 2014, continuing to ensure the U.S.’s position as the world’s single largest arms merchant – controlling more than 50 percent of the weapon’s market. Many of these weapons continue to be sold to poor nations like Chad, diverting precious money that should instead be going to meet people’s basic needs. Speaking to a group of young people in Turin, Italy in 2015 Pope Francis said, “There is the hypocrisy of speaking about peace and producing arms, and even selling weapons to this one, who is at war with that one.” Seeking fresh insights to counter the worn-out, death-dealing argument that powerful militaries and lethal weapons are needed to defend one’s nation, I turned to Eli McCarthy, PhD, director of justice and peace for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men. “It’s unrealistic and unwise to keep arming groups in conflict situations. The ‘war on terror’ for the last 15 years has exacerbated the problems and overall failed to get at the root causes of conflict,” said McCarthy. Instead, the U.S. government and international community need to invest much more in training and research on nonviolent resistance strategies like unarmed civilian protection, he noted. “There are many courageous persons in regions of conflict risking their lives engaging in trauma-healing, restorative justice, inter-religious dialogue, mediation, early warning systems and nonviolent resistance.” McCarthy said creative diplomatic efforts including all key stakeholders, and genuinely addressing the basic needs of people are essential to easing tensions and conflict. He also emphasized the importance of investing in industry transition in U.S. communities that rely on the arms industry for jobs. We need to use humanizing language towards all, and work to reduce cultural marginalization, added McCarthy. “Justice, right reason, and the recognition of man’s dignity cry out insistently for a cessation to the arms race,” wrote St. John XXIII in his prophetic 1963 encyclical Pacem In Terris (“Peace on Earth”). Let each of us pray and work for the day that justice, right reason, and the recognition of the dignity of every person prevails over the evil of the arms race, the arms trade and military arms in general. May the Spirit of the nonviolent Jesus lead us to disarm our hearts. For only people with nonviolent hearts are capable of building a nonviolent world. Image: Jordy Meow via Unsplash.com
The best way to remember those who have been killed in battle is to work for the day when others will no longer be sent to take their place. Prayerfully reflecting on how to move away from war and war preparation should be central to every Memorial Day. Why do presidents and congresses send young men and women to kill and be killed? Why do most Americans so easily accept their worn-out, immoral answers? And why can’t we finally learn how to wage peace, instead of war? Some time ago, while reflecting on these very questions, I turned for insight to America’s preeminent Catholic anti-war veteran, the recently deceased Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J. When I talked with him, the soft-spoken Father Berrigan, then in his upper 80s, told me he was still writing, giving retreats and getting arrested for anti-war civil disobedience. Father Berrigan said as a young Jesuit he met and worked with two giant Catholic figures of the 20th century – Dorothy Day and Trappist Father Thomas Merton. Their deep spiritually and uncompromising commitment to nonviolence had a lasting effect upon his life. His late brother Philip also deeply influenced him. They were truly kindred spirits. After all, they were known as the “Berrigan Brothers.” Fr. Berrigan said in the mid-1960’s Cardinal Francis Spellman, archbishop of New York strongly supported American involvement in the Vietnam War. The cardinal said the Vietnam War was a just war. We said, “No war is just.” Berrigan added, “I don’t know how we can open the Gospel and wage war.” While Cardinal Spellman was flying to Vietnam aboard a U.S. bomber, Berrigan told me he and his brother were protesting in front of New York’s Saint Patrick’s Cathedral holding a banner that read “Thou Shall Not Bomb.” As people passed by they handed out anti-war leaflets stained with their own blood. “It’s better to give blood than to take it,” he added. One of Berrigan’s most symbolic acts of civil disobedience – which landed him in prison – was when he and eight other protesters used napalm to burn paper draft records in Catonsville, Md. He said they used napalm to highlight the fact that American warplanes were dropping napalm bombs on countless Vietnamese civilians. Berrigan explained that napalm is made out of kerosene and soap chips. The soap chips allow burning kerosene to adhere to human skin. He said, “It’s criminal to burn paper, but not criminal to burn children. “What do we make of the Sermon on the Mount while all this is going on,” questioned Father Berrigan. “Jesus lived by nonviolence, he commanded us to love our enemies.” Berrigan not only fiercely opposed the violence of war, but consistently opposed all forms of violence. Having protested at abortion centers, he said “A decent society should no more have an abortion clinic than the Pentagon.” Berrigan contrasted the flag-flying militaristic “patriotism” that shapes much of Memorial Day, to that of Gospel nonviolence with these words: “Are we Christians who happen to be American? Or are we Americans who happen to be Christian?” The very fate of the nation, not to mention our souls, hinges on our answer. May the peacemaker Fr. Daniel Berrigan, rest in eternal peace with the God of peace. And through his intercession, may all who proclaim to be disciples of the Prince of Peace, sincerely pray and sacrificially work to buildup the peaceable Kingdom of God on earth; as it is in heaven. Image: Ingrid Taylar via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
