Standing on Mexican soil, less than a football field’s distance from the U.S., Pope Francis boldly spoke out on behalf of thousands of desperate migrants trekking long dangerous distances hoping to obtain asylum in the U.S. On the last stop of his recent pastoral visit to Mexico, in Ciudad Juarez – the border city across from El Paso, Texas – the Holy Father in his homily during an open-air Mass said, “The human tragedy that is forced migration is a global phenomenon today. This crisis which can be measured in numbers and statistics, we want instead to measure with names, stories, families. They are the brothers and sisters of those expelled by poverty and violence, by drug trafficking and criminal organizations.” While the pope had not put a foot onto American territory, he clearly stepped into the U.S. immigration debate; and as always, Francis weighed-in on the side of mercy. “Being faced with so many legal vacuums, they [refugees and migrants] get caught up in a web that ensnares and always destroys the poorest,” he preached. “Not only do they suffer poverty but they must also endure these forms of violence. Many migrants fleeing the drug-fueled violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, discover that instead of finding asylum in the U.S., they are deported back to the violence where some are gunned-down by the gangs they fled from (see: http://bit.ly/1Ql2X6Q). Reminiscent of when Pope Francis prayed before the Israeli-built separation barrier that divides Israel from the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory of the West Bank (see: http://bit.ly/1pcRXhV), Francis prayed before a large cross overlooking the U.S. constructed border fence. The cross was built to remember the migrants who have died along Mexico’s border. While 200,000 Mexicans welcomed Pope Francis to Ciudad Juarez, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made it a point that he was on the other side of the fence – literally, politically and spiritually. Since Trump wants to build a wall across the entire U.S.-Mexico border, he was at odds with the pope’s Eucharistic celebration at the border. He criticized Pope Francis as being a political pawn of the Mexican government. When questioned about Trump’s criticism during a press conference aboard the pope’s return flight to Rome, the pontiff (meaning “bridge builder”) replied, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges is not Christian.” He added, “This is not in the Gospel.” With a thorough U.S. vetting process already in place, the U.S. needs to more generously and justly welcome those fleeing for their lives. Yes, building bridges not walls, is the Christian response to suffering. Also, the serious U.S. drug addiction crisis needs to be comprehensively treated. Imprisoning drug users instead of adequately treating their problems has been a disaster. Additionally, instead of a failed military war on drugs, the U.S. government needs to provide adequate funds that address problems of dysfunctional families, poor education, unemployment and underemployment in both the U.S. and Central America. Such a strategy would go a long way in drying up drug use and drug gangs. During his homily at Ciudad Juarez Pope Francis emotionally proclaimed, “No more death! No more exploitation! It’s not too late for change, for a way out, a time to implore the mercy of God. In this Year of Mercy … I beg for God’s mercy.” Then the Holy Father touchingly added, “With you I wish to plead for the gift of tears, the gift of conversion.”
In his strong identification with the poor and vulnerable, Jesus makes it perfectly clear that when we meet the needs of these least brothers and sisters, we are ultimately serving him. And when we – as individuals, churches, states and nations – do not adequately meet the needs of the down-trodden, we have failed to do good to Jesus (Matt. 25:31-46). With so many countless fellow human beings needlessly suffering, Jesus’ own suffering continues on to this very day – in them and with them. The First Station of the Cross: Jesus is homeless. Hundreds of thousands of women, men and children in the U.S. have no place to call home. Often exposed to the harsh elements, they are literally living on our streets. We often see them, and yet we fail to see Jesus in them. The Second Station of the Cross: Jesus is a stranger and not welcomed. Tens of thousands of children fleeing to the U.S. from Central American drug gangs are being deported back to the violence. Millions of undocumented U.S. workers denied legal protection are forced to live in the shadows of society. And millions of other human beings running for their lives from terrorists’ death threats are often confined to inhumane refugee camps. We fail to see Jesus in them. The Third Station of the Cross: Jesus is poor. Over 895 million fellow human beings throughout the world barely exist in extreme poverty, struggling to survive without adequate and safe water, food, sanitation, health care, education, employment and housing. We are not fully committed to quickly meeting their needs. We fail to see Jesus in them. The Fourth Station of the Cross: Jesus is aborted. Millions of unborn human beings erroneously classified by abortion proponents as “parts of a woman’s body,” or “blobs of protoplasm,” or simply “products of conception” are murdered by means of legalized abortion in many countries throughout the world. Like other vulnerable people, the unborn are often victims of what Pope Francis calls a “throw-away culture.” We fail to see Jesus in them. The Fifth Station: Jesus is euthanized. Growing numbers of people who are cruelly seen as a burden – often due to serious illness – are persuaded to take their own lives with the assistance of a physician (physician-assisted suicide). Instead of providing adequate psychiatric, palliative and hospice care, society is increasingly choosing this more subtle form of euthanasia to kill various people who are hurting. We fail to see Jesus in them. The Sixth Station: Jesus is brutalized by war. In over two dozen countries wars and armed conflicts are destroying virtually everyone and everything in their path. So called developed nations like the U.S., the U.K. and Israel are fueling these bloody conflicts through arms sales and weapon grants. Countless war-torn innocent children, women and men continue to be maimed and murdered. We fail to see Jesus in them. In Catholic tradition there are 14 Stations of the Cross. I have listed here six modern versions of them. But sadly, many more could easily be added. For suffering throughout our endangered fragile planet is monumental. Jesus is urgently calling us to see him in our suffering brothers and sisters. Lent is the perfect time for individuals and nations to begin fasting from what Pope Francis calls a “globalization of indifference,” and to begin feasting in the ways of Jesus: nonviolence, forgiveness, solidarity, social justice, and active compassionate love for all those who suffer
Due to the blizzard that hit the mid-Atlantic, my bus never made it to the 43rd March for Life in Washington, D.C. But thousands of others were able to brave the snow and wind to witness to the dignity of unborn human life, and to protest the gravely immoral practice of legal abortion in the United States. The following day, Jan. 23, thousands of people from western states participated in the 12th Annual Walk for Life West Coast in San Francisco. And throughout the U.S. various other events to protest abortion and defend preborn life were held on, or shortly after, Jan 22 – the infamous anniversary of the Jan. 22, 1973 Supreme Court dual decisions of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton which effectively legalized abortion on demand for all nine months of pregnancy. As reported by National Right to Life (http://bit.ly/1DqDLKz), “surgical abortions” kill over 1 million unborn babies in the U.S. every year according to the Guttmacher Institute – a former affiliate of the abortion chain Planned Parenthood. And when the widespread use of birth control pills is considered, the number of estimated abortions increases tremendously. This is because birth control pills not only act to keep sperm and egg from uniting, but when that mechanism fails, they also have an abortive capability which produces a “hostile endometrium, which presumably prevents or disrupts implantation of the developing baby,” according Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Dr. William F. Colliton, Jr., M.D. (see http://bit.ly/1ZTRqPA). The American Life League states, “Using formulas based on the way the birth control pill works, pharmacy experts project that about 14 million chemical abortions occur in the United States each year (http://www.all.org/learn/abortion/abortion-statistics). And worldwide, approximately 1.4 billion abortions have occurred since 1980 (see http://www.numberofabortions.com). I am convinced the intentional killing of any human being is not part of God’s plan. Killing runs contrary to the Gospel portrayals of the nonviolent Jesus, as well as the nonviolent witness of the early church during the first 300 years of Christianity. And the intentional killing of innocent human life – which direct abortion does – is especially evil. Brutally dismembering unborn babies during suction abortions, and fatally burning these smallest members of the human family during saline solution abortions, is nothing short of barbaric. No matter how difficult a pregnancy may indeed be, abortion is never the answer. There are many caring people ready to help both mother and unborn child (e.g. Crisis Pregnancy Centers http://www.care-net.org/find-a-pregnancy-center). And for those who regret their involvement in abortion, Silent No More (www.silentnomoreawareness.org) and Project Rachel http://hopeafterabortion.com) can help. Years ago, while attending a pro-life conference sponsored by Americans United for Life (http://www.aul.org), I asked the late world-renowned French geneticist Dr. Jerome Lejeune when human life begins. He instantly replied, “At conception of course.” I then asked him if any of his colleagues disagreed with him. He said, “No, we all know when life begins. Where we disagree, is at what stage life should be protected.” For Dr. Lejeune conception – when life begins – was logically and morally where full protection should begin (see http://bit.ly/1JGuPUN). Because for most people the evil of abortion is not something they regularly encounter, it is a classic case of “Out of sight, out of mind.” But a very effective organization to help us keep the dignity of the unborn and the horrors of abortion within eyesight is the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform (http://www.abortionno.org). What is the God of life calling you to do?
