CNA Guest Columnist

By Pat McCarthy

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians, who once made up one of the largest Christian communities in the Middle East, are facing double discrimination as displaced persons in their own country or as refugees abroad, according to agencies working in the field.

Agency sources say Christian refugees who have fled their homes in Iraq have been ill-treated in refugee camps and frequently ignored in the selection process for resettlement in other countries or in reconstruction plans within Iraq.

Christians in Iraq – mostly Catholics of the Chaldean rite – numbered over 1.4 million, or 6% of the population, in 1987. After the Iraq War, around 400,000 remained by 2013.

At the end of 2015, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that more than 4.4 million Iraqis were internally displaced, and an additional 264,100 were refugees abroad.

In January this year an alliance of 16 United Kingdom-based agencies working with refugees issued a major report declaring that Christians are not being supported by the international donor institutions and the UNHCR, and are having to rely on churches that are trying to run their own aid programs with limited funds. 

“All the NGOs involved in this report state that the vast majority of Christians and other [non-Muslim] ‘minorities’ avoid UNHCR camps and facilities because of continuing discrimination and persecution,” the report said, adding: “It is utterly unacceptable that a place of sanctuary should be a place of fear that repels those it is designed to save and protect.”

However, the report said those who remain outside UNHCR camps “have fared … unequally in the allocation of international aid, funding, political support, media attention, and asylum placements.”

The 88-page report, published by World Watch Monitor (an agency which “reports the story of Christians around the world under pressure for their faith”) said all the NGOs involved in the report stated that the vast majority of Christians and other “minorities” avoid UNHCR camps and facilities because of continuing discrimination and persecution, so they do not qualify to receive aid.

Noting that it is UNHCR policy not to record refugees’ religious affiliation, the agencies urged the UNHCR to scrap its “need not creed” approach and acknowledge the particular experiences of minorities such as Christians or Yazidis.

They also urged the UNHCR to employ more non-Muslim registration and security staff, and translators, to reduce discrimination against non-Muslims.

The report contained accounts of Christian refugees approaching UNHCR and being referred to local churches rather than being processed in the same way as other applicants. In addition, it said some NGOs which are assisting Christians to leave the region have encountered opposition from the UNHCR either through unnecessary delays or blocked applications.

The report also warned that Christians are being excluded from the National Settlement plan being put together by Iraq and other regional powers and presented to the United Nations, further eroding the likelihood of their return once Islamic State has been militarily defeated there.

What the UK agencies reported about UNHCR camps was reiterated in an article by Samuel Tadros on the ABC [Australia] Religion and Ethics website on January 31, 2017. 

“The prioritization of religious minority application is not only justified, but would also correct a current wrong,” he wrote. “Out of 14,460 Syrian refugees admitted into the United States since 2011, only 182 have belonged to religious minorities – namely, 124 Christians, 25 Yazidis, 6 Zoroastrians, 3 atheists, 2 Baha'is, 14 ‘other’ and 8 with no religion. The reason for such a negligible number of religious minorities is that the United States government depends on the United Nations for choosing applicants from the refugee camps, and religious minorities fear living in those camps as they are subjected to persecution, preferring instead to go to church-run camps.”

An earlier article by Tadros, a senior fellow at the [US] Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, appeared on the same website on December 12, 2016. 

Referring to Christian refugees from Iraq and Syria, he wrote: “Unfortunately there is no longer any Christian presence in a specific geographic location that would allow the creation of a safe haven or a country of their own. There is simply no place for them, no mountain for them, that would protect them.”

The director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, Nina Shea, reported on December 8, 2016, that persecuted Iraqi Christians had been unable to find shelter in UNHCR refugee camps anywhere in the region. 

She wrote: “Monsignor John Kozar of the pontifical Catholic Near East Welfare Association, run by the NY Archdiocese, told a New York conference on Dec. 5 that Christians don’t dare enter UNHCR camps for they would be targeted by Islamic gangs within them. John Pontifex, a director of the papal agency Aid to the Church in Need, emailed me that he visited a UNHCR registered camp in Lebanon, from where, he discovered, all the Christian refugees had fled in fear, opting instead for the cramped but safer quarters of a nearby Christian home.”

In a Wall Street Journal article on October 7, 2016, Shea wrote that the UNHCR had marginalized Christians and others targeted by ISIS for eradication in two critical programs: refugee housing in the region and refugee-resettlement abroad. 

Shea added: “Citing reports from many displaced Christians, a January report on Christian refugees in Lebanon by the Catholic News Service stated: ‘Exit options seem hopeless as refugees complain that the staff members of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees are not following up on their cases after an initial interview.’ This failure could be another example of why the U.N. Internal Audit Division’s April 2016/034 report reprimanded the UNHCR for ‘unsatisfactory’ management…

 “As for why so few Christians and Yazidis are finding shelter in the UNHCR’s regional refugee camps, members of these groups typically say they aren’t safe. Stephen Rasche, the resettlement official for the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese in Erbil, Iraq, told Congress last month that in Erbil ‘there are no Christians who will enter the UN camps for fear of violence against them’…

“Persecuted groups also found no help from the UN-established Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria in its only report on ISIS genocide. Issued in June, the report focused solely on persecuted members of the Yazidi faith. The commission – an influential adviser to the UNHCR – dismissed in a short paragraph the notion that Christians also have been targeted for genocide.”

In an earlier article (July 21, 2016) Shea had written: “Today there is a complete absence anywhere in ISIS-controlled territory of functioning churches, active clergy, and intact Christian communities.

“[I]n the three major areas – Nineveh, Raqqa and Qaryatayn – where ISIS claims to have ‘offered a jizya [per capita tax] option,’ the offer has always, within a short time, been followed by the rape, murder, kidnapping, enslavement, and dispossession of Christians – all acts evidencing the crime of genocide.” 

A Jewish voice in support of Christians facing extinction in the Middle East was heard at an interfaith panel in New York on December 5, 2016.

“Today we are witnessing the world’s indifference to the slaughter of Christians in the Middle East and Africa,” said Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress and former US ambassador to Austria. Referencing the Holocaust, he said, “Since 1945, genocide has occurred again and again. ‘Never Again!’ has become hollow. You can’t just declare genocide and say the job is done. You have to back it up with action.

"Jews know what happens when the world is silent to mass slaughter. We learned it the hard way," Lauder added.

The UK-based Barnabas Fund, an international, interdenominational agency supporting persecuted Christians, has frequently raised concerns about discrimination against Christian refugees fleeing genocide.

In a January 12, 2017, statement, it said: “Christians who have fled Iraq and Syria to nearby countries are largely ignored by the UN, with 97-99% of those refugees selected for resettlement in the UK and USA being Muslims. Meanwhile those Christians who make it on their own to European countries such as Greece, Germany and Sweden are placed in refugee shelters where many are targeted by Islamists and are subjected to death threats and physical violence. At the moment there is little sign that Western countries will significantly alter their policies in either respect.” 