I experienced a miracle! A few days ago, I held in my arms my first grandbaby – newly born Faith Annmarie. Thank God she’s healthy and perfectly formed. And as I was looking at her, I reflected how wonderfully she is made – arms, hands, fingers, legs, feet, toes, eyes, mouth, nose, ears, as well as what I couldn’t see but was just as real – hundreds of different tissues, dozens of organs including the remarkable brain, and trillions of cells. And then I reflected on her divinely infused eternal soul. I marveled at the goodness and awesomeness of our Creator! And I recalled the psalmist praising God with these beautiful words: “You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works!” Just think of the awesomeness of how human life comes into existence. According to Medline Plus of the U.S. National Library of Medicine (see: http://1.usa.gov/1WRK2rF), when a single male sperm and the mother’s egg unite conception occurs. This new single cell known as a zygote contains all of the genetic information (DNA) needed for the new human being to develop throughout life. Just think about it: Your life started as a single cell zygote. And now look at you! At around four days, the zygote now consisting of 32 cells becomes known as an embryo. During the next seven and half weeks the human embryo develops all of the body’s systems and structures. According to Alexander Tsiaras, image-maker, mathematician and associate professor of medicine at Yale University, at four weeks in utero the human heart is growing at an astounding rate of 1 million cells per second. From the eighth week after conception, the baby is known as a fetus. At this point of development, organs like the brain, liver and kidneys start functioning inside the tiny human life. Life support systems continue growing and becoming ever more sophisticated until the baby is able to live outside the mother’s protective and nurturing womb. All of this is truly too miraculous for words. So, take a look at this remarkable video titled “From Conception to Birth” produced by Tsiaras and presented at a TED Talk http://bit.ly/1q0ROQW. Science is crystal clear that human life begins at conception. Years ago, while attending a pro-life conference sponsored by Americans United for Life, I asked the late world-renowned French geneticist Dr. Jerome Lejeune when human life begins. He instantly replied, "At conception of course." And Dr. Lejeune is not alone here. Far from it (see: http://naapc.org/why-life-begins-at-conception/). The late professor emeritus of medical genetics at Mayo Medical School, Dr. Hymie Gordon said “By all the criteria of modern molecular biology, life is present from the moment of conception.” In his medical textbook “Human Embryology,” the late Dr. Bradley M. Patten, Ph.D states, “Conception marks the initiation of a life of a new individual.” There is never a good reason for killing an unborn human baby. In stark contrast to the above beautiful video “From Conception to Birth,” is this video of an abortion http://www.abortionno.org/. It’s hard to watch. But no commentary on the miracle of human life would be complete without showing exactly what abortion does to this miracle. Let all believers in the God of life tirelessly pray and work for the day when every marvelously created human life is welcomed into the world as the wonderful gift he or she is. Image Credit: Marcelo Cantarela Junior via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
For the first 300 years of Christianity followers of the nonviolent Jesus – imitating his example – practiced total nonviolence. But after Christianity was legalized and later made the official religion of the Roman Empire, Christians began fighting for the empire. And sadly, Christians have been fighting for empires ever since. The “just war” theory was developed to offer criteria – like protecting civilians from attack – that had to be met before war could be theoretically morally justified and continued. Most unfortunately, this led to the Catholic Church’s abandonment of total Christ-like nonviolence. With the purpose of deepening the Catholic Church’s understanding and commitment to Gospel nonviolence and to urging that the “just war” theory be replaced with a Just Peace strategy, a monumental first-of-its-kind conference was recently held on April 11-13 in Rome. The Nonviolence and Just Peace Conference, co-sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and Pax Christi International, gathered together an international group of approximately 80 bishops, theologians, priests, sisters and lay people – all experienced nonviolent social justice and peace leaders – to begin to formulate for the Catholic Church a creative Gospel-based active nonviolent strategy