Deeply concerned about a “globalization of indifference,” Pope Francis in his 2016 World Day of Peace message titled “Overcome Indifference and Win Peace,” warns that “the first kind of indifference in human society is indifference to God, which then leads to indifference to one’s neighbor and to the environment.” Pope Francis writes, “Some people prefer not to ask questions or seek answers; they lead lives of comfort, deaf to the cry of those who suffer. Almost imperceptibly, we grow incapable of feeling compassion for others and for their problems; we have no interest in caring for them, as if their troubles were their own responsibility, and none of our business.” To help reverse this indifference, the Holy Father appeals to national leaders for concrete gestures in the creation of “dignified jobs to combat the social plague of unemployment. … Special attention needs to be given to women – who unfortunately still encounter discrimination in the workplace – and to some categories of workers whose conditions are precarious or dangerous, and whose pay is not commensurate to the importance of their social mission.” A very good way to respond to Pope Francis’ concerns here would be to visit the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights (http://www.globallabourrights.org/) to learn what you can do to help correct many of these injustices. Regarding migrants, Pope Francis asks that legislation on migration “reflect a readiness to welcome migrants and to facilitate their integration.” With emergency crises throughout the world, the Pope’s call for welcome and integration should inspire those of us who live in safety and comfort to urge our government – with solid vetting processes in place – to generously offer hospitality to suffering refugees. On prison reform, Francis reminds societies that rehabilitation of criminal offenders needs to be an essential goal of penal systems. And here he emphasizes, “I would like once more to appeal to governmental authorities to abolish the death penalty where it is still in force.” The Pope added this threefold appeal to the leaders of nations: “to refrain from drawing other peoples into conflicts or wars which destroy not only their material, cultural and social legacy, but also – and in the long term – their moral and spiritual integrity; to forgive or manage in a sustainable way the international debt of the poorer nations; and to adopt policies of cooperation which, instead of bowing before the dictatorship of certain ideologies, will respect the values of local populations and, in any case, not prove detrimental to the fundamental and inalienable right to life of the unborn.” With an increased commitment to non-violent conflict resolution strategies, an end to the arms trade, multilateral disarmament, deep cuts in military spending, abolishing nuclear weapons, fair trade practices, significant increases in domestic and foreign poverty-focused spending, cancelling the remaining “debt” of poor nations (who in many cases have already paid back the original amount borrowed), and the elimination of funding to organizations that provide and/or promote abortion, leaders of nations could demonstrate concrete ways of honoring Pope Francis’ appeal for overcoming indifference and winning peace. While thanking and encouraging people of all ages who undertake works of solidarity, and who generously help those in need – near and far – Pope Francis offers the wonderful consolation of Jesus: that their hunger and thirst for justice will be satisfied, their mercy will lead them to find mercy and, as peacemakers, they will be called children of God (Mt 5:6-9). Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.
The world is a wonderful place. Our God is so good in giving it to us. But to a large extent, we have not taken good care of it, nor of each other. We have polluted the water, fouled the air and are dangerously changing the climate. The breakdown of the family, the redefining of traditional marriage, global poverty, hunger, homelessness, abortion, physician assisted suicide, the arms trade, nuclear weapons, astronomical military budgets, human trafficking, corporate greed, murder and the mass murder of war are also among the critical illnesses humanity has inflicted upon itself. But it doesn’t have to be this way! We don’t need to stumble around and die in darkness. For God entered onto the human stage to show us that he is the light of the world. For as the prophet Isaiah predicted, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” With humble and trusting hearts this Christmas season and New Year; we can be the very people who walk out of the darkness into the light of Christ Jesus. God entered into the world not as the warrior Messiah the Jews were expecting, but as a defenseless, gentle, innocent baby. Who would have imagined the all-powerful One would personally come himself – and as an infant? And who would have imagined he would teach us that the Kingdom of God – the only kingdom worth living and dying for – comes to us not by the accumulation of wealth, not by powerful militaries, not by domination, and not by our will, but rather by trusting and living out God’s will – of social justice, a fair sharing of the earth’s resources, peaceful nonviolence, dialogue, solidarity, compassion, forgiveness and love for all. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Since the Lord’s thoughts and ways are so very different and better from human thoughts and ways, true disciples must be countercultural. We must swim up-stream against the often evil currents of society. We must rock the boat! The famous American peace activist, Father Daniel Berrigan S.J., 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 a narcotic. Therefore, we must be countercultural. But being countercultural is not socially acceptable. Our culture encourages us to accept the status quo; to be quiet; to leave things the way they are. But genuine followers of the Prince of Peace, the God of life, the Lord of the poor and vulnerable cannot be quiet, cannot leave evil the way it is. The late “Servant of God” Dorothy Day, who was a convert, pacifist, and co-founder of the Catholic Worker ministry for the homeless said, “We must cry out against injustice or by our silence consent to it. If we keep silent, the very stones of the street will cry out.” Filled with a fresh Christmas rebirth of our Lord Jesus within our hearts, may we take his loving, peaceful and joyful presence out into our hurting world this New Year, and courageously challenge the culture of greed, war and death! Let us imagine during 2016 a better world where all God’s people, and all of God’s creation, are respected, protected and cherished.
