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Is the Benedict Option the only option?

Denver, Colo., Feb 26, 2017 / 03:46 pm (CNA).- When Josh and Laura Martin, both converts to the faith, moved their growing family of six from the city of Dallas, Texas to the hills of Oklahoma, they didn’t necessarily know that they were participating in the “Benedict Option.”

“We initially just wanted to get out of the city and raise our family in a more protected, slower-paced environment,” Josh told CNA.

“With all the families out here searching for the same thing, we gravitated towards it and made the leap.”

They moved to be close to the Benedictine Abbey at Clear Creek, Oklahoma, where dozens of other families from around the country have congregated over the course of the past 15 years or so.

Dubious of the direction in which the morals of modern society seem to be heading, they came in search of a slower pace and a more liturgical life with a community of other like-minded Catholics. Many villagers attend daily morning Mass with the monks before 7 a.m., and the traditional Latin Mass on Sundays. The monastery serves as the center of the community, the monks as a real-life example of religious life to the youngsters.

Journalist Rod Dreher is credited with dubbing this phenomenon “The Benedict Option,” a term inspired by the last paragraph of philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s book, After Virtue, in which he wrote about waiting “for another - doubtless very different - St. Benedict.” This new Benedict would help construct “local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages.”

Just as Benedict was looking to escape the crumbling and increasingly anti-Christian culture of Rome, families like the Martins are looking to the hills of Oklahoma to escape today’s secular society, where Christian values are seen as increasingly foreign or even hostile to the status quo. They are disturbed by trends such as the legalization of gay marriage, of the increasing popularity of gender ideology, or the shrinking of religious freedom.

In his new book, “The Benedict Option,” Dreher calls the new societal trends and values “The Flood,” and argues that Christians can no longer fight the flood - they must figure out a way to ride it out and preserve their faith for generations to come.

“...American Christians are going to have to come to terms with the brute fact that we live in a culture, one in which our beliefs make increasingly little sense. We speak a language that the world more and more either cannot hear or finds offensive to its ears,” he writes.

“The idea is that serious Christian conservatives could no longer live business-as-usual lives in America, that we have to develop creative, communal solutions to help us hold on to our faith and our values in a world growing ever more hostile to them.”

Communities like the one surrounding Clear Creek Abbey seem to be the most obvious examples of the Benedict Option, their lifestyles most resembling the villages that grew up around the Benedictine monasteries in Europe centuries ago. However, Dreher does expand the definition to include other forms of Christian communities, like those that form around classical schools, such as St. Jerome’s school in Hyattsville, Maryland. The phenomenon is also occurring not just among Catholics, but among Protestant and Orthodox Christians as well.

Mike Lawless, his wife Kathy, and their children first learned about the community surrounding Clear Creek when they were living in San Diego. They were part of a homeschool group, and lived on the edge of town, as far away from the city hustle and bustle as possible.

But when a friend told them about the families moving near Clear Creek Abbey, the whole family of six (going on seven) loved the idea of the novelty and adventure of moving to the hills of Oklahoma, so they packed up and made the leap.

“What we were looking for was a healthier culture,” Mike told CNA. He wanted to raise his children in an environment that wasn’t heavily influenced by the prevailing secular culture.  

When Josh and Laura Martin moved in 2007, they were expecting their fifth child. They too were looking for a better place to raise their family.

It was rough going at first. The land by Clear Creek Abbey is not great for farming. Josh tried to make the leap from management positions to manual labor, but it ultimately didn’t work.

“I just fell flat on my face, burned up all my money, learned a lot of good valuable lessons I wouldn’t trade for anything,” Josh said. “After 4-5 years we realized that you have to do something that you know how to do.”

He’s now in a management position for a medical device company in the area, and things have been a lot better. Similarly, Mike Lawless tried to make living off the land a priority. But after his attempts at farming and cattle were heading in a “direction that wasn’t positive,” he had to scale back his agricultural projects and return to the work he knew, which was mechanical engineering.

“That romantic vision was shattered there pretty quick when we moved,” Mike said.

Most families in the area do not subsist off the land alone, but there are few options for work in town. The Institute for Excellence in Writing, directed by Clear Creek villager Andrew Pudewa, employs some people in the area. Others, like Mike, do much of their work remotely. Still others make the hour commute to and from Tulsa for work.

Despite the sacrifices, the geographic retreat is an important aspect of the Benedict Option for many of its adherents.

“Being in a rural area, where you’re not maybe as distracted by the noise and goings on of the city, there’s a little bit more quiet, and that silence gives you the opportunity to appreciate (the liturgical season) more,” Laura Martin told CNA.

“There’s fewer distractions, and that is helpful I think in focusing on trying to regain some of the culture that we’ve lost or the connections that we’ve missed in our busy lives, so that element has been really helpful for us to grow in our faith.”  

But one of the main critiques of the Benedict Option has stemmed from this idea of separation - both culturally and geographically. How can the faithful evangelize, as they are called to do, if they embed in communities of likeminded people in remote countryside hills?

“It’s not an insular community,” Josh insists, “but it is a sort of retreat because the cultural forces are so overwhelming that it’s difficult for me to imagine...trying to raise my family in that environment, so somewhere in that mix is the Benedict Option.”  

The Martins are aware of the dangers of becoming too insular. They send two of their kids to public school, and they let their kids play soccer on a local league, which has made them a lot of local, non-Catholic friends. But not everyone in the village agrees on this, or other subjects. The use of T.V. and internet varies widely among families, as do opinions about whether women should wear anything other than skirts (and of what length those skirts should be), or how much contact is maintained with the outside world.

The Martins were careful to specify they spoke only for themselves.

“Out here it’s very dangerous to speak for the community, because...there’s not one unified approach, there are many dissimilarities,” Josh said.

But what there is, is a strong sense of community and a desire to live out the Catholic faith. Whether it’s for funerals, weddings, baby showers, dances, parties - almost everyone is involved, he said.

“Weddings are just a complete madhouse,” Josh said, laughing. Baby showers can sometimes include 60-70 women. When a new family arrives, everyone pitches in to help them move furniture and get settled.

“There’s a huge sense of cohesion,” he said. “Your life is so intertwined with the community. There’s a strong identity of being definitely Catholic that would be very difficult to leave.”

What about parish life?  

For many Catholics, uprooting their lives and moving to Oklahoma (or near other monasteries) simply isn’t an option. The most basic building block of Catholic community and society available to them is their local parish.

Dreher writes of the importance of living in proximity to one’s parish, so that it can all the more easily become the center of one’s life. But Christians must still be discerning about whether their local parish is teaching the true faith, or whether it has been too compromised by the secular culture.

“The changes that have overtaken the West in our modern times have revolutionized everything, even the church, which no longer forms souls but caters to selves,” Dreher writes.