to counter violence, armed conflict, and war. One of the participants, Eli McCarthy, who represented the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, shared with me his amazement regarding stories about Catholic leaders negotiating with very violent armed actors. He spoke of an archbishop negotiating with the violent Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, and a Jesuit negotiating with paramilitaries in Columbia. McCarthy said conference participants were informed about a bishop in warring South Sudan who created a peace village that has the trust of all armed actors. He said he heard that peace education is taught in all the schools in the Philippines, and that there is a University of Nonviolence in Lebanon. McCarthy said, “One thing surprised me, and it is instructive. Those [attendees] living in violent conflict zones … were all in support, as far as I could tell, of the Catholic Church focusing on nonviolence and Just Peace, and no longer using the ‘just war’ theory.” The Nonviolence and Just Peace Conference produced a guiding document titled “An Appeal to the Catholic Church to Re-Commit to the Centrality of Gospel Nonviolence.” I hope many Catholics will prayerfully read it. (Here is a link to it http://bit.ly/1qwrNJI.) This document calls on Catholics to integrate Gospel nonviolence into life – including sacramental life – of the Catholic Church through dioceses, parishes, schools and seminaries. The questions of active nonviolence, the “just war” theory, and war itself are very personal for me. Over 33 years ago, I was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army as a conscientious objector. While firing an M-16 at pop-up targets, I realized as a follower of the nonviolent Jesus I could not aim a weapon at another human being, pull the trigger, and kill him or her. While writing this column on peacemaking, the Holy Spirit dropped this Loyola Press 3 Minute Retreat into my inbox. It is mystically titled “On a Peace Mission.” I am glad to share it here with you. Just go to this link http://bit.ly/23K51jB and turn on the sound. “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked … Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them … ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ ” Let us go forth to make peace.
“You are the light of the world.” Don’t take my word for it, that’s Gospel truth from Jesus himself (Mt 5:14). And it’s a tall order, indeed. Now on the other hand in John’s Gospel, Jesus says “I am the light of the world.” Now that at first glance makes far more sense. After all, Jesus – God in the flesh – is obviously “the light of the world.” But then, Jesus assuredly adds, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). And so the light that you and I are to be to the world – which sounds like a daunting task – is the light of Christ and not our own. We don’t need to fret over how we are to somehow enlighten the world, our task is to faithfully follow Jesus, and in the process his light shines as a beacon through us. To deeply experience Jesus’ loving, joyful, peaceful presence and to radiate that transforming presence out into the world requires us to be very open – to surrender to the will of God. This narrow path needs from us a deepening trust in the risen Lord, and a life filled with prayer and good works. A very wise Christian principle, often attributed to St. Ignatius of Loyola, urges us to “Pray as if everything depends on God, work as if everything depends on you.” But in today’s complex world, attempting to really do all the good you can, sincerely trying to make the absolute best difference, often requires us to get at the root-causes of injustice. Because only by systematically addressing the root-causes of humanity’s ills can we fully be the light of Christ and transform the world. Make no mistake about it; disciples of Jesus are called to transform the world! In their 1971 document titled “Justice in the World,” the international Catholic Synod of Bishops prophetically declared: “Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation.” And so let us ask, and honestly seek the answers to these questions: Why are so many people poor, vulnerable and powerless? Why is the sacredness of unborn and born human life often treated with such total disrespect? Why is our earth-home so polluted and dangerously warming? Why are so many families dysfunctional? Why are countless people hungry in a world of plenty? Why are the multitudes morally numb to the ongoing mass-murder of war? And why are millions of people so accepting of all this darkness? It seems like our culture is drugged. The famous peace activist, Jesuit Father Daniel Berrigan, issues this warning: Beware! Beware! Or the culture will swallow you whole. It’s easy to be swallowed whole and drowned by our culture. It is a kind of narcotic. We need to place our culture into detoxification. We need the true and lasting euphoria of the Gospel! We need to walk in the footsteps of Jesus; thus walking in solidarity with peoples of all nations, co-creating with God a morally just and peaceful world for all people, everywhere. By inviting the risen Christ ever more deeply into our lives, we can indeed be “the light of the world,” radiating his transforming love upon our often misled culture and hurting planet.
