Today on Perspectives, the Archbishop of Montreal welcomes the Supreme Court decision protecting the liberties of Loyola Catholic High School, CCCB President’s message for Holy Week and Easter, Pope Francis to visit the White House and CNS travels to the historic burial of Richard III.
Today on Perspectives, Pope Francis’ weekly General Audience, condolences for flight crash victims in France, Ontario doctor’s take College of Physicians and Surgeons to court to fight for their conscience rights and a Catholic Church comes under attack in Pakistan.
Today on Perspectives, Pope Francis travels to the Campania region of Italy and his weekly Angelus Address.
Excerpt from the Concluding Address by Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Congress of the Angelicum Foundation of Santiago, Chile
& the University of St. Thomas (Houston)
Houston, Texas – March 21, 2015
As the last speaker of the conference, it is my duty to address the topic, Reconciliation and Community: A Call for Transforming Leadership. I will do so by considering the lives and styles of leadership of two Latin American pastors. The first is a Jesuit, the former Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires – Jorge Mario Bergoglio.
As Archbishop of Argentina’s capital – a diocese with more than three million inhabitants – Cardinal Bergoglio developed and implemented a pastoral missionary plan based on communion and evangelization. He had four main goals: open and brotherly communities, an informed laity playing a lead role, evangelization efforts addressed to every inhabitant of the city, and assistance to the poor and the sick. He asked priests and lay people to work closely together in the work of evangelization and education of the people. During many years of fruitful pastoral ministry, Cardinal Bergoglio insisted, “Teachers of the faith need to get out of their cave,” and the clergy “out of the sacristy.” He required parish priests to live with their people, and in the same conditions as their people, even in radical simplicity and poverty. Authentic pastors should have the “odor of the sheep” if they are to be effective and credible.
When Cardinal Bergoglio spoke of social justice, he called people first of all to pick up the Catechism and to rediscover the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. His project was and remains very simple: if you follow Christ, you understand that “trampling upon a person’s dignity is a serious sin.”
“My people are poor and I am one of them,” Cardinal Bergoglio said so often, explaining his decision to live in an apartment above a school and cook his own meals. He frequented the Villas Miserias, advised his priests to show mercy and apostolic courage and to keep their doors open to everyone. One year before his election to the See of Peter, the Cardinal wrote a pastoral letter in which he reprimanded his own priests for refusing the Sacrament of Baptism to the children of single mothers.
His life was radically changed two years ago March 13 when “Padre Jorge,” as he was known by so many in Argentina, became Pope Francis. We have all witnessed and been recipients of his Petrine Ministry for the past two years. Since his election as Bishop of Rome, he has captured the mind and heart not only of the Church but also of the world. He has not changed a single doctrine of the Church but has ushered in a way of speaking, a new style of leadership that has shaken the Church and impacted the world.
Some call him a revolutionary. At the heart of his message is a transformative call to reconciliation and mercy. As leader of the Catholic Church, he asks us to let go of different forms of thinking and the desire to impose certain ideas at all costs. He proposes a humble way of committed people who base their lives on Gospel living. For Francis, compassion and mercy can truly change the world. This is the Christian revolution: namely a conversion to the origin of the Gospel message as a way to the future, a true revolution of tenderness and mercy.
Listen to three sections of his “Mission Statement” or Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium:
88…For just as some people want a purely spiritual Christ, without flesh and without the cross, they also want their interpersonal relationships provided by sophisticated equipment, by screens and systems which can be turned on and off on command. Meanwhile, the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction. True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others. The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness.
100…It always pains me greatly to discover how some Christian communities, and even consecrated persons, can tolerate different forms of enmity, division, calumny, defamation, vendetta, jealousy and the desire to impose certain ideas at all costs, even to persecutions which appear as veritable witch hunts. Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?
229…The sign of this unity and reconciliation of all things in him is peace. Christ “is our peace” (Eph 2:14). The Gospel message always begins with a greeting of peace, and peace at all times crowns and confirms the relations between the disciples. Peace is possible because the Lord has overcome the world and its constant conflict “by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col 1:20). But if we look more closely at these biblical texts, we find that the locus of this reconciliation of differences is within ourselves, in our own lives, ever threatened as they are by fragmentation and breakdown. If hearts are shattered in thousands of pieces, it is not easy to create authentic peace in society.
