Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Pope John Paul II: Catholic Social Mission

The following is an essay by John Carr, Executive Director of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

Pope John Paul II effectively ended the debate about whether the social mission of the Church is integral or fringe, fundamental or marginal. According to Pope John Paul, “the ‘new evangelization’ which the modern world urgently needs …must include among its essential elements a proclamation of the Church's social doctrine.” Catholic social teaching has “permanent value” and is “genuine doctrine” which enables the Church to “analyze social realities, to make judgments about them and to indicate directions to be taken for the just resolution of the problems involved” (Centesimus Annus, 3, 5). By his words and witness, by his teaching and example, he demonstrated that the Church’s social teaching is at the core of what it is to be a Catholic community of faith.

In three powerful social encyclicals, Centesimus Annus (1991), Laborem Exercens (1981) and Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1987) Pope John Paul II demonstrated that social teaching is not “a theory, but above all else a basis and motivation for action” (CA, 57). Over three decades, he affirmed, built upon, and advanced Catholic teaching on work and workers, war and peace, the role and limitations of markets and government and care for creation. The defense of human dignity and the call to solidarity were at the center of his papacy. He reminded us again and again that we are all members of one human family, sisters and brothers with undeniable dignity as children of God.

Throughout his papacy, John Paul worked persistently and consistently to defend life, promote justice and pursue peace and he applied Catholic moral principles to the pressing issues of his time: life and death, war and peace, economic justice and environment, debt and development. He led the Church’s opposition to abortion and euthanasia, cloning and capital punishment. He worked tirelessly for peace in the Middle East and religious freedom around the world.

Pope John Paul II made clear there were limitations and dangers in the application of Catholic social teaching. It cannot be used to justify violence or class struggle. It should not be misused for partisan political purposes or to justify some ideological agenda. However, he was absolutely clear that the Church is called to defend life, promote justice and pursue peace as an integral part of its vocation in the world.

Any believer who listened to the teaching of John Paul II or watched his leadership, saw and heard with new clarity and power that the defense of human life and dignity and the pursuit of justice and peace are at the heart of what it is to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and member of His Church.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Pope John Paul II: Ethics Over Technology

The following is an essay by Richard Doerflinger, Associate Director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

When Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II in October 1978, the first “test-tube baby” was three months old. Researchers had learned how to produce human life by joining sperm and egg in the laboratory without sexual union (in vitro fertilization). As we proceed through a new century, such technologies have led to debates about human embryo research, adoption of frozen embryos, human cloning, and genetic engineering of offspring.

The more than 26 years of John Paul II’s pontificate therefore coincided with a new age in mankind’s power over human life at its foundations. And beginning with his first encyclical in 1979, Redemptor Hominis (Redeemer of Man), he called for careful assessment of such developments in light of the inherent dignity of the human person, insisting on the priority of “ethics over technology” (n. 16).

In a series of talks in the 1980s, the Holy Father surprised many with his basically positive judgments about the medical promise of genetics. As always, however, he distinguished valid use from dangerous abuse: Genetic engineering may bring cures and relieve human suffering, but must not be used to manipulate human life or to try to manufacture the “superior” human being.

In 1987, John Paul II approved a Vatican document reaffirming the Church’s rejection of in vitro fertilization -- and of human cloning, then only a speculation. The new document, Donum vitae (Gift of Life), warned prophetically against mistreating human embryos as mere objects of experimentation. But it left the door open to technologies that may help couples have children without reducing procreation to a laboratory procedure.

In Veritatis splendor (Splendor of the Truth) in 1993, John Paul II offered a profound critique of moral relativism and utilitarian thinking, which end by enslaving the vulnerable to the interests and whims of the strong. And in Evangelium Vitae (1995), he solemnly reaffirmed Church teaching against abortion, euthanasia and other attacks on human life, placing the defense of life at the center of the Church’s witness: The “gospel of life” was an integral part of the Gospel.

Finally, by establishing the Pontifical Academy of Life in 1994, Pope John Paul II ensured that the Church would keep studying new developments in human cloning, stem cell research, care of the dying, and many other issues in bioethics. In 2008 his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, approved the document Dignitas personae (The Dignity of the Person) to reaffirm the principles of Donum vitae and apply them to even newer ways to manipulate human life. His lasting legacy is a Church unafraid to confront such issues, confident that it can make a distinctive contribution on behalf of the dignity of each and every human being.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Immigration Debate and U.S.-Mexico Relations: A Catholic Perspective

Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, chariman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, made the following presentation March 21, in the context of a conference on the Catholic Church and Migration celebrated at The Catholic University of America. Other speakers in the panel included Archbishop Rafael Romo Muñoz of Tijuana, chairman of the Mexican Episcopal Conference’s Migration Commission, Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan of Mexico and Assistant Secretary of State Eric P. Schwartz, of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. Archbishop Gomez's remarks follow:

I want to say thank you to Archbishop Romo, Ambassador Sarukhan, and Assistant Secretary Schwartz for your participation in tonight’s program.

