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U.S. bishops call for solidarity with Middle East victims of violence, refugees

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WASHINGTON — Christians and all people in the Middle East need the solidarity of the U.S. Catholic Church, said the chairmen of three committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the head of the Catholic Relief Services board.

The damaged entrance of St. Mary's Church is seen in 2016 in Damascus, Syria. Christians and all people in the Middle East need the solidarity of the U.S. Catholic Church, said the chairmen of three committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the head of the Catholic Relief Services board. (CNS photo/Mohammed Badra, EPA)

The damaged entrance of St. Mary’s Church is seen in 2016 in Damascus, Syria. Christians and all people in the Middle East need the solidarity of the U.S. Catholic Church, said the chairmen of three committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the head of the Catholic Relief Services board. (CNS photo/Mohammed Badra, EPA)

“A concern for our Christian brethren is inclusive and does not exclude a concern for all the peoples of the region who suffer violence and persecution, both minorities and majorities, both Muslims and Christians,” said a Feb. 10 statement from four bishops.

“To focus attention on the plight of Christians and other minorities is not to ignore the suffering of others,” the statement said. “Rather, by focusing on the most vulnerable members of society, we strengthen the entire fabric of society to protect the rights of all.”

The group included Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace; Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the Committee on Migration; and Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, New York, chairman of the board of Catholic Relief Services.

The group pointed to the findings of a recent USCCB delegation to Iraq, which confirmed that Christians, Yezidis, Shiite Muslims and other minorities had experienced genocide at the hands of the Islamic State group.

“It is important for Syrians and Iraqis of all faiths to recognize this as genocide, for that recognition is a way to help everyone come to grips with what is happening and to form future generations that will reject any ideology that leads to genocidal acts and other atrocities,” the bishops said in their statement.

The bishops called on Americans to accept “our nation’s fair share” of vulnerable families, regardless of religion and ethnicity, for resettlement as refugees. They called for special consideration of the victims of genocide and other violence.

They urged the U.S. to encourage the Iraqi government and the regional government in Irbil, Iraq, to “strengthen the rule of law based on equal citizenship and ensure the protection of all.”

U.S. aid should assist local and national efforts to improve policing and the court system and encourage local self-governance, the bishops said. Similar efforts are needed in Syria as well, they said.

The U.S. also can provide “generous” humanitarian and development assistance to refugees, displaced people and Iraqi and Syrian communities as they rebuild, the statement said. Such funding can be directed in part to “trusted faith-based nongovernmental agencies” such as Catholic Relief Services and local Caritas agencies, the bishops said.

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Bishop Malooly leads ecumenical prayer service for peace and justice in communities

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Dialog Editor

“Strip away pride, suspicion and racism so that we may seek peace and justice in our communities,” Bishop Malooly prayed at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Wilmington Sept. 9.

Bishop Malooly delivers he homily during the Ecumenical Prayer Service for the National Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities at the Cathedral of St. Peter, Friday, Sept. 9,. (The Dialog/www.DonBlakePhotography.com)

Bishop Malooly delivers he homily during the Ecumenical Prayer Service for the National Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities at the Cathedral of St. Peter, Friday, Sept. 9,. (The Dialog/www.DonBlakePhotography.com)

He was leading an ecumenical prayer service the U.S. bishops called for during the National Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities.

The national event was scheduled in response to recent “racially-related shootings in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis and Dallas,” Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, president of the USCCB said in July.

Ministers of other faith communities joined Bishop Malooly at the cathedral for the service, along with priests, deacons, parishioners and students of the diocese.

The bishop said Sept. 9 was picked for the national day of prayers because it’s the feast day of St. Peter Claver, a patron saint of African peoples and the patron of the Knights and Ladies Auxiliary of Peter Claver in the diocese at St. Joseph Church.

Bishop Malooly noted that at St. Peter Claver Parish in Baltimore City, parishioners had started a dialogue with city police and staged peace walks four years before the Freddie Gray tragedy in the area.

“They’ve been doing many things since then to try to bring people together, the bishop said. “It’s something that’s very important.”

The first reading at the service from the Book of Genesis recalled that everything in God’s creation was good, including mankind created in God’s image.

“But then sin came” and rejection came from man, the bishop noted.

The bishop told a personal story exemplifying the fall.

“Ten years ago, I was held up at gunpoint in Baltimore City,” he said. Because he had recently served on a jury, he recognized the gun as a quick-trigger gun.

“I gave the two young fellows, they were 15 and 16, a couple of dollars I had. Then I walked away and heard a gun go off about three blocks later.”

One of the robbers had shot himself in the leg.

The bishop encountered the young men a month later in a courtroom. Then he saw two women crying on a bench “holding hands and sobbing.” They were the boys’ mothers.

“They had tried everything they could to keep them on the narrow and right path, but the drug culture and crime-ridden area of East Baltimore was just too much.

“We have to try to make everything good again,” Bishop Malooly said.

The second reading of the service quoted St. Paul’s words to the Galatians, that through baptism, “there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female, for you are one in Christ.”

The message is clear, the bishop said. “It is so important to look at every individual person and not put anybody into a category but to recognize each person is a creation of God and try to make their place in life a little bit better.”

