Tuesday, June 24, 2014

OPINION: Leaders Must be Selfless in Their Bid to Unite Kenyans By Bishop Anthony Muheria

It is difficult to imagine a situation worse than the one Kenya is in today. There is the threat to life and property due to terrorism, our security organs seem clueless, rising political temperatures seeking to incite citizens, tempos of confrontation are ringing loud and our dreaded enemy of ethnic polarization and hatred is back.

And we are more concerned with taking a selfie! Our political leadership, in government and opposition is more concerned on how they look and how convincingly they can lay blame on one another rather than with solving problems. They must change their outlook. This is not the time to point culpability but to address families of the victims and seek answers on the real culprits.

Perhaps the “selfie” craze has made us only admire ourselves and forget to look and listen outwards to issues and to the other Kenyans. The situation we now find ourselves in is deplorable and we need to create space for sanity to address the heightened uncertainty, insecurity, suspicion and helplessness. It is evident the security mechanisms have failed, in pre-empting terror incidents through communication and intelligence, and in reacting promptly and effectively.

The security apparatus needs to be serviced or overhauled altogether. Five hours of delay is totally unacceptable and would have been unacceptable even 20 years ago. Time has come to look at the service we owe to Kenyans. We must forget our political leanings and egos so as to bring together a wounded nation. We must preach peace and bring solutions on the table, not just engage in a senseless blame game. The security mess must be put right, starting by those who have failed in their duty.

As citizens we must now be on the lookout, but more importantly become our brother’s keeper. This is time to put our heads and hands together to repel the common enemy of hatred, and violence. Hatred must not be allowed to grow. See also: Senseless conflicts disrupt growth We Kenyans must get sober and talk like brothers and sisters. It is time for all leaders across the divide to stop talking tribe, and stop escalating the existing tensions among our people.

Terrorists will thrive in our confusion and wrangles. Winston Churchill once said, “When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.” We must understand that politics is part of the life of the nation. However, it can be either constructive and positive, or destructive and partisan. We have been treated to a play-off of “political might” that is slowly degenerating into a platform for ethnic feelings. We see a rising tribal streak coming to the bad “competition” of who “controls” who.

Wake up leaders and guide and come to the aid of this country! For God’s sake let’s stop the bickering and get down to working together. Our throats are hoarse at singing our own praises and not a word for the victims... except a selfie with them! Leaders seem to be more concerned with defending their position with rhetoric of “good intentions”, “promises”, “good conduct” and “great concern” while hidden behind is the selfish and personal pursuit of gaining political mileage.

Renowned icon of first ladies, Eleanor Roosevelt’s exclamation must hold true: “Pit race against race, religion against religion, and prejudice against prejudice. Divide and conquer! We must not let that happen here.” The life of any Kenyan counts even in Mpeketoni! The life of the poorest people of this country is just as important as that of the mighty and powerful.

I wonder whether we would be acting in the same way if it was only two not 50 parliamentarians who had lost their lives or those of their families. Was the Westgate terror attack which warranted an entire cohort of soldiers more important? Or could it be that it was perhaps much closer to the powers that be? Dialogue among the leaders across the political divide is a necessity.

What must be sober is how it takes place; not as a tribunal but as a constructive exchange, where good ideas are given space, no matter from whom they come from. In fact, that is the role of advisory forums. Therefore it is not something we should call arbitrarily. How the dialogue is organised is up to the nature of matters, but certainly we cannot expect to create another house of Parliament to discuss national affairs.

Can we ask both sides to be statesmen and gentlemen? The voice of the clergy has unfortunately been overshadowed by the noise of bickering. I am aware of many statements and voices of reason that have been raised by diverse religious leaders. Very little of these have been captured by the media. However, we as the church leaders must do more, and speak louder, with a different voice from the political class. We must bring sanity and reason to the issues affecting the flock.

Adopted from The Standard

Friday, May 30, 2014

World Communications Day: Pope Francis's Message

"Communication at the Service of an Authentic Culture of Encounter"

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today we are living in a world which is growing ever “smaller” and where, as a result, it would seem to be easier for all of us to be neighbours. Developments in travel and communications technology are bringing us closer together and making us more connected, even as globalization makes us increasingly interdependent. Nonetheless, divisions, which are sometimes quite deep, continue to exist within our human family. On the global level we see a scandalous gap between the opulence of the wealthy and the utter destitution of the poor.

Often we need only walk the streets of a city to see the contrast between people living on the street and the brilliant lights of the store windows. We have become so accustomed to these things that they no longer unsettle us. Our world suffers from many forms of exclusion, marginalization and poverty, to say nothing of conflicts born of a combination of economic, political, ideological, and, sadly, even religious motives.