An attitude that seeks dialogue, builds bridges and opens doors
Two months after his election as Bishop of Rome, in his daily homily of May 13, 2013 in the chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae, Pope Francis stressed the courageous attitude of St. Paul in the Areopagus, when, in speaking to the Athenian crowd, the Apostle to the Gentiles sought to build bridges to proclaim the Gospel. Francis called Paul’s attitude one that “seeks dialogue” and is “closer to the heart” of the listener. The Pope said that this is the reason why St Paul was a real pontifex: a “builder of bridges” and not of walls. The Pope said that this is the attitude that a Christian ought always to have.
“A Christian,” Francis said, “must proclaim Jesus Christ in such a way that He be accepted: received, not refused – and Paul knows that he has to sow the Gospel message. …Paul does not say to the Athenians: ‘This is the encyclopedia of truth. Study this and you have the truth, the truth.’ No! The truth does not enter into an encyclopedia. The truth is an encounter – it is a meeting with Supreme Truth: Jesus, the great truth. No one owns the truth. The we receive the truth when we meet it.”
…Pope Francis’ electrifying homily to the new Cardinals in St. Peter’s Basilica on February 15 of this year is one of the most significant addresses that he has given in his two-year pontificate. Centered on “the Gospel of the marginalized,” it provides a road map for Catholic Church leaders and educators. Commenting on Jesus’ cure of the leper in Mark’s Gospel, he said, “Compassion leads Jesus to concrete action: he reinstates the marginalized!” Jesus responds “immediately” to the leper’s plea “without waiting to study the situation and all its possible consequences” because “for Jesus, what matters above all is reaching out to save those far off, healing the wounds of the sick, restoring everyone to God’s family!”
“This is scandalous to some people but Jesus is not afraid of this kind of scandal! He does not think of the closed-minded who are scandalized even by a work of healing, scandalized before any kind of openness, by any action outside of their mental and spiritual boxes, by any caress or sign of tenderness that does not fit into their usual thinking and their ritual purity. He wanted to reinstate the outcast, to save those outside the camp.”
Francis finds the contemporary Church at a crossroads: “There are two ways of thinking and of having faith: we can fear to lose the saved and we can want to save the lost.” There is “the thinking of the doctors of the law, which would remove the danger by casting out the diseased person,” and “the thinking of God, who in his mercy embraces and accepts by reinstating him and turning evil into good, condemnation into salvation and exclusion into proclamation.”
“These two ways of thinking are present throughout the church’s history: casting off and reinstating,” Francis said. He recalled that Sts. Peter and Paul caused scandal, faced criticism, resistance and even hostility for following the path of reinstatement. Francis, and many of those who have embraced his message and strive to follow his example are also being criticized today for the same things: for not casting off but striving to reinstate those who are on the peripheries for a variety of reasons.
…In healing the leper, “Jesus does not harm the healthy. Rather, he frees them from fear. He does not endanger them, but gives them a brother. He does not devalue the law but instead values those for whom God gave the law. Indeed, Jesus frees the healthy from the temptation of the ‘older brother.’”
In an address on March 14 of this year to the Union of Italian Catholic Educators, the Pope addressed them as colleagues, saying: “Indeed, the duty of a good teacher – all the more for a Christian teacher – is to love his or her more difficult, weaker, more disadvantaged students with greater intensity. Jesus would say, if you love only those who study, who are well educated, what merit have you? Any teacher can do well with such students. I ask you to love “difficult” students more … and there are some who really try our patience, but we have to love them more… those who do not want to study, those who find themselves in difficult conditions, the disabled and foreigners, who today pose a great challenge for schools.”
Pope Francis told his audience: “If a professional association of Christian teachers wants to bear witness to their inspiration today, then it is called to engage in the peripheries of the school, which cannot be abandoned to marginalization, exclusion, ignorance, crime.”