The Gospel from John at the service recounted Jesus telling his disciples that the father would send them the Holy Spirit to “teach you everything and remind you of all I have told you.”

The message not to be afraid and that the Holy Spirit would empower the disciples applies to us in our lives of service and ministry to others, the bishop said.

To build peace in our community, Bishop Malooly recommended three things to do as individuals, as faith communities and as parishes — prayer, conversation and ministry.

“Let us always be conscious of God’s presence and the importance of sharing prayer with one another,” the bishop said.

“Conversation is important. It’s what’s been happening at St. Peter Claver in Baltimore, a longstanding tradition of having the police and citizens speak to each other. Listen and try to understand where people are, what’s difficult for them.”

As for ministry, the bishop noted that “our various congregations within the city do many things. We take care of the poor; we have schools and a hospital not far from here. We have health resources; we have food pantries. We do a lot of these things because we are Christians.”

Bishop Malooly quoted Pope Francis on mission and mercy: “God’s mercy is infectious and must be shared with others. Mercy is a journey that departs from the heart to arrive at the hands.”

‘Too much violence’

Following the service Rev. Bob Hall, executive director of United Methodist Church Peninsula Delaware Conference, hailed the multi-faith service.

“We have to engage in ecumenical activities; it’s important because the Lord has directed us to do it.

“In this cause, bringing the faith community into play on the problems of racism and violence — it can’t be more important. Who’s going to do it, if we don’t?”

Franciscan Father Paul Williams, pastor of St. Joseph’s in Wilmington and head of the diocesan Ministry for Black Catholics, called the prayer service is a good start.

“I’m praying it will be because there’s too much violence here in Wilmington for it being such a small town. If you want to stop something like this, first of all get on your knees and beg for God’s mercy and grace, because it’s his grace that will strengthen us to be able to make a change in our society.”

Communication is crucial in peace making, Father Williams said, “because without dialogue everything remains the same. The community needs to be able to trust the police and the police need to be able to trust the community.”

At St. Joseph’s, the pastor said, “We work with Urban Promise (a citywide ecumenical organization)” to provide programs year-round for young people in the neighborhood.

“Every year we have a major coat drive where we give a coat to the children in the neighborhood. And we just recently had a backpack program for the start of school.”

Brenda Burns, a St. Joseph parishioner and member of the Peter Claver Auxiliary at the parish, said that the community needs “to continue with conversation and dialogue between all the denominations that were here and those that are not here. We have to get control of our neighborhoods. We have to teach our children how to have better coping skills and deal with adversity.

“That’s what it will take — prayer, conversation and implementing a positive plan.”

More dialogue

Creating peace, racial and otherwise is “a complex issue,” said Deacon Robert Cousar, who ministers at St. Joseph’s.

The quest to end violence and racism “has to translate into mutual respect, more dialogue, getting to know people rather than allowing cultural stereotypes to inhibit our relationships and create fear,” said the deacon.

“People avoid the issue, even talking about it. It comes to the point where we need to collaborate. I can’t answer for the community but I know there must be more dialogue than there has been.

“A lot of people have a judgment on the Black Lives Matter movement. But not all the people are racist. Their primary point is that many African-Americans feel devalued, feel that they have no worth in the eyes of the majority.

“We’ve been subject to benign neglect. It’s no longer benign but the [lack] of black jobs in the community, the mass incarceration rate that we’re seeing, the lack of resources for mental health, the three strikes you’re out [sentencing]. How can a person live with no support, no resources whatever.

“We need more people willing to engage and dialogue, willing to reach out to the African-American community without being judgmental when protests arise over police brutality. Many African-Americans are in law enforcement. We rely upon that service and protection and we appreciate their dedication and the risks that they take every day. I just ask people not to be so judgmental but to try to put themselves in other people’s shoes.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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South Sudan church leaders condemn violence, pray for dead

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JUBA, South Sudan — South Sudan’s church leaders said they are extremely disturbed about heavy fighting in the capital, Juba, which has raised widespread fears that the country is returning to civil war.

“We condemn all acts of violence without exception,” the South Sudan Council of Churches said, noting that it is “time to build a peaceful nation.”

South Sudanese policemen and soldiers stand guard along a street following renewed fighting July 10 in Juba. South Sudan's church leaders said they are extremely disturbed about heavy fighting in the capital, which has raised widespread fears that the country is returning to civil war. (CNS photo/Reuters)

South Sudanese policemen and soldiers stand guard along a street following renewed fighting July 10 in Juba. South Sudan’s church leaders said they are extremely disturbed about heavy fighting in the capital, which has raised widespread fears that the country is returning to civil war. (CNS photo/Reuters)

“We pray for those who have been killed, and for their families, and we ask God’s forgiveness for those who have done the killing,” the leaders said in a July 10 statement read on national radio.

“However, we also urge repentance and a firm commitment from all armed individuals, forces and communities, and from their leaders, to create an atmosphere where violence is not an option,” they said.

Violent clashes between forces loyal to the president and those loyal to the vice president spread across the city July 10, a day after South Sudan’s fifth anniversary of its independence. The outburst was a resumption of fighting two days earlier in which at least 100 people died.

