Today on Perspectives, Carl Hetu, the Canadian Director of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association joins us in studio.
When one thinks of the Holy See, they instinctively turn their gaze to the Vatican, the epicenter of power in the Catholic Church. It is from there that we hear the voices of popes, prefects and other officials, who pronounce the message of the Church. However this is not the only place where the Holy See speaks on the global stage.
One of the better-known pulpits is the Holy See’s Mission to the United Nations in New York. However another of those voices seldom heard in the mainstream, is that of Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva. He tirelessly goes before UN bodies in Geneva, bravely speaking as the voice of the Church and often having to defend it from incredible scrutiny.
Last week, he gave a superb talk that unfortunately, went largely unnoticed. It was to the UN Human Rights Council, where he discussed the affects of terrorism on the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Beyond outlining the obvious evils of terrorism and giving some startling statistics indicating its rapid and concentrated increase in certain parts of the world, he chose to venture into taboo topics within the terrorism portfolio.
Citing the Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching, the Archbishop said, “Terrorism has now become a shadowy network of political collusion.” He continued in his own words, saying, “antagonistic political powers are tempted to play a role by supplying resources of modern technology, advanced weaponry and financing to these terrorist organizations.” “Antagonistic political powers” is a very carefully determined choice of words, and in all likelihood is a scathing criticism of states, and the very real problem of state-sponsored terrorism.
Be it overt or covert, the involvement of countries around the world in aiding terrorism for varying political agendas is nothing new. However the timing of the Archbishop’s words are crucial. There have been some very difficult questions asked on the international stage as of late, over the involvement of some countries and members of certain governments in the arming and funding of terrorist groups such as ISIS. Tomasi is no doubt aware of this, and one can be certain that there would be more than few delegations present for his talk that would have much rather he not highlight such topics.
This really begs the question of how deep the Church is prepared to wade into the murky depths of modern international conflict? It’s one thing to broker the reestablishment of relations between two states, but to investigate and get to root of the funding of terror is an area many nation states have been hesitant to go all in on. However should the Church choose to march down this path, it is a noble cause, one that will hopefully inspire others to seek out similarly opaque truths in international affairs.
The other hot topic in the Archbishop’s address to the UN Human Rights Council was his clear and candid concern for the regression of people’s rights in the name of fighting terrorism. He said:
“Governments throughout the world, in some cases using terrorism as an excuse, are preoccupied with national security and counterterrorism efforts, some of which also infringe upon the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
This is without question directed towards western countries, where serious debates over topics such as personal privacy are taking place. One would have to be living under a rock to not be aware of the revelations of Edward Snowden. He is the former NSA contractor currently living in Russia for fear of arrest, after blowing open the full scope of the surveillance practices utilized by the United States.
It is these kinds of policies that the Church through Archbishop Tomasi is expressing a concern for. Whether his words are his own, or those of his superiors, is a question for the Secretariat of State in Vatican City. However much like the question of the funding of terrorism, it is a real topic, which has real life consequences for real people. If the Church is going to truly reach out to the peripheries, it needs to do so in the political landscape as well. It must go and embrace the issues that many would prefer seen swept away to the margins. Time will tell if the Church through the tenacity of people like Archbishop Tomasi, can lift veil of secrecy and inject into the conversation, topics of substance that will allow us all to live in a more just, peace filled world.
Today on Perspectives: The Pope’s message to engaged couples, developments in the Synod office, IOR releases its annual report and other news from the Vatican.
The enormous amount of media attention that Pope Francis attracts has highlighted the Church’s influence in the world of global politics. The Pope, whoever he is, is a spiritual leader, but one with a permanent seat at the political table. Hardly a week goes by in which Francis doesn’t meet with some head of state or foreign diplomat to discuss religion and politics in the respective country.
This past week it was the Palestinians’ turn. On May 13 the Vatican announced that the Bilateral Commission of the Holy See and the State of Palestine had finalized the draft text of an agreement on essential aspects of the life and activity of the Catholic Church in Palestine.
Then on May 16, on the eve of a canonization Mass in which two Palestinian nuns were proclaimed saints, Pope Francis met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The two men expressed their hope that peace talks would resume with Israel and that interreligious dialogue be promoted across the region.
Predictably, the three events—the bilateral agreement, the meeting with Abbas and the canonization of two Palestinians—reignited the discussion over the Vatican’s recognition of the “state of Palestine,” a recognition Israel categorically denies.
Israeli officials suggested that such recognition from third parties discourages the Palestinians from returning to the negotiating table, and some pro-Israeli voices even raised concern over what this could mean for Catholic-Jewish relations.
For the sake of clarification, it is helpful to review the Vatican’s policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reiterate the rationale behind it.
When last Wednesday’s announcement came from the Bilateral Commission, some credible voices in the media rightly pointed out that it wasn’t the first time the Vatican officially recognized the “state of Palestine.” It has been using this language since the 2012 United Nations vote to grant Palestine “non-member observer status,” a status shared by only one other state at the UN: the Holy See.