In a world like this, media can help us to feel closer to one another, creating a sense of the unity of the human family which can in turn inspire solidarity and serious efforts to ensure a more dignified life for all. Good communication helps us to grow closer, to know one another better, and ultimately, to grow in unity. The walls which divide us can be broken down only if we are prepared to listen and learn from one another.

We need to resolve our differences through forms of dialogue which help us grow in understanding and mutual respect. A culture of encounter demands that we be ready not only to give, but also to receive. Media can help us greatly in this, especially nowadays, when the networks of human communication have made unprecedented advances. The internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity. This is something truly good, a gift from God.

This is not to say that certain problems do not exist. The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgment, and this does not make for more balanced and proper forms of self-expression. The variety of opinions being aired can be seen as helpful, but it also enables people to barricade themselves behind sources of information which only confirm their own wishes and ideas, or political and economic interests.

The world of communications can help us either to expand our knowledge or to lose our bearings. The desire for digital connectivity can have the effect of isolating us from our neighbours, from those closest to us. We should not overlook the fact that those who for whatever reason lack access to social media run the risk of being left behind.

While these drawbacks are real, they do not justify rejecting social media; rather, they remind us that communication is ultimately a human rather than technological achievement. What is it, then, that helps us, in the digital environment, to grow in humanity and mutual understanding? We need, for example, to recover a certain sense of deliberateness and calm.

This calls for time and the ability to be silent and to listen. We need also to be patient if we want to understand those who are different from us. People only express themselves fully when they are not merely tolerated, but know that they are truly accepted. If we are genuinely attentive in listening to others, we will learn to look at the world with different eyes and come to appreciate the richness of human experience as manifested in different cultures and traditions.

We will also learn to appreciate more fully the important values inspired by Christianity, such as the vision of the human person, the nature of marriage and the family, the proper distinction between the religious and political spheres, the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, and many others.

How, then, can communication be at the service of an authentic culture of encounter? What does it mean for us, as disciples of the Lord, to encounter others in the light of the Gospel? In spite of our own limitations and sinfulness, how do we draw truly close to one another? These questions are summed up in what a scribe – a communicator – once asked Jesus: “And who is my neighbour?” (Luke 10:29).

This question can help us to see communication in terms of “neighbourliness”. We might paraphrase the question in this way: How can we be “neighbourly” in our use of the communications media and in the new environment created by digital technology? I find an answer in the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is also a parable about communication.

Those who communicate, in effect, become neighbours. The Good Samaritan not only draws nearer to the man he finds half dead on the side of the road; he takes responsibility for him. Jesus shifts our understanding: it is not just about seeing the other as someone like myself, but of the ability to make myself like the other. Communication is really about realizing that we are all human beings, children of God. I like seeing this power of communication as “neighbourliness”.

Whenever communication is primarily aimed at promoting consumption or manipulating others, we are dealing with a form of violent aggression like that suffered by the man in the parable, who was beaten by robbers and left abandoned on the road.

The Levite and the priest do not regard him as a neighbour, but as a stranger to be kept at a distance. In those days, it was rules of ritual purity which conditioned their response. Nowadays there is a danger that certain media so condition our responses that we fail to see our real neighbour.

It is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways, simply “connected”; connections need to grow into true encounters. We cannot live apart, closed in on ourselves. We need to love and to be loved. We need tenderness. Media strategies do not ensure beauty, goodness and truth in communication.

The world of media also has to be concerned with humanity, it too is called to show tenderness. The digital world can be an environment rich in humanity; a network not of wires but of people. The impartiality of media is merely an appearance; only those who go out of themselves in their communication can become a true point of reference for others.

Personal engagement is the basis of the trustworthiness of a communicator. Christian witness, thanks to the internet, can thereby reach the peripheries of human existence.
As I have frequently observed, if a choice has to be made between a bruised Church which goes out to the streets and a Church suffering from self-absorption, I certainly prefer the first. Those “streets” are the world where people live and where they can be reached, both effectively and affectively. The digital highway is one of them, a street teeming with people who are often hurting, men and women looking for salvation or hope.

By means of the internet, the Christian message can reach “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Keeping the doors of our churches open also means keeping them open in the digital environment so that people, whatever their situation in life, can enter, and so that the Gospel can go out to reach everyone. We are called to show that the Church is the home of all. Are we capable of communicating the image of such a Church? Communication is a means of expressing the missionary vocation of the entire Church; today the social networks are one way to experience this call to discover the beauty of faith, the beauty of encountering Christ. In the area of communications too, we need a Church capable of bringing warmth and of stirring hearts.

Effective Christian witness is not about bombarding people with religious messages, but about our willingness to be available to others “by patiently and respectfully engaging their questions and their doubts as they advance in their search for the truth and the meaning of human existence” (BENEDICT XVI, Message for the 47th World Communications Day, 2013).