Seeing Christmas toys under the tree, unwrapping them with excitement, and playing with them for many days to come, is a delightful experience for many children throughout the world! But seldom do we think of where the toys came from, who made them, and under what conditions were they made. Thankfully, the Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights (IGLHR) has painstakingly asked, and answered, many of these questions. In its investigative report “Dirty Toys Made in China” (http://bit.ly/1QppDGA), IGLHR reports that the Dongguan Zhenyang Wanju Limited toy factory in China employees over 1,800 workers – many of whom are just 16-year-old – in near freezing conditions, for wages as small as $1.36 an hour. The workers mainly produce Christmas toys, dolls and baby toys for Disney, Hasbro, Mattel and others companies in the U.S., Europe and Australia. Workers at the Zhenyang toy factory are forbidden to move from their work areas, and can’t even stop to take a drink of water. And because noise levels are extremely high in some departments, longtime employees have suffer hearing loss. Researchers for IGLHR report that Zhenyang’s production departments are in constant fast motion. Quota pressures are tremendous. Workers said that “both hands must be moving constantly.” The quota for a team of 36 workers making toy cars is 11,000 pieces per day. This means in essence each worker must make 306 toys per shift. One worker told IGLHR she had to produce 2,400 Disney doll legs in a day. She said, “You can’t take your eyes off it for a second.” In the paint and printing work rooms, which are filled with chemical fumes including industrial alcohol, phenylenediamine, and sodium peroxide, workers are denied air filter masks causing some to feel nauseous and dizzy. And after toiling at least 12 hours a day in these inhumane conditions, workers must sleep on narrow bare wooden bunk beds in crowded dorms. According to IGLHR, contacts on the ground report an upsurge of labor activists being rounded up and jailed. While some have “disappeared.” Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights (IGLHR) director Charles Kernaghan said, “Powerhouses like Disney, Hasbro and Mattel surely have the leverage to negotiate modest improvements for the 1,800 workers at Zhenyang. It is long overdue that Disney, Hasbro and Mattel take real steps to improve conditions for their Chinese workers. This is not too much to ask!” Please go to this IGLHR link http://bit.ly/1O5yXPL and click each of the seven toy companies listed, to send a pre-written letter to each company expressing your concern regarding the terrible injustices experienced by workers laboring to make their Christmas toys. It takes less than five minutes to send a message to all seven companies. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the [Catholic] Church insists that “Labor has an intrinsic priority over capital.” People are more important than money. The compendium further states, “There is an urgent need to create economic systems in which the opposition between capital and labor is overcome.” But sadly to the contrary, “Scientific and technological progress and the globalization of markets, of themselves a source of development and progress, expose workers to the risk of being exploited by the mechanisms of the economy and by the unrestrained quest for productivity.” An excellent way to begin to stop this worker exploitation is to hold companies like Disney, Hasbro and Mattel accountable for these abuses -- which place astronomical profit above basic human rights.
As Christians around the world prepare during Advent to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, much of the world is at war and preparing for more war – more bombs, more drones, more boots on the ground. From the drug cartel war in Mexico, to the civil war in South Sudan, to the Islamic State war, armed conflict has spread like an infectious deadly disease – which of course it is. But nowhere is war more ironic than in the Holy Land; the land on which the feet of the God of peace (1 Thess 5:23) walked. Matt McGarry Catholic Relief Services’ Country Representative for Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza explained to me in an email interview that the situation there is extremely tense. From Jerusalem McGarry wrote, “Knife and vehicular attacks on Israeli civilians and security personnel, extrajudicial executions of Palestinian suspects, near daily protests and clashes, regular closures and roadblocks have combined to create a very unstable situation,” in this part of the world. McGarry explained that Palestinians in Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and Gaza face numerous serious challenges, many of which are becoming more pronounced by the day. High rates of unemployment in the region – Gaza’s astronomical 44 percent unemployment rate – home demolitions, extensive restrictions on movement, separation of families, and constant conflict are all major difficulties. Similar to the confined townships in former apartheid South Africa, the Bethlehem area – nearly strangled by the Israeli separation barrier – is an example of an apartheid-like township where freedom of movement is seriously limited. According to a commentary taken from the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns’ Middle East Notes (http://bit.ly/1OGStPn), there are no realistic prospects for a viable two-state solution in the foreseeable future. “The on-going and permanent occupation of the West Bank, the ‘imprisonment’ of the Gaza people, and the increasing restrictions of Jerusalem Palestinians, give evidence that Israel is moving toward complete annexation of all the ‘occupied territories.’ “The focus held by Israeli, Palestinian and world-wide advocates for justice and peace, is toward pressuring the Israel government to guarantee and promote basic human rights of all the people under its control – Israelis and Palestinians.” An excellent way to greatly help accomplish the establishment of basic human rights is to actively promote the “Holy Land Principles” (www.holylandprinciples.org). These 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. Another excellent organization dedicated to justice and peace in the Holy Land is Churches for Middle East Peace (www.cmep.org). An additional way to help ease the suffering in the Holy Land is to support Catholic Relief Services’ fair trade initiatives. One of the projects CRS supported this year helped fund the complete renovation of six unsafe, unhealthy olive wood workshops in the Bethlehem region, benefitting 225 workers and their communities. Kindly consider making an early Christmas gift to help CRS’ efforts to improve living conditions in the Holy Land by going to this link http://bit.ly/1QV6Um4. In the “special request” box you can type “Donation is for Holy Land projects.” Easing the hardships of our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land will assist our preparation for a rebirth of the Prince of Peace in our hearts this Christmas.