“We, the leaders of the church in South Sudan, are extremely disturbed about the fatal shootings” in Juba, said the church leaders’ statement.

“We make no judgment as to how or why they occurred, nor who is to blame, but we note with concern that there have been a number of incidents recently, and that tension is increasing,” the council said.

Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro of Juba represents the Catholic Church on the council.

For nearly a year, South Sudan has been trying to emerge from a civil war caused by political rivalry between Vice President Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir. The rivalry began in December 2013 and has left tens of thousands of people dead.

The church leaders said that they were encouraged by a joint call for calm issued by Kiir and Machar after the July 8 violence that began outside the presidential compound in Juba where they were meeting.

“We add our voices to theirs and urge soldiers and civilians to refrain from provocative words and actions, and to do everything in their power to avoid escalating the situation,” the council said.

The church leaders said that they are also concerned that the latest armed clashes are not confined to Juba and noted the shooting death in May of Holy Spirit Missionary Sister Veronika Terezia Rackova, director of St. Bakhita Medical Center in Yei, a city about 100 miles east of Juba, and other deaths “so common that they pass almost unnoticed.”

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the “senseless violence” in a July 10 statement, noting that the fighting “has the potential of reversing the progress made so far in the peace process.”

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Analysis: Church urging nations to address ongoing issues related to drugs

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Catholic News Service

Heroin and painkillers plague the streets of U.S. cities and small towns. Mexican drug cartels have turned swaths of that country into battle zones. In South Africa, young people are getting hooked on a drug made from a medication meant to fight HIV.

Around the globe, a worldwide addiction to illicit drugs is fueling violence, human trafficking, a proliferation of guns, organized crime and terrorism, the Vatican has said.

å sign marks the entrance to the Neonatal Therapeutic Unit at Cabell Huntington Hospital in West Virginia, where staff members have acted to treat an increasing number of drug-dependent newborns. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

å sign marks the entrance to the Neonatal Therapeutic Unit at Cabell Huntington Hospital in West Virginia, where staff members have acted to treat an increasing number of drug-dependent newborns. (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

Now, as the U.N. General Assembly prepares to meet April 19-21 for a special session on the issue, the church is calling on governments and civil society groups to address a problem that has existed for decades but continues to morph and pose new threats.

“From poor rural workers in war-torn zones of production to affluent metropolitan end-users, the illicit trade in drugs is no respecter of national boundaries or of socioeconomic status,” Msgr. Janusz Urbanczyk, Vatican observer to U.N. agencies in Vienna, wrote in the statement. “International solutions require therefore, that effective efforts be indeed focused in zones of production but must also address the underlying causes for the demand in illegal drugs.”

The Vatican position puts it at the center of a tense policy that will play out at the highest levels of the United Nations.

On one side, governments like Guatemala, Colombia and Mexico, which requested the U.N. session, are pushing for new policies, such as improved treatment, providing assistance to grow different crops for farmers who cultivate illicit drugs and alternatives to incarceration for drug users. On the other hand, powerful U.N. members, including China, Russia and Egypt, remain in favor of the prohibitionist war on drugs.

“The Catholic Church is clearly calling for a public health approach, which is similar to the position the U.S. government has taken,” said Coletta Youngers, a former church worker in Latin America and senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America, which is in favor of reforming drug policy. “At the same time, I find a lot of the language inflammatory, particularly that it still maintains support for criminalizing drug use.”

On March 29, U.S. President Barack Obama reiterated that his administration wants more treatment options.

“The most important thing to do is reduce demand. And the only way to do that is to provide treatment, to see it as public health problem and not a criminal problem,” he said.

RISING HOMICIDE RATES

Meanwhile, drug addiction and violence related to drug trafficking is affecting nearly every area of the world, including Central America and Mexico, where spiking homicide rates are pushing residents to flee to the United States.

Mexico launched a crackdown on drug cartels and organized crime 10 years ago but has been plagued by violence ever since, with more than 100,000 dead and 20,000 people missing. Criminal groups have gotten smaller as their leaders are captured or killed and such groups subsequently have taken up activities such as extortion and kidnapping.

The groups also get into small-time drug dealing, another source of violence as they dispute territories. Father Robert Coogan, prison chaplain in the city of Saltillo, a northeastern Mexican city near Monterrey, recalls having a stream of new inmates, previously involved in small-time drug dealing, arrive in the late 2000s with stories of the police raiding their homes and planting evidence.

Drug use increased in Mexico at around the same time, he said. Analysts attribute that to cartels paying their underlings in drugs to be resold.

“I wish people would look more at the society have that makes people want to do drugs,” Father Coogan said. “Rather than try to prohibit from doing certain things, I would want a society where people wouldn’t feel the urge to do these self-destructive things.”

A WORLD ADDICTED

Governments and civil society groups are grappling how to deal with the scourge: from Argentina to Afghanistan, where poppy, the heroin opium precursor, has become a cash crop for the Taliban; from South Africa to Lake Orion, Michigan, where Robert Koval runs Guest House, a residential rehabilitation facility that has been treating clergy and men and women religious for 60 years.