Far from going out-on-a-limb with its language, the Vatican simply recognizes what the vast majority of other nations recognize (the UN vote carried 138 in favor and 9 against with 41 abstentions).
And beyond this, it should be pointed out that the Vatican has long supported a “two-state” solution to the conflict. Upon his arrival in Tel Aviv last year, Pope Francis said:
“I renew the appeal made in this place by Pope Benedict XVI: the right of the State of Israel to exist and to flourish in peace and security within internationally recognized borders must be universally recognized. At the same time, there must also be a recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to a sovereign homeland and their right to live with dignity and with freedom of movement. The “Two State Solution” must become reality and not remain merely a dream.” (Welcome Ceremony)
Pope Benedict said as much during his visit to the Holy Land in 2009, and John Paul II on many occasions insisted on a peaceful solution to the conflict. He also sought solidarity with the Palestinian people by fostering a relationship with then Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Upon hearing of Arafat’s death in 2004, the Vatican issued a statement saying the Pope, “feels particularly close to the family of the departed, the Palestinian authorities and the Palestinian people,” and that he has “called upon the Prince of Peace to let the Star of Harmony shine over the Holy Land so that the two peoples who dwell in it may reconcile as two independent and sovereign states.”
Suffice it to say, no ground-breaking language was used over the past week by the Vatican regarding the Israeli-Palestinian situation. The Church’s position has been clear for years: a peaceful two-state solution whereby both parties respect the right and legitimacy of the other, with absolutely no recourse to violence. In recognizing the “state of Palestine” since 2012, the Vatican is adhering to the legitimate decision of the United Nations.
The Church always insists on peace over politics. Its support for a realized Palestinian state and a peaceful coexistence built on respect and mutuality is not exclusionary or one-sided, as some voices are suggesting. The Church equally supports the right and security of an Israeli state. But when it comes to conflict, especially violent conflict, the Church raises the bar beyond petty politics to the greater good, that is, justice and peace. As Pope Benedict XVI said in an address to the President of Israel in Jerusalem in 2009, “A nation’s true interest is always served by the pursuit of justice for all.”
On Further Reflection
In the complex world of the 21st century there are more questions than answers. The challenge for the Church is to find new and effective ways of bringing the Gospel message into the conversation. For her part, the Church can act as a much needed voice of dialogue, reason and charity. On Further Reflection invites readers to go beyond the headlines to see the deeper realities affecting the church and society. Sebastian Gomes is a producer and correspondent for S+L TV.
Today on Perspectives: Palestine has two new saints, President Mahmoud Abbas and Pope Francis have a cordial meeting, and the Pope meets with different groups of religious men and women.
Caritas Internationalis began its general assembly in Rome this week. The keynote speaker for the weeklong meeting is Father Gustavo Gutierrez, the Peruvian priest commonly considered the “father” of Liberation Theology. At a press conference before the start of the meeting Fr. Gutierrez spoke about why the Church and Caritas devote attention and resources to helping the poor. Of course Fr. Gutierrez was also asked several questions about Liberation Theology and his relationship with the Vatican. Here is a summary of some of his comments.
Speaking in Spanish and Italian Fr. Gutierrez answered several questions about theology, Liberation Theology, his relationship with the Vatican, and the work of helping the poor.
When asked about the role of theology, Fr. Gutierrez answered:
“There can be no charity without justice. Theological reflection must be tied to people’s daily life. Theology is not a religious mysticism but a reflection on the practice of charity, compassion, mercy and justice. Seen this way theology can help give a certain vision to those who are engaged in the practical work of justice and charity. It’s a modest role.”
He followed that by adding, “For the Christian the important thing is to follow Jesus and put into practice what he teaches, what we call spirituality. Theology is a secondary thing, less important than living the faith – but it is necessary because it helps make the practice of faith more effective. It helps, modestly.”
He emphasized his point saying, “Theology is not secondary in a derogatory sense, but I mean to say if I had not spoken of theology in the last 40 years I would still be Christian.”
Inevitably Fr. Gutierrez was asked about the Vatican’s position towards liberation theology. His answer:
“Liberation Theology was never condemned, never. If anyone said that, it was not true. There was dialogue with the congregation [for the doctrine of the faith] about Liberation Theology, a critical dialogue, that is true.”
Asked whether his appearance at the Vatican was a rehabilitation of Liberation Theology Fr. Gutierrez answered just as directly:
“Rehabilitation is not the exact word to use. At this moment the climate around this theology is different, that is true. But to say it is a rehabilitation means that as some point there was a ‘dis’ habilitation and this was never the case. It is just another time. What is important is a rehabilitation of the Gospel.”
On Thursday Caritas members elected Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle as the new president of the international confederation.
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Photo – CNS/Paul Haring
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Today on Perspectives, Pope Francis’ Sunday Angelus address and the Ecumenical Prayer Service to close the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.