“As conservative Anglican theologian Ephriam Radner has said, ‘There is no safe place in the world or in our churches within which to be a Christian. It is a new epoch.’”

To be sure, parish life has seen significant shifts in the United States. When waves of Catholic immigrants arrived in the 19th and early 20th centuries, they found stability and community in the New World at their local, often ethnically segregated, parish. Often ostracized for their faith in other areas of society, they looked to their parish not only as a source for the sacraments, but as a place to meet friends, host meetings and dances, to rely on as a second family.  

Society has since shifted. As Catholics became more accepted into mainstream society, they no longer looked to their parish as their only source of community. And as ethnic ties became looser, the need for Polish Catholics to go to the Polish parish, for example, dwindled. The hub of Catholicism, once the East Coast, shifted west as people moved out of the city.

But while things have changed, that doesn’t mean that flourishing parishes can’t be found today, said Claire Henning, executive director of Parish Catalyst, a group that studies what makes parishes thrive.  
 
“I’ve become more aware of how I’ve always perceived a parish as a building - but it really isn’t that, it’s a living, breathing ecosystem that expands and contracts depending on who’s there.”

For their recent book “Great Catholic Parishes,” William Simon, founder of Parish Catalyst, identified four characteristics of thriving parishes: shared leadership among clergy and laity, a variety of formation programs, an emphasis on Sunday and the liturgy, and evangelizing to people both in and out of the pews.

One of the main questions these thriving parishes are constantly asking of themselves is: “How do we speak the language of the Gospel to the people of today?” Henning said. “So you need people who are thought leaders to be thinking of that.”

St. Mary’s parish in Littleton, Colorado, is one such parish, with around 1800 registered families, an orthodox Roman Catholic faith and a thriving community life.

“The goal is to be a family of families,” said Linda Sherman, director of family life and service for the parish.

“What we’re looking for is to support families in all their various nuances and ages, to support them in their Catholic faith, and as they are growing in their faith and growing closer to God.”

It can be difficult to create a sense of community in such a large parish, Sherman admits, but the key is getting families involved in ministry.

Perhaps one of the most important ministries that St. Mary’s offers is called Mother of Mercy ministry, the purpose of which is “to fill in the gaps of people who don’t have an existing support system of families in town,” Sherman told CNA.

How it works: anyone can sign up for Mother of Mercy, either offering or asking for services ranging from lawn-mowing to rides to the doctor to babysitting. It connects volunteers with folks who need them, and helps people feel like they have a local support system, she said.

There are also youth groups, young adult groups, family groups and bible studies that allow people to grow in their faith in smaller settings, which then strengthens both their faith and their connection to the parish.

It’s become increasingly important for parishioners to find a community of others who share their faith and values, Sherman said.

“It allows you to be stronger in your faith if you have people around you who support you in your values. And that’s whether you’re newly married or you’re 50 years old and you’re working in a job with people who don’t have the same faith life as you, or any faith life,” she said. “You don’t want to feel like the odd man out.”

And while Dreher expresses concerns about the orthodoxy of many parishes and churches, Henning said it is the churches that focus on liturgy and discipleship that prove to be the best parishes.

“They actually are strategic about planning for discipleship, they challenge and engage the spiritual maturity of their people,” she said.

“And they really excel on Sundays. There’s an intense interest on preparing good homilies, they get the best music they can get, they’re very hospitable. And they really do have a plan for evangelization, they enter into mission, and they have a vision and structure for moving beyond the doors of the church.”

Prayer and the Eucharist are also central to thriving parishes, as Simon points out in his book. St. Mary’s parish has a 24-hour adoration chapel, accessible by code.

“The Eucharist is the source of unity for the parish; is is the supreme action that unites all who experience it to Christ and to the prayer and tradition of the universal Catholic community,” Simon wrote.  

Catholicism in the city: Ecclesial Movements

Another popular form of community within the Catholic Church, particularly in the post-Vatican II years of the 20th and 21st Centuries, has been Ecclesial Movements. These include groups such as Opus Dei, Focolare, or the Neocatechumenal Way.

In e-mail comments to CNA, Dreher said that he did not know enough about Ecclesial Movements to say whether or not they could constitute a “Benedict Option.” But they seem to have markedly different philosophies when it comes to living the Christian life in the world.

Ecclesial Movements seek to re-engage the laity in their faith and to evangelize the world. They include a variety of charisms, educational methods and apostolic forms and goals, and while they have local bases, they are not geographically bound to one location. Many have a presence in countries throughout the world.

Holly Peterson is the director of communications for Communion and Liberation, one such ecclesial movement that was founded by Italian priest Fr. Luigi Giussani.

As a young priest in 1950s Italy, where basically everyone went to Mass and Catholic school, Fr. Giussani began to realize that the faith didn’t actually mean anything to the real, lived experiences of the young students he was teaching. They went through the motions of the faith, but they didn’t seem to know what it meant to really live a Christian life.

“He later defined it by saying that he had this question in him - have the people left the church? Or has the church left the people?” Peterson told CNA.

Fr. Giussani started taking his students on retreats and excursions in the mountains so that he could teach them how to live an authentically integrated life of faith - much in the style of Pope John Paul II, a close friend of Giussani and the movement.

“He understood that...he needed to introduce them to life, because through their experience of life they would begin to understand who God was, who Christ was,” Peterson said.  

As his students grew up and continued following his teachings, a movement was born. Membership in Communion and Liberation is freely given - there’s no registration or membership requirements, and there are many different levels of association, but a standard commitment is attendance at the weekly meetings, called School of Community.

School of Community is more than just a meeting, Peterson said. It’s a chance for catechesis, for members to be spiritually fed, but also for them to develop Christian friendships that grow outside of the official meetings. Members form strong friendships and communities that carry on outside of the weekly meetings. They go out to dinner, help each other with babysitting, have parties, and just live life together.

The movement also has consecrated lay men and women - called Memores Domini - who live in community but work in the secular world. There are doctors, rocket scientists, secretaries, teachers and many other kinds of professions found amongst the members.

But regardless of the level of association, CL members have a markedly different way of viewing the world than the Ben-Oppers.

“We’re not afraid of doom and gloom around the corner, not to say that that’s wrong, but that’s not our style,” Peterson said.

“Instead we desire to dive into the deep end of the pool. We want to be present where people are suffering, we want to do what Pope Francis has called us to do, which is to go to the periphery.”

“And the periphery isn’t necessarily skid row of L.A., though that is the periphery as well,” she added. “My periphery could be my workplace, where everyone might live a pessimism that’s so thick and so sad, where they have absolutely zero hope in front of the reality that we live.”

The Community of the Beatitudes, founded in France, is another active ecclesial movement. Like the name implies, they strive to live the teachings of the Beatitudes within their community. Their charism is Eucharistic and Marian, and in the Carmelite tradition.