We need but recall the story of the disciples on the way to Emmaus. We have to be able to dialogue with the men and women of today, to understand their expectations, doubts and hopes, and to bring them the Gospel, Jesus Christ himself, God incarnate, who died and rose to free us from sin and death. We are challenged to be people of depth, attentive to what is happening around us and spiritually alert.

To dialogue means to believe that the “other” has something worthwhile to say, and to entertain his or her point of view and perspective. Engaging in dialogue does not mean renouncing our own ideas and traditions, but the claim that they alone are valid or absolute.

May the image of the Good Samaritan who tended to the wounds of the injured man by pouring oil and wine over them be our inspiration. Let our communication be a balm which relieves pain and a fine wine which gladdens hearts.

May the light we bring to others not be the result of cosmetics or special effects, but rather of our being loving and merciful “neighbours” to those wounded and left on the side of the road.

Let us boldly become citizens of the digital world. The Church needs to be concerned for, and present in, the world of communication, in order to dialogue with people today and to help them encounter Christ. She needs to be a Church at the side of others, capable of accompanying everyone along the way.

The revolution taking place in communications media and in information technologies represents a great and thrilling challenge; may we respond to that challenge with fresh energy and imagination as we seek to share with others the beauty of God.


Friday, April 25, 2014

OPINION: Archbishop Lele; The Bishop With the Fifty-Bob Legacy

By Fr Gabriel Dolan

On Tuesday April 22, Mombasa came to a halt as the church and public bade farewell to retired Archbishop Boniface Lele who passed away on April 09.

Yet the simple, gentle soul from rural Kitui would most probably be embarrassed by all the attention and speeches.

Boniface was a rarity among public figures: humble, approachable, gentle, unpretentious and very uncomfortable with all the trimmings and trappings of his position.

Born into poverty, he died a poor man too: no overseas accounts, no profit making plazas, no property that his family will quarrel over.

When my colleague Nicky browsed his wallet for his ID to acquire a burial permit, he found a mere fifty-bob note, his total legacy.

That was typical of a man who would dispatch his monthly stipend by M-Pesa in five minutes. There were always pressing needs: hospital bills, school fees, seeds for planting.

He was generous to a fault as he would often remain with nothing to pay his own bills. He had the ‘Francis effect’ before anyone knew about the man from Argentina.

He was a shepherd that ‘smelled of the sheep’ long before the Pope exhorted his colleagues to do so.

His mercy firstly extended to women and children and was best illustrated when he became the first and only Catholic bishop to advocate condom use for discordant couples to avoid infecting each other with HIV.

He withstood the criticism and was very supportive when I revisited this important issue three years ago.

He will also be remembered for informing ICC indictees Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto in 2011 that their prayer crusade would not be welcome in any Catholic Church in the coastal region.

He spoke openly about his own illness that forced him to retire early after being diagnosed with dementia.

He did not demand special care but chose to move to Changamwe where he bore his illness without complaint, in the company of friends and the occasional malt beer!

Boniface Lele was no saint but when you peruse the passion narratives of the man from Nazareth you find a lot of similarities.

Nothing quite moves us like authenticity. Jesus too was stripped of friends and clothing as he died humiliated and naked on the cross.

We have been covering up his nakedness and concealing his humanity ever since as preachers present a plastic Jesus that guarantees you prosperity in this life and salvation in the next, provided you top up their M-Pesa account every Sunday from the comfort of your armchair.

The prosperity and glitzy gospel seems far removed from the man crucified among thieves in Golgotha.

Being truly human is not about gathering possessions but rather letting go of illusions, attachments, embracing people and the truth and being willing to suffer and die for what is right and true. It is about being faithful to your conscience.

It is also walking gently on the earth, leaving small footprints for that is what humility really is.

That and the fifty-bob note is Boniface Lele’s enduring legacy to the people of Mombasa and Kitui.

May he rest in peace.

(Adopted from the Saturday Nation)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

OPINION: Indian Sisters Nurture Hope, Reconciliation in Teeming South Sudan Camp

JUBA, South Sudan: When South Sudan's fledgling democracy suddenly unraveled in December, what started as political infighting within the country's ruling party quickly ripped along ethnic fault lines, often pitting neighbors against each other according to the tribal markings on their faces.

Within a few days, thousands of people were dead -- the exact count is unknown -- and tens of thousands more were seeking shelter from the violence.

In Juba, the disheveled capital city, many of those from the Nuer tribe, feeling at a disadvantage to the dominant Dinka, sought safety on two sprawling bases of the United Nations peacekeeping mission.

Almost four months later they remain. Shipping containers are double-stacked around the perimeter, blocking stray gunfire.