The Church of Francis is the Church of Jesus Christ
Where is Pope Francis leading the Church? What does he want the bishops to do? What does he expect of us, ordained ministers? And what is he modeling for laymen and women? For Francis the Church is first of all reconciler. In his address to the Brazilian bishops during World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Francis said that “from the beginning, God’s message was one of restoring what was broken, reuniting what had been divided,” Francis explained. “Walls, chasms, differences which still exist today are destined to disappear. The church cannot neglect this lesson: She is called to be a means of reconciliation.”
Francis wants the church to be an instrument of reconciliation and welcome, a church capable of warming hearts, a church that is not bent over on herself but always seeking those on the periphery and those who are lost, a church capable of leading people home. Pope Francis takes every opportunity he can to ask his brother bishops, priests, pastoral ministers and lay leaders: Are we still a church capable of warming hearts? A church capable of leading people back to Jerusalem? Of bringing them home? Jerusalem is where our roots are: Scripture, catechesis, sacraments, community, friendship with the Lord, Mary and the apostles. … Are we still able to speak of these roots in a way that will revive a sense of wonder at their beauty?
Pope Francis is neither conservative nor liberal but a radical who wants to bring about a revolution of mercy. In Evangelii Gaudium, he invites and challenges all of us to move beyond our “comfort zones.” He wants us to be warm, welcoming and forgiving. He wants us to eat with tax collectors and sinners; he wants us to forgive the woman caught in adultery (while admonishing her to sin no more); he wants us to welcome and respect foreigners (even our enemies), and, above all, not to judge others.
For Pope Francis, authentic power is service: Power in the Church is not about who kisses one’s hand but how many feet one can wash in the service of Christ. Pope Francis made this clear when he visited a youth detention center on his first Holy Thursday in Rome in 2013 and chose to wash the feet of young offenders, including two young women and two Muslims. He continued that tradition last year by washing the feet of elderly women and men and those with severe handicaps. Next week he will wash the feet of 12 prisoners at Rome’s Rebibbia prison – incarcerated women and men. If we do not learn this Christian rule, we will never be able to understand Jesus’ true message on power and be effective teachers, educators and pastoral workers.
The Christian realism of the “Joy of the Gospel” is beyond reactionary ideology and pie-in-the sky spirituality. A little compassion can move the world, Francis says. That is the Christian revolution at the core of Francis’ Petrine ministry, a conversion to the origin of the Gospel message as a way to the future, a revolution of mercy. There is nothing new here. It is only the Gospel message. It’s been our mission, our mandate and our story for over 2,000 years.
The second Latin American pastor was also an Archbishop – the chief Shepherd of San Salvador – Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Goldamez, born in 1917 in the town of Ciudad Barrios, in the mountains of El Salvador near the border with Honduras. After serving as a country pastor and rector of two seminaries, he became bishop then archbishop at time of great social unrest in his country. His pulpit became a source of truth when the government censored news. Romero walked among the people and listened. “I am a shepherd,” he said, “who, with his people, has begun to learn a beautiful and difficult truth: our Christian faith requires that we submerge ourselves in this world.”
Through his life and ministry, Archbishop Romero taught us that thinking with the Church meant to be rooted in God, loving and defending the poor, and out of fidelity, paying the price for doing so. He risked his own life as he defended the poor and oppressed. He laid down his life for his friends.
The spirituality and faith behind his struggle for life flowed from his belief in the God of the living who enters into human history to destroy the forces of death and allow the forces of life to heal, reconcile, and lift up those who walk in the valley of death. Romero taught us that poverty and death go together.
Oscar Romero’s life also speaks to us today by virtue of his untiring call for dialogue and negotiation. In a society that was terribly polarized, a society in which the usual way to relate to persons with whom one disagreed was to assassinate them, Romero always tried to open a space for communication, conversation, and understanding. In 1980, Romero brought the opposing sides of the government of El Salvador together for hours of talks, urging that the junta be given another chance. His example of bridge-building can be of particular importance to any nation today where change is often seen as a process of the oppressed taking on the pinstripes of the oppressors.
