Former Nuncio to the Dominican Republic Josef Wesolowski does not have diplomatic immunity. Cardinal Fernando Filoni returns from Iraq
Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the Papal Nuncio to the United States, gave this address to the general assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Your Eminence Cardinal Dolan, Your Eminences, my Brother Archbishops and Bishops, Monsignor Jenkins and staff of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, let me begin by saying a word of gratitude in particular to all those bishops whose dioceses l have been pleased to visit for various occasions since our June meeting, whether it be for the installation or ordination of a bishop, or for meetings, conventions, assemblies, and anniversaries, involving such a wide range of the faithful who help to form and identify the Church here in America. I am grateful to you for your kindness and gracious hospitality. You know that the Holy Father offers you all his continual prayers and support for your invaluable mission to God’s People.
It has been two years already since my arrival in the United States. To say the least, the experience for me has been both enlightening and enriching. My duty and my work as Apostolic Nuncio, as you know, is to be with you at your side as the representative of the Holy Father. As the Successor of St. Peter, Pope Francis has made a great impression by drawing and captivating the hearts of men and women throughout the world, inviting them to meet Christ personally in their lives.
It is my intention this morning to share with you a few reflections and observations I have since my time here in this country. I ask you to take these thoughts into prayerful consideration. You know this comes from my admiration, respect, and loving concern for the Church in America.
Just after our meeting of the Bishops Conference in mid-June of this year, the Holy Father on June 22nd had a special audience with over 5,000 pilgrims from Brescia with their bishop to celebrate during this Year of Faith the 50th anniversary of the election of their beloved Brescian, Pope Paul VI, to the pontificate.
Pope Francis said that “Paul VI knew how to witness, in difficult years, to the faith in Jesus Christ… His was a profound love for Christ, not to possess, but to proclaim him.” The Pope especially mentioned how he often reflects on the words of Paul VI, especially his address in Manila and in Nazareth. Francis asked: “Do we have the same love for Christ? Is he the centre of our lives? Do our everyday actions witness to him?”
And then the Holy Father spoke of Paul love for the Church. It was “a passionate love, the love of a lifetime, joyful and painful, expressed from his first encyclical, Ecclesiam Suam… He loved the Church and offered himself for her without reservation…This is the heart of a true Shepherd, a true Christian, a man capable of loving!” Pope Francis stressed that, for him, Evangelii Nuntiandi is “the greatest pastoral document written to date.” “Paul VI,” he said, “had a very clear vision that the Church is a Mother who bears Christ and who leads to Christ.” Then His Holiness asked: “Do we love the great Church, the Mother Church, the Church that sends us on mission and makes us go out of ourselves?”
It is to this pastoral document, Evangelii Nuntiandi, that I wish to turn now. The following words of Paul Vi are most important for us at this particular time:
“It is appropriate, first of all, to emphasize the following point: for the Church, the first means of evangelization is the witness of an authentically Christian life, given over to God in a communion that nothing should destroy and at the same time given to one’s neighbor with limitless zeal. As we said recently to a group of lay people, ‘Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers. and if it does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.’ … It is primarily by her conduct and by her life that the Church will evangelize the world, in other words’ by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus — the witness of poverty and detachment, of freedom in the face of the powers of this world, in short, the witness of sanctity” (41).
And Pope Paul adds:
“The witness of life has become more than ever an essential condition for real effectiveness in preaching. Precisely because of this, we are, to a certain extent, responsible for the progress of the Gospel we proclaim…The world calls for, and expects from us, simplicity of life, the spirit of prayer, charity towards all, especially towards the lowly and the poor, obedience and humility, detachment and self-sacrifice. Without this mark of holiness, our word will have difficulty in touching the heart of modern man. It risks being vain and sterile” (76).