Blue-helmeted Mongolian troops tightly control the handful of entrances

In the larger of the two U.N. bases more than 21,000 Nuer remain packed under endless streams of plastic sheeting stretched between poles. It is crowded and it smells bad. Yet few talk about wanting to go to the second site the U.N. has offered across town.

"There's no security in Juba, so people are targeted for violence. The Nuer are targeted," said John Nur, a young man who said that before the crisis he worked for the International Republican Institute, a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization promoting democracy worldwide.

"The government says it's just isolated drunks with guns causing the problems, but they haven't arrested anyone," he added. "So people are still afraid of returning home."

Some camp residents venture out during the day to a nearby market. A few go to jobs before returning to the camp by nightfall. One Nuer member of the South Sudan parliament commutes to legislative sessions from his tent in the camp.

From the first moments of the violence, camp residents have been accompanied by a group of Catholic sisters from India.

"We've been working in the bush with war-affected people, but when we heard the cry of the people here, we came on the first day to provide trauma counseling and to work with the women and children," said Sister Amala Francies, project coordinator in South Sudan for the Daughters of Mary Immaculate.

The sisters return daily, bringing food, counseling women and organizing activities for children. There are no formal schools in the camp, so were it not for the opportunity to gather with the sisters in a few large tents donated by UNICEF, the kids would have nothing to do.

"We want to give the children an opportunity to leave their trauma behind for a few minutes, to give them some freedom. We teach them English and some of their letters," Sister Amala told Catholic News Service April 1.

The nuns also work for reconciliation

"We see that tribalism is very high," Sister Amala explained. "The people focus on their tribe, not on the development of the whole country. So we work with the children to quit thinking about just me, but rather about us, about the larger community, which is the only way you can develop this country. As we make headway with the children, they go home and teach their parents, who rather than thinking about just me and you, need to think about the whole country."

The congregation has about 20 sisters in South Sudan. Half of them serve a remote area near Wau, while the others are in Juba and have made the camp their parish, despite sporadic outbreaks of violence.

"At first the sounds of gunfire made us worry a lot, but we reminded ourselves that it was God who called us to this service," Sister Amala said. "And then slowly, as we have lived with the people amid their fear and needs, our own fears and worries were lost. It is God's plan, not ours, so the more we focus on God's work, the less space there is for worry."

The U.N.'s operation of the camps has drawn criticism. Some Dinka leaders have accused the international organization of harboring assassins in the camps. Doctors Without Borders accused senior U.N. officials April 9 of a "shocking display of indifference" toward the wellbeing of camp residents as the rainy season gets underway and the camp inexorably turns into a muddy quagmire.

Apart from the inevitable political controversy the camp generates, the sisters' quiet ministry of accompaniment remains critical, one U.N. official admitted.

"The United Nations mission and all the humanitarian groups work to provide material things like water, food, latrines and health services, but the human person is more than all those, so for the sisters to be present and sing and laugh while they visit and pray with people is so important," said Analia Ramos, a ration officer from Argentina. "The Daughters of Mary Immaculate have been able to show the people in the camp the face of Jesus and Mary that we, because of so much work, at times forget about."

The sisters also provide the framework for a larger Catholic presence in the camp. Several priests and other religious regularly visit the sick in the small camp hospital. Sunday Mass is celebrated by priests from Juba.

Among recent celebrants was Maryknoll Father Jim Noonan from the United States. He said the singing and dancing during Mass left him convinced that camp residents retain "a deep sense of God's presence" amid the many challenges they face.

"They are not prisoners there, but neither are they home where they want to be," Father Noonan said. "They told me that it is their faith that allows them to endure hardship, and that despite the difficulties, God is with them. So they enthusiastically celebrated that they have not been abandoned."


Friday, April 11, 2014

OPINION: A Message of Pope Francis


Palm Sunday, 13 April 2014

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3)

Dear Young Friends,

How vividly I recall the remarkable meeting we had in Rio de Janeiro for the Twenty-eighth World Youth Day. It was a great celebration of faith and fellowship! The wonderful people of Brazil welcomed us with open arms, like the statue of Christ the Redeemer which looks down from the hill of Corcovado over the magnificent expanse of Copacabana beach. There, on the seashore, Jesus renewed his call to each one of us to become his missionary disciples. May we perceive this call as the most important thing in our lives and share this gift with others, those near and far, even to the distant geographical and existential peripheries of our world.

The next stop on our intercontinental youth pilgrimage will be in Krakow in 2016. As a way of accompanying our journey together, for the next three years I would like to reflect with you on the Beatitudes found in the Gospel of Saint Matthew (5:1-12). This year we will begin by reflecting on the first Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3). For 2015 I suggest: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). Then, in 2016, our theme will be: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7).