We are at an important moment in the relationship between Mexico and the United States. I want to talk about that relationship tonight as it relates to migration between our two countries, and especially the debate over immigration here in the United States.

I have three basic goals tonight: First, I want to outline what I believe to be the root issues with U.S.-Mexican migration. Second, I want to explain the Catholic Church’s approach to these issues. Third and finally, I want to make some suggestions and observations about the current debate in light of Catholic principles.

To start, I need to say two things. First, this issue is personal for me. I am an immigrant myself. My people come from both Mexico and America. I was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico. My ancestors have been in what’s now Texas since 1805, when it was still under Spanish rule. I still have family on both sides of the border.

I am also a proud citizen of the United States. I love this country and I love the values that it was founded to defend and promote.

I also need to point out something obvious. I am not a politician or a diplomat or an expert in the global economy. I am a Catholic archbishop. That means I am a priest and a pastor of souls. In everything, my concern is to be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to defend and promote the dignity of the human person who is made in the image of God.

I don’t have technical solutions or statistical analysis to offer. But I do think the Catholic Church has a unique and important perspective to offer on these issues.

But before I talk about that I want to outline briefly what I think are the root issues underlying the immigration crisis facing our two countries.

For me, the issue is rooted in the processes of economic globalization.

Globalization has expanded opportunities for businesses and for workers. But it has also created new problems in the relationships between our nations. The biggest problem is that while we have developed laws and policies to govern the flow of capital and money, we have no standards for the movement of laborers.

For instance, the North American Free Trade Agreement eliminated tariffs and many restrictions on trade and business in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. But it didn’t include a treaty concerning the mobility of persons.

Money, capital, and other resources now flow more freely between our nations. But human beings — the men and women who do the work — cannot. In the newglobal economy, there are many safeguards for businesses and financial institutions but very few for workers.

Globalization has exposed — and in some cases made worse — the economic inequalities that exist within and between our nations. To put it very simply: As long as workers can earn more in one hour in the U.S. than they can earn in a day or a week in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, they will continue to seek, by any means necessary, to migrate to this country.

That’s my first point. The primary issues effecting migration between our two countries are economic. People are not so much fleeing tyranny or persecution as they are seeking work and a better future for their families.

My second point is this: The Catholic Church’s approach to immigration is not about politics or economics. It is rooted in the vision of human society that wastaught to us by Jesus Christ.
The Catholic Church, from the time of the first Pentecost, has been a family of nations. By definition, the Catholic Church is "universal," one family of God drawn from all nations, peoples, and languages.

In fact, the Catholic Church in the United States is a kind of microcosm of what Jesus intended his Church to be. We are in this country a Church of nearly 60 different ethnic groups — from Asia, Africa, the Near East and Latin America. More than one-third of the Catholics in our country today are Hispanic.

The point is that in the Catholic Church and in the eyes of God, no one is a stranger or an alien. Practically speaking also, U.S.-Mexican immigration for us is a religious and family issue. Because the vast majority of the immigrants we are talking about are Catholics, they are our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.

The Church’s approach to these issues starts from Christ’s command to preach the good news of God’s love for all peoples. It starts from Christ’s call that we transform the city of man into the family of God.

What many people don’t realize is that Jesus Christ himself was an immigrant and a refugee.
This is how the Church understands the account in the Gospel of how Jesus, Mary and Joseph were forced into exile in Egypt when Herod sought to kill Jesus.

Pope Benedict XVI has said this:

In this misfortune experienced by the family of Nazareth, obliged to take refuge in Egypt, we can catch a glimpse of the painful condition in which all migrants live. … The hardships and humiliations, the deprivation and fragility of millions and millions of migrants. …. The family of Nazareth reflects the image of God safeguarded in the heart of every human family, even if disfigured and weakened by emigration.
Those are beautiful words of concern. And they reflect a long tradition in the Church that goes back to the Gospels.

Christians have always practiced hospitality. The Church has always worked to defend the stranger and care for the immigrant. Even the Roman emperors, who hated the Christians, were amazed by their "benevolence to strangers."

Catholics care for immigrants because Jesus commanded it. Because he told us that we must seek God and serve God in the least of our brothers and sisters. Jesus said that when we serve those who are hungry and homeless, in prison and sick, we are serving him.

He even made a point of talking about immigrants and refugees. He said: "I was a stranger and you welcomed me . . . As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Matt. 25:35, 40).