In an earlier statement (December 22, 2016), the Barnabas Fund accused the UNHCR of “institutional discrimination” in how it operates on the ground.

It said this was shown by the fact that the proportion of Christians among Syrian refugees being resettled had fallen to less than 1% in both the UK and the US, despite that fact that prior to the civil war Christians made up around 10% of Syria’s population.

“The fact that they are so grossly underrepresented when they have been specifically targeted for at least the last four and a half years implies that both the US and UK governments would rather outsource their refugee programs to an international body that blatantly discriminates against those facing genocide, than go to the trouble of selecting refugees themselves in a fairer and less discriminatory way. By doing so, they risk seriously tarnishing the previously high reputations of both counties for compassion, fairness and justice.”

This article first appeared on March 20, 2017 at NZ Catholic.

Posted: April 27, 2017, 6:00 am
By Charles Mercier

“As Christ laid down his life for us, so we too ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” The Office of Readings for Wednesday of Holy Week (April 12 this year) has us meditate on 1 John 3.16, as commented on by St. Augustine in his Tractates on John

To this verse Augustine imaginatively applies Proverbs 23.1-2, as he knew it: “If you sit down to eat at the table of a ruler, observe carefully what is set before you; then stretch out your hand, knowing that you must provide the same kind of meal yourself.” If at the Lord’s Eucharistic table we receive as food the body and blood of him who laid down his life for us, we must reciprocate the dinner invitation and lay down our lives in return.

The text of Proverbs that Augustine cites here, however, is different from what we read in our Bibles, including the Vulgate. To work through why that is so teaches us something about how deeply God has implicated himself with the realities of the human condition, not only in his suffering and dying but also in the revealing of his Word. 
     
The story of these verses of Proverbs begins with the Egyptian wisdom writer Amenemope, who sometime in the period 1300-1000 BC wrote a book of Instruction, in which he says:

Do not eat bread before a ruler 
and lunge not with your mouth before a governor. 
If you satisfy yourself with false chewings,
they are a delight only to your spittle. 
Look at the cup that is before you 
and let that alone serve your needs. (chapter 23, translation Pritchard, changed)

The teacher here recommends diplomatic and polite behavior at a banquet: eat cautiously what’s on your plate, not on someone else’s, and be content with what you’re served. But in this he also finds wider moral application: be at peace, untempted by luxuries above your station.

The sacred author of the Biblical book of Proverbs in an inspired way adapted the Instruction of Amenemope for his Jewish audience, particularly in a stretch in chapters 22-24, something we have been able to know and consider only since the first publication of Amenemope in 1923. The Hebrew original of Proverbs 23.1-3, as represented by the translation of the Jewish Publication Society, goes:

1 When you sit down to eat with a ruler,
consider well who is before you.
2 Thrust a knife into your gullet,
if you have a large appetite.
3 Do not crave for his dainties.
for they are counterfeit food.

Proverbs here counsels us stick a knife in our throat before giving in to the gluttony that deceives, the appetites that cause us to overvalue the luxuries that the powerful enjoy. The wise do not envy sinners, but live rather in the fear of the Lord.

Onward from the third century BC the Hebrew Scripture was turned into Greek for dispersed Jewish readers. A close translation of the Greek, Septuagint, version of Proverbs 23.1-3 goes:

1 If ever you sit to dine at the table of rulers,
consider well the things placed before you
2 And cast your hand
knowing that you must prepare such things.
3 And if you are insatiable, do not desire his food
for these are held of a false life.

The Septuagint translation of the Hebrew into Greek often diverges from literal accuracy. This is sometimes due to the translator’s lack of sufficient knowledge of language and style and sometimes the result of the translator’s feeling it responsible and proper to make creative adaptations necessary to convey the Hebrew original intelligibly to those of Greek language and culture. Here, perhaps for both reasons, the translator has not conveyed with perfect accuracy the meaning of the Hebrew original.

Difficulty with verse two is understandable. It begins, “Thrust a sakin belo‘ekha.” Both sakin (‘knife,’ mistranslated as kheira, ‘hand’) and belo‘ekha (‘into your gullet,’ simply omitted) are rare words, occurring only here in the Old Testament, and together make an unusual metaphor: “thrust a knife in your gullet” means “decidedly restrain yourself from gluttony.” “Knowing that you must prepare such things” is an addition to the original. 

In this way does the Septuagint both spare the Greek reader an unpleasantly blunt metaphor and emphasize, appropriately to a Greek culture in which hospitality and reciprocity were important social norms, the dangers of getting in over your head when accepting a dinner invitation too expensive, both monetarily and morally, to reciprocate, even if the food is tasty and the company glamorous.

This is the version that Augustine knew around 400 AD and quoted, in a literal translation of the Greek Septuagint into Latin, verse two of which goes: “et sic pone manum tuam sciens quia talia te oportet praeparare.” (“and so place your hand, knowing that you must prepare such things.”). The regularized Vulgate would have a version closer to the original Hebrew, but that was not the text that Augustine used here.

Augustine then allegorizes the text he received. Allegorical interpretation is, most broadly, to read something in a way other than literally and it was a mode of interpretation characteristic of his time.

The original warning in Greek Proverbs had meant literally something like: “don’t involve yourself in the allurements of the king’s bread and banquet. They are a “counterfeit food,” (“panis mendacii” in the Vulgate), “of a false life,” because you will be ruined, indebted for reciprocity to the falsehoods of wealth and power.” Augustine here takes that out of context, creatively sets it next to the words “we too ought to lay down our lives” from 1 John, and reinterprets it in a positive way: “involve yourself most fully in the bread and banquet of the Holy Eucharist by the fullest reciprocity of the Lord’s gift of his life.”

The rereading is so creative that Augustine has turned the verse into its opposite. Yet Augustine’s non-literal reading of a non-literal translation has paradoxically yielded an interpretation that is true and nourishing: “we in our turn ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”

The chain that links Amenemope to inspired literary adaptation in Proverbs, to non-literal Greek translation in the Septuagint, to the Latin translation read by Augustine that literally translates the non-literalness, to Augustine’s allegorizing, to us who in 2017 are inspired by Augustine’s powerful words in modern English enshrined in the liturgy of Holy Week, is a rich example of the depth of God’s respect and love for humanity and the complexity of his providence in revealing himself.

When he is lifted up Jesus draws all to himself, including Egyptian wisdom sayings. Linguistic contradiction, inevitably a part of translation, is assimilated by the one who has reconciled all things to himself, making peace through the blood of his cross.

If we recognize that in all truth the word of God did not come to us antiseptically but through processes imbued with human limitation, we should not be disturbed, but keep in mind another saying of St. Augustine about the Lord’s passion, read in the church on Wednesday of the fifth week of Lent, that applies also to the way he reveals himself: “When something is said about the Lord Jesus Christ that seems to belong to a condition of lowliness unworthy of God, we must not hesitate to ascribe this condition to one who did not hesitate to unite himself to us.