“I think attention to the issue has spiked in recent years because there’s this question on how to get your arms around a problem that is so rampant,” said Koval, the facility’s president and CEO. Guest House treats about 70 people a year.

Koval said the problem has morphed in recent years as more people have become addicted to opioids, including prescription painkillers, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says has led to an epidemic of drug overdoses. In 2014, more than 28,600 deaths were caused by opioid overdoses, triple the number from 2000, according to CDC figures.

Those being treated are also becoming younger, Koval said. “It’s what you see in the general population, with drug abuse increasing among young adults.”

Drug addiction among young adults is a problem Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban sees across South Africa, where HIV patients are being robbed of their medications, which are used to make an addictive drug called whoonga.

“The brokenness of the people I saw recently in an outreach clinic and the fact that most of them were teenagers or in their 20s hit me hard,” Cardinal Napier said of a trip to the coastal city of Durban, where drug abuse is the largest problem after disease related to malnutrition and HIV.

The Vatican’s call to improve health care services would help in places like Kenya, where there are too few practitioners to serve the country of 44 million, particularly in rural areas, said Bishop Emanuel Barbara of Malindi.

“Kenyans have become obsessive about taking drugs as the only way to heal,” he said. That’s a problem because medication widely banned in other countries is fully available in Kenya and many “fake drugs” can be found on drugstore shelves.

Luis Lora said there were few treatment options in Ozama, a hardscrabble neighborhood in Santo Domingo, when his alcoholism gave way to a crack cocaine addiction that cost him his marriage and his job as a bus driver.

“There was nowhere to go for help, and it was an embarrassment for me to talk about it with the people I knew,” he said.

Lora, who eventually entered a rehab facility, said that others he knew, “never got help.”

CALLS TO LEGALIZE

While countries such as Portugal and the Netherlands have long since decriminalized drug use, the debate has only more recently come to the Americas. In recent years, nearly half of U.S. states have passed laws legalizing marijuana use in some form, predominantly for medical use. And Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Guatemala and Honduras have debated liberalizing drug laws or decriminalizing drug use.

When the Mexican Supreme Court ruled in November in favor of four petitioners seeking an injunction to grow and consume marijuana for recreational reasons, Catholic leaders condemned the decision as putting Mexico on the path to legalization. An editorial in the Archdiocese of Mexico’s weekly magazine said it would move the country “toward individual destruction.”

Pope Francis has taken a hardline approach against any forms of drug legalization, including recreational drugs.

“Drug addiction is an evil, and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise,” he said at the International Drug Enforcement Conference in Rome in 2014.

In the pope’s home country, Argentina, Father Jose Maria di Paola, who works with drug addicts in the shanties of Buenos Aires, said drug legalization would do further harm to the poor.

“Why is this our position on legalization? Because we live in marginal and poor environments impacted by drugs. In these places, it’s synonymous with death. It has nothing to do with recreation,” he said in a 2015 interview. “It has nothing to do with morality. It has to do with an analysis of the reality.”

Contributing to this story were David Agren in Mexico City and Bronwen Dachs in Cape Town, South Africa.

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Church leaders in Holy Land say occupation is root cause of violence there

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Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — The church must speak out against the continuing Israeli-Palestinian violence and remind people of their responsibilities, said representatives of the Catholic ordinaries of the Holy Land.

Church leaders, bishops. Holy Land, cause of violence, Israeli-Palestinian, violence, occupation, root cause,  Israeli occupation, Palestinian lands, Commission of Justice and Peace, of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries,

Palestinians mourn the death of Iyad Omar Ssjadiyya during his funeral at a refugee camp in Qalandia, West Bank, March 1. He was killed during an Israeli operation to rescue two soldiers who had entered the camp in their military vehicle. (CNS photo/Atef Safadi, EPA)

They also said the root cause of the problem is the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, which only the Israelis can bring to an end.

“We are called to speak out again and again. We have no political or military force, but we do have voices to be used to name things by their name and to call to responsibility. We have the responsibility to remind one and all that we are all human beings. We mourn every death by violence from both sides. We need to constantly renew the dream that there can be justice and peace for all,” the Commission of Justice and Peace of the Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land said March 22.

“We repeat again that we, as disciples of Christ, condemn violence on all sides. Violence is violence and only begets more violence. We, as created in the image and likeness of our Father, need to learn another way to solve the conflict,” the commission added.

In the statement titled “Beyond Occupation and Confrontation Toward a Common Understanding,” the Catholic leaders noted that while some people seek dialogue and ways toward peace, the politicians are continuing to make decisions that “strengthen separation, discrimination, exclusion and exile,” which lead to hopelessness and violence, especially among the youth, who feel they have nothing to lose and no future.

“The only way to end supposed incitement and teaching new generations about the ‘enemy’ is to end occupation. Only the occupier can do that,” they said. “It is only ending the occupation that will ultimately put an end to violence, the violence of the occupier and the occupied alike.”