Certainly, my brothers, no one can dispute the clear fact that our present Holy Father himself, as the Supreme Teacher. is giving us by, his own witness, an example of how to live a life attuned to the values of the Gospel. While each of us must take into consideration our adaptability to the many different circumstances and cultures in which we live and the people whom we serve, there has to be a noticeable life style characterized by simplicity and holiness of life. This is a sure way to bring our people to an awareness of the truth of our message. The model for bishops, St. Charles Borromeo, my patron, when he addressed the members of the last synod he attended for his Church of Milan, said: “Be sure that you first preach by the way you live. If you do not, people will notice that you say one thing, but live otherwise…”
The Holy Father wants bishops in tune with their people. When this past June I met with him in his simple apartment at the Casa Santa Marta for a fruitful discussion, he made a special point of saying that he wants ‘pastoral’ bishops, not bishops who profess or follow a particular ideology.
All of us who have been called to the ministry of bishop by Pope John Paul II, and many who have been ordained by him, are looking forward to his canonization, as well as the canonization of Pope John XXIII this coming April. During this time of spiritual preparation for this much anticipated event, my attention was called to the first November 9′”, 1978, exactly thirty five years ago this past Saturday. He said:
“As Servant and Pastor and Father of the universal Church, I wish at this moment to express my love for all those who are specially called to work for the Gospel, all those who actively collaborate with you in your Dioceses, to build up the Kingdom of God. Like yourselves, I learned as a Bishop to understand firsthand the ministry of priests, the problems affecting their lives, the splendid efforts they are making, the sacrifices that are an integral part of their service to God’s people… And, like yourselves, l have worked with the Religious, endeavoring to give witness to the esteem that the Church has for them in their vocation of consecrated love, and urging them always to full generous collaboration in the corporate life of the ecclesial community.”
Pope John Paul II goes on to say, with reference to the Second Vatican Council:
“… nothing is more enlightening than to recall the exact words which, on the opening day, John XXIII wished to spell out the orientation of this great ecclesial event: ‘The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be more effectively guarded and taught’.”
Pope John Paul II continues:
“This farseeing vision of Pope John is alive today. It was the only sound basis for an Ecumenical Council aimed at pastoral renewal; it is the only sound basis for all our pastoral endeavors as Bishops of the Church of God. This then is my own deepest hope today for the pastors of the Church in America, as well as for all the pastors of the Church: ‘that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be more effectively guarded and taught’.”
And Pope John Paul II further commented:
“The sacred deposit of God’s word, handed on by the Church, is the joy and strength of our people’s lives. It is the only pastoral solution to the many problems of our day.”
At this point, I would like to call your attention to the words the then-Cardinal Wojtyla is reported to have given in an address during the Eucharistic Congress in 1976 for the Bicentennial celebration of the signing of the Declaration of independence. it seems to be so profoundly prophetic:
“We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has ever experienced. I do not think that the wide circle of the American Society, or the whole wide circle of the Christian Community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-church, between the gospel and the anti-gospel, between Christ and the antichrist. The confrontation lies within the plans of Divine Providence. It is, therefore, in God’s Plan, and it must be a trial which the Church must take up, and face courageously…”
These words that the then-Cardinal Wojtyla made his own appear to be inspired from the Diary of Saint Faustina Kowalska, who greatly influenced his spirituality. As Pope John Paul ll, he proclaimed this Religious Sister a saint during the Jubilee Year of 2000. He died during Vespers of the feast of Divine Mercy, the feast which was inspired by Saint Faustina.
I view the above-quoted words of the Popes, John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II, impressed clearly upon the history of the Church, as a call to attentiveness, watchfulness and preparedness for whatever proclaiming the Gospel may mean for g as successors of the Apostles, who were called to give radical witness to their faith in Jesus Christ.
In concluding, I urge you, my brothers, to preserve a spirit of real unity among yourselves and, of course, with the successor of Peter, trusting in the way he sees best to live out his mission to mankind. Unity expressed in a real, prayer-filled communion of mind and heart is the only way we will remain strong and be able to face whatever the future may hold for us.
While, from various perspectives, American culture is characterized by diversity, this is true also of the Church. As Pope Francis, in his visit to Brazil a few months ago, said to the Bishops: “The Church is never uniformity, but diversities harmonized in unity, and this is true for every ecclesial reality” (July 27. 2013). But, we must take care that, for us as a Church, this diversity does not grow into division through misinterpretation or misunderstanding, and that division does not deteriorate into fragmentation.