During the recent U.S. Catholic bishops’ fall assembly in Baltimore, several bishops and one abbot, decided to skip dinner at the downtown Marriott Waterfront hotel, and walked several blocks to an inner city parish to share a simple meal with about 30 peace activists – myself included. In the basement of historic St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, during the evening of Nov. 17, Archbishop Joseph Tobin, along with Bishops John Michael Botean, Anthony Taylor, Frank Dewane, Mark Seitz, John Stowe, Richard Pates, Michael Warfel, and Peter Baldacchino, and Abbot Nicholas Zachariadis shared soup and bread together with members of Pax Christi, the Catholic Worker and Sant’Egidio, as we discussed how followers of the nonviolent Jesus should respond to calls to war. Highlighting the discussion were three speakers who shared with us deeply personal testimonies regarding Christian conscience formation, war and conscientious objection. Daniel Baker, explained that after the 9/11 terrorist attacks he believed he had to do something. He came to what he thought was the obvious conclusion: “join the military, fight in war, and kill the enemy.” He joined the U.S. Navy and started to see “from first-hand experience the military outside of the movies.” He told us it started to become less clear how killing would really be helping others. “My expectations unraveled fast.” Baker said he began reading the Gospel, and that most of what Jesus taught took him by surprise; his words and actions against violence are “radical and demanding.” And I would add that a serious, honest reading of Jesus’ radical and demanding teachings against violence should take all of us by surprise. For Jesus’ teachings were, and remain, extremely countercultural. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways” says the Lord (Isaiah 55:8). During 2006, Baker said while flying over the Persian Gulf in a reconnaissance plane designed to carry bombs and torpedoes, he and his crew members were tracking an Iranian submarine. After making radio contact one of the submariners said, “Coalition aircraft, maintain five nautical miles, or we will take defensive action.” But Baker said as his plane continued to make passes over the submarine, the voice of the Iranian submariner was sounding more and more nervous. Baker reflected, “As I listened to the trembling voice, I began to realize that it was a flesh-and-blood man in the submarine down there. And that blip on our sonar screens represented an entire crew of human beings; they were sons, brothers, husbands. “Gradually, I became firmer in my conviction against war,” said Baker. With the help of Catholic Peace Fellowship (www.catholicpeacefellowship.org) he applied for conscientious objector status. And after seven months he was honorably discharged. Seminarian Daniel Baker is now on his way to becoming a Catholic priest. Raquel Falk, shared with us that after spending five years in a special youth military program designed to build leadership skills, she realized that trips to the firing range and obstacle course, along with the hand-to-hand combat sessions, had the hidden objective to teach how to kill efficiently and without reflection. This soul-touching insight was central to her declining an invitation to attend the U.S. Naval Academy. Falk said the honor churches and schools give to the military sends a strong pro-military message to our youth. “I find myself wondering how the church can show the youth of our militarized nation that their desire for self-sacrifice can best be found in the cross of our Lord.” Kristi Casteel, the mother of the late Joshua Casteel, started by saying “Tonight I am going to simply share Joshua’s story in the hope that it will reveal the significance of conscience development and what is possible in our lives when we are alive and responsive to our conscience.” She said, “War will always exist where love is absent. This is what Joshua came to understand in the twists and turns of his life. His story could be entitled ‘An Unexpected Journey.’ ” And we could surely add this has been the life-title of many a saint. Casteel said that Joshua’s story was an “arduous and complex journey from conservative Evangelical West Point (U.S. military academy) cadet to a more compassionate Catholic conscientious objector.” Casteel explained that Joshua joined the early enlistment program to prepare him for West Point. However, the program’s violent chants about killing without mercy didn’t quite sit right with all he had learned about Jesus. And the “reflexive training” the military uses to short-circuit man’s resistance to killing, also seemed wrong to Joshua. He resigned from West Point. But later in light of the 9/11 terrorist attacks he reenlisted as a non-commissioned Arabic trained interrogator, and was ordered to Iraq. Kristi Casteel further explained, “The real world of war, however, with its chaos, inconsistencies and known torture in the field – causing his fellow soldiers to unravel emotionally – hit Joshua like a punch in the gut.” Aware of his deep religious convictions, he was called “priest” by many of the soldiers. Many shared their struggles with him. The contrived atmosphere of expressed hatred by superior officers towards the detainees did not set well with Joshua. Casteel said, “Joshua knew that most detainees were simply fathers, imams, and young men caught up in sweeps by American soldiers, or were men turned in by fellow Iraqis in an attempt to earn money from the coalition.” But indeed, God does write straight with crooked lines. In a later taped explanation, Joshua Casteel revealed that during the interrogation of a young, very calm Jihadist detainee, he was morally confronted by the detainee who called him a very strange man. He said to Joshua you call yourself a Christian, but you do not follow the teachings of Christ who said you are to love your enemies, to pray for those who persecute you, to turn the other cheek. Joshua said he thought to himself, now this is an ironic moment: Here you are sitting across the table from a declared Jihadist who is giving you a lesson about the Sermon on the Mount. Kristi Casteel, said her son Joshua shared with the Jihadist that he agreed that he wasn’t following those nonviolent teachings of Christ. And that in military uniform he was not free to live as he believed he should as a Christian. To see and hear Joshua Casteel tell this powerful and inspiring story, click this link http://bit.ly/1SZKVc6. Bishop Anthony Taylor of the Diocese of Little Rock shared with us his dismay regarding the growing political mood to deny refugee status to Syrians who are fleeing for their lives. Speaking for his diocese, he firmly said, “We will accept Syrian refugees!” In solidarity with our persecuted Syrian brothers and sisters please go to the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns website to send a message to your governor and congressional delegation (http://bit.ly/1QPVQG2). Kristi Casteel said that during her son’s interrogation – which turned into a conversation – with the Jihadist detainee, Joshua said to him that there were other ways to deal with conflict than the way they had both chosen. And he asked him to consider what it might look like in different circumstances for them to meet and talk – learning about each other’s lives and beliefs with the potential of bringing about mutual trust. Kristi said her son left the “interrogation” room “a changed man, but more importantly a free man, on the inside where it counts.” Wow! Now that’s Christian conversion! The kind of conversion we all need. The kind of conversion the world needs.
“A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system,” warns Pope Francis. In his environmental encyclical “Laudato Si’ ” (“On Care for Our Common Home”), the Holy Father further warns, “In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events. … “Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming.” From Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will meet in Paris to hopefully agree on how to drastically limit global warming. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) confirms that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree that human activities are the main cause of dangerous climate change – especially global warming. Despite the overwhelming evidence, many people prefer to believe corporate fiction instead of scientific fact. The Union of Concerned Scientists states, “No matter how much data we publish, if companies with enormous resources like ExxonMobil can dissuade people from accepting climate science, then the data won’t matter” (http://bit.ly/1dMSAec). Even the U.S. military acknowledges the dangers of climate change. According to Forbes financial magazine, the Military Advisory Board of the Center for Naval Analysis in its report “National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change” warns that “Climate change impacts are already accelerating instability in vulnerable areas of the world and are serving as catalysts for conflict.” Lay Franciscan Lonnie Ellis, associate director of the Catholic Climate Covenant (www.catholicclimatecovenant.org), explained to me that “Many of those who suffer the most from climate change have contributed the least to it.” He said, “In Sierra Leone where I worked, the changing climate is causing flash floods and mudslides. But yet it takes the greenhouse gas emissions of 85 Sierra Leoneans to equal that of one American. In union with Pope Francis, bishop conference presidents representing every continent on earth have written an appeal letter (http://bit.ly/1PUmI7j) to representatives of the upcoming U.N. climate conference, urging them to commit to total decarbonization by 2050, to provide affordable renewable clean energy for all, and to adequately aid vulnerable nations suffering the effects of climate change. Together with Pope Francis and the bishops, let’s increase our commitment to protecting creation. Please sign the Catholic Climate Covenant’s petition to Todd Stern, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, by going to this link http://bit.ly/1PSNwpg. Many members of Congress who receive financial support from oil, coal and gas corporations will likely try to derail U.S. agreements reached with other climate conference nations – as some in Congress attempted to do with the U.N. Security Council’s nuclear weapons agreement with Iran. Therefore, it is very important that you email and call (Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121) your congressional delegation urging them to support, and not block, agreements reached at the upcoming U.N. climate conference in Paris. In his June 5, 2013 General Audience Pope Francis said, "We are losing our attitude of wonder, of contemplation, of listening to creation and thus we no longer manage to interpret in it what Benedict XVI calls 'the rhythm of the love-story between God and man.’ ” If we open our hearts, and allow ourselves to discover the God-given ability to wonder, contemplate and listen to creation, we will deeply experience the love-story between God and humanity.