“We believe in a kingdom of God that is already among us and not yet manifest,” they said. “In this kingdom, there are no enemies, but only brothers of one loving Father. In this kingdom, there are no borders, no walls, no fences but only one holy land in which people talk peace with one another. We refuse to be silent and we refuse to stop hoping.”

The Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land includes the region’s Catholic bishops and the Franciscan custos of the Holy Land.

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‘No more death, no more exploitation,’ Pope Francis says at U.S.-Mexico border

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Catholic News Service

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — Speaking from the symbolic platform of the U.S.-Mexico border, Pope Francis pleaded for the plight of immigrants while warning those refusing to offer safe shelter and passage that their actions and inhospitable attitudes were bringing about dishonor and self-destruction as their hearts hardened and they “lost their sensitivity to pain.”

Pope Francis prays at a cross on the border with El Paso, Texas, before celebrating  Mass at the fairgrounds in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Feb. 17. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis prays at a cross on the border with El Paso, Texas, before celebrating Mass at the fairgrounds in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Feb. 17. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Recalling the story of Jonah and his instructions from God to save the sinful city of Ninevah by telling the residents that “injustice has infected their way of seeing the world,” Pope Francis’ homily called for compassion, change and conversion on migration issues.

He alluded to Mexico and the United States as Ninevah, the city he said was showing symptoms of “self-destruction as a result of oppression, dishonor, violence and injustice.” He also said mercy was a way to win over opponents.

He also preached urgency.

“We cannot deny the humanitarian crisis which in recent years has meant the migration of thousands of people, whether by train or highway or on foot, crossing hundreds of kilometers through mountains, deserts and inhospitable areas,” Pope Francis said Feb. 17 to hundreds of thousands of people from both sides of the border.

“The human tragedy that is forced migration is a global phenomenon today. This crisis, which can be measured in numbers and statistics, we want to measure instead with names, stories and families.”

The Mass capped a six-day trip to Mexico in which Pope Francis traveled to the northern and southern borders and denounced the indignities of discrimination, corruption and violence. During the trip he also asked oft-oppressed indigenous peoples for their forgiveness and chastised the privileged political and business classes, saying their exclusionary actions were creating “fertile ground” for children to fall into organized crime and drug cartels.

Pope Francis delivered his homily a stone’s throw from the Rio Grande, which has swallowed so many migrants over the years as they vainly tried to enter the United States in search of bettering their lot in life and, more recently, escaping violence enveloping Central America.

The Mass was celebrated as a binational event with thousands watching across the Rio Grande in El Paso and in a college football stadium. Pope Francis saluted the crowds watching at the Sun Bowl stadium and Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso for providing technological connections that allowed them to “pray, sing and celebrate together” and “make us feel like a single family and the same Christian community.”

The pope focused on migration, along with the dangers migrants encounter en route to their destinations and the difficulties of surviving on the margins of society without protections.

“Being faced with so many legal vacuums, they get caught up in a web that ensnares and always destroys the poorest,” Pope Francis said.

Migration has marked Mexico for generations, though the number of Mexicans leaving the country is now surpassed by those returning, involuntarily or otherwise, as poor job prospects, an increasingly fortified border and anti-immigration initiatives prompt most to stay put.

Ironically, Mexico has assumed an unlikely role over the past several years: enforcer as it detains and deports record numbers of Central Americans trying to transit the country, while many more of those migrants are preyed upon by criminals and corrupt public officials and suffer crimes such as kidnap, robbery and rape. The Mexican crackdown came after thousands of Central American children streamed through Mexico in 2014, seeking to escape forced enlistment in gangs and hoping to reunite with parents living in the shadows of American society, working minimum-wage jobs to support children left with relatives they hadn’t seen in years.

“Each step, a journey laden with grave injustices. … They are brothers and sisters of those excluded as a result of poverty and violence, drug trafficking and criminal organizations,” Pope Francis said, while lauding the priests, religious and lay Catholics who accompany and protect migrants as they move through Mexico, acts of compassion not always popular with the authorities.

“They are on the front lines, often risking their own lives,” he said. “By their very lives they are prophets of mercy. They are the beating heart and accompanying feet of the church that opens its arms and sustains.”

“They are brothers and sisters of those excluded as a result of poverty and violence, drug trafficking and criminal organizations,” Pope Francis said. “Injustice is radicalized in the young. They are ‘cannon fodder,’ persecuted and threatened when they try to flee the spiral of violence and hell of drugs. Then there are the women unjustly robbed of their lives.”

Pope Francis ended his homily by returning to the example of Jonah and his call for conversion in Ninevah. He called “mercy, which always rejects wickedness,” a way to win over opponents, saying it “always appeals to the latent and numbed goodness in every person,” and urged people to follow Jonah’s example.

“Just as in Jonah’s time, so too today may we commit ourselves to conversion,” Pope Francis said. “May we commit ourselves to conversion. May we be signs lighting the way and announcing salvations.”

Ciudad Juarez once held the dubious distinction of “murder capital of the world.” More than 10,000 lives were lost between 2008 and 2012 as drug cartels battled over a coveted smuggling route and young people were seduced by easy money into illegal activities that led to their deaths.