Oscar Romero’s untiring efforts on behalf of the poor give flesh and blood to the words of Mary’s Magnificat in the New Testament. In making her own the words of Hannah of the Old Testament’s prayer of praise to God, Mary reminds us that “God has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.” But God has not put the lowly up on the thrones of their oppressors! The problem is the thrones themselves that serve as a constant temptation to power, distortion, violence, abuse and manipulation. Romero’s life offers a completely different model of societal transformation. His plea for forgiveness, reconciliation and mercy is of paramount significance. Oscar Romero modeled for us the opposite of what the world models. The world thrives on manipulative, exploitative, competitive power. Romero embodied nutritive and integrative power: power on behalf of the other and a power shared with others.
Murdered in cold blood by an assassin’s bullet as he celebrated Mass in a hospital on March 24, 1980, his last words in the sermon just minutes before his death reminded his congregation of the parable of the wheat. “Those who surrender to the service of the poor through love of Christ, will live like the grain of wheat that dies. It only apparently dies. If it were not to die, it would remain a solitary grain. The harvest comes because of the grain that dies…”
…Oscar Romero testified that the church must be the voice of the voiceless and the incessant defender of life. The church must passionately pursue justice, but without identifying itself with any one particular party or any one particular ideology. This can be a very difficult and challenging struggle, a veritable mine field or high wire balancing act. To walk this tightrope was especially challenging in the El Salvador of the ‘70s, which was so highly politicized that people were often not seen as persons, but instead, were identified only on the basis of their belonging to political parties or organizations.
…Jesuit Fr. Rutilio Grande, Archbishop Oscar Romero, the Maryknoll Missionaries and the Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador were pastors, university professors, teachers and lay missionaries who were brutally murdered because of the questions which they asked about justice and peace; because they sought the truth of very difficult situations of suffering and massive injustice; because they believed dearly in the value of a Catholic, critical education, which put into practice what the best elements of our Church stand for. Each person was disciple, missionary, educator and evangelist and each was killed because the education and evangelization which they shared with their students and flocks touched the enormity of human suffering and pain all around them in El Salvador.
Here in our peaceful and at times surreal environment of higher learning, we may ask ourselves if this is what Catholic Education, adult catechesis and evangelization programs are suppose to do: to kill people and make martyrs? And the ultimate answer may be yes. What happened in El Salvador to these men and women and what continues to happen to similar people around the world who are authentic teachers, disciples and witnesses is not so much a barbarous and bizarre anomaly… because authentic Catholic education, true evangelization and missionary discipleship must educate and evangelize men and women into the disciplined sensitivity toward the suffering in the world whoever and wherever they may be. This is part of the education and evangelization called for by the Gospel. For without a specific Gospel-rooted effort to bring about such a religious and humane education and evangelization in our educational and pastoral milieus today, we will simply graduate and form people unaware of pain, suffering and the real cost of being Christian and being disciples.
Pope Francis is doing exactly the same thing for us as he leads and guides the Church. He has a passion for the poor, the immigrant, the forgotten, and the “throw-aways.” He is the first Pope from the Southern Hemisphere, and the first from Latin America; these are the areas of the world where poverty is so great. Francis is inviting us to become witnesses, missionaries and disciples. That is our mission today. It is not new. Francis has brought new urgency, new passion, and I would suggest, new authenticity to this mission.
If we fail to understand the modus operandi of Francis of Buenos Aires and Oscar of El Salvador, we risk transforming the living realities of both Archbishops into framed diplomas, coveted degrees, documents in files, books on shelves, academic seminars, monuments, statues and holy cards to admire, and not people to imitate to emulate. We must ask ourselves at a university conference like this one, “How do faith and a Christian understanding of education transform the lives of Catholic laity in the world? How are the tenets of Catholic education and evangelization making a difference in lives of Catholics and many who are peering in from the peripheries.
Teaching and preaching is the art of leaving vestiges in students and those who listen to us, and all good teachers and preachers must ask what vestiges they wish to leave in their hearers. Good and effective teachers and preachers have usually had excellent teachers and preachers themselves. The highest compliment we can pay to our own teachers and pastors is to try to imitate them or incorporate their methods into our own lives. People may listen to us because we are good teachers and preachers, but they will truly learn from us, be inspired by us, be changed by us, and even imitate or emulate us because we are first and foremost disciples and witnesses.