While much needed attention is being given to refugees flowing from war-torn Syria, one desperately suffering Middle East nation is barely a blip on the developed world’s radar screen. And to be honest, Yemen wasn’t on my radar screen either, until I met Barbara Deller. For 12 years Deller worked as a hospital nurse-midwife in Yemen, and later served as a faculty member of the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, advising ministries of health in numerous countries in Africa and Asia and the Middle East. She explained to me that Saudi Arabia’s military campaign against the Houthi rebels in Yemen has greatly increased the suffering of this already desperately impoverished nation of 27 million people. Earlier this year, when Houthi rebels took control of Yemen’s government, an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia attacked the Houthis because they claimed the Houthis are backed by Iran – Saudi Arabia’s archrival. With U.S. and British support, Saudi Arabia has been pounding Yemen for the last several months with ongoing airstrikes; and is suffocating Yemen with a crippling air, land and sea blockade. Sadly, as is always the case with war, masses of innocent children, women and men are bearing the brunt of untold suffering. Deller said, “My personal contacts in Yemen include a young woman in Sana’a [Yemen’s largest city] who has three small children and is due to deliver any day now. She has little food and water. “She said as the intense bombardment starts in the evening she lies with her children in the dark and used to pray that God would protect her and her family. “Now she says she prays that God will let the next bomb kill them all as it is so excruciating waiting for a bomb to hit. “If she has any problem while giving birth, she could easily die, as the one maternity hospital in the city has been bombed. “All of her neighbors have fled the residential area, but they have no money and no place to go.” Reportedly, even before the war, about half the population lacked access to clean water, and the country imported 90 percent of its food from abroad. But in the last several months the ongoing Saudi-led airstrikes, along with its blockade, has pushed Yemen into a full-fledged humanitarian disaster. In June, the United Nations raised Yemen's crisis status to Category 3 – its most severe level, shared only by Syria, South Sudan and Iraq. In support of the plea of several nongovernmental aid agencies for a cease-fire, and the lifting of the blockade in Yemen (http://bit.ly/1hUYcoG), please email (http://1.usa.gov/1LAHIj2) and call (202-456-1111) President Obama urging him to pressure Saudi Arabia and its coalition members to immediately enact a total ceasefire in Yemen, and to quickly lift its blockade allowing a free-flow of all humanitarian aid into Yemen. And please consider making a donation to Save the Children by calling 1-800-728-3843. And request that your gift be designated for Yemen. Yemen’s Country Director for Save the Children, Edward Santiago, said “Children are bearing the brunt … not only have they been killed during airstrikes and fighting, but the homes, schools and hospitals they rely on have been damaged or destroyed. Many families don’t have the food, fuel or medicine they desperately need to survive” as a result of the blockage. As believers in the God of peace, how can we possibly ignore the suffering people of Yemen?
For the sake of our salvation, we need to pay serious attention, and act with purpose, to what Jesus teaches here in Matthew’s Gospel: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. “And he will separate them … as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? “ ‘When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?' “And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ ” And for those on his left, Christ will say “ ‘Depart from me … For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink. …’ ” Reaching out to every person we can – especially those who suffer the most – with active compassion generosity, social justice, and peacemaking is such a fundamental requirement to faithful discipleship, that to a great degree our very salvation is at stake. While God knows you and I can’t help everyone. It is also true that most of us can do much more. After all, look at the saints. We can place the poor and vulnerable at the center of our prayer life. We can sacrificially give money, time and skills to assist those in desperate need. We can sign up to receive action alerts from groups that advocate for the unborn, poor, hungry, homeless, refugees, elderly, war-torn and the environment. Connecting with groups like Bread for the World, Pax Christi, Priests for Life, Catholic Climate Covenant, Network, Churches for Middle East Peace, Catholic Relief Services, Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights, and your state Catholic conference can help you make a difference. Pope Francis urged the world’s priests to bring the healing power of the Lord’s grace to every person, and to stay close to the marginalized. He famously said priests should be close to people like “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.” But within the larger context of his teaching, Francis is also calling the laity to bring God’s healing love to all – especially those living on the edge of society. The laity must also be “living with the smell of the sheep.” So that “When the Son of Man comes in his glory,” smelling the scent of sheep on us, he will place us on his right and say: “ ‘Inherit the kingdom prepared for you … For I was hungry and you gave me food.’ ” I was thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick and in prison and you cared for me!
As the first pope in history to address a joint session of Congress, Pope Francis, defending the human right of masses of oppressed and poor people to immigrate, said “We must not be taken aback by their number, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. “We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ ” (Mt 7:12). Francis explained, “In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; it want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.” The Holy Father said, “The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development. “This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. … “The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes.” Referring to his encyclical on the environment and humanity’s integral link to it, Francis said, “In Laudato Si’ [“Praise be to you”], I call for a courageous and responsible effort … to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity.” With the U.S. leading the world in the sale of weapons, Pope Francis asked its leaders, and the rest of us: “Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society”? Sadly, the answer is “Simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.” Next stop, the United Nations. The following day, Pope Francis, speaking before the U.N. General Assembly, said “Government leaders must do everything possible to ensure that all can have the minimum spiritual and material means needed to live in dignity and to create and support a family, which is the primary cell of any social development. “In practical terms, this absolute minimum has three names: lodging, labor, and land; and one spiritual name: spiritual freedom, which includes religious freedom, the right to education and other civil rights.” Pope Francis further explained, “These pillars of integral human development have a common foundation, which is the right to life.” He said “war is the negation of all rights and a dramatic assault on the environment. If we want true human development for all, we must work tirelessly to avoid war;” in part this means strongly opposing “the constant tendency to the proliferation of arms, especially weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear weapons.” In a meeting with homeless men and women at St. Patrick parish in Washington, D.C., Pope Francis speaking truth to those with no worldly power, said “We can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing. There are many unjust situations, but we know that God is suffering with us, experiencing them at our side. He does not abandon us.” In the face of so much injustice, injustice Pope Francis is calling us to correct, it is reassuring to know that the God of justice, peace and love is at our side, and will never abandon us.
The heartbreaking photo of the little Syrian refugee boy washed up dead on the shore of Bodrum, Turkey (see picture: http://bit.ly/1PZHvDV) strikingly illustrates the tragic plight of desperate refugees – mostly Syrian – fleeing for their lives from the Islamic State and other violent groups in the Middle East and Africa. The 3-year-old boy, named Aylan, along with his 5-year-old brother, Galip, and their mother, Rehan, drowned after the raft carrying them capsized near the Turkish coast. Millions of refugees are scrambling to escape from the life-threatening civil wars plaguing several countries from Nigeria to Pakistan. According to the British newspaper The Independent, half of Syria’s population – approximately 11 million people – have been forced to flee; with four million living as refugees in foreign nations. And approximately 2.6 million Iraqis have been displaced, both due to civil wars and the barbarism of the Islamic State. Matt Wilch, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) refugee policy advisor for Migration and Refugee Service, told me that of the four million Syrian refugees, 1.8 million are being hosted by Turkey, Jordan has 1 million, Egypt has 200,000, tiny Lebanon is hosting over 1 million, and ironically even war-torn Iraq has opened its doors to 200,000 Syrians. But according to U.S. State Department figures, since March of 2011 – when the Syrian conflict started – only 1,554 Syrians have been admitted through the U.S. refugee resettlement program. This is shameful. Wealthy Europe and the U.S. have a moral obligation to offer far more help. Germany is providing an excellent example here. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said that any Syrian arriving in Germany would be granted asylum. With 800,000 refugees expected to arrive in Germany before year’s end, Merkel has been urging Germans to rise to the challenge. She said, “There can be no tolerance of those who question the dignity of other people.” Wilch said if the U.S. and other wealthy nations would provide much more aid to Syria’s neighboring nations, not only would refugees be able to benefit from improved services, but most would not feel compelled to take the long dangerous journey to Europe. Wilch said only 37 percent of the needs of refugees are being funded in these neighboring host countries. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, approximately 2,500 people have perished en route to Europe since the beginning of this year alone. The USCCB is urging Congress to increase the number of refugees allowed in the U.S. to 200,000 annually – 100,000 from Syria and 100,000 from other nations. Please contact your congressional delegation urging them to honor the bishops’ plea. And urge them to greatly increase aid to the Middle East nations hosting millions of refugees. The resources of these generous nations are stretched to the limit. Also, to be of further help please go to this link http://bit.ly/1LZxENG at the Jesuit Refugee Service/USA to easily submit (click submit twice) a letter to your senators and congressperson on behalf of our suffering refugee brothers and sisters. And to go the extra mile, kindly consider making a donation to Catholic Relief Services by going to this link www.crs.org/stories/european-migrant/crisis/grows, and clicking “European Migrant Crisis Grows.” Then click “Donate Now.” Pope Francis has strong words for those who would turn away refugees: It is “violence to erect walls and barriers to block those seeking a place of peace. It is violence to push back those fleeing from inhuman conditions in the hope of a better future.”