The pope’s visit was promoted by civic officials as a rebirth for Ciudad Juarez, though priests say the city still suffers vices such as exclusion and violence, in lower numbers than before, and jobs with low salaries and long hours in the booming factory for export economy, all of which strain family life.

 

Follow Agren on Twitter: @el_reportero.

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Violence flares again near Jerusalem’s holiest site

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Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — It has been painful to watch as violence has taken over Jerusalem once again, especially along the Via Dolorosa, where Jesus suffered in order to dissuade the use of violence, said Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali, Latin Patriarchate chancellor.

This violence goes against Jerusalem’s vocation as a holy city, which should be open to all people of faith, he said.

The gold-covered Dome of the Rock at the Temple Mount complex is seen in this overview of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives Sept. 28. (CNS photo/Atef Safadi, EPA)

The gold-covered Dome of the Rock at the Temple Mount complex is seen in this overview of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives Sept. 28. (CNS photo/Atef Safadi, EPA)

“We are shocked at what is happening,” Bishop Shomali told Catholic News Service in mid-October, after two weeks of unrest. “Violence does not help. We do not accept violence by any side.”

“We need the Lord’s help, He is the strong one in this situation,” added Bishop Shomali. “Our human efforts are not enough. We are for prayer.”

The fighting began following the late-September visit of Israeli Agricultural Minister Uri Ariel to one of the smallest contested spots on earth, a 36-acre compound known by Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif and by Jews as the Temple Mount. The Israeli minister’s visit stirred controversy after he used the opportunity to say a blessing for the Jewish new year.

Today, the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock stand on the spot, which is the third-holiest site for Muslims, who believe their prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven on a white stallion from this spot.

However, this site is also revered as the holiest site in Judaism, as the place where the two Jewish biblical temples stood. Here Jews believe Abraham was called upon by God to sacrifice his son Isaac; Muslims believe it was his son with Hagar, Ishmael, whom Ibrahim, as Abraham is known by Muslims, was asked to sacrifice.

Christians also believe the site to be holy as the place where Mary and Joseph took the infant Jesus for the traditional Jewish ceremonial redemption of the firstborn and where Jesus returned numerous times to teach and preach.

A tenuous status quo agreement has been in place since 1967, when Israel gained control of the site from Jordan. The Islamic Waqf Authority, under the Jordanian king, controls the area, while Israeli security forces have control over the entrances to the compound. Neither Christian nor Jewish prayer is allowed on the site, though members of both faiths are permitted to visit during visiting hours reserved for non-Muslims. Jewish worshippers pray below at the Western Wall, which was a retaining wall for Herod’s Second Temple on the platform above.

The new wave of violence is taking place in the wake of rumors that Israel plans to change the established status quo and take over the compound, a charge the Israeli government denies.

The tensions have been fueled by continuing visits of ultra-religious Jews who attempt to pray at the site. A group of Palestinian women have been harassing Jews visiting the compound and were banned from entering it in September.

Holy Cross Father Russ McDougall, rector of Tantur Ecumenical Institute, noted that, unlike Christian theology, both Judaism and Islam share the concept of having sovereignty over a holy place. Still, he added, though the spark that ignited this round of violence was the conflict over the holy site, it is also the result of pent-up Palestinian frustration at both Israeli policies and Palestinian corruption.

“In a perfect world it would be wonderful if Jews, Christians and Muslims were to pray alongside one another,” said Father McDougall, quoting the book of Isaiah, in which God says his house will become a house of prayer for all people. “Unfortunately, we are not quite ready for that. It is a very fraught issue, while the vision is beautiful.”

Mustafa Abu Sway, associate professor of philosophy and Islamic studies at Al-Quds University and a lecturer on Islam at the Tantur institute, said Israel began changing the status quo after the second intifada by allowing large groups of Israeli settlers into the compound. He said that, before that time, there were no problems with visitors to the site.

“There are no prayers there, whether Christian or Jewish,” he said. For Muslims, the entire compound is considered to be the Al-Aqsa mosque, he said. “It is a mosque there for 1,400 years. When you go visit any place you are expected to behave according to the rules. I have the utmost respect for anyone as long as they recognize it is a mosque and will continue to be a mosque. There is no partnership, no sharing.

“Those Jews trying to pray at the compound do not really reflect the Israeli side in terms of their actions,” he added.

In Judaism, one of the basic definitions of holiness is that the holy not be touched or entered, noted Tomer Persico, a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute. Orthodox rabbinical convention holds that Jews are not permitted to enter the Temple Mount compound.

Persico said the change came when, in 1996, a group of rabbis from the settlements, fearing that the Oslo peace accords would force Israel into relinquishing control over the site and over East Jerusalem, decreed Jews were allowed to ascend to the Temple Mount. Until then, he said, most Jews visiting the Temple Mount were secular and went as tourists. Those religious Jews wanting to go up to pray were seen as eccentric, he said.

“There is no doubt something major is happening,” he said of the current situation. “What is happening is a departure from tradition.”

“The Temple Mount has come to symbolize a national focal point in which the fate of the whole Jewish sovereignty of the Land of Israel is to be decided,” said Persico.