1. The revolutionary power of the Beatitudes

It is always a joyful experience for us to read and reflect on the Beatitudes! Jesus proclaimed them in his first great sermon, preached on the shore of the sea of Galilee. There was a very large crowd, so Jesus went up on the mountain to teach his disciples. That is why it is known as “the Sermon on the Mount”. In the Bible, the mountain is regarded as a place where God reveals himself. Jesus, by preaching on the mount, reveals himself to be a divine teacher, a new Moses. What does he tell us? He shows us the way to life, the way that he himself has taken. Jesus himself is the way, and he proposes this way as the path to true happiness. Throughout his life, from his birth in the stable in Bethlehem until his death on the cross and his resurrection, Jesus embodied the Beatitudes. All the promises of God’s Kingdom were fulfilled in him.

In proclaiming the Beatitudes, Jesus asks us to follow him and to travel with him along the path of love, the path that alone leads to eternal life. It is not an easy journey, yet the Lord promises us his grace and he never abandons us. We face so many challenges in life: poverty, distress, humiliation, the struggle for justice, persecutions, the difficulty of daily conversion, the effort to remain faithful to our call to holiness, and many others. But if we open the door to Jesus and allow him to be part of our lives, if we share our joys and sorrows with him, then we will experience the peace and joy that only God, who is infinite love, can give.

The Beatitudes of Jesus are new and revolutionary. They present a model of happiness contrary to what is usually communicated by the media and by the prevailing wisdom. A worldly way of thinking finds it scandalous that God became one of us and died on a cross! According to the logic of this world, those whom Jesus proclaimed blessed are regarded as useless, “losers”. What is glorified is success at any cost, affluence, the arrogance of power and self-affirmation at the expense of others.

Jesus challenges us, young friends, to take seriously his approach to life and to decide which path is right for us and leads to true joy. This is the great challenge of faith. Jesus was not afraid to ask his disciples if they truly wanted to follow him or if they preferred to take another path (cf. Jn 6:67). Simon Peter had the courage to reply: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). If you too are able to say “yes” to Jesus, your lives will become both meaningful and fruitful.

2. The courage to be happy

What does it mean to be “blessed” (makarioi in Greek)? To be blessed means to be happy. Tell me: Do you really want to be happy? In an age when we are constantly being enticed by vain and empty illusions of happiness, we risk settling for less and “thinking small” when it comes to the meaning of life. Think big instead! Open your hearts! As Blessed Piergiorgio Frassati once said, “To live without faith, to have no heritage to uphold, to fail to struggle constantly to defend the truth: this is not living. It is scraping by. We should never just scrape by, but really live” (Letter to I. Bonini, 27 February 1925). In his homily on the day of Piergiorgio Frassati’s beatification (20 May 1990), John Paul II called him “a man of the Beatitudes” (AAS 82 [1990], 1518).

If you are really open to the deepest aspirations of your hearts, you will realize that you possess an unquenchable thirst for happiness, and this will allow you to expose and reject the “low cost” offers and approaches all around you. When we look only for success, pleasure and possessions, and we turn these into idols, we may well have moments of exhilaration, an illusory sense of satisfaction, but ultimately we become enslaved, never satisfied, always looking for more. It is a tragic thing to see a young person who “has everything”, but is weary and weak.

Saint John, writing to young people, told them: “You are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one” (1 Jn 2:14). Young people who choose Christ are strong: they are fed by his word and they do not need to ‘stuff themselves’ with other things! Have the courage to swim against the tide. Have the courage to be truly happy! Say no to an ephemeral, superficial and throwaway culture, a culture that assumes that you are incapable of taking on responsibility and facing the great challenges of life!

3. Blessed are the poor in spirit...

The first Beatitude, our theme for the next World Youth Day, says that the poor in spirit are blessed for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. At a time when so many people are suffering as a result of the financial crisis, it might seem strange to link poverty and happiness. How can we consider poverty a blessing?

First of all, let us try to understand what it means to be “poor in spirit”. When the Son of God became man, he chose the path of poverty and self-emptying. As Saint Paul said in his letter to the Philippians: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness” (2:5-7). Jesus is God who strips himself of his glory. Here we see God’s choice to be poor: he was rich and yet he became poor in order to enrich us through his poverty (cf. 2 Cor 8:9). This is the mystery we contemplate in the crib when we see the Son of God lying in a manger, and later on the cross, where his self-emptying reaches its culmination.

The Greek adjective ptochós (poor) does not have a purely material meaning. It means “a beggar”, and it should be seen as linked to the Jewish notion of the anawim, “God’s poor”. It suggests lowliness, a sense of one’s limitations and existential poverty. The anawim trust in the Lord, and they know that they can count on him.