It’s that time again when adults take off to celebrate Labor Day, and kids head back to the adventures a new school year. But for millions of 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 lessons they will learn are that life is cruel and unfair. According to the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) latest report “Global child labor trends 2008 to 2012,” approximately 168 million children aged 5-17 were involved in child labor – that is, labor not in legal accordance with ILO Conventions – in 2012. And even worse, nearly half of all child laborers – 85.3 million – work in hazardous conditions, or what the ILO terms as the worst forms of child labor. According to the ILO, “Hazardous work includes night work and long hours of work, exposure to physical, psychological or sexual abuse; work underground, under water, at dangerous heights or in confined spaces; work with dangerous machinery, equipment and tools, or which involves the manual handling or transport of heavy loads; and work in an unhealthy environment which may, for example, expose children to hazardous substances, agents or processes, or to temperatures, noise levels, or vibrations damaging their health.” 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 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. Globalization is a key factor to child labor. Children are cheap to employ; they are docile and easily controlled, and do not organize to defend their human rights. To unscrupulous corporate executives, child labor offers an attractive incentive to keep labor costs down in a highly competitive global market. When money is the bottom line – as is virtually always the case in the corporate world – children are simply tools to be used and abused. Many companies like Disney and Wal-Mart either know, or don't care to know, that their products are often made at the expense of suffering children. In a Maryknoll Magazine article "Stunting child labor," We read how "Girls of 16 sew Disney garments for subcontractors in China and Bangladesh, getting paid 12 cents an hour for 15-hour days, seven days a week. In Honduras, 14-year-old girls get 43 cents an hour, far below a living wage, in miserable conditions to make Wal-Mart clothing." Let work to change all of this injustice against millions of children. We can vote for compassionate politicians, and urge sitting legislators to: greatly increase international poverty-focused assistance, establish fair trade policies with all poor nations, pass loophole-free legislation severely penalizing corporations that take advantage of sweatshop workers, give tax incentives to companies that financially help their suppliers provide a living wage and decent working conditions for their employees. And we can patronize Fair Trade certified companies. Furthermore, we can visit www.freethechildren.com to learn about kids helping kids, and how we can help their efforts. Let’s tirelessly work for the day when cruel and dangerous children’s work gives way to school work and homework!
How low can society go? When one considers the many ways countless human beings are treated like cheap disposable products – from children exploited by pornographers, to young sweatshop workers exploited by wealthy corporations – it’s hard to imagine how much worse it can get for the poor and vulnerable. But dismembering and vacuuming babies out of their mother’s wombs, and then selling their body parts, is as low as it gets. Performing well over 300,000 abortions annually, the United States’ largest abortion provider Planned Parenthood Federation of America, has expanded its bloody business to the sale of aborted baby body parts, according to The Center for Medical Progress (CMP). As part of a 30-month-long investigative journalism study called the Human Capital Project, CMP went undercover in meetings with several top Planned Parenthood officials posing as buyers for a fetal tissue procurement company. During the meetings hidden cameras videotaped statements documenting Planned Parenthood’s involvement in the sale of baby body parts. These revealing videos can be viewed by going to CMP’s website (www.centerformedicalprogress.org). But be advised that some video sections depict disturbing scenes of aborted baby body parts for sale. And indeed, any person who genuinely respects human life should be disturb, and disturbed into action. In one of the undercover videos, Planned Parenthood Federation of America's Senior Director of Medical Services, Dr. Deborah Nucatola, casually describes while eating salad and sipping wine, how Planned Parenthood sells hearts, lungs, livers and heads taken from aborted babies, including babies killed by partial birth abortion – which with rare exception is totally banned by federal law. After watching this video, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-woman/pro-life organization known as the Susan B. Anthony List said, “The moment when the destruction of a human being becomes just business as usual is a moment we must address.” According to the Susan B. Anthony List, during fiscal year 2013-2014, Planned Parenthood received more than $1.4 million per day, in the form of government grants, contracts, and Medicaid reimbursements which amounts to taxpayer funding of 41 percent of Planned Parenthood’s overall revenue. Franciscan Cardinal Sean O’Malley, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote, “Pope Francis has called abortion the product of a ‘widespread mentality of profit, the throwaway culture, which has today enslaved the hearts and minds of so many.’ ” The cardinal condemned “the now standard practice of obtaining fetal organs and tissues through abortion.” Cardinal O’Malley pastorally added that persons experiencing revived trauma from their involvement in abortion, are most welcome to contact the church’s post-abortion healing ministry known as Project Rachel (www.projectrachel.com). Americans United for Life (www.aul.org) – an outstanding national pro-life legal team – is asking us to contact our two U.S. senators and congressperson urging them to co-sponsor Senate Bill 1881 – a bill to prohibit federal funding of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Please sign the Center for Medical Progress’ petition urging Congress to investigate Planned Parenthood’s baby body parts business by going to www.centerformedicalprogress.org and clicking “Take Action.” A morning of peaceful protests at Planned Parenthood facilities nationwide will be held on August 22 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. To find the nearest location go to http://protestpp.com/protests/. I’m planning to participate at the Towson, Md. site. As followers of the God of life, we are obliged to work for the protection of the lives and limbs of everyone – especially the most vulnerable. Let’s not take this obligation lightly.