Both Francis and soon-to-be-Blessed Oscar are disciples and missionaries, role models and Gospel witnesses, agents of reconciliation and builders of communities of faith. Francis leads the Church on earth, and Oscar watches over us from the heavenly Jerusalem. Let us learn from the examples of these two great pastors, teachers and missionary disciples from Latin America.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, is CEO of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation in Canada and English language assistant to the Holy See Press Office.
On Saturday, March 21, Pope Francis is set to spend a day visiting Pompeii and Naples. Though short, this trip is yet another reminder of the pontiff’s preferential option for the poor and marginalized.
Aside from a visit to a sanctuary in Pompeii and a meeting with the sick at Basilica of Gesu Nuovo, the pope is visiting Scampia, a bedroom suburb best known as the setting of the film Gomorrah; Poggioreale, an overcrowded prison; and meeting with youth at an iconic seaside promenade.
The suburb of Scampia is best known today as the setting of the film “Gomorrah” and home to what is considered an example of failed civic architecture. The “Vele di Scampia” or the “Sails of Scampia” is concrete house complex designed and built from 1962 to 1975. The sail shaped concrete buildings with outdoor staircases were part of a larger complex of buildings. The project incorporated large outdoor spaces between buildings that were meant to serve as piazzas and soccer fields.
The reaction to the completed complex was less than enthusiastic. Maintenance was not a priority and living conditions soon deteriorated. Instead of becoming a mini-city bursting with life, Scampia became the only place that disadvantaged families could afford to live. The mafia also moved in.
While not all residents are involved with organized crime, Scampia is not an easy place to live and residents don’t have many opportunities available to improve their situation. Given his past declaration about Mafia members being “excommunicated” or removed from God’s love, expect strong words from Pope Francis during his meeting with residents in St. John Paul II Square.
The next stop on his itinerary is scheduled to be Poggioreale Prison, home to 1900 inmates. Pope Francis will greet inmates, many of whom probably lived in Scampia at some point in their lives. The pope is scheduled to have lunch with a group of inmates at Poggioreale and give a speech.
Following his visit to the prison, Pope Francis will stop at the cathedral where he will venerate the relic of St. Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples. That relic is a vial of the saint’s coagulated blood. Three times a year the dark grains of dried blood become liquid once again and take on bright red colour. The miracle usually occurs on the first Saturday of May, the 19 of September, and the 16 of December. Studies conducted in 1988 determined that the substance contained in the two vials housed in the reliquary is indeed blood. The miracle doesn’t work like clockwork. There have been times when the blood did not liquify on those dates, or liquified just before or just after the usual days.
In a recently published book the Archbishop of Naples, Cardinal Crecenzio Seppe, recounted the story of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Naples and the St. Gennaro’s relics. Cardinal Seppe recounts that although it seemed as though the pontiff could not pull himself away from the reliquary, the saint’s blood did not liquify. Even though there is no reason to expect the saint’s blood to become liquid before the pope, this will be a point of interest for some Neapolitans now that their expectations have been raised.
The Scottish cardinal who resigned in 2013 after allegations of sexual misconduct were brought against him, has now given up the “rights and privilleges” of being a Cardinal. Pope Francis has accepted Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s resignation. Cardinal O’Brien will no longer serve on any pontifical councils or committees, nor will take part in consistory or an eventual conclave to elect a new pope. In a statement, the Catholic Church in Scotland said Cardinal O’Brien will be reduced to a strictly private life.
Documentary to air on Salt and Light Television
Sunday March 22 & 29, 2014
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Forgiveness is one of the hardest things we’re asked to do, in terms of our relationships with other people. Even the best people have a hard time getting to forgiveness, being able to forgive themselves for what they’ve done or what they’ve failed to do. People around the world, from all cultures and traditions, embrace love and forgiveness in daily life. These values are universally viewed as central to the fabric of humanity. However we define forgiveness, its power is real — and never more so when it struggles with the unforgivable.
Some say forgiveness is “a shift in thinking” toward someone who has wronged us, “such that our desire to harm that person has decreased and our desire to do him or her good (or to benefit our relationship) has increased.”