Posted: April 12, 2017, 6:00 am
By Tina McCormick, PhD

As Catholics, we are not thin-skinned when we encounter and personally experience pain. We are taught about the redemptive qualities of pain and suffering and are taught to embrace it as did Christ. Many saints endured physical suffering to the extreme and identified with Christ in his passion. Various saints chose ascetic practices as part of their vocations. Saint Teresa of Kolkata, not content with ministering to the poor and dying, practiced physical “discipline,” which included self-flagellation and the cilice, to experience the cross more fully and demanded her sisters do the same. To her, pain was no less than a “kiss of Jesus” on the cross.

Yet traditional explanations of the fall of man and our sinfulness may strike us as rather cold, the assurance of redemption through the cross, the sharing of Christ’s cross, as wholly unsatisfactory consolation in the face of life’s struggles and worst horrors. Recently a fire claimed the lives of a mother and four of her five children in the small town of Warwick, Massachusetts. During an unusually cold night in early March, a wood stove in the kitchen caused the infernal blaze. Only the father and one child escaping before the roof collapsed. How, indeed, are we to make sense of such senseless suffering? Most of the time, suffering seems to occur without a valid reason and we fail to see a connection between pain and deserved penance. We might celebrate as a miracle the healing of an eighty-year old following a hundred rosaries but are bewildered when God does nothing to save a four-year old from torture and rape. 

When faced with suffering of such magnitude, redemptive justifications leave us perplexed. It seems reductionist and anti-climactic should God’s mercy, love, and power require any contribution on our part when life’s horrors unfold before our eyes. More satisfying answers must, therefore, be sought outside of the theology of sin and redemption. The key to the mystery of suffering, its causes, its respite, and its role in our salvation, must lie in the fact that God is not only good and omnipotent, but also omnipresent through Christ. Rather than absent from, complaisant in, or even responsible for suffering, God is with us through it. And Christ’s passion on the cross is less a call to share his pain, but, rather, a statement about his closeness to the pain we already endure.

Many of us can become impatient with the apparent glorification of pain, the exaltation of sharing Christ’s passion and focus on heaven, rather than the here and now. Our earthly tasks are far from over and we seek consolation and solutions to real time challenges. We have jobs, homes, and families and children who require our presence of mind in concrete existential matters and their education. As mere mortals, outside of the orderly world of the consecrated, we encounter a world that is arbitrary and unpredictable, cruel, and often frightening. Not only do we endure suffering, but each day brings new and unforeseen challenges that we cannot just face passively in prayer but must overcome in action. When faced with the greatest challenges, the idea of redemption and the promise of heaven provide neither guidance nor respite. When we look at the cross, we seek not theological justification for pain and its exaltation, but consolation. Simply put, we long for a love that helps us endure the pain, not one that demands it.

Not all suffering is the same and neither are its causes. Yet all suffering is an essential part of life and the pre-condition of our freedom. Much suffering results from natural catastrophes, famines, diseases, and accidents. The mercilessness and harshness of the natural world as just as essential to the functioning of nature as are its beauty, grandeur, and abundance. Much, maybe most, suffering is caused by human actions. Conversely, it is human actions that allow for God’s love to become manifest. 

Throughout our lives, we are likely to encounter various types of suffering. First, there is the suffering caused by sin, the willful separation from God, from his graces and the true source of love. Secondly, there is suffering we voluntarily choose in the form of sacrifice in order to direct our attention from the self towards spiritual matters, towards God and the needs of others. Thirdly, as Christians we may experience ridicule, abuse, exclusion, torture, even martyrdom. Fourth, we experience the unavoidable suffering through the various challenges that are essential to life in a natural world of imperfection and potential – disappointments, failures, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, uncertainty, and physical pain. Such a world is the pre-condition of true freedom and only freedom allows us to love God freely.

Finally, there are the great tragedies of life for which we know no words. The loss of a child, chronic and excruciating pain, disfigurement, sudden and senseless death. Such tragedies lead to despair and cynicism, to a breaking point. We might always believe, but life’s struggles may become so overwhelming that even the promise of heaven does not prevent us from “opting out” from God’s plan in anger like Dostoyevsky’s Ivan Karamazov. Mere mortals that we are, we suffer with no end in sight, only believing and hoping for life eternal. And believing is not knowing. Faith is, above all, trust and not certainty.

In Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis acknowledges that “Christians know that suffering cannot be eliminated.” He further points to its possible meaning as “an act of love and entrustment into the hands of God who does not abandon us” and as serving “as a moment of growth and faith” (Encyclical Letter, Lumen Fidei, # 56). But how are we to accomplish this “act of love and entrustment” in the midst of trial and life’s greatest challenges?

We must take heart in the familiarity we have gained with God through Christ. Rather than make himself be seen in spectacular and marvelous ways, God incarnate is now in our midst. Urgent requests for visible signs have become obsolete. According to St. John of the Cross in The Ascent to Mount Carmel, “now that faith in Christ is given and the evangelical law is manifested in this era of grace, there is no need to inquire in this way, nor that He speak or respond as before. For by giving us, as He has done, His Son, His unique Word – there is no other – He has spoken and revealed all things at one time in one Word. There is no need to speak further” (Subida del monte Carmelo, II, 22, Obras completas, ed. L. Ruano de la Iglesia (Madrid, 1989), #3, pp. 200-201).

What are we to make of this paradox of simultaneous closeness and distance? Prayer must no longer be request for miracles, but, rather, an assent to and rejoicing in the consolation already present. In other words, Christ is the answer to all prayers.

Faith often starts with the sense of security that a small child might feel when holding the father’s hand. Inevitably comes a time, when the hand lets go and we feel alone in darkness. It is at such times that reflections on sinfulness and redemption offer little solace. Instead, the Christocentric theological vision of Blessed John Duns Scotus can lead us back to the cross as a symbol of love and a guiding light. Scotus held that God’s uniting with himself the whole of creation was not contingent on man’s fall and that, in fact, the Incarnation was the fulfillment of creation, God’s “original idea,” and the ultimate sign of God’s immense love. Pope Benedict XVI, in his biography of the 13th century Franciscan friar, applauds Scotus’ vision in which “Christ is the center of history and of the cosmos; it is he who gives meaning, dignity, and value to our lives!” (Holy Men and Women, p. 89). Christ’s passion, which is integral to the Incarnation and the Resurrection, must in this sense also be understood culmination and completion of God’s work.

A Christocentric vision affirms that God does not want us to suffer. Indeed, Christ suffered so that we may suffer less. Christ’s pain is, indeed, God’s sharing in the pain of the world, like a mother’s longing to absorb the pain of her child in her arms. Christ’s pain on the cross is a symbol of pure love and a concrete manifestation of God’s empathy. (See also:  http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/cw/post.php?id=763) Once we accept his closeness, we are comforted and can become models of his love. According to Pope Francis, God’s response to suffering is “that of an accompanying goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light” (Lumen Fidei, # 57).