A parallel process has occurred for Muslims over the past 20 years, he said, and the compound has become first and foremost a symbol of nationalism, with the Al-Aqsa mosque coming to define Palestinian identity as Arabs.

Rabbi Ada Zavidov, who leads the Reform Har’el Congregation located in downtown Jerusalem, not far from the Old City, noted that the Temple Mount is Judaism’s only holy place.

“We know that human history is full of bloodshed perpetrated on the basis of religion. Our sages have a saying: ‘For the sake of peace,’” she said. “And if going up to the Temple Mount causes the opposite of peace, then we have to avoid this.”

While Israel has placed age limits and conditions on Muslims who can go to pray there, for perceived security concerns, Abu Sway, who has passed the age requirement, said there is still “something that catches you despite all the violence” when he goes to pray at Al-Aqsa. Walking the short distance to the mosque from his East Jerusalem neighborhood, where Israeli police have recently limited traffic, there are “minutes of very beautiful tranquility … it remains holy.”

“The occupation has not prevented people from going to Al-Aqsa. I believe people can coexist, but the power structure here, because of the occupation, is not healthy for us and not healthy for them,” Abu Sway said. “I hope there is a change of heart.”

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Commentary: A native son reflects on Baltimore’s riots

May 21st, 2015 Posted in Uncategorized Tags: , , , ,

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“The God of peace is never glorified by human violence,” wrote the famous Trappist monk Thomas Merton.

Whether it’s on an individual, city, national, or international level, violence always dishonors God, and makes bad situations worse. The recent Baltimore City riots were no exception: people were injured, neighborhood stores were burned, and violence was further engrained into a city and world already steeped in violence. Read more »

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Jesuits say South Africans’ violence against foreign nationals a disgrace

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa — A week of violence targeting foreign nationals and their businesses in Soweto and other Johannesburg townships is a national disgrace and “continues South Africa’s shameful history of xenophobia,” said The Jesuit Institute South Africa.

The attacks and looting that left at least four people dead started Jan. 19 when a Somali national allegedly shot and killed a 14-year-boy who was among a group attempting to break into his shop in Soweto. By Jan. 26, police had arrested more than 160 people for the attacks.

“The savagery demonstrated and the failure to put a stop” to the violence “is deeply disturbing and displays a failure of the state to put an end to such behavior, both by the enforcement of the law and the education of citizens in respect of the rights of foreign nationals,” the institute said in a Jan. 23 statement from its Johannesburg headquarters.

With some South African officials denying that the attacks are motivated by xenophobia, The Jesuit Institute said, “An attack on and the systematic looting of a shop that happens to be owned by a foreigner may not necessarily be xenophobic, but a systematic series of attacks on over 80 such shops and foreign-born persons cannot simply be explained away.”

The fact that the attacks appeared to be coordinated “makes this not so much acts of criminality as acts of political violence against a group. That’s xenophobia,” the institute said.

Xenophobia “is a flagrant act of contempt for the culture of human rights central to our constitution,” the statement said, noting that the bill of rights “does not discriminate between citizens and noncitizens.”

Many young South Africans feel hopeless, The Jesuit Institute said, noting that frustration among the poor is mounting with the government’s failure to address “the growing gap” between the rich and the poor.

Xenophobic violence “is symptomatic of the deep structural problems in South Africa, and foreign nationals have become scapegoats,” it said.

South Africa “must put an end to the shameful phenomenon of xenophobia and xenophobic violence by systematic civic education and by facing the social, economic and political cocktail that leads to fear, hopelessness and anger,” it said.

The institute and its partner organization, Jesuit Refugee Service, called for “all parties involved in these criminal acts to allow the law to take its course and to refrain from targeting vulnerable sectors of the community and victimizing foreigners.”

They urged dialogue “between church leaders, community leaders, local businesses and foreigners” and warned communities “to be wary of being used as pawns” by local business owners.

“Let us look for ways of working together and peaceful co-existence,” they said, noting that the government should educate citizens on the positive social and economic contributions that migrants make to South Africa.

In another Jan. 23 statement, Father David Holdcroft, regional director of Jesuit Refugee Service, called on people “to remain calm in this climate of increasing fear and discontent toward refugees and foreign traders and where opportunistic criminals are targeting vulnerable sectors of the community.”

The Jesuit Institute said that “welcome and hospitality” are key concepts of the Christian faith.

During apartheid, South Africa’s system of racial segregation and discrimination that ended in 1994, other African countries gave refuge to anti-apartheid activists, “often putting themselves at risk of attack by the South African war machine,” it said.

“Our people were treated with warmth and generosity. They were not robbed, murdered, or attacked,” it said.

“Successful states welcome migrants, who bring with them skills, knowledge and a spirit of enterprise that builds up nations,” the institute said, noting that “all research points to the fact that immigration supports economies, generates jobs, and makes societies prosperous in the long run.”

More than 60 people were killed and more than 30,000 people were displaced in attacks on foreigners around South Africa in May 2008.

— By Bronwen Dachs

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Pope to diplomats: False religion rejects God for violent ideology

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Highlighting some of the most urgent conflicts facing the world, Pope Francis said such strife and injustices were rooted in a culture of rejection that refuses to recognize God, to protect nature and to respect other human beings.