I recently came upon an article on the political situation in America over the past fifty years, and I caught sight of the subtitle which read: “The era of polarization began as Americans lost confidence in their leaders.” Well said, since the Catholic Church will preserve her unity and strength as long as its people have trust in their bishops. The sheep will gather together as one; they recognize and listen to the voice of their shepherd who calls out to them, walks with them, and is ready to give his life for them.
My brothers, let us go forward, filled with the zeal and fervor of divine love. Let us be confident that the Lord will give us the wisdom and strength we need for the tremendous task before us to give genuine witness to the faithful. Let us embrace our people with a fatherly embrace, let us make them feel that they belong, that they are not orphans or strangers. And we should also ask ourselves today a question posed by Pope Francis to the Bishops of Brazil: “…are we still a Church capable of warming hearts?” Let our response be a firm and wholehearted: “Yes, we are!”
(Photo: CNS/Bob Roller)
Cardinal Timothy Dolan gave his final address to the general assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops this week during the USCCB Plenary Assembly. Below is the full text of his speech.
Just last August, I had the honor of concelebrating the Mass of Dedication for the Cathedral of the Resurrection in Kiev. A particularly moving moment came when Metropolitan Shevchuk asked the Lord’s protective hand upon believers suffering persecution for their faith anywhere in the world. That such a heartfelt plea came from a people who had themselves been oppressed for so long made it all the more poignant.
This morning I want to invite us to broaden our horizons, to “think Catholic” about our brothers and sisters in the faith now suffering simply because they sign themselves with the cross, bow their heads at the Holy Name of Jesus, and happily profess the Apostles’ Creed.
Brother bishops, our legitimate and ongoing struggles to protect our “first and most cherished freedom” in the United States pale in comparison to the Via Crucis currently being walked by so many of our Christian brothers and sisters in other parts of the world, who are experiencing lethal persecution on a scale that defies belief. If our common membership in the mystical body of Christ is to mean anything, then their suffering must be ours as well.
The new Archbishop of Canterbury has rightly referred to victims of Christian persecution as “martyrs.” We are living in what must be recognized as, in the words of Blessed John Paul II, “a new age of martyrs.” One expert calculates that half of all Christian martyrs were killed in the twentieth century alone. The twenty-first century has already seen in its first 13 years one million people killed around the world because of their belief in Jesus Christ – – one million already in this still young century.
That threat to religious believers is growing. The Pew Research Center reports that 75 percent of the world’s population “lives in countries where governments, social groups, or individuals restrict people’s ability to freely practice their faith.” Pew lays out the details of this “rising tide of restrictions on religion,” but we don’t need a report to tell us something we sadly see on the news every day.
While Muslims and Christians have long lived peacefully side-by-side in Zanzibar, for instance, this past year has seen increasing violence. Catholic churches have been burned and priests have been shot. In September one priest was the victim of a horrific acid attack. Nigeria has also been the site of frequent anti-Christian violence, including church bombings on our holiest days.
The situation in India has also been grave, particularly after the Orissa massacre of 2008, where hundreds of Christians were murdered and thousands displaced, and thousands of homes and some 400 churches were torched. Just recently, a Christian couple was recently attacked by an angry mob just because of their faith, their Bibles torn from their hands.
We remember our brothers and sisters in China, where Catholic bishops and other religious leaders are subject to state supervision and imprisonment. Conditions are only getting worse, as the government closes churches and subjects members of several faiths to forced renunciations, so-called re-education, and torture.
Of course, it’s not just Christians who suffer from religious persecution, but believers in other faiths as well. Much religious persecution is committed by Muslims against other Muslims. Buddhists in Tibet suffer under government torture and repression. In Myanmar Muslims suffer at the hands of Buddhist mobs. All of us share apprehension over reports of rising anti-Semitism.
But there is no escaping the fact that Christians are singled out in far more places and far more often.
I don’t have to tell anyone in this room that our brothers and sisters in the Middle East face particular trials. As Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople has observed, for Christians in the Middle East, “even the simple admission of Christian identity places the very existence of [the] faithful in daily threat…Exceptionally extreme and expansive occurrences of violence and persecution against Christians cannot leave the rest of us – who are blessed to live peacefully and in some sense of security – indifferent and inactive.”