It is in this encounter that we not only feel loved but feel emboldened to face and overcome life’s obstacles. No longer feeling chained to the cross, we may come to recognize that our pain is not a “kiss from Jesus.” On the contrary, we may recognize his love in acts of human kindness and goodness in the most unlikely places. With Christ as our companion, we are, ultimately, set free, loved and thus able to love. This is the true victory over despair that comes through the cross.

In the French director Anne Fontaine’s most recent masterpiece, The Innocents, Benedictine nuns in a Polish convent find themselves at a loss with how to deal with the consequences of their brutal rape by Soviet soldiers at the end of World War Two. Only the courage to act creatively and according to the dictates of love rather than those of the convent allow for God’s graces to shine through. As one of the Sisters states, “we cannot know what God wants. The only truth is His love.” As to the mother and her children who perished in the fire, we must believe that God sent angels to lift them up to his embrace.

Posted: April 3, 2017, 6:00 am
By Cassandra Hackstock

Abuse, terminal illness, the death of a child, emotional torment: each an astounding difficulty in its own right. But did you know that the Martin family – the parents and siblings of St. Therese of Lisiuex – experienced all of these things?  

The Martins are an exceptional model for family life today. They include Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin, St. Therese of the Child Jesus, Sister Francoise-Therese (Leonie Martin), and three devout religious sisters – Marie, Pauline, and Celine, who may also one day advance along the path of canonization. 

But while their faith in God was strong, they experienced an incredible amount of pain, struggle, and hardship mentally and physically. In this crucible of suffering, their acceptance of God's will led them to heroic virtue and saintly lives. Their example is an exemplary one to those who suffer, as can be seen from a closer look into their struggles.

Louis and Zelie Martin had nine children, including the five daughters mentioned above, but tragically lost four of their children. Three passed away as infants, and one, named Helene, suddenly, at age five. 

“I didn't expect such a sudden end, nor did my husband. When he came home and saw his poor little daughter dead, he began to sob, crying, 'My little Helene! My little Helene!' Then, together, we offered her to God,” Zelie wrote in a letter, according to the National Catholic Register.  

Christ was the center of their family life, and they doted on their living children, yet suffered horribly from the loss of their other little ones. How many people long to have a child but cannot, or suffer from repeated miscarriages, or even the death of their children? Burying one's heart in the suffering Christ, as the Martin family did, and offering pain to Him who suffered for humanity, can be redemptive, sanctifying one's own life and the lives of others.

Zelie contracted breast cancer, and died of it after a twelve year struggle. Her death broke her husband's and daughters' hearts, and changed the family forever. Zelie bore the physical scourge of cancer, but also suffered greatly knowing full well how much sorrow it would cause her family to lose her. She kept true to her faith in God's will, and died a saint for Him.

Marie and Pauline mothered the younger girls for a time, but then entered the cloistered convent of Carmel in Lisieux. The family experienced more loss, offering their daughters and sisters to God, but losing them from their daily lives.

Leonie Martin, declared a Servant of God in 2015, had intense trials throughout her life. She is described as having a difficult temperament, and not being as naturally talented as the rest of the family. This caused a great deal of grief to her parents and siblings. Leonie was also abused by a servant, both physically and emotionally, without her mother's knowledge. She entered several convents numerous times, but was rejected again and again. Despite her supposed lack of giftedness and the trauma that she suffered, she never gave up. She kept trying until she was accepted among the Visitation nuns, and kept pursuing Jesus until death. For survivors of abuse and trauma, and the lifelong struggle to overcome obstacles, Leonie is an incredible patron – she knows exactly how hard that battle is.

St. Therese knew trauma, too. Her mother could not nurse her, so Therese went to live with a wet nurse. She did get to see her mother from time to time, but became confused by the constant meetings and partings. As she grew, she had very sensitive feelings and was easily hurt. Her mother died when she was four, and this further disrupted her emotional balance. Although she lived a very virtuous life, she was emotionally hurt and traumatized. 

When she was thirteen, she describes in her writings a “conversion” that took place within her soul. According to Joseph F. Schmidt, FSC, this may have been an emotional healing that freed her from co-dependence and the trauma of loss, and freed her to live totally for Christ. He writes in his book Walking the Little Way of Therese of Lisieux, “Only the inner strength of union with God would allow her to bear in peace the distressing, lingering primary feelings of having been abandoned, of separation and loss that were at the core of her excessive neediness and sensitivity.” Christ did heal her and she was able to rely only on Him, instead of on the good opinion and approval of her family. After entering Carmel, she contracted tuberculosis and suffered horribly until her death at age 24. Her “Little Way,” of growing in holiness through offering every pain or sacrifice to God, and remaining as humble as a child, caused her to be named as a Doctor of the Church.

Celine was the last sister to enter the convent. She remained at home to take care of her father until his death. She worried for a time about the nature of her vocation, since she felt a call to Carmel, but was proposed to by a good man. She wrote, “My sisters never had to choose formally between the two lives; doubtless, God wanted them for himself, and he does not want me…my anguish kept mounting and mounting.” 

She also suffered terribly from the decline of her father into an illness that may have been cerebral arteriosclerosis, according to the biography of Celine by Stephane-Joseph Piat, O.F.M. Her father was at one time put into a mental hospital. Celine was at his side through it all, and her unceasing faith did lead her to the Carmelite convent after his death. She is a model for those who question their vocations, who don't understand God’s plan for their lives, and also for caregivers who witness intense pain of their loved ones.

Louis, as already mentioned, lost his wife to breast cancer. Then he began to lose his daughters one by one to the cloister of Carmel. While he was thankful for their religious vocations, he had to give his family to God as a sacrifice. He accepted God's will even as it broke his heart to lose his wife and daughters. As his health declined, he suffered many mental and physical difficulties. Yet he persisted in holiness, offered all to God, and was canonized together with his wife on Oct. 18, 2015.

Despite the litany of struggles and losses they endured, the Martins were a joyful and happy family. They accepted the pain as God's will, and this acceptance allowed God to work in their hearts to purify them and make them saintly. Not only will they provide help and intercession from heaven, their story can bring relief and acceptance to those in the world who are hurt, grieving, and traumatized. St. Therese herself said that she would spend her heaven doing good on earth, and let fall a shower of roses from heaven to help those who suffer and yet cling to God. Humanity is blessed by the wondrous writings and example of this saintly family.

Posted: March 22, 2017, 6:00 am
By Andrew Walther

When I visited Erbil, Iraq, in December with a congressional delegation determined to find out why Christians had often been excluded from U.S. aid programs, Archbishop Nicodemus Daoud of Mosul told us that Americans generally care more about endangered frogs than about endangered Christian communities.

He has a point.

Christians have lived in the region for almost 2,000 years. Many still speak the language of Jesus. But although they, and other minority communities, are now seriously endangered, some Americans seem more worried that they might get priority than that they might disappear completely.

The Islamic State terror group, also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh – and its antecedents – imposed a strict religious test and then targeted minority religious communities for elimination. At best, these communities fled, but lost everything in the process.

