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:

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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…

The Dignity of the Human Person

July 14th, 2014

A week or so ago, I watched with shame as an angry mob in southern California surrounded buses filled with frightened, hungry, homeless immigrants, shaking fists, and shouting for them to “get out!”

It was un-American; it was un-biblical; it was inhumane.  It worked, as the scared drivers turned the buses around and sought sanctuary elsewhere.

The incendiary scene reminded me of Nativist mobs in the 1840’s, Know-Nothing gangs in the 1850’s, and KKK  thugs in the 1920’s, who hounded and harassed scared immigrants, Catholics, Jews, and Blacks.

I think of this sad incident today, the feast of New York’s own Kateri Tekakwitha, a native-American (a Mohawk) canonized a saint just three years ago.  Unless we are Native Americans, like Saint Kateri, our ancestors all came here as homesick, hungry, hopeful immigrants.  I don’t think there were any Mohawks among that mob attacking the buses of refugee women and children.

Then on Saturday I watched another scene on the TV news.  Again there were busloads of shy, scared, immigrant women and children; again, there were crowds; this time – - in McAndrews, Texas – - the crowd was applauding the arriving refugees, and helping them into Sacred Heart Parish Hall, where parishioners and Catholic Charities workers welcomed them with a meal, a cold drink, a shower and fresh clothes, toys for the kids, and a cot as they helped government officials try to process them and figure out the next step.

 This time I was not ashamed, but relieved and grateful, proud to be an American and a Catholic.

We might argue and yell about policies, processes, and politics; we can never argue about the dignity of the human person or the sacredness of life, or yell at people who need our help.

Anti-Catholic Bigotry in the United States

July 3rd, 2014

In response to the ad on p. A13 in today’s New York Times, here’s my Catholic New York column:

I prayed, I hoped, that the notoriously anti-Catholic firebrands of the nebulous and anonymous “Freedom From Religion Foundation” (FFRF) in Madison, Wisconsin, would once again, as they predictably had in the past, print a full-page, drippingly bigoted blast in the hospitable pages of the New York Times.

So I smiled in relief as a friend called to ask me—ironically, on the day before Independence Day, celebrating what is most noble and freedom-loving in our beloved country—if I had seen the anticipated ad in the New York Times

Here I simply want to welcome the grey, full-page ad, and thank the anonymous militiamen at FFRF for giving me yet another handout for my students when I give my next talk on “Anti-Catholic Bigotry in the United States.”

…Would they take out such an ad (and would any respectable newspaper publish it?) claiming a Jewish congressman could not freely vote on aid to Israel?; or that a Mormon judge could not rule on marriage?; or that a Baptist legislator could not clearly vote on issues of liquor or gambling?; or that a Quaker president was unable to be Commander-in-Chief?; or that an African-American justice had no objectivity on a civil rights issue?

Read the rest of it here.

Actualización Haciendo Todas las Cosas Nuevas

July 3rd, 2014

Please click Actualización Haciendo Todas las Cosas Nuevas for the Spanish version of my July 1st blog on Making All Things New.

The Dignity of Work

July 2nd, 2014

A week or so ago, I was blessed with a visit by a group of very hardworking New Yorkers – airport workers at the two New York City airports.  These workers – both men and women – clean the planes, fill certain security and safety roles, help and transport passengers, and handle baggage. They told me of their current struggles for decent wages to support themselves and their families, and their hope to organize to gain a living wage and more respectable working conditions.  As I listened, along with Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, our neighbor in the Diocese of Brooklyn who had graciously joined us for the meeting, I also sensed deep pride in their Catholic faith.

I was particularly impressed with the story told by one of the workers…..

Gertrudes Contreras, a fifty-nine year old airplane cabin cleaner from Peru, has been working at the airport for nine years.  She spoke of the hard work and the modest compensation she receives.  Gertrudes’ dreams of becoming an American Citizen, and at our meeting she spoke of her love for this country.  Her hopes of uniting her family in this country, and her belief in the American dream, is what fuels her desire to fight for her right to organize, for herself, her family, and her coworkers, for a decent wage, for basic benefits, and, reasonable time-off.

She also took the opportunity to share her love for, and devotion to, “Our Lord of Miracles,” a title given to Jesus in her native country.