Seventy years ago, on August 6, 1945, the single most destructive weapon ever unleashed upon human beings and the environment – the atomic bomb – was dropped by an American B-29 bomber on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing approximately 80,000 people. Three days later a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, killing an estimated 40,000 people. “Blessing” the crews and its two missions, was the Catholic chaplain to the 509th Composite Group – the atomic bomb group – Father George Zabelka. In a Sojourners Magazine interview, the late Fr. Zabelka explained, “If a soldier came to me and asked if he could put a bullet through a child’s head, I would have told him absolutely not. That would be mortally sinful.” But in 1945 on Tinian Island in the South Pacific, where the atomic bomb group was based, planes took off around the clock, said Zabelka. “Many of these planes went to Japan with the express purpose of killing not one child or one civilian but of slaughtering hundreds and thousands of children and civilians – and I said nothing. … “Yes, I knew civilians were being destroyed … Yet I never preached a single sermon against killing civilians to men who were doing it. … “I was brainwashed! It never entered my mind to publicly protest the consequences of these massive air raids. “I was told the raids were necessary; told openly by the military and told implicitly by my Church’s leadership. To the best of my knowledge no American cardinals or bishops were opposing these mass air raids. Silence in such matters, especially by a public body like the American bishops, is a stamp of approval. … “Christians have been slaughtering each other, as well as non-Christians, for the past 1700 years, in large part because their priests, pastors and bishops have simply not told them that violence and homicide are incompatible with the teachings of Jesus.” After years of soul-searching, Fr. Zabelka’s complete conversion from being a strong proponent of the “just-war theory” to a total pacifist was announced in a 1975 Christmas letter: “I must do an about face. … I have come to the conclusion that the truth of the Gospel is that Jesus was nonviolent and taught nonviolence as his way.” Fr. Zabelka dedicated the rest of his life to teaching, preaching and witnessing to Gospel nonviolence. In 1983 he and a Jesuit priest, Fr. Jack Morris, organized and participated in the “Bethlehem Peace Pilgrimage” starting at the nuclear submarine base in Bangor, Washington and ending on Christmas Eve 1984 in Bethlehem. When Fr. Zabelka reached Maryland, I had the good fortune of hearing him personally share his inspiring story of conversion. I strongly recommend reading Fr. Zabelka’s entire Sojourners Magazine interview by going to this link. And consider ordering from the Center for Christian Nonviolence the excellent DVD “Fr. George Zabelka: The Reluctant Prophet.” Or just simply go to this link to view it. We can either choose to rationalize and condone violence and war, or we can help God build his kingdom of life and love. In the biblical book of Deuteronomy, the author lays out a divine ultimatum for humanity: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord, your God, obeying his voice, and holding fast to him.” May we always choose life!
Committed to a negotiated settlement over the real possibility of armed conflict, six world powers and Iran have decided to give peace a chance. With much patience, persistence and hard work for over 20 months, the P5+1 Group (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus Germany) have reached a nuclear agreement with Iran that is nothing short of historic. According to the respected Arms Control Association (www.armscontrol.org), “The agreement – known as the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” – establishes a strong and effective formula for blocking all of the pathways by which Iran could acquire material for nuclear weapons and promptly detecting and deterring possible efforts by Iran to covertly pursue nuclear weapons in the future.” Father Federico Lombardi, S.J., director of the Holy See Press Office, said “The Holy See views the new agreement on the Iranian nuclear program in ‘a positive light.’ ” In a letter to members of Congress, Bishop Oscar Cantú, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, quoted an earlier statement by Pope Francis: “I express my hope that a definitive agreement may soon be reached between Iran and the P5+1 Group. …” In his letter Bishop Cantú added, “The United States and its international partners have taken a remarkable step with Iran in reaching this agreement. … We encourage Congress to support these efforts to build bridges that foster peace and greater understanding. In the words of Pope Francis, may the negotiated framework ‘be a definitive step toward a more [secure] and fraternal world.’ ” But unwisely some members of Congress have signaled their opposition to the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.” While this agreement is not perfect – very few agreements are – it is a solidly good agreement for the U.S. and its negotiating partners, Iran, the Middle East and the world. According to the Arms Control Association, “Some critics of this deal in the United States may still believe that by rejecting the agreement and increasing sanctions pressure on Iran, the United States can somehow coerce the leaders in Tehran to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program or agree to better terms. That is a dangerous illusion. There is no better deal on the horizon.” The Arms Control Association explains that the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” will establish long-term, verifiable restrictions on Iran’s sensitive nuclear fuel activities. For example, Iran’s plutonium path to the bomb will be eliminated. And of equal importance, the International Atomic Energy Agency will be allowed to send international inspectors to check any Iranian facility of concern – including military sites. The Arms Control Association is concerned that if Congress manages to block implementation of this hard-won, balanced and effective multilevel deal, the U.S. will have broken from its European allies, and the necessary international support for Iran-related sanctions will be lost. Iran would then have the incentive to quickly and significantly expand its capacity to produce bomb-grade material. Please urge your congressional delegation to fully support the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.” The alternative to this accord is a likely nuclear arms race in the Middle East, and probably war. The Arms Control Association wisely puts it this way: “This is the time to seize—not squander—the chance to put in place an effective, long-term, verifiable deal that blocks Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons.”
While Pope Francis’ new encyclical Laudato, Si’ is enjoying wide publicity, few people are aware this year marks the 20th anniversary of another powerfully prophetic social justice and peace encyclical: Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”). Trying to awaken the conscience of the world to reject the “culture of death” which creates “structures of sin,” Pope St. John Paul II wrote in Evangelium Vitae, “How can we fail to consider the violence against life done to millions of human beings, especially children, who are forced into poverty, malnutrition and hunger because of an unjust distribution of resources between peoples and between social classes? “And what of the violence inherent not only in wars as such but in the scandalous arms trade, which spawns the many armed conflicts which stain our world with blood? “What of the spreading of death caused by reckless tampering with the world's ecological balance, by the criminal spread of drugs, or by the promotion of certain kinds of sexual activity which, besides being morally unacceptable, also involve grave risks to life?” John Paul continued, “We shall concentrate particular attention on another category of attacks, affecting life in its earliest and in its final stages … Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection.” Then St. John Paul tackled the death penalty. He said due to improvements in the penal system, the need to execute a dangerous criminal in order to defend society was not necessary. “Such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent,” he wrote. Many Catholics, as well as many other Christians, hold inconsistent opinions regarding the protection of life. Some condemn abortion, but fail to oppose the mass murder of war – which mostly kills innocent people. Others work to protect the environment while promoting the murder of unborn children through abortion as a distorted means to control population. But all life issues are morally and logically linked. It’s what the Catholic Church refers to as the “consistent ethic of life.” St. John Paul explains: “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; it is an indivisible good. We need then to ‘show care’ for all life and for the life of everyone. … “As disciples of Jesus, we are called to become neighbors to everyone (see Lk 10:29-37), and to show special favor to those who are poorest, most alone and most in need. In helping the hungry, the thirsty, the foreigner, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned – as well as the child in the womb and the old person who is suffering or near death – we have the opportunity to serve Jesus.” Quoting St. John Chrysostom, St. John Paul wrote, “ ‘Do you wish to honor the body of Christ? Do not neglect it when you find it naked. Do not do it homage here in the church with silk fabrics only to neglect it outside where it suffers cold and nakedness.’ “What is urgently called for is a general mobilization of consciences and a united ethical effort to activate a great campaign in support of life. … The purpose of the Gospel, in fact, is to transform humanity from within and to make it new."