As Saint Therese of the Child Jesus clearly saw, by his incarnation Jesus came among us as a poor beggar, asking for our love. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “man is a beggar before God” (No. 2559) and that prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst and our own thirst (No. 2560).

Saint Francis of Assisi understood perfectly the secret of the Beatitude of the poor in spirit. Indeed, when Jesus spoke to him through the leper and from the crucifix, Francis recognized both God’s grandeur and his own lowliness. In his prayer, the Poor Man of Assisi would spend hours asking the Lord: “Who are you?” “Who am I?” He renounced an affluent and carefree life in order to marry “Lady Poverty”, to imitate Jesus and to follow the Gospel to the letter. Francis lived in imitation of Christ in his poverty and in love for the poor – for him the two were inextricably linked – like two sides of one coin.

You might ask me, then: What can we do, specifically, to make poverty in spirit a way of life, a real part of our own lives? I will reply by saying three things.

First of all, try to be free with regard to material things. The Lord calls us to a Gospel lifestyle marked by sobriety, by a refusal to yield to the culture of consumerism. This means being concerned with the essentials and learning to do without all those unneeded extras which hem us in. Let us learn to be detached from possessiveness and from the idolatry of money and lavish spending. Let us put Jesus first. He can free us from the kinds of idol-worship which enslave us. Put your trust in God, dear young friends! He knows and loves us, and he never forgets us. Just as he provides for the lilies of the field (cf. Mt 6:28), so he will make sure that we lack nothing. If we are to come through the financial crisis, we must be also ready to change our lifestyle and avoid so much wastefulness. Just as we need the courage to be happy, we also need the courage to live simply.

Second, if we are to live by this Beatitude, all of us need to experience a conversion in the way we see the poor. We have to care for them and be sensitive to their spiritual and material needs. To you young people I especially entrust the task of restoring solidarity to the heart of human culture. Faced with old and new forms of poverty – unemployment, migration and addictions of various kinds – we have the duty to be alert and thoughtful, avoiding the temptation to remain indifferent. We have to remember all those who feel unloved, who have no hope for the future and who have given up on life out of discouragement, disappointment or fear. We have to learn to be on the side of the poor, and not just indulge in rhetoric about the poor! Let us go out to meet them, look into their eyes and listen to them. The poor provide us with a concrete opportunity to encounter Christ himself, and to touch his suffering flesh.

However – and this is my third point – the poor are not just people to whom we can give something. They have much to offer us and to teach us. How much we have to learn from the wisdom of the poor! Think about it: several hundred years ago a saint, Benedict Joseph Labré, who lived on the streets of Rome from the alms he received, became a spiritual guide to all sorts of people, including nobles and prelates. In a very real way, the poor are our teachers. They show us that people’s value is not measured by their possessions or how much money they have in the bank. A poor person, a person lacking material possessions, always maintains his or her dignity. The poor can teach us much about humility and trust in God. In the parable of the pharisee and the tax-collector (cf. Lk 18:9-14), Jesus holds the tax-collector up as a model because of his humility and his acknowledgment that he is a sinner. The widow who gave her last two coins to the temple treasury is an example of the generosity of all those who have next to nothing and yet give away everything they have (Lk 21:1-4).

4. … for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

The central theme of the Gospel is the kingdom of God. Jesus is the kingdom of God in person; he is Immanuel, God-with-us. And it is in the human heart that the kingdom, God’s sovereignty, takes root and grows. The kingdom is at once both gift and promise. It has already been given to us in Jesus, but it has yet to be realized in its fullness. That is why we pray to the Father each day: “Thy kingdom come”.

There is a close connection between poverty and evangelization, between the theme of the last World Youth Day – “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations!” (Mt 28:19) – and the theme for this year: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3). The Lord wants a poor Church which evangelizes the poor. When Jesus sent the Twelve out on mission, he said to them: “Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff; for the labourers deserve their food” (Mt 10:9-10). Evangelical poverty is a basic condition for spreading the kingdom of God. The most beautiful and spontaneous expressions of joy which I have seen during my life were by poor people who had little to hold onto. Evangelization in our time will only take place as the result of contagious joy.

We have seen, then, that the Beatitude of the poor in spirit shapes our relationship with God, with material goods and with the poor. With the example and words of Jesus before us, we realize how much we need to be converted, so that the logic of being more will prevail over that of having more! The saints can best help us to understand the profound meaning of the Beatitudes. So the canonization of John Paul II, to be celebrated on the Second Sunday of Easter, will be an event marked by immense joy. He will be the great patron of the World Youth Days which he inaugurated and always supported. In the communion of saints he will continue to be a father and friend to all of you.