Pope Francis speaks during an audience with the Vatican diplomatic corps Jan. 12. (CNS photo/Claudio Peri pool via Reuters)

Pope Francis speaks during an audience with the Vatican diplomatic corps Jan. 12. (CNS photo/Claudio Peri pool via Reuters)

In a wide-ranging speech Jan. 12 to diplomats accredited to the Vatican, the pope urged the world’s governments and individuals to work “to end every form of fighting, hatred and violence, and to pursue reconciliation, peace and the defense of the transcendent dignity of the human person.”

He harshly condemned the “falsification of religion,” which seeks to justify violence in the name of God and called for “heartfelt conversion,” stressing that it was only a “sincere faith in God” that generates peace and dialogue.

The extremist terrorism in Syria and Iraq, he said, “is a consequence of the throwaway culture being applied to God.”

“Religious fundamentalism, even before it eliminates human beings by perpetrating horrendous killings, eliminates God himself, turning him into a mere ideological pretext,” he said.

The pope appealed to the world community to take unanimous action “within the framework of international law” to not only protect victims, but to end the conflicts and restore harmony.

People have chosen to become slaves, he said, “whether to the latest fads, or to power, money or even deviant forms of religion” because their hearts have become “corrupt,” and they are “incapable of recognizing and doing good of pursuing peace.”

The pope’s annual speech looked both at signs of promise and areas of concern around the globe, including the recent slaughter of children in Pakistan, the “tragic slayings” in Paris, the “brutality” and kidnappings in Nigeria, and “the spread of fundamentalist terrorism in Syria and in Iraq.”

The world community must not remain indifferent to the expulsion of Christian minorities in the Middle East, he said, and leaders, especially Muslims, must “condemn all fundamentalist and extremist interpretations of religion which attempt to justify such acts of violence.”

Christians play “a fundamental role as artisans of peace, reconciliation and development” in their communities, and a “Middle East without Christians would be a marred and mutilated Middle East,” he said.

The past year also saw some success stories, the pope said, as he praised the recent rapprochement between the United States and Cuba, calling it “one example close to my heart of how dialogue can build bridges.”

He also highlighted his satisfaction that the United States was taking steps to shut down the Guantanamo detention facilities and thanked those countries that have shown a “generous willingness” to receive the detainees.

The pope’s 34-minute speech was an extension of his hallmark diagnosis of the world’s ills as being rooted in a “throwaway culture, which spares nothing and no one: nature, human beings, and God himself. It gives rise to a humanity filled with pain and constantly torn by tensions and conflicts of every sort.”

Linked to this throwaway culture, he said, is a “mentality of rejection” and enslavement, which spurs nothing but conflict in “bits and pieces” around the world and in communities.

The Christmas season offered an added opportunity to reflect on the “attitude we all share” of rejection — seeing others not as brothers and sisters, but as rivals, unworthy of attention or objects “to be bent to our will.”

The story of Christ is filled with moments of rejection, starting immediately with his birth as he, like many today, was “cast aside, left out in the cold, forced to be born in a stable since there was no room in the inn.”

Christ, like many refugees, was forced to live in exile to escape the slaughter of countless innocents, a tragedy repeated just a month ago in Pakistan, the pope said.

People continue to flee their homelands and many become victims to “unscrupulous and greedy thugs” who put people’s lives in danger with “cruel journeys” to supposed safety.

The pope made special mention of “the alarming fact” that many people who immigrate in “the Americas” are unaccompanied minors, who are even more at risk and are “in need of greater care, attention and protection.”

While many of these tragedies make media headlines, there are plenty of “hidden exiles” and victims who face rejection, even in one’s own home, he said, like the elderly, the sick, the disabled and the young, particularly as they face unemployment and a lack of opportunity.

The family is often seen as “disposable” in today’s individualistic and self-centered culture, he said, resulting in fragile unions and “a dramatic fall in birthrates.”

This selfish mentality affects legislation, too, he said, as it tends to benefit “various forms of cohabitation rather than adequately supporting the family for the welfare of society as a whole.”

The pope also harshly condemned the “horrendous crime, the crime of rape” as an extremely serious “offense against the dignity of women, who are not only violated in body, but also in spirit.”

Peace is not just a gift of God, he said, it is also a personal and social duty that demands “commitment and concern” from everyone.

He recalled how from the “ashes of that immense tragedy” of World War II, a renewed desired for peace and dialogue was born in the form of the United Nations, which marks its 70th anniversary this year.

People can agree to vow to change the future and never again turn to war, he said, citing Pope Paul VI’s speech to the U.N. in 1965.

While Pope Francis said he hoped there soon would be agreement over Iran’s use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, he added that the drafting of a new climate change agreement was especially urgent this year as well as an adoption of Sustainable Development Goals.

The pope noted he was set to leave later the same day for a visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines. He said his second trip to Asia was “a sign of my interest and pastoral concern for the people of that vast continent.”

He emphasized how the Vatican was at the disposal of all governments to contribute to the common good, especially in seeing a resumption of talks between the “sister countries” of North and South Korea.

 

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