People’s Climate March

September 16th, 2014

The world we live in, all of creation, is a gift from God and a great sign of His love for us.  Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has repeatedly stressed the responsibility we have been given by God to care for that creation.  As the Pope said recently, “When we exploit [creation], we destroy the sign of His love. Destroying creation is like saying to God, ‘I don’t like it’, and this is not good, it is a sin. Care for creation is care for God’s gift to us, and it means saying to God, ‘thank you, I am the custodian of creation, but to enable it to progress, never to destroy your gift….This must be our attitude in relation to creation, to protect it, because if we destroy creation, creation will destroy us! Do not forget this.”

I understand from Sister Carol De Angelo, a member of the Sisters of Charity here in New York, and Mr. Patrick Carolan, Executive Director of the Franciscan Action Network, that this Sunday, September 21, there will be a People’s Climate March here in New York City, and that various faith groups are coming together to participate.  It would be wonderful if there were a strong Catholic presence at the march, to indicate our prayerful support of God’s creation.

You can find more information at https://franciscanaction.org/article/fan-participates-peoples-climate-march and at http://peoplesclimate.org/faith/

“Just keep getting the truth out! Please don’t let us down!”

September 15th, 2014

Last week I called my friend Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the Major Archbishop for the Greek Catholics of Ukraine.

I have grown to admire this young, brave brother bishop over the last years, as we have often spent time in Rome together, and especially when I was with him last year for the dedication of the daring new Cathedral of the Resurrection in Kiev.

The Catholic Church in Ukraine is young, alive, growing, and prophetic.  This, from a worldly point of view, is illogical, near miraculous, as Greek Catholics were viciously persecuted by Stalin in the years of Soviet oppression.  Even after the breakup of the communist empire, and the restoration of freedom in Ukraine, Catholics were not given back their former churches that had been given to the Russian Orthodox, and the courageous yet decimated community almost had to start afresh.

Through the optic of the Gospel, we know that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the faith,” so believers are hardly surprised by the vitality and growth of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine.

Archbishop Shevchuk, like his predecessor, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, now retired, is a true “confessor of the faith,” a pastor revered by his people, a leader in bringing unity, peace, and hope to a country threatened by thugs and thieves within, and an aggressor on the border.

I check in with him, because I worry about him, want to encourage him, and am inspired by him.  My call last week found him uncharacteristically grim and apprehensive.

“Timothy, we are under attack!  Our country is under siege from Russia!  Our people are being murdered, their homes destroyed, not by alleged separatists in Ukraine wanting to return to Russia, but by Russian troops and mercenaries.  Please see that the truth gets out. There is an invasion here.”

Last week, the Catholic bishops of Ukraine issued a chilling statement that their beloved country is “flowing in blood,” and urged Western governments – - like ours – - not to become “accomplices in the sin of murder.”

Just so we would understand, the Ukrainian bishops were blunt: “This peaceful, sovereign nation has been subjected to a direct military intervention by a Northern neighbor – - hundreds of units of heavy weaponry and technology, thousands of armed mercenaries and soldiers of Russia’s standing army are crossing our borders of Ukraine, sowing death and destruction.”

After the Second World War, when the Iron Curtain separated Central and Eastern Europe from the free democracies of the West, Catholics in the United States were in solidarity with persecuted Christians in Poland, Ukraine, Croatia, Lithuania, Hungary, and the other countries under Russia’s jackboot.  We spoke up for them; our government listened.

We had hoped it would now be different.  Things looked so bright in Ukraine for awhile.  It appeared that religion was free, the Church encouraging a just, open, civil society.

Apparently, a prosperous, free, independent Ukraine, with freedom of religion leading to a revived faith, is a threat to a neighbor with a history of interference.  The jackboots have apparently come out of storage.

I asked my brave brother bishop how I could help.  “Just keep getting the truth out!  Please don’t let us down!”

I’m trying…

On this Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, I commend to you a Church and a Nation, Ukraine, with her at the foot of the Cross.

 

 

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: “The Elements of Sermonizing Style”

September 12th, 2014

Today’s Wall Street Journal has an excellent “Houses of Worship” column by J. Perry Smith on The Elements of Sermonizing Style.  I particularly like, and completely agree with, his assessment on Pope Francis as one who knows how to preach:

 “One preacher who knows how to deliver a sermon like that is Pope Francis. He has captured the imagination of the world, in part because he lives the Gospel, but he also understands brevity and relevance. The most striking aspects of Francis are his genuineness and his ability to connect passionately with people. He clearly believes what he says and does what he believes. Every priest, every pastor could learn from him. Our preaching might improve, and maybe, just maybe, we might become better Christians.”