The community has consecrated brothers and sisters, as well as several hundred lay members and friends at various levels of association, that are active throughout the world. In the beginning, lay members lived in community with the consecrated members in huge monasteries in Europe that allowed each vocation to have it’s own separate wing. But more recently, the Vatican told the community that the lay members must not live directly with consecrated members.

“Rome said lay must be real lay, you don’t stay set apart,” Sr. Mary of the Visitation, a member of the community in Denver, told CNA.

“So obviously they are lay people, they receive the spirit and the charism of the community, they are full members of the community, they’re fully part of the liturgy, but they live in the world.”

The Community of the Beatitudes, much like Communion and Liberation, quickly spread all over the world. Their apostolates serve the immediate needs of their surrounding communities in various ways - schools, hospitals, catechesis - rather than focusing on one particular type of ministry. Members and friends of the movement regularly come together for meals, liturgy, faith formation and service.

Sr. Mary of the Visitation said that while her community anchors her, she desires to invite more people to live a life following the Beatitudes.

Although rooted in prayer, “we live in the world,” she said. “So if I’m going for a walk in the neighborhood, I will meet people, obviously when they see my habit they will think about God, but then we can have a conversation and go deeper.”

Sr. Mary said that on the one hand, she understands the Benedict Option desire to preserve the good, and to separate oneself from evil. Preserving oneself from too much T.V., or other inappropriate media, is a good thing, she said.

But she also worries that the Benedict Option may look at those in the world as “other,” rather than as brothers and sisters.

“What I dislike in this idea, is that it would mean that the world is bad, and the Benedictine Option is good. But we’re not in a movie with the bad and the good. We are in the reality of life, where the world is within me, and this is the most difficult part is to convert myself,” she said.

“And I really think that my brothers and sisters from the world, I cannot judge them, I cannot be separate from them, because I don’t want to go to heaven without them.”  

There have been concerns among some that ecclesial movements are taking the place of the parish in members’ lives. But lived properly, Peterson said, that’s not the case - movements should serve to strengthen parish communities.

“We try to be very engaged in the parish for that reason,” she said, “doing charitable work, teaching in parish schools, a lot of musicians in the movement are active in their parishes.”

Ultimately, she said, “I think these movements are the way that God is rejuvenating the Church...movements are called to give people life so that they can live in this crazy world here.”

Humility is the first step to unity, Pope tells Catholics, Anglicans

Vatican City, Feb 26, 2017 / 11:31 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During his Sunday visit to Rome’s Anglican parish of All Saints, Pope Francis voiced gratitude for the good relations Catholics and Anglicans now enjoy, and said that on the path toward full communion, humility has to be the point of departure.

“(Humility) is not only a beautiful virtue, but a question of identity,” the Pope said in his Feb. 26 visit to the Anglican parish of All Saints.

He noted that in evangelizing the Christians in Corinth, St. Paul had to “grapple” with the fact that relations with the community weren’t always good. But when faced the question of how to carry out the task despite ongoing tensions, “where does he begin? With humility.”

“Paul sees himself as a servant, proclaiming not himself but Christ Jesus the Lord. And he carries out this service, this ministry according to the mercy shown him,” he said, adding that this ministry is done “not on the basis of his ability, nor by relying on his own strength, but by trusting that God is watching over him and sustaining his weakness with mercy.”

To become humble, he said, “means drawing attention away from oneself, recognizing one’s dependence on God as a beggar of mercy: this is the starting point so that God may work in us.”

Francis then quoted a former president of the World Council of Churches, who described Christian evangelization as “a beggar telling another beggar where he can find bread.”

“I believe Saint Paul would approve,” he said, because “he grasped the fact that he was fed by mercy and that his priority was to share his bread with others: the joy of being loved by the Lord, and of loving him.”

Pope Francis spoke to a crowd of both Catholic and Anglican faithful during his Feb. 26 visit to the Anglican church of All Saints, which marked the first time a Roman Pontiff has set foot in an Anglican parish inside his own diocese of Rome.

This visit coincided with the 200th anniversary of the foundation of the Anglican parish community in the heart of the Eternal City, and consisted of a short choral Evensong service, during which the Pope blessed and dedicated an icon of “St. Savior” commissioned for the occasion.

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During the ceremony, the symbolic “twinning” of All Saints Anglican Church with the Catholic parish of “Ognissanti” – the only Catholic parish in Rome dedicated to All Saints – also took place, forming strong ecumenical ties between the two.

Ognissanti is the parish where Bl. Paul VI, on March 7, 1965, celebrated the first Mass in Italian following the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

After his arrival, Pope Francis was greeted by the church's pastor, Rev. Johnathan Boardman, and Rev. Robert Innes, Bishop of the Church of England Diocese in Europe.

In his greeting, Innes thanked Pope Francis for his “global leadership, and for the particular inspiration you have been to those of us in the Anglican Communion,” particularly when it comes to the issues of the poor, migrants, refugees, and human trafficking.

“Within Europe and our diocese, you have challenged members of the European Union to rediscover their Christian heritage and values. Your published work speaks far beyond Rome in addressing difficult ethical issues that face us all,” he said.

Innes voiced his hope and prayer that the Pope’s visit would be “one more small step in further strengthening the unity between our churches and in celebrating the deep bonds of Anglican Roman Catholic friendship that we already enjoy.”

After singing Evensong, Pope Francis gave a homily, during which he noted that “a great deal has changed” both in Rome and in the world since the parish’s founding 200 years ago.

“In the course of these two centuries, much has also changed between Anglicans and Catholics,” he said, noting that while in the past the Churches viewed each other “with suspicion and hostility,” today we recognize one another as we truly are: brothers and sisters in Christ, through our common baptism.”

Francis pointed to the icon he blessed, noting that when looking at it, Jesus “to call out to us, to make an appeal to us: ‘Are you ready to leave everything from your past for me? Do you want to make my love known, my mercy?’”

“His gaze of divine mercy is the source of the whole Christian ministry,” the Pope said, and turned to the ministry of St. Paul, particularly in the community of Corinth.

As the Apostle’s letters show, he “did not always have an easy relationship” with the community in Corinth, the Pope said, noting that at one point there was even “a painful visit” during which “heated words” were exchanged in writing.

But by living his ministry in light of the mercy that he’s received, St. Paul “does not give up in the face of divisions, but devotes himself to reconciliation,” Francis observed, explaining that Christians of different confessions must have the same attitude.

“When we, the community of baptized Christians, find ourselves confronted with disagreements and turn towards the merciful face of Christ to overcome it, it is reassuring to know that we are doing as Saint Paul did in one of the very first Christian communities,” he said.

The Pope then noted how at perhaps the most difficult moment St. Paul had with the community in Corinth, the Apostle cancelled a trip he was planning to make, and renounced the gifts he would have received.