The humanitarian catastrophe that continues to unfold in Syria has been particularly close to our hearts these past few months. We’ve prayed for and stood in solidarity with the Church and the people of Syria, and with Pope Francis and the bishops of the Middle East in their call for peace.
It’s no surprise that this violent and chaotic situation has bred even more religious persecution. Of course we’re all familiar with Syria’s venerable history as the place from which our faith spread to the rest of the world, and Syria has long been home to a sizable Christian minority. Yet those Christians who have remained in Syria face ever-present, rising threats of violence.
Last April two of our Orthodox brother bishops were kidnapped in Aleppo by gunmen as they returned from a humanitarian mission. Their driver was shot and killed. And a little less than a year ago an Orthodox priest from Hama was killed by a sniper while helping the wounded. Similarly tragic violence against believers is now commonplace.
Just as Syrian Christians have suffered from the war raging in their land, the war in Iraq has devastated that ancient Christian community in that country as well. As Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Iraq tearfully told us during our spring assembly in 2012, remember, the situation of Christians there “became a tragedy of immense proportions after 2003,” with many religious and lay faithful tortured and killed.
Violent attacks continue to terrorize the Iraqi people. Just a little over a year ago the war’s worst massacre of Iraqi Christians occurred in a brutal attack on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad, where some 58 believers were massacred. Those martyred for their faith included their parish priest who died holding a crucifix, forgiving the gunmen and asking him to spare his people.
The situations in Syria and Iraq wrench our hearts, but the plight of Christians in Egypt is no better. This past summer saw the serious escalation of violence against our brothers and sisters there, as the ancient Coptic Christian community has been targeted. Dozens of Coptic churches have been burned; Christian-owned businesses and hotels have been attacked; and individual believers have been murdered.
To take one example, John Allen reports that in August, “hundreds of Muslim extremists stormed a school run by Franciscan sisters in … Upper Egypt, where they reportedly raped two teachers. Three nuns were paraded before the crowd as prisoners of war.” It was only through the intervention of a Muslim lay teacher that other sisters’ lives were spared.
We as bishops, as shepherds of one of the most richly blessed communities of faith on the planet, as pastors who have spoken with enthusiastic unity in defense of our own religious freedom, must become advocates and champions for these Christians whose lives literally hang in the balance.
Pope Francis recently invited us all to an examination of conscience in this regard during his General Audience on September 25:
“When I hear that so many Christians in the world are suffering, am I indifferent, or is it as if a member of my own family is suffering? When I think or hear it said that many Christians are persecuted and give their lives for their faith, does this touch my heart or does it not reach me? Am I open to that brother or that sister in my family who’s giving his or her life for Jesus Christ? Do we pray for one another? How many of you pray for Christians who are persecuted? How many? Everyone respond in his own heart. It’s important to look beyond one’s own fence, to feel oneself part of the Church, of one family of God!”
I am convinced that we have to answer those questions of Pope Francis, not merely as individual believers, but collectively as a body of bishops.
So you ask me, what can we do? Without any pretense of being exhaustive, here are some ideas I’d like to lay before you, with a nod to John Allen and his recent compelling work on this topic.
First, we can encourage intercession for the persecuted. Remember how the “prayers for the conversion of Russia” at the end of Masses over a half-century ago shaped our sense of what was going on behind the Iron Curtain? A similar culture of prayer for persecuted Christians today, both in private and in our liturgical celebrations, could have a similar remedial effect.
We can also make people aware of the great suffering of our brothers and sisters with all the means at our disposal. Our columns, our blogs, our speeches, and our pastoral letters can reference the subject. We can ask our pastors to preach on it, and to stimulate study sessions or activist groups in their parishes. We can encourage our Catholic media to tell the stories of today’s new martyrs, unfortunately abudndant. Our good experience defending religious freedom here at home shows that, when we turn our minds to an issue, we can put it on the map. Well, it’s time to harness that energy for our fellow members of the household of faith hounded for their beliefs around the world.