Forgiveness is a decision to let go of the desire for revenge and ill-will toward the person who wronged us. It may also include feelings of goodwill toward the other person. Forgiveness is also a natural resolution of the grief process, which is the necessary acknowledgment of pain and loss.
Forgiveness is not condoning or excusing. Forgiveness does not minimize, justify, or excuse the wrong that was done. Forgiveness also does not mean denying the harm and the feelings that the injustice produced. And forgiveness does not mean putting oneself in a position to be harmed again. Focusing on forgetting a wrong might lead to denying or suppressing feelings about it, which is not the same as forgiveness. Forgiveness has taken place when we can remember the wrong that was done without feeling resentment or a desire to pursue revenge.
Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Forgiveness is one person’s inner response to another’s perceived injustice. Reconciliation is two people coming together in mutual respect. Reconciliation requires both parties working together. Forgiveness is something that is entirely up to us. Although reconciliation may follow forgiveness, it is possible to forgive without re-establishing or continuing the relationship. The person we forgive may be deceased or no longer part of our life.
While the Christian ethos of forgiveness is still on some level widely honored as an ideal in North America today, it is not well understood, and uncomfortably coexists with equal or greater acceptance of an ethos of vengeance, one celebrated in far more movies than forgiveness.
What you are about to see is a powerful two-part documentary that will challenge our understanding of forgiveness. Forgiveness: A Time to Love and a Time to Hate was written, produced and directed by Helen Whitney. We at Salt and Light television are very grateful to Executive producer Paul Dietrich for sharing this provocative documentary with us. Parts one and two of the documentary provide an intimate look into the spontaneous outpouring of forgiveness: from the Amish families for the 2006 shooting of their children in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania; the struggle of ’60s radicals to cope with the serious consequences of their violent acts of protest; the shattering of a family after the mother abandons them, only to return seeking forgiveness; the legacy and divisiveness of apartheid and the aftermath of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in South Africa; the penitential journey of a modern-day Germany, confronting the horrific acts of the Holocaust; and the riveting stories of survivors of the unimaginably, brutal Rwandan genocide.
The theme of forgiveness is central to the Petrine Ministry of Pope Francis. The Pope draws our attention to the remarkable and provocative Gospel of Luke where Jesus speaks about forgiveness, and he advises us to never tire of forgiving: always forgive! Pope Francis says that Jesus “exaggerates in order to help us understand the importance of forgiveness.” “A Christian,” says Pope Francis, “who is incapable of forgiving, sins isn’t a Christian; …if you cannot forgive, neither can you receive God’s forgiveness.” In other words, we must forgive because we have been forgiven.
During the first Angelus address after his election in 2013, the Holy Father said: “Feeling mercy changes everything… . This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient.” “God doesn’t forgive with a decree but with a caress. He forgives by caressing the wounds caused by our sins, because he is involved in forgiveness, is involved in our salvation.”
“Mercy,” Pope Francis says, “is something which is difficult to understand: it doesn’t eliminate sin,” for “it is God’s forgiveness that does this. Mercy is the manner in which God forgives.”
Inevitably, as writer Helen Whitney reveals, the new role of forgiveness in the world raises serious and complex questions: what does that say about us and the times we live in; what are its power, its limitations and in some instances its dangers; has it been cheapened or deepened… or both?
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta once said: “If we really want to love we must learn how to forgive.” For this reason and many more, we present to you Forgiveness: A Time to Love and a Time to Hate, to encourage contemplation, spark conversation, and change minds and hearts. Thank you for joining us on this provocative journey of forgiveness.
Watch clip here.
Today on Perspectives Daily, a Montreal Catholic high school wins religious liberty case against the government of Quebec the United Nations confirms the date of Pope Francis’ visit, and the Holy Father condemns attacks in Tunis.
Today on Perspectives, the Archdiocese of Quebec announces the re-opening of the Holy Door in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Quebec and Catholic News Service looks at the myths and the facts surrounding St. Patrick.