However, while there were certainly tensions in their relationship, “these did not have the final word,” Francis said, explaining that the two communities eventually reconciled and the Christians in Corinth eventually helped St. Paul in his ministry to the poor and needy.

“Solid communion grows and is built up when people work together for those in need,” he said, adding that “through a united witness to charity, the merciful face of Jesus is made visible in our city.”

Pope Francis then voiced his gratitude that after “centuries of mutual mistrust,” Catholics and Anglicans can now “recognize that the fruitful grace of Christ is at work also in others.”

“We thank the Lord that among Christians the desire has grown for greater closeness, which is manifested in our praying together and in our common witness to the Gospel, above all in our various forms of service,” he said.

Although the path to full communion can at times seem “slow and uncertain,” the Pope said the two communities ought to be encouraged by his visit to the Anglican parish and the joint prayer.

The visit, he said, “is a grace and also a responsibility: the responsibility of strengthening our ties, to the praise of Christ, in service of the Gospel and of this city.”

Francis closed his homily encouraging both Catholics and Anglicans to work together “to become ever more faithful disciples of Jesus, always more liberated from our respective prejudices from the past and ever more desirous to pray for and with others.”

After his homily, Pope Francis took three questions from the congregation on the state of Catholic-Anglican relations today, his approach to relations versus that of his direct predecessor Benedict XVI and what Catholics and Anglicans can learn from the “creativity” of Churches in the global south, specifically Africa and Asia.

In his answer to the first question, the Pope noted that despite a turbulent past, relations between Catholics and Anglicans today “are good. We see each other as brothers.” He added that monasteries and the communion of Saints are two particular “strengths” the Churches have in common.

He also stressed the importance of not taking certain moments of history out of context and using them as ammo to damage current relations, saying “a historic fact must be read in the hermeneutic of that moment, not in another hermeneutic.”

In the second question it was asked if Pope Francis, by emphasizing a strategy of “walking and working” together toward unity was perhaps the opposite of Benedict XVI, who at one point warned that collaboration in social action shouldn’t take priority over theological matters.

Francis responded to the question with a joke told to him by Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, that while the different Churches work together on other things, the theologians “can go to an island” and have their discussions there.

Theological questions are important, he said, noting that there are “many things in which we still don’t agree.”

But having this discussion “can’t be done in a laboratory, it has to be done walking,” he said, explaining that “we are on a journey.”

It’s important to have these theological discussions, “but in the meantime we help each other” though acts of charity such as serving the poor, migrants and refugees, he said, adding that “you can’t have ecumenical dialogue that is stopped...you have to do it walking.”

When responding to the third question, Pope Francis noted that “young Churches” in Africa and Asia do have “a different vitality because they are different and they look for ways to express themselves differently.”

However, the “older Churches” in European countries, also have their own benefits, he said, noting that they have had time to “mature” and deepen in many things, including theological and ecumenical questions.

The Pope acknowledged that young Churches “have more creativity,” just as the European Church did when it began, and said there is “a strong need” for the two – old and young – to collaborate together.

As an example, he revealed that he is considering a trip to South Sudan sometime this year, and explained that the idea came from a recent visit the heads of three major Christian churches in the country to Rome.

In October Archbishop Paulino Luduku Loro of the Catholic Archdiocese of Juba traveled to Rome alongside ev. Daniel Deng Bul Yak, Archbishop of the Province of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan, and Rev. Peter Gai Lual Marrow, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, to explain the dire situation of their country, and their joint collaboration in working to quell the effects of the crisis.

Pope Francis noted that during his Oct. 27, 2016,  meeting with the three, they invited him to come, but told him “don’t do it alone,” and requested that he make the trip alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, Primate of the Anglican Communion.

He said the trip hasn’t been confirmed since situation on the ground is so risky, but assured that it’s “being studied,” because each of the Churches there “have the will to work for peace” together.

The Pope ended his answer to the question with the suggestion that, given the benefits of both the “old” and “young” Churches throughout the world, there be an exchange set up where priests from Europe travel to the “younger Churches” for a pastoral experience, rather than it always being the other way around.

“It would do us well,” he said, “You learn a lot.”

God is faithful – trust him and don’t worry, Pope Francis says

Vatican City, Feb 26, 2017 / 05:37 am (CNA/EWTN News).- While earthly pleasures such as power and money bring temporary satisfaction, they are ultimately fleeting and deceptive, Pope Francis said Sunday, explaining that God alone is faithful and in trusting him, we have nothing to worry about.

“God is not a distant an anonymous being: he is our refuge, the source of our serenity and our peace,” the Pope said Feb. 26. “He is the rock of our salvation, to whom we can cling with the certainty of not falling; he is our defense against the evil that is always lurking.”

For each of us God is a “great friend, allay and father,” he said, but noted that sadly, “we don’t always realize it.”

“We don’t realize that we have a friend, a father, who loves us. We prefer to cling to immediate and contingent goods, forgetting, and at times refuting, the supreme good, which is the paternal love of God,” he said.

To know and feel that God is our Father is especially important “in this age of orphan-hood,” he said, noting that often times we distance ourselves from God’s love “when we go in obsessive pursuit of earthly goods and riches, thus showing an exaggerated love of these realities.”

Many friends or those whom “we think are friends” delude us with false illusions, he said, but stressed that “God never deludes.”

Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his Sunday Angelus address, focusing his speech on the day’s Gospel passage from Matthew in which God tells his disciples that “no one can serve two masters,” and that they don’t need to worry about necessities in life such as food, shelter or clothing, because “your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”

The passage serves as “a strong call to trust in God,” Francis said, explaining that God’s “benevolent and responsive gaze” watches over each of us on a daily basis.

This gaze often “flows beneath the worry of many concerns, which risk taking away serenity and balance,” he said, but noted that “this anxiety is often useless, because it isn’t able to change the course of events.”

Rather, Jesus tells us “not to worry about tomorrow” because “there is a loving Father who never forgets his children,” the Pope said. While trusting in him “doesn’t magically resolve our problems,” it allows us “to confront them with the right spirit.”

He said the “frantic search” for earthly goods and riches is ultimately “illusory and a reason for unhappiness,” but that Jesus gives both his disciples and us “a fundamental gift of life” when he tells them to seek the Kingdom of God before all else.

Part of this search means “trusting in God who does not delude,” he said, and told pilgrims to “get busy as faithful administrators of the goods that he has given us, even the earthly ones, but without ‘overdoing it’ as if everything, even our salvation, depended only on us.”

Turning to the Gospel verse where Jesus says “you cannot serve both God and mammon,” the Pope said it has to be “either the Lord, or fascinating but illusory idols.”