In the course of 2,000 years, the Church has developed a body of social teachings that are based on the principles of reason and the values of the Gospel. I wish more people knew the Church’s social teaching — including more Catholics. Because this teaching is a real contribution to human civilization. It offers us a powerful vision for how human society can function for the common good and the dignity of all people.

On immigration, the Church has formed three basic principles.

The first principle is this: The human family is one, although we have different ethnic origins and we are spread across different continents, regions, and national boundaries. God has made us to be one family.

And God did not create the good things of this earth — its natural resources and opportunities — only for the privileged few. Or only for people in certain countries. God intends the good things of his creation to be shared by all, no matter where we are born or where we find ourselves living.

The second principle is the sanctity of the human person and the family. Our right to life comes from God. That right does not depend on the whims of politicians or powerful people. That right does not depend on economic or political forces. Our rights come from God. And no man, no institution, and no set of circumstances can justify denying those rights.

On this point of the inalienable rights of the person, we should notice that the Church’s teachings are consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948 and also with the charter of liberties in the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

For us, the universal human rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness imply the right to emigrate — to leave our country if we must, to seek a better life for our families and ourselves. In a world divided by war, famine, persecution, and economic dislocations, immigration becomes a crucial guarantee of our right to life.

The Church’s third principle is that governments have the right to control migration into their countries and to defend their borders. This is important. It means that nations must look at their security and their economic interests in making decisions about who and how many people they allow into their countries. It means that immigrants must respect the laws of the countries they emigrate to.

But the Church also teaches that national sovereignty should never be used as an excuse to deny the rights of needy and decent people who are seeking their livelihood. No country can deny this basic human right to migrate out of exaggerated fears for national security or selfish concerns about threats to domestic jobs or standards of living.

Those are the Church’s principles. Based on these on these principles, the American bishops have supported a comprehensive reform of our immigration policies that would secure our borders and give undocumented immigrants the chance to earn permanent residency and eventual citizenship.

Also based on these principles the bishops have started our "Justice for Immigrants" campaign. And back in 2003, the U.S. and Mexican bishops wrote an important joint pastoral letter called "Strangers No Longer."

All of these initiatives are intended as a thoughtful response to the crisis facing our two countries. I recommend them to you. I believe you will find in them many concrete proposals that could be embraced by all people of good will.

As my final point tonight, let me offer a some observations on the current impasse we have reached in the debate over immigration in this country.

I understand the political frustration over this issue. There has been a failure of leadership — and this failure of leadership cuts across party lines. The reasons for the stalemate on this issue are understandable — from a political standpoint. But from a moral standpoint, the results are intolerable and inexcusable.

Again, I am not a politician, but a pastor of souls. As a pastor, I am deeply concerned about the costs of this impasse in the lives of millions of men, women, and children.

Not just the souls of the 12 million without papers who are living at the margins of our society. I am worried about their physical, moral, and spiritual health. When you are a stranger in a strange land — and unwanted — you are easy prey for exploitation. But more than that. When you are a stranger who is despised, it gets harder every day to hold onto your cultural identity, your moral compass, your religion, your dignity. You start to believe what people say about you — that you are no good.

But I’m also worried about our social fabric and civic debate. Right now in this country, there are a lot of people — a lot of good people — who are saying things they know they should never be saying about immigrants. Their anger and frustration is understandable. But their rhetoric and many of their political responses are not worthy of America’s proud history as a beacon of hope for the world’s poor and persecuted.

Our current policies of enforcement — workplace raids, detentions, and deportations — are a humanitarian tragedy. We are destroying families in the name of enforcing our laws.

It is true that many immigrants are in our country illegally. That bothers me. I don’t like it when our rule of law is flouted. And I support just and appropriate punishments. But right now, we are imposing penalties that leave wives without husbands, children without parents. We are deporting fathers and leaving single mothers to raise children on little to no income.

We are a better people than that. We have always been a nation of justice and law. But we have also been a nation of mercy and forgiveness. We can find a better way. I think it begins with the Catholic perspective. It begins in seeing immigrants as human beings. As mothers and fathers. As children of God.

Practically speaking, I would like to see a moratorium on new state and local immigration legislation. And, as the U.S. bishops have called for, I would like to see an end to the harsh federal work-site enforcement raids and the severe deportation policies.

We need to push for protections of the most vulnerable migrants — children and women, who often fall prey to unscrupulous traffickers and others. We also need reforms in how we issue visas, especially for immigrants and people here illegally who have families.

I also would like to see our two governments begin to talk about some of the underlying issues. We need to find ways encourage economic reforms and developments throughout Latin America, especially in the poorest countries in the region. We need to find ways to target economic development so that far fewer Mexicans will feel compelled to leave their homes to seek jobs and money in other countries. It is especially important that we work to promote small business and agriculture.