You can read the whole column here (subscription may be required).

Where Silence is Not Golden

September 11th, 2014

It seems to keep getting worse and worse.  Now we hear of three innocent, beloved sisters raped and beheaded at their mission in Burundi.  Even the police were sickened by the ruthlessness.

Father Paolo Mikko, the local parish priest, tells us how the ISIS forces drove the ancient Christian community from Erbil, in Iraqui Kurdistan:  militants of the “Islamic Caliphate” took over churches and convents, burned crosses, statues, and the Bible, and instructed the few Christians who could not flee to “convert to Islam, pay a protection tax – - or die.”  The director of UNICEF in Iraq, Marzio Babelli, described it as a “jihadist ethnic cleansing,” as the persecutors brag that the city is “Christian free,” with the word “Nazarene” spray-painted in derision on the shells of the torched homes of the fleeing Christians.

Move south to Nigeria, where my friend Ignatius Kaigama, the Archbishop of Jos, spends most of his time burying Catholics butchered by Boko Haram, or praying with his people outside the smoking embers of their former churches, destroyed by militants.

We haven’t even mentioned the attacks on the venerable yet fragile Christian villages of Syria, where half-a-million have fled certain death; or South Sudan, where a systematic and ruthless extermination of a Christian minority is taking place.

No wonder Ronald Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, asks, “Who will stand up for the Christians?” and calls this Christianophobia “Nazi like.”  His brave summons is the more heroic given the fact that the Jewish community has all it can do to counteract the nasty growing anti-semitism rolling through Europe, one place you’d think would know better.

Yet voices like this are rare.  No wonder Bishop Warduni in Baghdad asks, “Why are you all silent?  Why do you not speak out?”

The voices are beginning to be heard!  Pope Francis ceaselessly urges a stop to this horror, and recently placed before the UN “the tears, the suffering, the heartfelt cries of despair of Christians and religious minorities,” and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, urged President Obama to act.

John Carr, a columnist for America, reminds us of the shallowness of those who make political hay out of an alleged “war on women” here in America, while ignoring the rape and beheading of Christian women in many countries dominated by extremists, who place the heads of women and children on crude stick crosses in the villages.

Thank you, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, for asking “How is it possible that . . . atrocities occur?”  I appreciate even more your reply. “For two reasons:  because there are those prepared to commit them, and there are those who remain silent.”

No longer can we be quiet!  We need columnists like Kirsten Powers not scared to speak of the “religicide of Christianity;” we count on the indefatigable efforts of leaders such as Congressman Frank Wolf, who takes every opportunity to bring such “religicide” to the attention of Washington.

And it’s time to wonder about the silence of the leaders of authentic Islam.  Thank you. Shawki Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, who calls the atrocities what they are:  “a violation of all the Islamic values, the higher objectives of Islamic law, and the universal values shared by all mankind.”

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks provides us with an examination of conscience as he observes, “It would indeed be awful to think that the West might remain silent as violence rages purely out of a failure to recognize that Christians can be victimized . . .”

Thirteen years ago today, this city we’re proud to call home saw raw evil, hate, and violence up close and personal, and we’re still rightly not over it.   The supportive voices of our global neighbors helped get us through.   They gave us a great example.  Now suffering Christians need our voices, not our silence.

Prayer Was the Glue

August 22nd, 2014

I came across an article written by James Foley, the journalist who was brutally executed by ISIS terrorists this past week.  The article is from Marquette Magazine, and James describes how faith and prayer sustained him during an earlier imprisonment in Libya.  He writes that he hoped his mother knew he was ok:

I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. 
I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused.

Clare and I prayed together out loud. It felt energizing to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone.”

It is an amazing story of faith in times of difficulty.  I pray that this faith helped to sustain James during his most recent imprisonment that tragically ended with his killing.

I encourage you to read the entire article here.

May the God of all consolation be with his parents and loved ones at this time.

Vatican Releases a Letter on Iraq from Pope Francis to Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations

August 13th, 2014

Today the Holy See released a letter written by Pope Francis to Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations regarding the situation in Iraq. The letter condemns the violent persecutions underway in the country, and calls on the international community to act swiftly and decisively to stop the humantiarian disaster currently taking place.  Here is the text of the Holy Father’s letter:

****************************

His Excellency
Mr Ban Ki-moon
Secretary General
United Nations Organization

It is with a heavy and anguished heart that I have been following the dramatic events of these past few days in Northern Iraq where Christians and other religious minorities have been forced to flee from their homes and witness the destruction of their places of worship and religious patrimony. Moved by their plight, I have asked His Eminence Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, who served as the Representative of my predecessors, Pope St John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, to the people in Iraq, to manifest my spiritual closeness and to express my concern, and that of the entire Catholic Church, for the intolerable suffering of those who only wish to live in peace, harmony and freedom in the land of their forefathers.