We know the importance of supporting organizations such as Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, Catholic Relief Services, and the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, who have done heroic work, while among our Protestant brothers and sisters groups such as Open Doors make a similar contribution. Writers such as Nina Shea, Paul Marshall, John Allen, and Phillip Jenkins here in the United States help keep the issue alive, as does our own Committee on International Justice and Peace.
Finally, we can insist that our country’s leaders make the protection of at-risk Christians abroad a foreign-policy priority for the United States. We can also cajole political leaders to be more attentive to the voices of Christians on the ground, since those Christians will certainly feel the consequences of whatever the West does or doesn’t do. As Dr. Thomas Farr reminded us at our spring meeting a couple summers ago, the protection of religious freedom abroad, and advocacy of oppressed believers, has hardly been a high foreign policy priority for administrations of either party.
In general, my brothers, we can make supporting the suffering Church a priority – – not one good cause among others, but a defining element of our pastoral priorities. As historians of this conference know, speaking up for suffering faithful abroad has been a hallmark of our soon-to-be-century of public advocacy of the gospel by the conference of bishops in this beloved country we are honored to call our earthly home.
Protecting religious freedom will be a central social and political concern of our time, and we American bishops already have made very important contributions to carrying it forward. Now we are being beckoned – – by history, by Pope Francis, by the force of our own logic and the ecclesiology of communion – – to extend those efforts to the dramatic front lines of this battle, where Christians are paying for their fidelity with their lives. As the Council reminded us, we are bishops not only for our dioceses, not only for our nation, but for the Church universal.
May all the blessed martyrs, ancient and new, pray for us, as we try to be confessors of the faith.
Praise be Jesus Christ!
(Photo : CNS/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)
God of Compassion,
Hear the cries of the people of Syria,
Bring healing to those suffering from the violence, Bring comfort to those mourning the dead, Strengthen Syria?s neighbors in their care and welcome for refugees, Convert the hearts of those who have taken up arms, And protect those committed to peace.
God of Hope,
Inspire leaders to choose peace over violence and to seek reconciliation with enemies, Inspire the Church around the world with compassion for the people of Syria, And give us hope for a future of peace built on justice for all.
We ask this through Jesus Christ,
Prince of Peace and Light of the World, Amen.
Petition: For the people of Syria, that God may strengthen the resolve of leaders to end the fighting and choose a future of peace.
We pray to the Lord?
[This prayer is from Catholics Confront Global Poverty, a collaborative effort of USCCB and Catholic Relief Services.]
The following message was released by the U.S. Bishops’ conference and Bishop Stephen E. Blaire, Bishop of Stockton Chairman, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development United States Conference of Catholic Bishops September 2, 2013
Every human being enjoys a basic right to be respected, not because of any title, position, prestige, or accomplishment but first of all because we are created in the image and likeness of God. From an ethical and moral perspective we embrace the exhortation of St. Paul “to anticipate one another in showing honor” (Rom 12:10). Today’s competitive culture challenges us to strive for victory and advantage, but for St. Paul the challenge is to build each other up and honor one another’s innate dignity.
Labor Day is an opportunity to take stock of the ways workers are honored and respected. Earlier this year, Pope Francis pointed out, “Work is fundamental to the dignity of a person. . . . It gives one the ability to maintain oneself, one’s family, to contribute to the growth of one’s own nation.” Unfortunately, millions of workers today are denied this honor and respect as a result of unemployment, underemployment, unjust wages, wage theft, abuse, and exploitation.
Even with new indicators of some modest progress in recovery, the economy still has not improved the standard of living for many people, especially for the poor and the working poor, many of whom are unemployed or underemployed. More than four million people have been jobless for over six months, and that does not include the millions more who have simply lost hope. For every available job, there are often five unemployed and underemployed people actively vying for it. This jobs gap pushes wages down. Half of the jobs in this country pay less than $27,000 per year. More than 46 million people live in poverty, including 16 million children. The economy is not creating an adequate number of jobs that allow workers to provide for themselves and their families. Jobs, wages, and poverty are interrelated. The only way to reduce the widening gap between the affluent and the poorest people in our nation is by creating quality jobs that provide a just compensation that enables workers to live in the dignity appropriate for themselves and their families.