Those who are outraged that we might now prioritize them are forgetting America’s proud tradition of prioritizing genocide survivors, and the dark moments when we ignored them.

After horrifically refusing admission to Jewish refugees on the S.S. St. Louis in 1939, the United States later changed course and numerically prioritized displaced European Jews. They had suffered a uniquely horrible targeting – even if there were more German, French and Italian refugees, who were also displaced and suffering.

During and after World War I as well, the U.S. government worked with Near Eastern Relief to aid Armenian and other Christian communities targeted for genocide by the Ottoman Empire. The American people solidly supported the effort.

It is not un-American to prioritize those who have been targeted for genocide because of their faith. It has been seen as quintessentially American for a century.

And religious persecution has long been a key qualifier for refugee status under our immigration laws.

When the Lautenberg amendment was renewed with bipartisan support in 2015, no one was outraged. It prioritizes for asylum those who are Christian, Jewish and Baha’i, as well as other religious minorities from Iran.

Notably, the Obama administration’s official policy was also to prioritize Christian and other religious minority refugees from Syria. Knox Thames, the Obama administration’s State Department special advisor for religious minorities, wrote in October 2015:

“Due to the unique needs of vulnerable religious minority communities, the State Department has prioritized the resettlement of Syrian Christian refugees and other religious minorities fleeing the conflict.”

The policy failed to deliver. Only about half of one percent of Syrian refugees admitted to the U.S. in fiscal year 2016 were Christian – though they make up 10 percent of the Syrian population. Yazidis and Shia Muslims were also profoundly underrepresented. Again, there was no uproar over the stated policy, and little coverage of its failure.

So the outrage is new, but policies claiming to prioritize Christians – and other minorities – are not.

What is deeply troubling is how often U.S. government aid overlooked the needs of these minority groups since 2014.

Last year, our government – for only the second time in history – formally declared an ongoing situation was a genocide. Secretary of State John Kerry explained that this genocide was one of religious persecution, saying: “The fact is that Daesh kills Christians because they are Christians; Yezidis because they are Yezidis; Shia because they are Shia.” Those words should have triggered America’s duty to help these targeted groups.

Instead, Christians – and other small communities targeted by ISIS’ genocidal campaign – have often been last in line, not first, to get U.S. government assistance.

While the U.S. government and the United Nations have spent heavily on humanitarian relief in the wake of ISIS, the largest community of displaced Christians – in Erbil – has received no money from our government or from the UN, according to Archbishop Bashar Warda, who is caring for tens of thousands of those displaced there.

It is the same story for many Yazidis.

In Iraq last spring, I met Yazidi families living next to an open sewer in Ozal City. Except for “two kilograms of lamb” in 2014, they had received nothing from the U.S. government, and nothing from the UN. Only Iraqi Christians – themselves overlooked by these entities – had helped them.

Far from receiving priority, communities most at risk of disappearing have received nothing at all from our government.

The reason U.S. and UN officials gave in Iraq this past May for overlooking these groups was that their aid prioritized only individual needs. If someone was hungry, they got aid, but the fact that a group could disappear entirely was never even considered.

“Helping everyone” typically means aid is sent to major refugee camps, resulting in the de facto exclusion of minority communities, since they have been targeted by extremists within these camps, and thus avoid them. It effectively means many religious minorities receive no help.

That American government aid to these groups is long overdue has – until now – been a subject of bipartisan agreement, not controversy.

The fact is that America’s lack of response to religious minorities has allowed ISIS’ program of eliminating these people from the region to continue.

While ISIS may applaud American inaction toward these communities over the past two years, neither the religious minorities in the Middle East, nor the judgment of history will do the same.

Giving preference does not mean helping only genocide survivors. But not giving them preference likely means they will soon be beyond help.

They could soon be completely eradicated.

Will anyone be outraged then?

This article was first posted February 17, 2017 on Morning Consultant. 

Posted: February 20, 2017, 7:00 am
By Caitlin Marchand

When it was announced that the Vatican would open a commission into the question of women deacons, my initial response was unenthusiastic. I agree with Dawn Eden Goldstein’s critique of the problematic motivations behind the push when she wrote in the New York Times that some believe “the clerical office means power rather than service”. As a woman, I feel as disenfranchised by a male priesthood and holy orders as men are by being unable to bear children. That is to say, both sexes hold crucial roles in the most important work of bringing souls to Christ, and we fulfill these roles to know, love and serve God — not to wield influence.

Still, I was interested to read of the argument from the existence of deaconesses in the early Church. I admit I was unaware of this historical position, and given the wildly different interpretations of its significance I wanted to know more. New Advent provides a short but chewy article on deaconesses here. While the entire article is interesting, I will note three significant points. First, deaconesses were women consecrated to serve the needs of their fellow women in areas inappropriate to men. Second, they were not exclusively virgins but also widows, so we know some had experience as mothers and wives. Third, deaconesses did hold a formal position recognized by the Church, although distinct from Holy Orders. After learning more about the unique function of deaconesses, I found that the question of whether women can or should fulfill roles already held by men gave way to the more interesting question of whether there is a need currently unmet in the Church that would be best fulfilled by women. I believe the answer is certainly yes.

In the early Church, the duties of deaconesses were particularly focused on service to other women.  The most commonly cited case is the anointing of female catechumens in an age of nude baptism. Sister Sara Butler examines the question in some detail in her 2015 essay “Women as Deaconesses,” for the Josephinium Diaconal Review. Sister Butler notes the clear distinction between the diaconal grade of Holy Orders which can be held only by men, and the separate order and mission held by women. While of a different kind, she provides several examples that show deaconesses were still carrying out important and varied work. 

“Extended the church’s ministry to sick and homebound women and prepared their bodies for burial when they died. She assisted with the catechetical instruction of women catechumens and their subsequent formation in the Christian life, and mediated between the women and the bishop.” [Women as Deaconesses]

In our day and age, few areas of conflict between the Church and the World are more obvious than women’s issues. The burden of the challenging demands of Catholic morality fall squarely on the shoulders of the Church’s female members, who must stand strong in the face of a world that does not share this morality. Here again women could serve women in a particular way most suitably carried out by members of the same sex.

Many Catholic women face ignorance, ridicule, and even chastisement from their acquaintances and doctors, because of their use of Natural Family Planning. Women must often educate themselves with little outside aid on the practical applications of NFP even in the simplest of circumstances. Yet beyond the practical, the prudential application of NFP presents another challenge. The Church requires just cause for avoiding pregnancy, but determining the gravity of myriad personal situations is daunting. NFP is only one area where women face big decisions without much help. The treatments for many significant women’s health issues may involve hysterectomy, or other procedures that render one infertile. These can be entirely licit, however, decision-making about such treatments is often far from black and white.

Infertility is another area where medical concerns intersect with moral ones, and where intimate information must be exchanged to receive thorough advice. In all these situations, doctors may not understand the moral implications, so women must take full responsibility for informing themselves. Discussing such intimate and specifically female matters with a priest can be a very awkward undertaking for both parties. 