For many of us who strive to seriously practice faith in Jesus Christ, and to extend that practice out into the marketplace, the political square and society at large, persecution rarely means more than being ridiculed, verbally harassed, and to a certain degree socially and politically marginalized. But for so many other Christians throughout the world who courageously refuse to deny Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior – with all that that means – persecution means torture, rape, enslavement and death. In his well-researched book, “The Global War on Christians,” Catholic journalist John Allen, cites studies that indicate the number of Christians killed for the faith every year ranges from 7,300 to 100,000 worldwide. Even the lower figure of 7,300 people murdered every year because of their faith in Christ is shocking, and sadly alarming. While other non-Christian religious groups also suffer persecution, Allen notes that according to the German-based International Society for Human Rights, an estimated 80 percent of all religious acts of discrimination around the globe are aimed at Christians. Allen cites the Me’eter concentration camp in the Eritrean desert as a horrific example of the numerous inhumane situations many Christians are trapped in around the world. At Me’eter members of Christian churches not authorized by the state, are packed like sardines into metal shipping containers. The metal containers are bone-chilling cold at night, and like ovens in the desert daytime heat. Because prisoners are given very little water, they are sometimes forced to drink their own sweat and urine to survive. Why is there virtually no news about this anti-Christian atrocity and the many others like it? Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel said, “We must take sides. … Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” It is incumbent on those of us who are safe and sound to tirelessly pray, advocate for, and work on behalf of hurting and vulnerable Christians. While followers of Jesus have a strict obligation to help all people in need to the best of our ability people – regardless of their race, ethnicity, nationality or religion – we have a special responsibility to reach out to our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ. For as St. Paul teaches, “So then, while we have the opportunity, let us do good to all, but especially to those who belong to the family of the faith” (Gal 6:10). Allen writes, “Christians today indisputably are the most persecuted religious body on the planet, and too often their new martyrs suffer in silence.” During his three-nation South American pastoral visit last year, Pope Francis lamented, “Today we are dismayed to see how in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world many of our brothers and sisters are persecuted, tortured and killed for their faith in Jesus. “In this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide is taking place, and it must end.” So, what should we do to help end the genocide? Pray! Every day let’s remember in our personal and liturgical prayers those who suffer in any way – especially for their faith in Jesus. Parishes can sponsor a refugee family. Pope Francis has asked every parish in Europe to do just that. In the spirit of Francis, let’s open our parishes as well to our persecuted brothers and sisters. It’s not as difficult as it may sound. And many of us can increase our individual contributions to help. An excellent international Catholic organization dedicated to helping persecuted Christians worldwide is Aid to the Church in Need. Please go to this link to make a donation http://bit.ly/25dsdoy. Bill O’Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy for Catholic Relief Services shared with me that it is also essential for every believer to email and call (Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121) their congressional delegation urging them to provide significantly increased humanitarian funding and support for the immediate and long-term needs of refugees in the Middle East, full support for a negotiated peace in Syria, and a comprehensive plan to rebuild Syria once the fighting ends. The U.S. Catholics bishops have urged the U.S. government to grant asylum to 200,000 refugees annually – with 100,000 coming from Syria. But according to U.S. State Department figures, since March of 2011 -- when the Syrian conflict started – approximately 1,550 Syrians have been admitted through the U.S. refugee resettlement program. The U.S. can certainly do far better than this, especially since it has just recently declared that the Islamic State is committing genocide against Christians and other minorities (see: http://bit.ly/1R2lt2A). As I write, the solemness of Good Friday is close at hand. And many of the followers of the crucified Jesus are being crucified with him. Let us do everything we can to remove them from their crosses, and lighten the weight of our Lord’s cross who suffers with them.