The humble laborers were joined by Hector Figueroa, President of Local 32BJ of SEIU, the union has been at the forefront of these organizing efforts.  Hector has been an ally in two very important NYS legislative education matters – the educational tax credit and the Dream Act.  I look forward to continuing to work with him on these items next year.

Why did they visit me and why was I was blessed to be visited by them?  A simple reason – these workers and the Catholic Church are allies in a common cause, the dignity of work: safe working conditions and decent wages to enable workers and their families to live in the dignity that is rightly theirs as made in the image of God.

I am not expert enough to get into the specific details of the negotiations that are underway.  I do not know the precise solution to every issue.  However, I can affirm that when both sides to an issue sit down, and in good faith, bargain together, most times good things happen for both sides.  That’s the reason the Church is a strong advocate for the rights of workers to bargain collectively. I was happy to hear that the airlines, the Port Authority and managers with whom they are negotiating have been listening, and that some progress is being made.

In a personal way, I was moved by these workers who are often in the background as many New Yorkers – including myself – quickly pass through the airports onto planes to take them on business or vacation.  We barely pay mind to those who are making sure that this operation functions well.  I do know this, I will walk differently through the airport the next time I do so.

Making All Things New Update

July 1st, 2014

+ Feast of Blessed Junipero Serra

I was actually dreading the meetings of yesterday and today…

Attending these all-day sessions were the priest council members, the vicars, and the working group for Making All Things New, our strategic pastoral planning process.  The only steps left after this would be, as required by Church law, the views of the College of Consultors, and then my decision.  So, these were very important gatherings.

Over a year of consultation, meetings, conversations, criticism, and intense process, involving all our parishes, had preceded these two days.

The agenda for the ten hours of meetings was a vote of approval, or disapproval, of the list of recommendations from the cluster groups and the advisory committee about the future of our 365 parishes.

Why was I dreading these sessions?  For one, this was the first time I ever saw “the list” of recommendations about which parishes should close, merge, or cooperate more closely.  Of course, the cynics claim I’ve had “the list” of parishes I wanted to close for over a year, and that all this exhaustive “process” was a sham.  All I can do is assure you again that the first time I ever saw “the list” of parishes proposed for closure or merging was yesterday morning.

The second and more ominous reason I had heartburn anticipating these meetings was fear of fierce controversy.  I could envision arguing, lobbying, and protests.

I should have listened to Jesus tell me, “Fear is useless…what is needed is trust!”  The gathering was uplifting, uniting, and enlightening.

I left with some clear observations:

For one, the process has worked!  The data gathered was most comprehensive, the pastoral needs of God’s People was convincingly presented, and the participants in the meeting were seen frequently to be nodding in assent as the recommendations were reviewed.

Two, the priests on the council, and the vicars, were wonderfully invested in the conversation, asking insightful questions about where the people would go if their parishwere closed, or if a merging were logical and do-able.  In a few cases, the recommendations of the clusters and the advisory committee about parish mergers were not accepted.  However, 90% of them made eminent sense, and got the council’s support.

Third, the reasons given for approving (or, on occasions, turning down) a recommendation were all pastoral: conserve and better-use our priests; utilize the churches and parish properties that are better maintained and in much better shape; sensitivity to our elders, and our poorer people who depend on walking or public transportation to get to Sunday Mass and parish activities; changing demographics of parishes, with either the flight or influx of Catholic people into the area; and, in many cases, special considerations for unique groups.  For instance, one parish suggested to close was also serving the deaf community, another welcoming people who desire the Latin Mass, another the Vietnamese Catholics, all of whom, while not living within the parish neighborhood, were still in need of pastoral care and a spiritual home.   The priests wanted to make sure they were not forgotten.

After the meeting; I did not even need the Alka Seltzer I had brought along!

Now, to decide, and I must do so by the end of September.

At that time, I’ll show you the entire list of recommendations, and, more importantly, will let you know of my decisions.

All I know is that I am very grateful to Bishop-elect John O’Hara, the clusters, advisory committee, and staff.

All I know is that the process is working.

All I know is that it’s going to be neuralgic to see some parishes close.  But, as we’ve often all observed, while the closing of a parish is always painful, it’s less painful if there has been extensive, patient, consultation.  And these last two days assured me that’s the case.

Stay tuned…please pray!