Besides the aforementioned issues, I have received support in the postpartum months or comfort following miscarriage from faithful and generous Catholic women. Other women care for the sick and infirm whose bodily needs are best met by a member of the same sex. Sadly, not every woman is so blessed in their acquaintances. If the deaconess were a recognized role at the local parish, women would know that here was a woman ready and willing to come through for them in these times of need.  

Imagine if every parish had a holy, wise woman, a wife and mother with personal experience of the mental and physical trials of marriage and motherhood, whom women could approach for counsel on these thorny issues. This woman, as a deaconess, would hold a formal position within the life of the local church.  During formation, she would be educated in moral theology and magisterial teaching on family life as well as in practical resources for a variety of women’s concerns.  

Of course, the deaconess would need to serve as a sort of physician’s assistant operating under the authority of a pastor. She would by no means replace the spiritual care that only a priest can give. But she could listen thoughtfully and help women sort through and organize their thoughts, direct them to useful programs or offer counsel, and direct them to confession and the sacraments. St. John Paul II’s spoke throughout his pontificate, including in his letter to women, on the unique gifts of femininity, like receptivity, sensitivity and maternity. These particular affinities make discussion among women of intimate matters much easier. A maternal figure does not compete with or devalue the paternal role served by our priests and deacons. It is the attempt to place women in a masculine role that is the great problem with many arguments for women deacons. As in the family, male and female roles in the Church can be complementary. 

Deaconesses of old fulfilled a role required by the times in which they lived. Our times too present unique challenges to female Catholics. Perhaps this period in our history requires that women serve women in a particular and official way within the Church. The exciting news is that, whether deaconesses return or not, women don’t need to wait to begin fulfilling these needs. All over the country and indeed the world women are teaching NFP, reforming marriage prep, founding crisis pregnancy centers, developing support programs for postpartum depression, and reaching out to their friends and family to provide loving support in the difficult work of being a Catholic woman in a hostile world. Still, a dedicated order of women educated, blessed, and spiritually nourished by the Church and serving in parishes across the world would be a great gift and service to all their sex.  

Posted: February 15, 2017, 7:00 am
By Christian Peschken

Representatives from the Holy See and other Catholic orders gathered in Geneva last month to acknowledge and observe the Dominican who helped form the principles behind the United Nations. 

The conference was entitled “Francisco de Vitoria and the Inception of the Principles of the United Nations: His Legacy Today.” The event was organized on January 26th by Dominicans for Justice and Peace (Order of Preachers), Permanent Mission of Spain, Permanent Mission of Peru, Permanent Mission of Colombia, Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Philippines, Permanent Mission of Ecuador, Permanent Mission of Belgium, Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See, Permanent Observer Mission of the Sovereign Order of Malta.  

Mr. Michael Moller, the United Nations Director-General, reminded everyone in his opening remarks that “Vitoria imagined a system of global governance anchored in universal rights, thoughts that would eventually lead to the United Nations and its Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” He continued to say, “Vitoria’s vision lives on. It lives on in the work of the United Nations and its partners to forge a safer and more sustainable future. It lives on in the work of peacekeepers, activists, and volunteers around the world.”

The spirit, thought, and principles of Vitoria were highlighted and speculated at the conference. They emphasized his reflections on the justification of war, rights of indigenous peoples, responsibility to protect, moral restrictions to sovereignty, and the political action of policy makers. From this, clues were developed to assist the UN in strengthening their System, and for a more effective implementation of its principles.

Francisco de Vitoria (1486-1546) has been given a lot of prominence in the UN, Geneva, and New York. In Geneva, the council chamber, “Salle du Conseil,” was named after him. It was built for the League of Nations, and is the present meeting place of the Conference on Disarmament. A plaque dedicated to his memory has been placed in the chamber. In New York, there is a statue of him in the UN garden with the inscription “Fundador del Derecho de Gentes” (Founder of International Law). Yet few people are aware of these homages to Vitoria and even fewer know anything about him!

He is credited for being one of the founders of International Law, which the principles of the United Nations have been built on. The principles were developed in order to promote an international co-operation that will realize peace, security, human rights, and the development for all men and women of all nations, large and small.

Vitoria was based in the University of Salamanca (Spain). After hearing the deeds of his fellow country-men in the New World of Latin America, he and his fellow Dominican scholars posed pertinent questions to the legitimacy of conquering other countries and waging war against indigenous peoples.

2016 marked the 800th anniversary of the establishment of the Dominican Order in 1216, founded by Dominic de Guzman of Caleruega. Dominicans such as Saint Albert the Great and Saint Thomas Aquinas have had a major impact on philosophy. Their inspiration on Vitoria and other people have made a major contribution to the crafting of the principles that eventually became embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Today the Dominican Order is a world-wide religious organization with a presence in more than 120 countries. Through their educational institutions and other forms of preaching, they seek to counter the roots of conflict, religious differences, ignorance and illiteracy.

This article was written by Christian Peschken of Pax Press Agency, Geneva. 

Posted: February 9, 2017, 7:00 am
By Tina McCormick, PhD

Resolutions: there are many this time of year, as in any year. Be it plans to exercise, to be healthy, or otherwise successful, our ambitions know no bounds. But are our ambitions misplaced? Are they in sync with what they ought to be following the momentous event we just celebrated? Thomas Aquinas had his own battles with gluttony, but regardless, his brilliant mind carried him toward saintliness. Likewise, Catherine of Siena’s saintliness was informed not by surviving on a leaf of lettuce a day (purportedly her diet), but by far greater deeds. Indeed, our plans following Christmas should have less to do with specific resolutions than with the revolution that is Christmas.

The story of the infant laid in the manger of a cave conjures up images of a sweet and comforting harmony, of a peaceful family scene, humble worship, and songs of angels. Yet this story stands at the beginning of all things and is also its end. It signifies God’s final answer to our pleas of ever greater closeness and calls us to battle with the world. It is the story of a revolution and provides the measure for our lives as Christians. As such, it should rattle, not comfort us. 

According to G.K. Chesterton in Everlasting Man, “it might be suggested, a somewhat violent image, that nothing had happened in that fold or crack in the great grey hills except that the whole universe had been turned inside out. I mean that all the eyes of wonder and worship which had been turned outwards to the largest thing were now turned inward to the smallest.” To Chesterton, there was something “defiant” about the event, “something that makes the abrupt bells at midnight sound like the great guns of a battle that has just been won.” Christ’s birth in a cave signified an “undermining the world; of shaking the towers and palaces from below.” In fact, Bethlehem was the place where the extremes of “omnipotence and impotence” met and created the ultimate paradox: “The hands that had made the sun and the stars were too small to reach the huge heads of the cattle.” And God had become man “like an outcast or even an outlaw.”