It’s courageous, it’s prophetic, it’s challenging, it’s holistic, it’s wonderful: That’s what I think of Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home.” Quoting his patron saint, Francis of Assisi – who is also the patron saint of ecology – Pope Francis begins his papal letter with a beautiful verse from the saint’s Canticle of the Creatures: “ ‘Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs.’ “St. Francis of Assisi reminds us,” writes the pope, “that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. … “This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will.” Pope Francis explains, “Each year hundreds of millions of tons of waste are generated, much of it non-biodegradable, highly toxic and radioactive, from homes and businesses, from construction and demolition sites, from clinical, electronic and industrial sources. The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.” The Holy Father then weighs in on climate change. Ignoring the weak scientific claims of those who deny the climate is changing and that the earth is warming – due principally to human pollution – he writes, “A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system.” 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.” Pope Francis continues, “In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events. … Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming. … “The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels” – that is coal, oil and gas. The pope urgently calls for global conversion from the use of these fossil fuels to “clean renewable energy” – wind, solar and geothermal (see Earth Policy Institute). “Climate change … represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades.” For example, “There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. … “The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming. … “Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change.” In a rebuke to some multinational corporations operating in economically underdeveloped countries Francis writes, “Generally, after ceasing their activity and withdrawing, they leave behind great human and environmental liabilities such as unemployment, abandoned towns, the depletion of natural reserves, deforestation, the impoverishment of agriculture and local stock breeding, open pits, riven hills, polluted rivers and a handful of social works which are no longer sustainable.” Francis then turns his attention to the growing scarcity of clean water – especially in Africa – and the reckless pollution of much of our existing water. And he writes about his concern regarding the privatization of water – “turning it into a commodity subject to the laws of the market. … “Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water,” says Francis. The pope expresses deep concern that the many injustices of market-based economies, together with environmental degradation, have their gravest effects on the poor and vulnerable. He writes, “The depletion of fishing reserves especially hurts small fishing communities without the means to replace those resources; water pollution particularly affects the poor who cannot buy bottled water; and rises in the sea level mainly affect impoverished coastal populations who have nowhere else to go. Francis tries to awaken the consciences of all – especially the economically and politically powerful – to the plight of the poor. He writes that in political and economic discussions the poor seem to be brought up as an afterthought. “Indeed, when all is said and done, they frequently remain at the bottom of the pile.” Francis astutely observes that living comfortable lifestyles far removed from the poor, often leads to a “numbing of conscience” and to a cold impersonal analysis. “At times this attitude exists side by side with a ‘green rhetoric.’ “Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” Observing the connection between the degradation of the environment and war Francis writes, “It is foreseeable that, once certain resources have been depleted, the scene will be set for new wars.” Pope Francis says in addition to highlighting the duty of each person to care for nature, the Church “must above all protect mankind from self-destruction.” The Holy Father sees the environmental problem as part of a much larger, more serious problem: Our failure to consistently recognize the truth that everyone and everything is interconnected. He explains, “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. … “Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion.” Pope Francis sees in St. Francis a perfect example of one who fully understood our interrelatedness. He writes that St. Francis “was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.” Pope Francis has given the world a great gift. With wise insight, he has laid out for us the truth of our interconnectedness with all creation – not only in the ecological web of life, but as persons sharing one human nature, and spiritually as brothers and sisters united to God, who is father of all. However, because we continue to ignore the vital necessity of nurturing this interconnectedness, the ecological, social and spiritual web is tearing. But if we care at all, we still have a little time to mend the tears. For anyone interested in being a part of the solution, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home” is a must read!
Back in the mid-1980s, I was working as a director of religious education at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in western Maryland.That part of Maryland, like parts of 12 other U.S. eastern states – from Alabama to New York, and all of West Virginia – is part of the Appalachian Mountain region.In those days, as I got to know the beauty of Appalachia, and some of the simple, friendly and caring mountain folks, I discovered the grinding poverty many of them were experiencing. Hidden largely out of sight in the mountains and hollows were people living in shacks with no indoor plumbing. They would haul water from the nearest spring. Since there were very few jobs and inadequate public services, most of them were stuck in their poverty. I remember Judy, who helped with our special education Bible class. The winter before we met, she and her family lived in a tent in the mountain woods. It’s a miracle they survived. I remember Dagwood, an older man who cared for his two little granddaughters in a small run-down shack with a floor composed of dirt and rotten wood. I remember a lady of 80 years. Habitat for Humanity volunteers built her an indoor toilet. Up to that point she was using an outhouse.I remember the family that didn’t even have an outhouse. Before Habitat built them one, they were using the woods. And I remember the coal companies. Their deep mining, and mountaintop removal mining, raped the land, and polluted the air, rivers and streams. Their blasting regularly damaged the houses of many already poor Appalachian residents. And sadly, these abuses continue to this day.But you can help correct some of this injustice. Please urge your U.S. representative to co-sponsor the “Appalachian Emergency Community Health Act” (H.R. 912) which is designed to determine the health hazards of mountaintop removal coal mining, and hopefully lead to its end. And urge your two U.S. senators to introduce a companion bill in the Senate.To learn more about the dangers of mountaintop removal mining please visit http://acheact.org/. And consider visiting the “Catholic Committee of Appalachia” http://www.ccappal.org/, and “Glenmary Home Missioners” http://www.glenmary.org/about-us/ to learn more about the church’s ministry in Appalachia. Forty years ago the Catholic bishops of the Appalachian region wrote a document that reflects the courage of a prophet, the intellect of a sage, and the beauty of a poet. It deserves to be considered among the great works of American literature.“This Land is Home to Me,” is a pastoral letter that reflects the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains, as well as the powerlessness of many of its inhabitants.The bishops wrote, “Appalachia makes us think of people who live in the hills, who love nature’s freedom and beauty, who are alive with song and poetry. But many of these people are poor and suffer oppression. …“Their cry is a strong message … because the truth of Appalachia is harsh. … The truth of Appalachia is judgment upon us all, making hard demands on us bishops, as well as on others … We must remind ourselves that the poor are special in the eyes of the Lord.”The bishops wrote that the destructive growth patterns of corporate giants like the coal companies often pollute the air, foul the water and rape the land.They declared, “The driving force behind this perversion is ‘Maximization of Profit,’ a principle which too often converts itself into an idolatrous power. … It delivers up control to a tiny minority whose values then shape our social structures. … It has become clear to us that the present economic order does not care for its people. In fact, profit and people frequently are contradictory. Profit over people is an idol. … This is not a problem only for mountain folk; it is everybody’s problem.” Now that’s prophetic!I have only scratched the surface of this beautifully powerful document. Do yourself, Appalachia, and the world a favor, by reading “This Land is Home to Me.” It will challenge you to make a difference! I leave you with its inspiring closing words: “The dream of the mountains’ struggle, the dream of simplicity and of justice, like so many other repressed visions, is, we believe, the voice of the Lord among us.“In taking them up, hopefully the church might once again be known asa center of the Spirit,a place where poetry dares to speak,where the song reigns unchallenged,where art flourishes,where nature is welcome, where little people and little needs come first,where justice speaks loudly,where in a wilderness of idolatrous destruction the great voice of God still cries out for life.”