This is a choice that we are called to make not just once, but “in all of our actions, programs and commitments,” he said. “It’s a choice to make in a clear way and to be continuously renewed, because the temptations of reducing everything to money, power and pleasure are relentless.”

While pursuing and honoring these “false idols” brings “fleeting” yet tangible results, choosing the Kingdom of God doesn’t always bear immediate fruits, Pope Francis said, adding that “it’s a decision taken in hope and which leaves the full realization to God.”

“Christian hope is stretched to the future fulfillment of God’s promise and it does not cease before difficulties, because it is founded on fidelity to God, which never fails,” he said.

Francis closed his address praying that Mary would help each person to entrust themselves to the “love and goodness of the heavenly Father,” and to live both with and in him.

“This is the prerequisite for overcoming the torments and adversities of life, and even persecutions, as the witness of many of our brothers and sisters shows us,” he said, and led faithful in praying the traditional Marian prayer.

Is the Catholic Church anti-woman? Two feminist scholars debate

Boulder, Colo., Feb 26, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- For Erika Bachiochi, the Catholic Church has been able to offer a genuine pro-woman theology which not only safeguards and protects her stance as a feminist, but also enhances her ability to be strong in all aspects of her life.

Dr. Mary Anne Case would like to differ. She believes that while Catholic feminism exists, the institutional Catholic Church – namely the Vatican and Magisterium – is overtly anti-woman.

These two legal scholars from varied backgrounds met on the common stage of feminism at the Aquinas Institute for Catholic Thought’s 10th annual Great Debate in Boulder, Colo. on Feb. 23. The two women presented dissenting arguments for both sides of the spectrum on Catholic feminism and tackled the question: is the Church anti-woman?

Dr. Case, a law professor at the University of Chicago, answered in the affirmative, while Erika Bachiochi, a visiting fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, answered in the negative.

“In my lifetime, the Church that had made me a feminist betrayed me,” Dr. Case said in her opening statements.

“I think the Church has let us down, and I think the Church has let us down relatively recently. The early church was very much not anti-woman. The gospels are not anti-woman,” she continued, saying the Catholic Church of the past was not anti-feminist.

However, Dr. Case argued that when the Church definitively said “no” to priestly ordination for women in the 1970s, they closed the door to half of the population of the Church.

“The problem with the Catholic Church is that all authority flows from ordination. The Magisterium – as it need not be – is composed of men and cardinals,” Dr. Case said, suggesting that women should at least be allowed in the decision-making that flows from the hierarchy of the Magisterium.

The law professor spoke at the debate wearing a button from the 1970s on her shirt that said “If you aren't going to ordain women, stop baptizing them.”

This, she said, is a representation of the economy of salvation: if women cannot be priests because they do not image Christ, how can women become saved in the eyes of the Church, since salvation can only arrive through the extent that Christ images us?

Dr. Case also pointed to some of the Catholic Church's greatest thinkers, such as St. Thomas Aquinas, who believed that “women are necessarily in a state of subjection,” and that females are “misbegotten males.” She also highlighted that the Sistine Chapel’s Creation of Man, is indeed that of a man – and does not include Eve.

Within the last 50 years, Dr. Case believes that the Church shifted away from the idea that men and women are equal when it introduced the idea of complementarity, particularly seen in Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, saying that placing characteristics or roles on each gender negates their equality.

“There should be no fixed notions concerning the role of males and females,” Dr. Case suggested, and pointed to St. Augustine’s notion that the soul does not have a sex.

In response, Bachiochi said that “papal teaching has rejected the essentialist view that woman and men possess mutually exclusive fixed character traits.” Sexuality does not take away from the equality of men and women, she said, but simply makes them “distinctive.”

While Bachiochi was once a pro-choice, socialist feminist, she has since shifted her beliefs towards the teachings and beliefs of Catholicism. She agreed with Dr. Case on a number of different levels, saying that “there should be more women's voices in the Church.”

However, the most notable differences between the two scholars was on the point of clerics and sexual teachings. While Dr. Case argued that women can and should be ordained Catholic priests, Bachiochi said the notion reeked of clericalism.

“I have no less authority than a priest as a baptized Christian,” Bachiochi said.

“A priest has authority to represent Christ in a sacramental way, and I have the authority to represent Christ in every other area of my life,” she said, adding that the focus on female priests can also take away from the good work that professional and religious women are already doing within the Church.

However, Dr. Case pointed out that men in the Catholic Church “have all of the opportunities, and then some. How can the church not be anti-women…if women are not part of the decision making?”

To this, Bachiochi agreed that more female voices are needed within the Church, but did point to the Pontifical Council of the Laity, which seeks female voices, and other prominent church leaders such as Mary Glendon, who serves on various Vatican boards, and Sr. Prudence Allen, R.S.M., who is a philosopher appointed to the Vatican’s International Theological Commission.

Bachiochi went on to find fundamental differences with the modern idea of feminism, which claims that abortion and contraception rights are the capstone to the whole movement. She has found in her own experience that these same notions can also be the downfall to women.

Instead, Bachiochi suggested that Catholic feminism indeed exists, and is protected by the Church, precisely because of its teachings about sexual and reproductive rights, particularly Natural Family Planning.

“I believe that Catholic Christianity, and in particular the controversial sexual teachings of the Catholic Church, are deeply pro-woman. It was precisely these teachings on monogamy, divorce, birth control, abortion and infanticide that attracted women in the first century into the Christian fold,” Bachiochi stated.

“As a feminist, NFP does something that contraception neglects… it gets men to think about the reality,” she noted, saying that through NFP, less pressure is put on the woman to take the pill or get an IUD, and more emphasis is placed on men and their responsibility in the sexual act.

She also mentioned that the Catholic Church in particular has always been pro-woman, as seen through its recognition of female saints, political leaders, and scholars, and its production of educational systems and healthcare centered around the good of women.

Bachiochi additionally noted that “Mary, the Mother of God, is heralded by the Catholic Church as the single greatest human that has ever lived.”

“The greatest among us are not the clerics, but the saints.”

Marriage prep should be more than just a few courses, Pope tells priests

Vatican City, Feb 25, 2017 / 05:18 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Saturday Pope Francis told a group of parish priests training on the new marriage annulment process to place strong emphasis on good preparation that isn’t limited to just a few courses, but extends even to the first few years after marriage.

“I ask myself how many of these youth who come to marriage preparation courses understand what ‘marriage,’ the sign of the union of Christ and the Church, means,” the Pope said Feb. 25.

“They say yes, but do they understand this? Do they have faith in this?” he asked, and voiced his conviction that “a true catechumenate is needed for the sacrament of marriage.”

Part of this formation process he said, means being thorough, not “to make preparation with two or three meetings and then go forward.”

During marriage prep, couples must be helped to understand “the profound meaning of the step that they are about to take.” This support must also continue through the celebration of marriage itself and even through the first years after, he said.