In the same spirit, I write to you, Mr Secretary-General, and place before you the tears, the suffering and the heartfelt cries of despair of Christians and other religious minorities of the beloved land of Iraq. In renewing my urgent appeal to the international community to take action to end the humanitarian tragedy now underway, I encourage all the competent organs of the United Nations, in particular those responsible for security, peace, humanitarian law and assistance to refugees, to continue their efforts in accordance with the Preamble and relevant Articles of the United Nations Charter.

The violent attacks that are sweeping across Northern Iraq cannot but awaken the consciences of all men and women of goodwill to concrete acts of solidarity by protecting those affected or threatened by violence and assuring the necessary and urgent assistance for the many displaced people as well as their safe return to their cities and their homes. The tragic experiences of the Twentieth Century, and the most basic understanding of human dignity, compels the international community, particularly through the norms and mechanisms of international law, to do all that it can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities.
Confident that my appeal, which I unite with those of the Oriental Patriarchs and other religious leaders, will meet with a positive reply, I take this opportunity to renew to your Excellency the assurances of my highest consideration.

From the Vatican, 9 August 2014

In Support of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

August 7th, 2014

Religious freedom is in peril in many places around the world, with the violent persecution of Christians in Iraq being just the most recent horrifying example of religious persecution.  The kidnapping of schoolgirls and the bombing of Christian churches by Boko Haram, the treatment of Jewish, Orthodox, and Christians in the Euromaidan movement in the Ukraine, the ever-present threat of violence against our Jewish brothers and sisters (like the recent anti-Semetic episodes in Europe), all point to the pressing need for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a compelling force to combat the persecution of Christians, Jews, and all believers around the globe.

Thus, I am happy to see that the House of Representatives have just passed H.R. 4653 with broad bipartisan support, which reauthorizes the Commission.  I hope and pray that the Senate quickly follows suit, because the work of the Commission is too important to let it lapse.

Also, my congratulations to my colleague, Rabbi David Saperstein, who has been nominated by President Obama to serve as the United States Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom.  I am sure that the Senate will quickly confirm his appointment, and that he will be a strong and eloquent voice for the religious freedom of all believers around the world.

Visiting With Immigrant Children

August 3rd, 2014

Immigrant children coming into this country have been the subject of much attention, debate – and, fortunately, great compassion by many – especially our Catholic charitable agencies and parishes.  For the most part, they are young people, without their parents, who are arriving in this country seeking a refuge from poverty or gang violence.   I was privileged today to travel to Northern Westchester and celebrate Mass for a group of these young people, to meet with them, and learn a little more about their circumstances and see where they are temporarily staying until they can be reunited, most often with their family members.

Former Mayor Ed Koch once told me, “Two women welcomed the immigrants to New York: Lady Liberty and Mother Church.” And he was right.  I just returned from a brief trip to Ireland, and people there still talk gratefully of the welcome given to so many Irish refugees during the great famine of the 19th Century.  We are called upon again today to care for a new group of immigrants, only this time the immigrants are teenagers – or younger.

Caring for the downtrodden, the outcast, the stranger among us, is part of our call as Catholics, and we here in the Archdiocese of New York have been doing just that for more than 200 years.  Lincoln Hall, for instance, where I celebrated Mass this morning, began as a residential treatment center back in 1863 to care for orphans left destitute after the Civil War.  The Archdiocese of New York has a long and proud tradition of caring for newcomers to our country.

Now, together, we are facing another crisis, one of children fleeing violence and risking their lives with the hope of finding family and shelter here.  Pope Francis said it so well, late last month, when he reminded us that “this humanitarian emergency requires, as a first urgent measure, these children be welcomed and protected.”

And that is just what  Catholic Charities, parishes, professionals and volunteers throughout the country are doing.

At Lincoln Hall and in similar residences children  receive the temporary housing, education, health, and legal support they need to survive and begin to re-establish their lives.

Immigration is not a new “issue.”  I have been very much preoccupied with the vulnerability of our immigrants and refugees because I meet them everywhere I go throughout our archdiocese: men, women, and children so grateful to be in America, so searching to find a home here, so eager to work, settle down, and become part of a nation that has traditionally welcomed and embraced the immigrant.  I am grateful to those political leaders on both sides of the aisle, people like Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Peter King,   who have led the fight for comprehensive immigration reform.  I am more than frustrated that too much partisan and self-interest politics up to this point has trumped the common good of our country.  But. I am not giving up hope, nor the struggle.  I continue to work and pray for the type of immigration reform our country needs to remain strong.