Indeed, Bethlehem showed a world turned upside down. From now on, Chesterton wrote, “there could be no slaves….Individuals became important, in a sense in which no instrument can be important. A man could not be a means to an end, at any rate to any other man’s end.” In other words, God’s entering time in the form of an infant in a cave gave recognition to man’s true dignity. Christ’s entry into the world as an infant in a cave brought to a point all of scripture and opened the way to ever greater union with the Father. The rest would be up to us.

A grand drama, indeed. But where do we fit in?

As Catholics, we have a whole arsenal of shortcuts to feel in sync with God’s plan for this world and our desires to enter the next. We offer up our pain as penance, we pray the rosary and pray for our friends, and we blame the devil for the evil in this world and our own failures. We are quick to pray, but slow to act. We are quick to lament and condemn, but hesitate to take responsibility. We fail to recognize fatalism, complacency, self-referential piety, and judgmentalism as the dangerous personal demons they are. We are often afraid to leave our comfort zone. In short, we tend to be the pious worshippers who linger at the manger, blinded by the star above and too timid to move on. Instead, we should take our cues from the other actors in the play. The shepherds and Wise Men were men of action, men on the move who wasted no time. The shepherds “went with haste” to the manger to “see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” (Lk 2:15f.) They heeded the angels’ message and “were not afraid.”

The message of the manger is that God is love. But the nature of this love puts us on a revolutionary path. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that “love can also be hated when it challenges us to transcend ourselves. It is not a romantic 'good feeling.' Redemption is not 'wellness,' it is not about basking in self-indulgence; on the contrary it is a liberation from imprisonment in self-absorption. This liberation comes at a price; the anguish of the Cross. The prophecy of light and that of the Cross belong together.” (The Infancy Narratives (New York, 2012), p. 86)

The image we have of the three Magi reflects the magnificent dignity that comes from this love that is also sacrifice. Dressed like kings and bearing precious gifts, the three travelers invite us to share in such dignity as we make our personal journey of faith and ever greater closeness to God. But to follow their path, we must have courage to not only recognize our personal limitations but to also transcend them through a life of active love that both accepts and gives.

To Pope Benedict XVI, “the wise men from the East are the new beginning. They represent the journeying of humanity toward Christ. They initiate a procession that continues throughout history. Not only do they represent the people who have found the way to Christ: they represent the inner aspiration of the human spirit, the dynamism of religions and human reason toward him.” (The Infancy Narratives, p. 97)

St. Paul encountered the laziness and complacency that stands in the way of such a grace filled journey. He reprimanded Thessalonians: “We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies.” (2 Thessalonians 3:11) Let us not be idle or comfortable or too pious then, but let us follow the Magi in their quest, always on the move and ready to share the glorious truth they discovered.

Posted: January 5, 2017, 7:00 am
By Monsignor Anthony Figueiredo

The latest meeting of Pope Francis' “Council of Cardinals” has just ended and, according to Vatican spokesperson Greg Burke, “missionary impulse” was one of two guiding principles for the reform of the Curia.

The “missionary impulse” has underlined the papacy of Francis even before he was elected to the See of Peter. In the speech that the then Cardinal Bergoglio gave in the pre-conclave General Congregations of Cardinals, he stated his vision of the Church as the one “which evangelizes and comes out of herself” with the very specific mission to go to the “existential peripheries” and gain life “from the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.”

The year 2016 will close with significant development in the relationship between the Holy See and the world’s largest nation, China. With a population of close to 1.4 billion – one fifth of the world’s population – it looms high on the list of Pope Francis’ priorities. The stance of the Holy See is to move prudently and thoughtfully towards normal relations with China. As for China, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman stated in October that the nation is “sincere” in its efforts to improve bilateral ties with the Vatican, speaking of “effective channels for constructive dialogue.”

This past year has seen dialogue on the official level with a Vatican delegation visiting Beijing and meeting high ranking officials of the State run “Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association” and Chinese Catholic Bishops' Conference. The key point of the dialogue is to reach an accord on the thorny issue of who appoints Bishops – the Supreme Pontiff or Beijing.

This issue needs to be understood against the background of the chequered and sometimes complicated history of Church-State relations in China. Religious missionaries entered China from Europe in the 13th century, beginning with the Franciscans. They were followed by the Jesuits three hundred years later, who contributed much to Chinese society through inter-cultural scientific and artistic exchanges. Their approach was epitomized by Matteo Ricci, who attracted the Imperial Court through discourse on western technology and learning. Dominicans from the Philippines came to China, too, in the mid-17th century. Following the expulsion of missionaries from China in the late 17th and early 18th centuries due to a dispute over Confucian rituals concerning the deceased, it was the French who provided the next significant wave of clergy by sending priests from France. Beginning with Pope Benedict XV, relations with the Chinese Government improved and in 1943, following significant efforts by Pope Pius XII, the Chinese regime established diplomatic ties with the Vatican.

All of this was to change just six years later in light of the takeover of the country by the Communist Party. The persecution of Catholics began in earnest and missionaries were expelled. In 1956, the Government founded the “Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association,” known as the “official Church” because its members are loyal to the Communist led Government, which appoints its Bishops. It is closely monitored by the “State Administration for Religious Affairs” (“SARA”).     

For Catholics who choose to remain loyal to Rome, particularly in terms of the juridical authority of the Pope to appoint Bishops autonomously, a so called “underground” Church has emerged with its own Bishops (currently about 30), priests and lay faithful. The difficult conditions under which they operate is well known.   

In this state of affairs, is there a way forward? There certainly needs to be. In a nation of 1.4 billion, the number of Catholics, both “official” and “underground” has remained stagnant at just some 12 million. Evangelicals are growing at a much faster rate given their autonomous structure. Catholics, “official” and “underground,” including the Bishops, are yearning for communion with the See of Peter. Many see the possibility of great common good on so many levels – religious, moral, social and environmental – that can come from improved relations between the Holy See and China.

Pope Francis has spoken much of the “culture of encounter” and the need to “build bridges” through dialogue.

“Official” dialogue is continuing through a “step by step” approach focused on the appointment of Bishops. In August, a Vatican delegation met with some of the eight Bishops in China who do not have Vatican approval with a view to reconciliation. This included Bishop Ma Yinglin, the Bishop of Kunming in the Yunnan Province. Both the meeting and dialogue represented a significant step forward. Ma is President of the Chinese Catholic Bishops’ Conference and Vice-President of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, both of which fall under SARA. Moreover, such meetings had previously been impeded by the Chinese authorities.  

Other more “unofficial” efforts are also producing great fruit.

For seven years, a three man team from a Catholic charitable organization based in the United States – “Caritas in Veritate” – has been traveling to Mainland China to offer a “theological forum” to Bishops from all over China at the Chinese Catholic Bishops’ Conference. The team offers an aggiornamento of Church teaching, as well as theological and spiritual conferences. This past August, almost like a precursor to the official dialogue that ensued just days later, much of the teaching revolved around the Jubilee Year of Mercy and Amoris Laetitia. “The Chinese Bishops have been encouraged by Pope Francis and the Year of Mercy and the implications for the normalization of the relationship between the Church in China and the Holy See,” Mr. Henry Cappello, President of Caritas in Veritate, told CNA. “With Pope Francis’ continued call for forgiveness, in the spirit of the Year of Mercy, Catholics, both official and underground, have great expectations for a dawning of a new era.”
 