All of these measures would make a real difference in the lives of millions of people. But they are only temporary. We need to muster the political will to fix our broken immigration system. We need to find a way to make the strangers in our midst our fellow citizens. I believe that today’s immigrants — like generations of immigrants before them — are the hope for tomorrow’s America.

I appreciate your attention tonight, my brothers and sisters. And I am grateful for all that you are doing — and will continue to do — to promote the cause of human dignity and the common good in every aspect of the relationships between our two countries. I look forward to continuing our conversation.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Universal Church as Defender of the Rights of Migrants

"The Catholic Church and Immigration: Pastoral, Policy and Social Perspectives" conference at The Catholic University of America (CUA) is being live-streamed today, March 21, at Below is the speech that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, delivered just minutes ago:

I would like to thank Dr. Schneck for his kind introduction and to thank Catholic University and the Migration and Refugee Services office of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for inviting me to speak today.

Today’s discussion of the church and migration is of special importance to me, as I have myself witnessed the migration phenomenon in all its forms during the long years of my own ministry. Even when visiting a country to discuss political affairs, or to observe responses to poverty, or to visit the local church, migration has always been part of the conversation and always must be considered as leaders seek just solutions to mankind’s failures.

Migration is not always a pretty sight, as, because of the nature of our world, persons on the move are often running away from danger, from wars, persecution, or grinding poverty. However, it continues to be a permanent part of the international landscape that cannot be ignored, because it involves human beings and their welfare.

Before I we talk about the present day reality and about responses to international migration, and the Catholic Church’s involvement in it, let me first present the Gospel foundation that provides the basis for our involvement.

Although some are not aware of this, migration is a central theme of both the Old and New Testaments. In Exodus, we see the flight of the Israelites, who escape the oppression of Egypt and wander in the wilderness for forty years, until the Lord leads them to a new home, Israel. This experience leads to the Lord’s admonishment to the Israelites in Leviticus: “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were once aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34). There is no equivocation in that statement.

In the New Testament, exile and homelessness mark the life of Christ as well. In Matthew, the child Jesus and the Holy Family flee as refugees to Egypt to escape the threat of Herod. As an adult, Jesus is an itinerant preacher who travels throughout Galilee and Judea to spread his message: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His Head.” (Mt 8-20) As the Lord came to share humanity with us in everything but sin, so, too, he came to share our experiences and challenges, including the problems and dangers of the migrant experience.

There is not just coincidence here—Christ lived as a migrant and a refugee for a reason: in order to live with his people in solidarity, to provide example to all generations, even to this day, and to give witness to the Kingdom of God. This becomes clear later in the Gospel of Matthew, where our Lord teaches us that to attain the Kingdom of Heaven, we must welcome the stranger: “… For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Mt. 25-25) Just as you did this to the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Mt 25-39, 40)

So, in Catholic teaching, in the face of the immigrant, refugee, asylum-seeker, or trafficking victim, we see the face of Christ. We may not recognize Him at first, but He is there, just as the two disciples who met the Risen Lord on the road to Emmaus only knew it was the Lord “in the breaking of the bread.”

Thus, the Universal Church’s role as a defender of the person on the move locally and globally is grounded in our faith and in our belief in Jesus Christ our Savior, who, as both God and man, embodied all that is Divine. This includes every human being, from the Iraqi refugee fleeing war to the Latin American migrant searching for a job.

Successive Popes have built upon the Gospel teachings and applied it to migration in the modern world. Pope Leo XIII established the right of a person to find work in his landmark encyclical Rerum Novarum , reacting to the forces of the industrial revolution. Pope Pius XII, in his apostolic letter Exsul Familia, established the right of a person to migrate in order to find employment and support a family, partially a by-product of migration stemming from the Second World War. In Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) Pope John XIII, noting the rise of the global powers, wrote of the obligation of nations to the international common good and how that obligation extends to the accommodation of migration. Pope John Paul II reaffirmed these teachings in several of his encyclicals, emphasizing the need for special protection of undocumented migrants. He was reacting to a relatively new phenomenon called globalization.

Today, the world is more complicated than ever, and, as such, the Church needs to remain more vigilant in defense of the migrant. As John Paul II realized, we live in a world marked by globalization, where the world has shrunk—and where communication, goods, and capital can be exchanged by nations and individuals at a moment’s notice, and individuals with means can travel across the world in a day. As the world has changed in this way, making economic relationships easier to manage (although not always in a positive way), it has not changed with regard to the migration of peoples, particularly those in search of work and survival. In fact, the situation is worse.