Growing Inequality Hurts Families and Communities
High unemployment and underemployment are connected to the rise in income inequality. The prophetic words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in Caritas in Veritate warn us of the dangers of inequality:
The dignity of the individual and the demands of justice require, particularly today, that economic choices do not cause disparities in wealth to increase in an excessive and morally unacceptable manner, and that we continue to prioritize the goal of access to steady employment for everyone. . . . Through the systemic increase of social inequality . . . not only does social cohesion suffer, thereby placing democracy at risk, but so too does the economy, through the progressive erosion of “social capital” . . . indispensable for any form of civil coexistence. (no. 32)
Is it possible that this is happening here in the United States? In many places, wealth and basic needs are separated by only a few blocks or subway stops. We only have to look under bridges and in alleyways. The words from Gaudium et Spes (no. 63) from the Second Vatican Council of fifty years ago seem to be just as true today: “While an immense number of people still lack the absolute necessities of life, some, even in less advanced areas, live in luxury or squander wealth.” How can it be said that persons honor one another when such “extravagance and wretchedness exist side by side”?
Who Do We Hope to Be As a Nation?
Most people want to live in a more equal society that provides opportunities for growth and development. The current imbalances are not inevitable, but demand boldness in promoting a just economy that reduces inequality by creating jobs that pay a living wage and share with workers some profits of the company. It also requires ensuring a strong safety net for jobless workers and their families and those who are incapable of work. As individuals and families, as the Church, as community organizations, as businesses, as government, we all have a responsibility to promote the dignity of work and to honor workers’ rights.
Since the end of the Civil War, unions have been an important part of our economy because they provide protections for workers and more importantly a way for workers to participate in company decisions that affect them. Catholic teaching has consistently affirmed the right of workers to choose to form a union. The rise in income inequality has mirrored a decline in union membership. Unions, like all human institutions, are imperfect, and they must continue to reform themselves so they stay focused on the important issues of living wages and appropriate benefits, raising the minimum wage, stopping wage theft, standing up for safe and healthy working conditions, and other issues that promote the common good. The Church, in accord with her principles on the life and dignity of the human person, wishes to collaborate with unions in securing the rights and dignity of workers.
Private enterprises, at their best, create decent jobs, contribute to the common good, and pay just wages. Ethical and moral business leaders know that it is wrong to chase profits and success at the expense of workers’ dignity. They know that they have a vocation to build the kind of solidarity that honors the worker and the least among us. They remember that the economy is “for people.” They know that great harm results when they separate their faith or human values from their work as business leaders.
Whenever possible we should support businesses and enterprises that protect human life and dignity, pay just wages, and protect workers’ rights. We should support immigration policies that bring immigrant workers out of the shadows to a legal status and offer them a just and fair path to citizenship, so that their human rights are protected and the wages for all workers rise.
We honor the immigrant worker by remembering that the building of America has been carried out by so many who fled persecution, violence, and poverty elsewhere, coming to America to offer their talents and gifts to support themselves and their families. We welcome the stranger, the refugee, the migrant, and the marginalized, because they are children of God and it is our duty to do so. But at the same time it is important to end the political, social, and economic conditions that drive people from their homelands and families. Solidarity calls us to honor workers in our own communities and around the world.
The pain of the poor and those becoming poor in the rising economic inequality of our society is mounting. Therefore, on this Labor Day 2013, let us renew our commitment to promote the dignity of the human person through work that is honorable, pays just wages, and recognizes the God-given dignity of the working person.
At the end of Mass we are commanded “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.” We leave with a sense of mission to show one another honor by what we do and say. On this Labor Day our mission takes us to the millions of people who continue to suffer the effects of the current economy.
all photos courtesy of CNS
Tonight on Perspectives: Pope Francis is set to meet King Abdullah II of Jordan on Thursday, the Nuncio of Syria calls on the international community, and the US Bishops remember the 1963 March on Washington.
Tonight on perspectives a Canadian is nominated as the head of protocol of the Vatican’s secretary of state, the Bishops of United States support the cause for canonization of Dorothy Day and we take a look at today’s general audience.