But these young people can’t wait for immigration reform.  As Pope Francis rightly points out, this is a humanitarian emergency, and however they got here, these young people must be cared for now.  Politicians and pundits might argue about how best to handle this humanitarian crisis.  For us, the answer is simple thanks to guidance Jesus gave us more than 2,000 years ago:

“Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.”

Marriage and Practicing the Faith

July 28th, 2014

Here is a great blog post I came across from The Federalist called A Bit Of Religion Can Be Bad For Marriage which shows how practicing your faith and attending Church weekly has a very good effect on your marriage:

 

Here’s the key nuance: while religious affiliation makes no difference when it comes to divorce, religious attendance does. …

In multivariate analyses, high-attending conservative Protestant young adults have 34 percent lower odds of divorcing than do the non-religious, and high-attending Catholic young adults have 76 percent lower odds of divorcing than do the nonreligious. (Other religiously conservative groups, such as Latter Day Saints or Muslims, may exhibit similar “divorce-proofing” patterns, but the sample size is too small to distinguish these groups.)

 

Read the rest of it here.

Boring Mass?

July 21st, 2014

“Mass is so boring!”

          How often have you parents heard that from your kids on Sunday morning?  How often have our teachers and catechists heard it as they prepare our children for Mass?  And, let’s admit it, how often have we said it to ourselves?

What do we say to that unfortunate and almost sacrilegious statement?

Well, for one, we simply reply, No, it’s not!  You may find the Mass boring, but, that’s more your problem than the fault of the Mass.

We may find a lot of very important activities in life “boring”: visits to the dentist can be that way; kidney patients tell me dialysis three times a week is hardly a thrill; voting is no barrel of laughs.  But, all three of them are very significant to our wellbeing, and their value hardly depends on us being ecstatic while doing them.  The Mass is even more important for the health of our soul than those examples.

Boredom is our problem, and social commentators tell us we today, so used to thirty-second sound bites, or flipping the channel when we yawn at a program, are susceptible to it.

Thank God, a person’s or an event’s value does not depend on its tendency to sometimes “bore” us.  People and significant events exist not to thrill us, unless we are the most narcissistic and spoiled of brats!

This is especially true of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  We believe that every Mass is the renewal of the most important, critical event that ever occurred: the eternal, infinite sacrifice of praise of God the Son, Jesus, to God the Father, on a cross on Calvary on a Friday called “good.”

Come to think of it, the Roman soldiers were “bored” there, too, as they mocked Jesus and rolled dice for his tunic, the only property He had.

Two, we hardly go to Mass to be entertained, but to pray.  If the flowers on the altar are pretty; if the music is good; if the air conditioning is working; if the sermon is short and meaningful; if the folks are friendly . . . all that sure helps.

But, the Mass works even when all of the above may be missing – - and, sadly, they often are!

Because, the Mass is not about us, but about God.  And the value of the Mass comes from our simple yet profound conviction, based on faith, that , for an hour on Sunday, we’re part of the beyond, lifted up to the eternal, a participant in a mystery, as we unite with Jesus in the thanks, love, atonement, and sacrifice He eternally offers His Father.  What Jesus does always works, and is never boring.  The Mass is not some tedious chore we do for God, but a miracle Jesus does with and for us.

A gentleman was just telling me about his family Sunday dinner, the heart of the week when he was growing up.  The food was so good because his mom cooked it so well, and the table so happy because his dad was always there!

Even after he got married and had his own kids, they’d all go to his mom and dad’s for that Sunday dinner.  When his kids got a bit older they asked if they “had to go,” because, yes, at times they found it “boring.”  Yes, you, do, he would reply, because we don’t just go for the food, but because of love, because mom and dad are there!

He teared-up as he recalled that, as mom and dad got old, the food wasn’t as good and the company not as sparkling, but he’d never miss, because that Sunday event had a depth of meaning even when mom burned the lasagna and dad nodded off.

And now, he concluded, he’d give anything to be there again, because mom’s gone, and dad’s in a home.

So now he and his wife host it, and he hopes his three kids will one day bring their spouses and children to their Sunday table.

See, the value of that Sunday dinner doesn’t depend on how good the food is; how expensive the wine; how interesting the conversation.  All that sure helps, but it’s the event that has the real value.

Same with the Sunday dinner of our spiritual family: Mass.

Some folks think a game at Yankee Stadium is boring; some consider country music the same; some people tell me that values such as friendship, volunteer work, family, loyalty, generosity, and patriotism are “passe,” no longer “exciting.”

I’d say they got a problem!

And some tell me “Mass is so boring…