Pope John Paul II recognized this new reality, and Pope Benedict XVI has expanded upon it. In his encyclical Centesimus Annus, which marked 100 years since Rerum Novarum and applied its principles to the modern era, John Paul II tied globalization with integral human development, stating that free economies should “presume a certain equality between the parties, that one party would not be so powerful as practically to reduce the other to subservience” (N. 14). He expanded this notion to all persons in the apostolic exhortation, Ecclesia in America: “In the variety of cultural forms, universal human values exist and they must be brought out and emphasized as the guiding force of all development and progress.” He added that the Church will work to ensure that all “elements in society will cooperate to promote a globalization which will be at the service of the whole person and all people.”

In his encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), Pope Benedict XVI develops this globalization theme further, stating that economic life is “part and parcel of human activity and precisely because it is human, it must be structured and governed in an ethical manner” (n. 36). In an April 30, 2010, talk to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, His Holiness added that “economic life should properly be seen as an exercise of human responsibility, intrinsically oriented towards the promotion of the dignity of the human person, the pursuit of the common good and the integral development---political, cultural, and spiritual—of individuals, families, and societies.”

Given these ethical considerations in the context of globalization, the Church is compelled to defend the human person in this new economic global rubric, including those who are subject to its economic forces. This is one primary reason for the Church’s support for comprehensive immigration reform, which seeks to restore basic rights to persons who come to the United States to work and feed their families. As the U.S. and Mexican bishops states in their landmark pastoral letter, Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, globalization is a new factor which impacts the migrant: “It is now time to harmonize policies on the movement of people, particularly in a way that respects the human dignity of the migrant and recognizes the social consequences of globalization’ (N. 57). The effects of globalization on the human person, particularly the migrant worker, will be one of the most challenging moral issues of the twenty-first century. It will be left to the Church to lift this issue up and call upon nations to address it.”

Likewise, the Church also is compelled to defend persons on the move for reasons of persecution and war, which tragically is another permanent part of the global landscape. Today, there are as many as 13 million refugees in the world and over 20 million internally displaced persons, many whom are women and children. Through the Pontifical Council on Migrant and Itinerant Persons and the International Catholic Migration Commission, the universal Church attempts to respond to the suffering of these persons. I am privileged to serve as a board member of Catholic Relief Services. In this capacity, I have witnessed first-hand the life-saving assistance to refugees and other persons on the move provided by CRS all over the world. Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, working with dioceses and Catholic Charities organizations across the country, is the largest resettler of refugees in the United States, helping to re-locate as many as 20,000 refugees per year in our country. Pope John Paul II once referred the world refugee situation as the “festering of a wound.”

The Church responds to another global wound which I must highlight, modern-day slavery known as human trafficking. Pope Benedict XVI has called the trafficking in human beings a “scourge” and has called upon nations to work to end it. In the United States, MRS oversees programs to trafficking victims, including child trafficking victims. CRS operates anti-trafficking programs in countries around the world. The re-authorization of the Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act in Congress this year gives us another opportunity to improve the U.S. response to victims of trafficking.

As Christ Himself was a refugee fleeing the terror of Herod in the Gospel of Matthew, so, too, are millions of our fellow human beings across the globe. They deserve our attention and life-saving support, and, as I have outlined, the universal church does what it can to give it to them. We provide it to them regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, or religion. As the late Cardinal Hickey, my great predecessor in Washington, always said, “We serve [persons] not because they are Catholic, but because we are Catholic.”

Today, however, I would like to call attention to a specific group of refugees—namely Christians who flee religious persecution. In different areas around the world, religious persecution is more prevalent than ever, particularly against Christians. Such persecution---from denial of their right to worship to violent attacks against them---has occurred in Egypt, Iran, China, and Iraq, to name a few places.

Of these examples, I would like to focus on our Iraqi brothers and sisters. I have traveled with CRS throughout the Middle East and have spoken with Iraqi Christians, including Iraqi Catholics, who have fled the war to neighboring countries. They are fearful to return to Iraq. This is understandable, given the October 31 attack on Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church in Baghdad which killed 58 people, as well as attacks on Christian households on New Year’s Eve. These attacks received international attention; an untold number of other attacks against Iraqi Christians have not.

Let me share with you the story of one Iraqi Christian I met. During my brief visit in Jordan, I had the opportunity of seeing some of the refugees from Iraq who are being helped by Caritas. One of the people that I met was a man who had just recently fled from Baghdad with his wife and three small boys. You will remember the massacre in the Catholic Church, which took place there a few months ago. He happened to be in the church at that time, with his three sons. Thank goodness he was sitting near the side wall of the church and was near a door. As soon as he heard the noise in the front of the church, he took his youngsters and ran out the side door. It was only when he got home that he heard the news that two of the priests had been killed together with some 58 other people.