Marriage, he said, “is the icon of God, created for us by him, who is the perfect communion of the three persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” The love of the Trinity and Christ’s love for his bride, the Church, must therefore be “the center of marriage catechesis and evangelization.”

Whether it’s through personal or communitarian encounters, and whether they are planned or spontaneous, “never tire of showing to all, especially to spouses, (the) great mystery” of God’s love, he said.

The Pope spoke to priests participating a formation course for the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, the Holy’s See’s main court, dedicated to the new marriage annulment process, which went into effect Dec. 10, 2016. Held in Rome, the course ran from Feb. 22-25, and was closed by an audience with the Pope.

The course follows a similar one held in March 2016, but which was directed specifically toward bishops.

In his speech, Francis said priests have a twofold responsibility when it comes to marital ministry: to always bear witness to the beauty of marriage, and to be a consistent support to couples, regardless of their marital status.

He noted that priests are often “the first interlocutors” of young couples who want to get married, and are also the first ones these couples go to when problems or crisis come up, including the request for an annulment of their marriage.

Faced with so many “complex situations” affecting families today, “no one knows better than you and is in contact with the reality of the social fabric in the area,” experiencing firsthand the complexity of various situations they encounter, including valid sacramental marriages; domestic partnerships; civil unions; failed marriages and families and youth, both happy and unhappy.

“For each person and each situation,” he said, “you are called to be travel companions in order to bear witness and to support.”

The Pope stressed that a priest’s first concern is that of “bearing witness to the grace of the sacrament of marriage and the primordial good of the family” by proclaiming that “marriage between a man and a woman is a sign of the spousal union between Christ and the Church.”

This witness is also shown when accompanying young couples on their journey “with care,” showing them how to live in times of “light and darkness, in moments of joy and those in fatigue,” always showing the beauty of marriage.

Francis told the priests that while bearing witness to the beauty of marriage, they must also care for and support “those who realize the fact that their marriage is not a true sacramental marriage and want to leave this situation.”

Because of the “delicate” nature of this type work, the Pope said priests must do it “in such a way that your faithful recognize you not so much as experts in bureaucratic actions or judicial norms, but as brothers who place themselves in an attitude of listening and understanding.”

He told them to imitate “the style” of the Gospel by meeting with and listening not only to engaged or married couples, but also youth who prefer to cohabitate rather than getting married.

People in these situations “are among the poor and little ones toward whom the Church, in the footsteps of her master and Lord, wants to be a mother who never abandons but who draws near and cares for them,” Francis said.

“Even these people are loved by the heart of Christ,” he said, telling priests to “have a gaze of tenderness and compassion toward them.”

This type of care and attention “is an essential part of your work in promoting and defending the sacrament of marriage,” the Pope said, adding that the parish is the place “par excellence” for the “salus animarum (salvation of souls).”

Pope Francis then pointed to a recent speech he gave to the Rota in which he told them to implement “a true catechumenate” of future spouses which covers all stages of the sacramental path, from the time of marriage preparation, the celebration of the sacrament and the first years immediately after.

“To you pastors, indispensable collaborators of the bishops, is primarily entrusted this catechumenate,” he said, and encouraged them to implement it “regardless of the difficulties you could encounter.”

Francis closed his speech by thanking the priests for their commitment to announcing “the Gospel of the family.”

He prayed that the Holy Spirit would help them “to be ministers of peace and consolation in the midst of the holy faithful people of God, especially the most fragile and those in need of your pastoral support.”

Cincinnati Catholics hope to give Church a megaphone on racial, social problems

Cincinnati, Ohio, Feb 25, 2017 / 04:15 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholics in Cincinnati are hoping that an upcoming meeting of bishops and leaders will give the local Church a much stronger voice to address issues of racism and violence.

“It is a blessing for this archdiocese, through the archbishop, to embrace addressing racism, the pervasive gun violence, restorative justice…race relations, and mental health, that our voice has to be heard,” said Deacon Royce Winters, director of African-American ministries for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

“That’s what we really wanted to do was to say as big and as powerful as the voice of the Catholic Church is in the United States, we have to do our part to bring about justice and the dignity of life for all peoples,” he told CNA.

The Feb. 28 meeting of Catholic leaders at Xavier University – entitled “Promoting Peace In Our Communities” – is a continuation of a years-long effort by Catholics to restore race relations and heal social tensions in the archdiocese, Deacon Royce said.

Area social tensions were inflamed after a 2015 incident where a University of Cincinnati police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man in a car. The officer was tried for murder and voluntary manslaughter before a judge declared a mistrial in November. A re-trial has been set for May.

That was the starting point for next Tuesday’s meeting, Deacon Royce recalled.

“We began to have conversations about what is the role of the Church to use this prophetic voice to address violence, whether it be police violence or black-on-black crime or any violence,” he said.

Several members of the archdiocese’s pastoral services department met to bring the problem of violence in the city to Archbishop Dennis Schnurr. The archbishop then celebrated Masses for peace at four African-American parishes in the archdiocese, and staff sent out prayer intentions and homily suggestions to parishes on “the role of the Church in seeking justice.”

Then, after a rash of violent incidents across the nation in the summer of 2016 – police shootings of minorities and retaliatory shootings of police officers – Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, then-president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called for a Day of Prayer and Peace in Our Communities on Sept. 9. There were two Masses for peace that day in the archdiocese, at African-American parishes.

The U.S. bishops also commissioned a special task force to plan the day of prayer, but also to issue a report to the U.S. bishops’ conference on “promoting peace.”

Bishops addressing these issues at the national level proved to be a vital support to Catholics in the archdiocese who had been working for years on them, Deacon Royce said, noting that it “emboldened us to be even more intentional about addressing the issues in the diocese.”

Two big social problems in the Cincinnati area are “policing” and “black-on-black violence,” he said. Back in 2002, the police department and federal government entered a collaborative looking at “how they are policing in our communities.”

The collaboration led to firearm training and cultural sensitivity training for police officers, among other things, but “there’s still more to do,” Royce said.

He recalled that during the initial trial of the police officer that killed the unarmed black man in 2015, Catholics joined ecumenical leaders and social activists to pray on the steps of the court house. They prayed for the young man who was shot, and for his family, as well as for the police officer.

“We were also…that justice be done, whatever that justice is,” he added, insisting that “we weren’t praying for an outcome” in the case.

In November, Deacon Royce gave a presentation on Church statements against racism at the University of Cincinnati, citing the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter on racism, “Brothers and Sisters to Us.” The previous November, Bishop Edward Braxton of Belleville discussed his letter on the “racial divide” at both Dayton University and Xavier University, preached at Mass, and participated in a panel discussion with area police chiefs and state representatives.