Today on Perspectives, Pope Francis condemns attacks against Pakistani Christians, the Church marks an important milestone in Japan and a Catholic university rejects government funds in the name of faith.
The best estimates out there suggest that in the world today, there are approximately 2.1 billion people who in some way, shape or form profess themselves as Christian. Even in a world of seven billion that’s not exactly a fledging minority; in fact it is one of the single largest demographics on planet earth. Despite that, there is no religious group facing more violence and discrimination in the world than Christians. At face value this may not seem like a reality here in the west, where we live in relative peace. However to be Christian in parts of Africa, the Middle East and in Asia means certain danger.
This weekend even Pope Francis spoke strongly against what he said was an attempt to try to hide the persecution of Christians in the world today. Three stories from this past week illustrate the physical calamities faced by Christians, and what kind of an impact this could have for the Church going forward.
Terrible news came out of Lahore, Pakistan on Sunday, as two explosions, identified by witnesses as suicide bombings killed several people going to Church. The blasts killed a combined 14 people outside of both an Anglican as well as Catholic parish. Lahore is the centre of the country’s Christian community, which is 2.5 million strong, yet only makes up 1.6% of the total population. Mass protests quickly broke out in the streets in response to the attacks. Roads were blocked and in a rare show of anger, rioting ensued with police having to disperse the people. The angry crowds expressed frustration over not just the attacks themselves, but what they say is unwillingness on the part of civil authorities to protect their communities from repeated attacks.
Being victims of violence is nothing new to Pakistani Christians, who have suffered several such assaults in recent years. Perhaps the most high profile incident involved Pakistan’s former Minister for Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti. Islamic militants assassinated Bhatti in 2011 after he spoke out sharply against the country’s blasphemy laws. He was one of very few Christians, in fact a Catholic, who had managed to get elected and hold a senior government posting. While Christians are not the only targets of the frequent violence that hangs over the country, they are high value targets. This was reinforced through a statement by the Taliban splinter group that took responsibility for Sunday’s bombings, saying the attacks would continue.
The situation this week hasn’t been all that much better in neighbouring India, where an elderly nun was violently gang-raped in the midst of trying to prevent an attempted theft. A group of eight men entered the Convent of Jesus and Mary, ransacking and committing thefts, including the contents of the tabernacle in the Chapel. Similar to Pakistan, Christian communities in India have protested in the major cities against what they say are persistent attacks against them. Like their Pakistani neighbours, they allege that the government is not protecting them and that they and their Churches, where several such attacks have taken place, are not safe.
Violence against Christians is not unique to South Asia, as the Middle East and Africa have been a focal point of the most vicious atrocities. The work of ISIS and Boko Haram is known the world over. However the question needs to be asked: who is standing up for these witnesses of faith?
With such instances becoming more and more frequent, the Vatican stepped up, chiming in far more aggressively on the topic last week. Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s chief United Nations representative in Geneva, said in an interview that if a diplomatic solution cannot be found soon in Syria and Iraq, that military intervention would be necessary. He even termed the work of ISIS genocide, which is an increasingly accurate account of what is taking place. Seldom does the Vatican promote intervention, frequently advising nations to seek diplomatic solutions to their disputes. What is perhaps most telling about their statement is the use of the term genocide. In diplomatic speak, this is a very heavy handed term, one that according to international law, not simply suggests, but compels nations to take military action. The Vatican would not have used such a term without knowing precisely what it was suggesting.
Violence against anyone at anytime is never acceptable. Personal freedoms such as the rights to assembly and of religious liberty should be universally respected. However in different parts of the world, we see people facing physical danger for their faith far too frequently. We see so much public outcry for far lesser causes, which is why we must never falter in our resolve to build a world where such violence does not exist. As mentioned earlier, Pope Francis acknowledged this point in a very direct tone. This compels us all to educate as many people as possible to these realities.
Many of the most violence genocides in history have happened cloak and dagger with the world not acknowledging them until well after they were over. Yet here we are in the 21st century, a globalized world where news and information is instantly accessible. Let us not allow another silent atrocity to occur whether it be quick and on a public forum, or slow and under the veil of secrecy. Let us not allow violence against Christians to become a defining part of the age we live in.