A short time after that, someone broke into his house around two o'clock in the morning and he found himself being awakened by the pressure of a revolver against his temple. A man’s voice said to him “Take your family and get out of here in three days or we will kill you “. He said to the intruder: “why, I haven't done anything.” The voice came back and said, “You’re a Christian, that's enough. We don't want you here.”

The next morning after a conversation with his wife, he called the three boys in and told them that they were moving away from Baghdad. The youngsters protested. They said “Daddy, we don't want to move from here. All our friends are here, and our school is here. Please don't make us move. This is the only place we have ever lived.” The father did not know how to respond at first. Finally he said to the boys “okay, if you really want to stay, we will stay. But I have to tell you that Jesus cannot stay with us. He is not going to be able to be with us if we stay in Baghdad. Only if we go away, can we still talk to Jesus.”

The six-year-old said to him “then we have to move. We can't stay here without Jesus. It won't be home anymore.” Once the middle child had spoken, the other two agreed and so they left. The man was a carpenter. And, thank goodness, was able to find a job -- illegally of course -- in Amman. I said to him “If things cleared up, would you ever go back? He said to me “Not if they offer me a house of gold! “

This is the real face of the refugee. This is the migrant who has no choice but to move and this is the family, which is our responsibility, as church, as society and as fellow human beings.

The United States, as both a participant in the Iraqi war and a Christian nation, has a special obligation to protect this family and other Iraqi Christians. Yet, as U.S. combat troops prepare to leave Iraq later this year, there is no public plan to ensure the protection of religious minorities in Iraq, including Christians. The U.S. refugee program, which has resettled about 50,000 Iraqi refugees, including Christians, to date, has stagnated, with only 6,000 awaiting consideration of close to 2 million located in surrounding countries. Iraqi women and children are more vulnerable to human trafficking. The welcome mat for Iraqis in surrounding countries—which to date has been very generous---is fraying.

Our government must step up its efforts to respond to this reality, particularly before U.S. troops leave Iraq. These ancient religious communities should be able to remain in Iraq in safety, and those who cannot return and live in safety in their own country must be provided for, either in the countries to which they have fled, or, if that seems impossible, in a third country where their culture and faith can continue to be fostered. Otherwise, our fellow Christians and Catholics in the region could one day soon face oblivion.

While I completely subscribe to the late Cardinal Hickey’s statement as an accurate description of Catholic service to mankind, it does not mean that we should not provide special support and attention to members of our own faith who are in peril. Charity has to begin at home! I urge you to join me in defending their right to practice our faith in security and freedom and to be able to remain in their homes to do so.

In closing, then, why is the Catholic Church at the forefront of defending the migrant, the refugee, the trafficking victim, and others who are on the move?

In his encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI gives us the simple answer: “Every migrant is a human person who, as such, possesses fundamental, inalienable rights that must be respected by everyone and in every circumstance” (Caritas in Veritate, no. 62). And as the gentle Servant of God, Cardinal Terence Cooke, used to say: “We are all brothers and sisters in God’s one human family.”

This is the principle and the message, simple but powerful, that the Church and her members can deliver effectively.

As the Catholic bishops of Mexico and the United States stated in Strangers No Longer: “We judge ourselves as a community of faith by the way we treat the most vulnerable among us” (no. 6).

I would like to encourage you to continue your efforts to help persons on the move. If you are new to this mission, I pray that this conference will inspire you to get involved, whether it be on a service, advocacy, or pastoral level. As we offer these works of solidarity, however small, the Lord Jesus sees them and sends the Holy Spirit to help us, so that our work helps unify all His people. It is those here today and Catholics throughout the world who must be able to convince the powerful to heed this principle, and to realize in our own lives that Christ is still present in the life of the stranger and still rewards those who take Him in!

God bless you.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Immigration Front and Center

If there is an issue nowadays that proves the Catholic Church does not relent or sway with the winds of political change when justice and moral values are at stake, that’s probably the Church’s stand on immigration.

At a time when the much-needed debate and federal action on comprehensive immigration reform seem to be at a stalemate, the Church continues to put the issue front and center. The reason is simple: for the Church, immigration is ultimately a pro-life and pro-family issue; it is about human beings and their basic right to human dignity and human life.

On Monday, March 21, Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and The Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America (CUA) will host a daylong conference on “The Catholic Church and Immigration: Pastoral, Policy and Social Perspectives.”

The conference program will feature three separate panel discussions on:

Immigration and the Church: Historical Impact and Future Responses; Catholic Social Teaching and Immigration Policy; and The Role of the Catholic Church in the Immigration Debate. Speakers include: Margaret Steinfels, co-director of the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture; Amy Sullivan, senior editor at Time Magazine; John Thavis, Rome bureau chief for Catholic News Service; and Kathryn Lopez, editor at National Review Online.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., and a consultant to Catholic Relief Services, will deliver a lunchtime keynote address titled “The Universal Church as a Defender of Migrant’s Rights.”