Indeed, the urgency of “a new era” seems to be gaining momentum on both sides. In the course of the Forum, the Bishops indicated the problems facing the Church in China and areas where help is needed. These included the rapid decrease in priestly and religious vocations; the lack of adequate priestly formation; problems facing marriage preparation and ongoing support for young married couples. Might structures be set up in the future – perhaps through web conferences – to assist in areas such as priestly formation and marriage preparation drawing on expertise from both sides? Such assistance would benefit the Church and China. Not only for the importance of family life – China recently changed its “one child” policy, an indication of the value it attaches to family life – some 30 of China’s 100 plus dioceses remain without Bishops and a similar number are beyond the age of retirement, demonstrating the urgent need for solid priestly formation for China’s future Church leaders.
 
There have been positive moves from the Chinese side, too. Last September, a delegation from the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation took part in a consultation on “Laudato Si,” organized jointly by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. In a speech delivered by the Foundation, hearty acknowledgment was given to Pope Francis for “describing the destruction of our environment as a sin … as Pope Francis preaches in word and example, the resolve to live differently should affect our various contributions to shaping the culture and society in which we live.”
 
Might these efforts signal a new page in the relations between the Holy See and China through the “culture of encounter” that Pope Francis speaks about? No one is ignoring such pertinent issues as the sufferings endured by Christians even to the point of martyrdom and the relationship with Taiwan. But, on the heels of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, perhaps the “culture of encounter” is the step by step “missionary impulse” that is needed at this time for reconciliation in and with a nation so rich in culture – spurred on by a Jesuit Pope and reflecting the approach of his confrères 400 years ago. All of this must be tread carefully, with great respect and a spirit of communion on both sides. It involves “building bridges” in the words of Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who, as Secretary of State, prudently oversees the Holy See’s relationship with China, bridges that are ordered only toward “the good of Chinese Catholics, to the good of the entire Chinese people, and to the harmony of the whole society, in favor of world peace.”      
 
As one independent and seasoned observer, well acquainted with both the Holy See and China, put it just days ago: “I may have mentioned to you the experience I was blessed to have been given in Rome more than a decade ago when I chanced to have had eye contact with the members of an orchestra and could observe in great intimacy the interaction between the individual musician and the conductor. A few days ago in China, I was once again afforded the same opportunity and could once again observe the overall direction given by the leader and that support given to the individual player when the conductor felt it was needed but more often when the musician himself felt the need and looked to his leader for guidance and support.” 

Posted: December 18, 2016, 7:00 am
By Eugene F. Rivers, III

Baltimore has spent the last year trying to heal from the wounds of division. But now a divisive proposal threatens to create more disunity. Councilman Brandon Scott’s proposal to eliminate Columbus Day is just what Baltimore doesn’t need: more division, less healing. Worse, the proposal itself is based on the kind of stereotypes that should never be the cause for legislative action.

Scholars like Professor Carol Delaney, formerly of Brown and Stanford universities, argue that Columbus is the subject of terrible and unfair slander. Professor Delaney writes in her authoritative biography of the explorer: “…he is blamed for all the calamities that befell [the New] World. The ‘presentist’ perspective that dominates the contemporary view, even among some academics, holds him responsible for consequences he did not intend, expect, or endorse.”

Delaney also noted in a 2014 interview: “Columbus has become a symbol for everything that went wrong. But the more I read of his own writings and that of his contemporaries, my understanding of him totally changed. His relations with the natives tended to be benign.”

“Columbus strictly told the crew not to do things like maraud or rape, and instead to treat the native people with respect. There are many examples in his writings where he gave instructions to this effect. Most of the time when injustices occurred, Columbus wasn’t even there,” she notes. Columbus was not perfect. None of us are. But he was hardly the monstrous caricature being used to assassinate his holiday.

None of this denies the fact that the consequences of colonization of what is now North America had deplorable consequences for Native Americans. Nor does it compensate for their treatment by Europeans, which was often reprehensible.

However, attacks on Columbus and Columbus Day were originated by the very group that has historically led racist attacks on blacks. These attacks were created in the 1920s by the Ku Klux Klan as part of a targeted assault on Italians, Catholics, and the Catholic charitable group the Knights of Columbus.

We must not forget that, in addition to African Americans, the Klan hated Catholics and Jews as well. And they had a particular hatred for the Knights of Columbus. Not only was this a Catholic group, but it was a group that stood publicly – at its highest levels – with the African American community. During World War I, it was the only charitable group to run centers serving the troops at home and in Europe that had as its policy not to draw the color line.

Long before advocacy for African Americans was popular, back in 1924, the Knights of Columbus commissioned and published NAACP co-founder W.E.B. DuBois’ book The Gift of Black Folk. It published this book because African Americans had been excluded from American history, and the Knights of Columbus wanted to correct that injustice – four decades before the Civil Rights Movement!

In 1924, the same year the Knights of Columbus published the DuBois book, the Klan disrupted their Columbus Day party in Pennsylvania by burning a fiery cross. The same year, the Klan magazine ran an article entitled: “Columbus Day, a Papal Fraud.” In the 1920s, the Klan also tried to suppress celebration of the holiday at the state level.

When, a decade later, Columbus Day became a federal holiday, it was Catholics – Italian Americans and groups like the Knights of Columbus – who pushed for it. Why? Because – as they had done for African Americans with DuBois – they wanted to ensure a place of honor for immigrants and Catholics in the history of the United States.

Baltimore needs unity. It needs healing. It needs honest dialogue. There is a long list of problems to solve in Baltimore: high crime, high poverty rates, unemployment, fatherless children, mistrust of police, failing schools, drug abuse, etc. The city’s politicians should devote their time to addressing these issues in innovative and effective ways rather than to initiatives that can only be divisive.

It is inspiring that the students of City Neighbors High School suggested celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day, as the Baltimore Sun reports. It is fitting that, just as the culture of Italians, Catholics and African Americans is celebrated nationally, the culture of Native Americans should be also. But, to celebrate one cultural group does not require that we denigrate another. We should not disrespect the cultural heroes of another ethnic group. Rather than renaming Columbus Day, why not add another holiday, Indigenous Peoples Day, to the City of Baltimore’s calendar in honor of Native Americans?

Baltimore is the country’s first Catholic diocese. It has a thriving Little Italy and strong immigrant community. It is the place where the founder of the Knights of Columbus was ordained a priest nearly a century and a half ago. The city should not follow a path blazed by the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s to insult and marginalize Catholics. Instead the city can celebrate the legacy of marginalized people such as African Americans and Native Americans, just as it celebrates those who have defended them.

 

Posted: December 2, 2016, 7:00 am
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