When Cincinnati hosted Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game in the summer 2015, Catholics joined with ecumenical leaders, activists and members of the Underground Railroad Freedom Center to ask the MLB to take public stands against racism and violence. They met with the owner of the Cincinnati Reds and representatives of the MLB.

Church leaders must be better equipped to talk about racism and gun violence, the deacon insisted.

“Our pastors, our deacons, or whoever’s preaching in our communities, are not skilled to address this issue, so that means the people in the communities are not being formed and most of us as preachers and as homilists would rather steer away from it than address it.”

After Archbishop Kurtz called for the Day of Prayer, Deacon Royce and others reached out to him and began planning the event modeled after the theme of the task force, “Promoting Peace In Our Communities.” The archdiocese, along with Xavier University’s Institute for Spirituality and Social Justice and Catholic Charities of Southwest Ohio, will host the event.

“It provides us an opportunity to, again, promote the Church’s response to the letter that was sent out from the general secretary and Archbishop Kurtz,” the deacon said.

Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati will celebrate Mass at 4 p.m. in the university’s Bellarmine Chapel to begin the event, with Archbishop Kurtz concelebrating.

The Mass will be followed by dinner and discussion on “embracing diversity in our communities.” This topic is needed for discussion, Deacon Royce stressed, because even though Catholic organizations do “great work” in the area, “we tend not to be engaged at the street level of dealing with people where they are.”

“We have to ask ourselves the question: Are we prepared to minister to all of God’s people and the range of race, culture, and origin in which they place themselves?”

This involves “teaching our staff” to look at “our own personal biases,” he said, “and identify their impact on our ministry.”

He added that there must be “an understanding that there is no one culture in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati into which non-white cultures are supposed to assimilate.”

The discussion will be followed by a keynote address on “Carrying Out Our Prophetic Ministry in Times of Racism and Violence” by Archbishop Kurtz.

The meeting is so important, Deacon Royce emphasized, because it gives the opportunity for Catholics to “be engaged” on these societal issues.

“When we say there’s a seamless garment of life from the womb to the tomb, then that means that we have to be engaged in those events to help people know what that dignity of life is.”

 

Archbishop Chaput and his new book are coming to NYC, DC

Philadelphia, Pa., Feb 24, 2017 / 04:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput will present his latest book in New York City and Washington, D.C. in the near future, discussing the changed situation for Catholicism in America.

“As Christians, we're offering a salvific message in a therapeutic culture. It's a tough sale,” the archbishop told CNA. He suggested that new understandings of religion and civic life are very different from previous generations.

“Jesus changed the world with 12 very flawed men,” Archbishop Chaput said. “We have plenty of good men and women, and more than enough resources, to do the same. But not if we’re too self-absorbed and too eager to fit into the world around us to suffer for our faith. We’re not short of vocations. We’re short of clear thinking and zeal.”

His newest book, “Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World,” was released Feb. 21 by Henry Holt and Co. The archbishop makes the case that American culture has undergone a qualitative change from the past, and he considers the future for Catholics and Americans in public and private life.

While there are tens of millions of actively practicing Christians in the U.S., Archbishop Chaput suggests the overall trends in religious affiliation are not good. He stressed that the Christian past was great only insofar as Christians were faithful to Jesus Christ.

The archbishop will hold a book signing, deliver comments and take part in a panel discussion.

On Feb. 27 in New York City he will hold an event at 7 p.m. at the Sheen Center, 18 Bleecker Street, Manhattan.

The Washington, D.C. event will take place March 14 at 6:30 p.m. at the Catholic Information Center, 1501 K Street NW.

Admission at both events is free.

 

Supreme Court hears case of Mexican teen shot at border

Washington D.C., Feb 24, 2017 / 04:25 pm (CNA).- The Supreme Court this week heard oral arguments in the case of a Mexican teen shot dead by a border patrol agent. But when it comes to legal standing in the case, the situation is far from clear.

“This is a difficult case, as its facts are very compelling for the plaintiffs, but the law is less so,” said Mary G. Leary, professor of law at The Catholic University of America.

Leary spoke with CNA about the case Hernandez v. Mesa currently before the Supreme Court.  

At the U.S.-Mexico border in 2010, three Mexican boys played a game of “chicken” by seeing who would run the closest to the border. Fifteen-year-old Sergio Hernandez crossed the border and was noticed by border patrol agent Jesus Mesa. As Hernandez ran back into a culvert between the walls on either side of the border, the agent shot him dead.

Mexico requested that Mesa be extradited for the killing, but the U.S. refused. Hernandez’s family sued for damages, claiming that the Fourth Amendment protects against such use of force on the border.

Although the Hernandez family has appealed to the Constitution, the Fourth Amendment protections might not necessarily apply in the case, Leary said.

“The plaintiffs have made a constitutional claim, but it is far from clear that the Constitution applies to the family of a non-American citizen injured or in this case killed outside the border of the United States,” she stated.

The Fourth Circuit had dismissed the case, saying “the plaintiffs fail to allege a violation of the Fourth Amendment, and that the Fifth Amendment right asserted by the plaintiffs was not clearly established at the time of the complained-of incident.”

Oral arguments in the case of Hernandez v. Mesa were heard by the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

“This tragic case is one of the most simple extraterritorial cases this Court will ever have in front of it,” said Robert Hilliard, arguing for the teen’s family.

“First, all of the conduct of the domestic police officer happened inside the United States. Second, it was a civilian domestic police officer. Third it was a civilian plaintiff, not an enemy combatant. Fourth, it was one of the most fundamental rights, the right to life. Fifth, the other government involved supports – the government of Mexico supports the claim,” he said.

Justice Stephen Breyer admitted that the family has “a very sympathetic case,” but he and other justices were skeptical of issuing a broad ruling that could affect drone killings carried out in foreign countries by citizens operating in the U.S.

Also, justices noted, there is no specific rule on the books dealing with these instances. Lawyers are trying to make the case for the victim’s family by appealing to the Fourth Amendment’s protections against “unreasonable search and seizure.”

Hernandez’s case is not an isolated one, Hilliard insisted, claiming that there have been “at least 10 cross-border shootings” with six deaths of Mexican nationals.

Justice Kennedy asked whether the Court should consider the matter if “this is one of the most sensitive areas of foreign affairs” and “the political branches should discuss with Mexico what the solution ought to be.”

“But isn't this an urgent matter of separation of powers for us to respect the duty that…the executive and the legislative have with respect to foreign affairs?” he asked Hilliard.

When Randolph Ortega argued for Mesa before the Court, justices pressed him on the location of the killing and the role of Border Patrol officers.

“The actor is the Border Patrol member. And the instruction from the United States is very clear: Do not shoot to kill an unarmed, non-dangerous person who is no threat to your safety. Do not shoot to kill. That's U.S. law,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg observed.