The daylong conference will take place 9 am-4 pm at The Catholic University of America, Caldwell Hall Auditorium, 620 Michigan Ave., N.E., Washington, D.C.

Highlighting the international dimension of immigration, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, and Archbishop Rafael Romo Muñoz of Tijuana, chairman of the Mexican Episcopal Conference’s Migration Commission, will present at a separate event in the evening on the topic "U.S.-Mexican Migration: A Catholic View." Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan of Mexico and Eric P. Schwartz, Assistant Secretary of State for the U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration will respond. Attendance to the evening event, at The Catholic University Law School, requires invitation. Interested media can contact the USCCB Office of Media Relations:

For more information about the conference, view the program ( ) or call the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at 202-319-5999.

God Doesn't Waste Popes

The upcoming beatification of Pope John Paul II on May 1 has generated an outpouring of praise for the late pope and the gift of his pontificate. While JPII raised the profile of the papacy to unprecedented, "rock star" levels, it's worth noting that his time as pope -- while extraordinary -- was not an isolated event in terms of a pope making a lasting impact on the Church. In fact a quick look at the modern papacy reveals that every pope brings unique gifts from God. Let's review ...

Pius IX (1846-1878) The longest serving pope since St. Peter, Pius IX convened the First Vatican Council, established the teaching of papal infallibility and used said infallibility to define the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary (a belief that had been part of Catholic tradition for centuries). The reign of Pius IX also saw the loss of the Papal States, the territories directly under the rule of the pope. This began a period in which the pope became known as the "prisoner of the Vatican." He was also the first pope to be photographed. Pius IX was beatified by none other thath Pope John Paul II in 2000.

Leo XIII (1878-1903) The third longest serving pope since Peter, Leo XIII is probably best known as the father of modern Catholic social teaching, launched with the epic encyclical letter Rerum Novarum, which addressed the plight of workers and society in the context of the Industrial Revolution. The encyclical remains the social encyclical against which others are measures, with subsequent popes observing its anniversaries with encyclicals of their own, assessing the ongoing state of socioeconomic justice in the world. Leo XIII was the first pope to be filmed, reportedly blessing the camera afterward, and first to be audio recorded.

St. Pius X (1903-1914) The last pope to date to be canonized a sant, Pius X has been nicknamed "the pope of frequent communion" for encouraging Catholics to do just that -- receive the Eucharist regularly. He's also credited with lowering the age of First Communion to "the age of reason." Today's Catholics take both of these realities for granted.

Benedict XV (1914-1922) Pope during World War I, Benedict XV is remembered primarily as a "prophet of peace," something that led Joseph Ratzinger to take the name Benedict himself upon his 2005 election to the papacy. Along with his peace advocacy and humanitarian efforts in the face of the devastation of global war, Benedict XV also found time to promulgate the first ever Code of Canon Law in 1917. It's amazing the Church didn't get around to doing this till 20 centuries into its existence.

Pius XI (1922-1939) The pontificate of Pius XI is perhaps most notable for his signing of the Lateran Treaty, establishing the sovereign Vatican City state, as it is known today (kind of a big deal). Pius XI also inaugurated Vatican Radio, whose operations continue to present day. In the way of social teaching, Pius XI issued the 1931 encyclical Quadragesimo Anno to mark the 40th anniversary of Rerum Novarum. In his encyclical, Pius XI looked at the rebuilding of society amid the Great Depression.

Pius XII (1939-1958) Like Benedict XV, Pius XII had the challenge of leading the Church through a world war. In the midst of this, he had a reputation as a deeply prayerful man and versatile teacher, authoring many encyclicals. He also relaxed the restrictions for fasting before Communion. Perhaps most notably, Pius XII defined the dogma of the Assumption of Mary in 1954, making him the last pope to date to draw on papal infallibility.

John XXIII (1958-1963) Elected at age 76 and expected to be a mere transitional pope, the pontificate of John XXIII is better described as pivotal. Convening the Second Vatican Council, he ushered in a paradigm shift in Roman Catholicism, the most significant since the Reformation. Other Christians went from being "heretics and schismatics" to "our separated brethren." In the opening address of the Council, Pope John said the Church now prefers "the medicine of mercy" over a "spirit of condemnation." The pope himself embodied this change, traveling outside of the Vatican, even traveling to Assisi by train, and appealing to people around the world with his warmth and good humor. His groundbreaking encyclical on world peace, Pacem in Terris, was the first addressed not only to the bishops of the Church, but to all people of good will. He was beatified by John Paul II in 2000.