This month of April marks the thirtieth anniversary of the entrustment of the Jubilee Cross of the Redemption to the young. That symbolic act by John Paul II was the beginning of the great youth pilgrimage which has since crossed the five continents. The Pope’s words on that Easter Sunday in 1984 remain memorable: “My dear young people, at the conclusion of the Holy Year, I entrust to you the sign of this Jubilee Year: the cross of Christ! Carry it throughout the world as a symbol of the love of the Lord Jesus for humanity, and proclaim to everyone that it is only in Christ, who died and rose from the dead, that salvation and redemption are to be found”.

Dear friends, the Magnificat, the Canticle of Mary, poor in spirit, is also the song of everyone who lives by the Beatitudes. The joy of the Gospel arises from a heart which, in its poverty, rejoices and marvels at the works of God, like the heart of Our Lady, whom all generations call “blessed” (cf. Lk 1:48). May Mary, Mother of the poor and Star of the new evangelization help us to live the Gospel, to embody the Beatitudes in our lives, and to have the courage always to be happy.


© Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana      

Friday, March 28, 2014

OPINION: South Sudan's Frontline Nuns

Amid the ongoing violence in South Sudan, religious workers have held their ground and helped protect civilians.

Nuns in South Sudan know a thing or two about war. "We learned fast with the bullets whistling past our ears," said Sister Barbara Paleczny, chuckling at the memory of her younger self when she moved here five years ago.

Paleczny, 70, a teacher with the Rome-based NGO Solidarity with South Sudan, has lived in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada. But it's the city of Malakal - where civil war has raged in recent months - that she calls home.

Malakal, an oil town on the banks of the White Nile, has changed hands between the government and rebel forces several times since December, according to the missionaries who are there. Each attack and counterattack has led to fresh atrocities, which the nuns have done their best to prevent. The sisters have confronted military chiefs about rape, negotiated for civilian protection amid rocket-propelled grenade fire, and held their ground when international humanitarians and peacekeepers left.

South Sudan's frontline nuns - mostly Europeans and Americans - can dig a foxhole and distinguish a loaded Antonov bomber from an unloaded one based on its engine noise alone. They are agile, witty and plain-clothed - wearing a nun's habit in South Sudan's sultry climate wouldn't work.

Coptic Christianity reached ancient Nubia in the second century but 500 years later came under pressure from Islam. Christian missionaries who arrived in the latter half of the 19th century were beaten and tortured, imprisoned, and forced to marry. They battled famine and plague as nurses and undertakers, and fought prostitution and slavery. Fifty-years ago, the Sudanese government expelled them. When independence was granted to the predominantly Christian south in 2011, the missionaries pinned their hopes on a lasting peace.

'We stayed through all the battles'

But two-and-a-half years later, their hopes are smashed. A split within South Sudan's ruling party boiled over into armed conflict shortly before Christmas 2013. The war pits rebels loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar against President Salva Kiir. Experts agree that civilians have borne the brunt of the crisis - at least 10,000 people are believed to be dead.

Paleczny described how for last Christmas Day, December 25, her colleague, an Irish woman named Sister Betty, had been saving homemade plum pudding for lunch. But the nuns were forced to spend the day hiding in a cupboard in the church as artillery and mortars rocked the ground around them. "It was like a heavy thunderstorm with rain as bullets, and thunder as mortars and bombs. The house shook," Paleczny said.

In the late afternoon, there was a lull in the fighting. The sisters stole out of the church's windowless closet and made it to the kitchen. They put the pudding on to cook - but no sooner had they set it alight with flaming whiskey and eaten it than the artillery began again.

Paleczny had survived a number of attacks on Malakal before the recent outbreak of violence. "We stayed through all the battles when the NGOs cleared out," she said. While the nuns carried on with their business - improving education, healthcare, journalism, agriculture - the NGOs sometimes took months to return.

Religious workers in South Sudan have weathered the war. One Italian priest, who asked to remain anonymous, has continued his pastoral work in the field despite the civil war. When the government advanced on rebel leader Machar's hometown of Leer, kicking off another brutal round of attacks and counterattacks, the priest's colleagues noticed that he had disappeared.

A few days later, the sturdy, grey-haired, 67-year old appeared in Nyal, roughly 80km to the south. He had waded through bulrushes on the edge of a swamp and spent two days in a canoe to get there. After arriving in Nyal, he set out on foot, walking for three hours a day to make his pre-Easter visit to some of the remotest communities in the country.

"It gives credibility if you root yourself in and stay with the locals, even in life-threatening situations," said Klaus Stieglitz, vice chairman of Sign of Hope, one of the few NGOs with a presence in Nyal. In the past, international aid workers evacuated during periods of insecurity because of stringent risk-assessments. Missionaries, however, often remained at their posts.

Atrocities and nightmares

Recently, Sister Paleczny agreed to leave Malakal. "What can I do for people hiding in this tiny room?" she asked herself. Soon after leaving Malakal, she began to have nightmares for the first time in her life. Her mind was re-enacting atrocities in her dreams.