“It's the United States law operating on the United States official who's acting inside the United States. This case has, as far as the conduct is concerned, United States written all over it,” she said.

Ortega insisted that “in areas of the United States where there is a clearly defined border, as we have here, the Fourth Amendment stops unless the person seized – in this case Hernandez – had some voluntary contact with the United States.”

Ginsburg asked how it would be different if an officer, standing in the U.S., shot a foreign national in the U.S. versus shooting someone on the border.

“That doesn't make a whole lot of sense, does it, to distinguish those two victims?” she asked.

“I think it's very distinguishable because of the very real border,” Ortega replied. “Wars have been fought to establish borders. The border is very real.”

 

New immigration rules will hurt the vulnerable, US bishops warn

Washington D.C., Feb 24, 2017 / 12:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Trump administration’s new border and immigration enforcement rules needlessly endanger the vulnerable, militarize the border and will cause many other problems, the U.S. bishops warned this week.

“They greatly expand the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border,” said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, who wrote the bishops’ Feb. 23 response.

On Feb. 20, the Department of Homeland Security issued two memoranda to implement President Donald Trump’s executive orders regarding immigration enforcement on the border and in the U.S. interior.

“Taken together, these memoranda constitute the establishment of a large-scale enforcement system that targets virtually all undocumented migrants as ‘priorities’ for deportation, thus prioritizing no one,” Bishop Vasquez said.

Important protections for the vulnerable, including unaccompanied children and asylum seekers, have been removed from federal policy, the bishop said.

The memoranda promote the use of local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law. This disregards “existing relationships of trust” between local law enforcement officials and immigrant communities, he said.

“The engagement of local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law can undermine public safety by making many who live in immigrant communities fearful of cooperating with local law enforcement in both reporting and investigating criminal matters.”

In addition, the rules aim to publicize crimes by undocumented immigrants, to erect new detention facilities, and to speed up deportations, the New York Times reports. Administration officials said that those brought to the U.S. as young children will not be targeted. However, parents living without documentation in the U.S. who smuggle their children into the country could face deportation or prosecution for smuggling or human trafficking.

Bishop Vasquez urged the Trump administration to reconsider its approach in the memoranda and in its executive orders.

“Together, these have placed already vulnerable immigrants among us in an even greater state of vulnerability,” he added.

He voiced the U.S. bishops’ commitment “to care for and respect the human dignity of all, regardless of their immigration status.”

“During this unsettling time, we will redouble our work to accompany and protect our immigrant brothers and sisters and recognize their contributions and inherent dignity as children of God,” he said.

 

Access to water is a basic human right, concerns 'the common good'

Vatican City, Feb 24, 2017 / 11:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Vatican seminar on water held this week highlighted the complex challenges faced around the world in making the basic human right to water a reality for all people.

Reliable access to safe and clean water for everyone is an issue close to the heart of the Church, Cardinal Peter Turkson told CNA Feb. 23, because it has to do with the fundamental dignity possessed by every human person.

Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Cardinal Turkson wasn’t a formal participant himself, but sat in on a few of the sessions. He said that “on the level of the Church” the point of departure for the issue of water access is “certainly dignity.”

“Because we affirm the dignity of people, we also affirm anything that is needed to make this dignity realized,” he said.

Hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Argentine organization Catedra del dialogo y la cultura encuentro, the workshop brought together scientists, scholars, business and non-profit leaders, clergy, and educators for an “interdisciplinary discussion.”

During the seminar, participants agreed that there is a fundamental human right to water, but differed on the exact approach to take to combat the issue. Overall, the major problem isn’t the resource, several noted, but its distribution.

Participants highlighted the issue's interconnectedness to other worldwide problems, such as poverty and gender equality. Difficult or limited access to water, especially clean water, contributes strongly to poverty and increased susceptibility to disease.

It also becomes an issue of gender equality in some countries, when women are forced to give up education because of the many hours a day they spend retrieving clean water for their families. In older cities, the problem is often a lack of infrastructure, which old roads and buildings make difficult to rectify.

Because each country and even each community has its own challenges regarding the distribution of safe water, many proposals at the seminar focused on working with people and organizations in the communities themselves to solve problems on as local a level as possible.

Fr. Peter Hughes, a priest of the missionary society of St. Columban, who has worked in inner-city slums in South America, said the seminar “has to do with the crisis of the world today, and the increasing possibility of conflict.”

“We're talking about something that is very much an issue, and a deep concern for the world, for the future, and particularly for the poor.”

This is why, Fr. Hughes said, he was quite pleased by the exchange in the morning session the first day, because it focused on the “relationship between theology and religion” as the basis for a discussion on the crisis of water.

“The right to water that's now in crisis, the basic human right, has to do with the common good. So therefore, the ethical question is absolutely central,” he emphasized.

“The ethical common good approach precludes any attempt to privatize water,” which would be, he said, “to the detriment of people” and their need for water to stay alive.

In his opinion, water is not just a social and ecological problem, but also an economic one.

“And now, as Pope Francis says, we have to understand that the economic crisis and the victims, which are the poor, is also very much linked to the ecological crisis. We can no longer speak of two separate crises,” he said.

“That is where we can better understand how water has become a mercantile object, subject to market forces, to the detriment of people and to the detriment of the environment.”

The seminar consisted of different panels as well as discussion time. The panels covered the issue from the perspectives of science, education, ecology, sustainable development, and policy, as well as the ethical and theological views of water.

A resource often taken for granted, Fr. Hughes pointed out that in many religious traditions, but especially the Jewish and Christian traditions, water as a symbol is synonymous with life itself.

From a theological perspective, “when we're talking about water, we're talking about life,” he said.

This is why the ethical responsibility humanity has toward water comes “from the heart of the Christian message.”

“We have been entrusted by the God of life,” he explained, “to care for water, which means to care for life, to care for people, to care for all of creation, not just for human beings, but human beings as part of creation.”

“The Church has a moral responsibility to care for water and to ensure that people have water,” he said, and “this particularly has to do with the Church’s responsibility to the poor.”

Pope Francis addressed participants in the seminar Feb. 24, reaffirming that water is indeed a basic human right.

“Our right to water is also a duty to water,” he said. “Our right to water gives rise to an inseparable duty. We are obliged to proclaim this essential human right and to defend it – as we have done – but we also need to work concretely to bring about political and juridical commitments in this regard.”

“The questions that you are discussing are not marginal, but basic and pressing,” he told participants. “Basic, because where there is water there is life, making it possible for societies to arise and advance. Pressing, because our common home needs to be protected.”

“God the Creator does not abandon us in our efforts to provide access to clean drinking water to each and to all,” he continued.

“With the ‘little’ we have, we will be helping to make our common home a more livable and fraternal place, where none are rejected or excluded, but all enjoy the goods needed to live and to grow in dignity.”