Paul VI (1963-1978) The pontificate of Paul VI was dominated by the completion and implementation of the Second Vatican Council, which saw sweeping reforms in liturgy, interreligious affairs and virtually every area of Catholic life. Pope Paul wrote several encyclicals, including affirmations of Catholic teaching on celibacy and birth control, and his own contribution to the body of Catholic social teaching with 1967's Populorum Progressio. In his day, Paul VI was considered the "pilgrim pope" given that he was the first pope in a long time to travel outside of Italy. His message even traveled beyond planet Earth with his blessing of Apollo 11.

John Paul I (Aug.-Sept. 1978) The proof that God doesn't waste popes might just lie with the 34-day pontificate of John Paul I. In under a month, John Paul I took two unprecedented steps. First: taking the first double name in the history of the papacy. Second: by refusing to be crowned, opting instead for a simple installation Mass. His successors to date have followed his lead on the this last point, a symbolic trajectory change at the very least.

John Paul II (1978-2005) The first non-Italian pope in 400 years and the first Polish pope ever, John Paul II outdid seemingly every papal record in his 26 years on the chair of Peter. He brought the Gospel and the papacy to nearly every corner of the globe in his expansive world travels. He wrote 14 encyclicals on topics including bioethics, Mary, the Eucharist, truth, the relationship between faith and reason, and the role of the papacy. He also oversaw the publication of the revised Code of Canon Law in 1983 and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The illness of his later years provided a powerful witness to the dignity of suffering.

Benedict XVI (2005-present) Now coming up on six years into his pontificate, Benedict XVI has engaged in unprecedented levels of dialogue with the Muslim world, been an outspoken advocate on environmental issues, made his own contributions to Catholic social teaching, allowed wider use of the 1962 Latin Mass, and created ordinariates for traditional Anglicans to come into communion with Rome while retaining the unique character of their worship. And as one Vatican official recently noted, this is only the beginning of his pontificate ...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Pope John Paul II: Intended for TV

The beatification of Pope John Paul II on May 1 should bring lots of TV cameras to St. Peter’s Square. That’s only right, for if there ever was a pope made for television it was John Paul II.

With training as an actor in his youth, he was comfortable on any stage, including that of the world. He made almost 130 trips to far and near corners of the earth and greeted all strata of society. Wherever he went, he brought with him a media entourage which otherwise might never have focused on the desperately poor in African and Latin American countries and in India, nor covered his message to remember the poor amidst us.

The pope knew that journalists, especially TV cameramen, gave him entre into millions of homes. In a visit to one nation, for instance, the pope deplaned to a waiting crowd. The crowd stood on the left cheering and waving, and the pope responded. Then he turned to the lone cameraman on the right and waved just as enthusiastically to an unseen crowd of perhaps millions more. John Paul welcomed media for he knew their power in preaching to the modern world.

Elected when he was 58, he was a vigorous, handsome man with a message and became a natural fit on to the cover of news magazines. In 1994, he was Time magazine’s “Man of the Year.” He was made for photo ops, whether hugging a child in Angola or holding a koala bear in Brisbane, Australia. He wore native dress, including a unique straw hat in Lesotho, delighting both the local people and the paparazzi.

Yet his respect for modern media went far deeper than a photo.

Even before the current social media took root, Pope John Paul recognized media’s impact on society. In his 1990 encyclical, Redemptoris Missio, he compared the world of media to the Apostle Paul’s Areopagus in Athens, where the Apostle to the Gentiles, the pope said, “proclaimed the Gospel in language appropriate to and understandable in those surroundings (cf. Acts 17:22-31).”

“At that time the Areopagus represented the cultural center of the learned people of Athens,” the pope said, “and today it can be taken as a symbol of the new sectors in which the Gospel must be proclaimed.”

“The first Areopagus of the modern age is the world of communications, which is unifying humanity and turning it into what is known as a ‘global village,’” the pope said. "The means of social communication have become so important as to be for many the chief means of information and education, of guidance and inspiration in their behavior as individuals, families and within society at large. In particular, the younger generation is growing up in a world conditioned by the mass media.”

The pope saw media’s importance beyond its ability to deliver a message in a moment. He said that the modern medium is “not meant merely to strengthen the preaching of the Gospel.”

“There is a deeper reality involved here,” he said. “Since the very evangelization of modern culture depends to a great extent on the influence of the media, it is not enough to use the media simply to spread the Christian message and the Church's authentic teaching. It is also necessary to integrate that message into the ‘new culture’ created by modern communications. This is a complex issue, since the ‘new culture’ originates not just from whatever content is eventually expressed, but from the very fact that there exist new ways of communicating, with new languages, new techniques and a new psychology.”

Pope John Paul II saw how the media was an integral part of a changing world. He embraced modern media and they, in return, embraced him.