Slavery ended in the 19th century, right? Wrong. It’s an easy enough mistake to make. After all, the end of America’s civil war and the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – both in 1865 – brought an end to slavery in the U.S. And the British Slavery Abolition Act in 1834 ended slavery in the West Indies, Mauritius, and South Africa. But many countries didn’t outlaw slavery until the 20th century. In fact, it wasn’t until 1981 that Mauritania finally abolished slavery – becoming the last country on earth to end this dehumanizing practice. But tragically, slavery did not completely end in 1981. It continues to this very day under a new name: Human Trafficking. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, human trafficking is defined as "the recruitment, transport, transfer, harboring or receipt of a person by such means as threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud or deception for the purpose of exploitation." Throughout the world, and in many of our own communities, there are victims of human trafficking, trapped in domestic servitude, agriculture work, fishing, manufacturing, hotel services, construction, hair and nail salons and prostitution. And of all the sad forms of human trafficking, the worst of the worst are those that enslave children. According to the International Labour Organization, the worst forms of child labor/trafficking that must be eliminated without delay include: the sale of children, debt bondage and serfdom, forced labor, forced recruitment for armed conflict, child pornography, child prostitution, and the drug trade. According to the anti-slavery/anti-trafficking organization Made in a Free World, 1.4 million children have been forced to work in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan. This cotton may be in some of the clothes you and I wear. Please go to https://madeinafreeworld.com/ and join me in taking a survey estimating how many slave laborers made the things we own; and what we can begin to do to be part of the solution. An Associated Press investigation that brought to light the horrific conditions of poor fishermen – victims of human trafficking – from several Southeast Asian nations, lead to the rescue of over 2,000 men who in many cases were conned, kidnapped, sold and forced to poach fish in far off waters. Many of the nearly 400 fishermen surveyed by AP “described being whipped with stingray tails, deprived of food and water and forced to work for years without pay” The good news is that over 2,000 were rescued. The bad news is that countless other fishermen are still enslaved. To read the full article go to this link http://bit.ly/21Xr7OK. To help end slave labor in the fishing industry, the Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking has developed two Lenten postcards addressed to StarKist and Costco, asking these companies to do all in their power to guarantee that their supply chains are free from all forms of forced and abusive labor practices. To download the two postcards for yourself and to obtain printed versions of the postcards for your congregation go to http://bit.ly/1EfqP7d. The postcards will still have a positive effect even if sent after Lent. The modern slavery of human trafficking is not only occurring in far off corners of the world, it is happening in our cities, towns and often in our own neighborhoods. In her well-researched comprehensive book, “How You Can Fight Human Trafficking,” Susan Patterson expertly helps the reader to understand the full scope of trafficking – from how to spot it, to the pornography connection, to fair trade, to what anyone can do to help end modern-day slavery. I strongly recommend getting this book. Another excellent resource is the Polaris Project (http://polarisproject.org). To report suspected human trafficking activities call the Homeland Security investigative tip line (1-866-347-2423). Or call your local police department. To help someone in the U.S. who may be the victim of modern-day slavery call, or urge them to call, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (1-888-373-7888). This hotline has multi-language capabilities. For help outside the U.S. go to the Global Modern Slavery Directory website (http://www.globalmodernslavery.org/). The dedication page of Patterson’s book has a photo of a product barcode imbedded on the back shoulder of a trafficked young woman – tragically indicating that she is for sale. We have a lot of tools here to help us end the scourge of modern-day slavery. Let’s get involved. Let’s refuse to be indifferent to human trafficking. For as Pope Francis said, “It is not possible to remain indifferent before the knowledge that human beings are bought and sold like goods.”