"Anything I'd heard about, it became real and I saw it at night - the killings, the atrocities," she said. "Daily quiet time gives a chance for things inside to surface. People have been so traumatised. We must be aware that we can have secondary trauma."

Paleczny spent the first two months of this year teaching in Rumbek, a town yet to be touched by the fighting. Meanwhile, her fellow Sister Elena Balatti stayed on. Balatti belongs to the Comboni Missionaries, a powerful, elite unit of church workers whose history in South Sudan dates back nearly 200 years.

The Combonis have survived decades of bombing by the Sudanese government, both during the 20-year civil war and after. Balatti was unfazed even after hearing rumours that a counterattack by rebels was imminent. In her dispatch for the Comboni Mission, she wrote that roughly 100 of the town's most vulnerable people were taking shelter in her church compound - most of them elderly, disabled or women with young children. Balatti reassured the displaced people that she would not leave.

Although a ceasefire agreement was signed in January, the deal is not reflected by the reality on the ground. On February 18, Balatti reported the White Army militia - comprised of members of the Nuer ethnic group - arrived in town.

People trying to escape on a truck were caught in the gunfire, hurling themselves from the vehicle and running to the church compound. Its walls provided protection from bullets, but only until 10am when the rebels breached the compound and started making demands of the sisters.

By evening, there were 30 gunmen in front of the cathedral searching for a pro-government fighter. One of the men readied his rocket-propelled grenade launcher and threatened to hit the church. The sisters stood their ground, doggedly negotiating for the protection of civilians. Early the next morning, Balatti and the other sisters gathered the civilians and left for the Presbyterian church, which was being used as a UN base, where they coordinated a rescue mission for those left behind.

One million displaced

Malakal has been hit by a number of atrocities over the past three months. Fighters have killed civilians en masse, allegedly raped girls as young as nine-years old, and reduced hundreds of homes and public buildings to ashes.

On March 19, the rebels announced the government had retaken the town. But whether they can hold onto it remains to be seen. The government, NGOs, UN peacekeepers and humanitarian staff are all being stretched to the limit. Nearly one million people have been displaced. The UN and its partners issued an appeal for $1.27bn to cope with the deepening humanitarian crisis, but aid efforts remain critically underfunded.

But Sister Paleczny is eager to get back to work, adamant that she will never retire and showing no fear of her own mortality. "I'm too old to die young," she said with a wry smile.

Courtesy of Al Jazeera 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Pope Francis' March 05 Interview with Corriere della Sera

Find below an English translation, by CNA's Estefania Aguirre and Alan Holdren, of the March 5 interview of Pope Francis with Italian daily "Corriere della Sera".

Holy Father, every once in a while you call those who ask you for help. Sometimes they don’t believe you.

Yes, it has happened. When one calls, it is because he wants to speak, to pose a question, to ask for counsel. As a priest in Buenos Aires it was more simple. And, it has remained a habit for me. A service. I feel it inside. Certainly, now it is not that easy to do due to the quantity of people who write me.

And, is there a contact, an encounter that you remember with particular affection?

A widowed woman, aged 80, who had lost a child. She wrote me. And, now I call her every month.  She is happy. I am a priest. I like it.

The relations with your predecessor. Have you ever asked for the counsel of Benedict XVI?

Yes. The Pope emeritus is not a statue in a museum. It is an institution. We weren’t used to it. 60 or 70 years ago, ‘bishop emeritus’ didn’t exist. It came after the (Second Vatican) Council. Today, it is an institution. The same thing must happen for the Pope emeritus. Benedict is the first and perhaps there will be others. We don’t know. He is discreet, humble, and he doesn’t want to disturb. We have spoken about it and we decided together that it would be better that he sees people, gets out and participates in the life of the Church. He once came here for the blessing of the statue of St. Michael the Archangel, then to lunch at Santa Marta and, after Christmas, I sent him an invitation to participate in the consistory and he accepted. His wisdom is a gift of God. Some would have wished that he retire to a Benedictine abbey far from the Vatican. I thought of grandparents and their wisdom. Their counsels give strength to the family and they do not deserve to be in an elderly home.

Your way of governing the Church has seemed to us to be this: you listen to everyone and decide alone. A bit like a general of the Jesuits. Is the Pope a lone man?

Yes and no. I understand what you want to say to me. The Pope is not alone in his work because he is accompanied and counseled by so many. And, he would be a lone man if he decided without listening, or feigned to listen. But, there is a moment, when it is about deciding, placing a signature, in which he is alone with his sense of responsibility.

You have innovated, criticized some attitudes of the clergy, shaken the Curia. With some resistance, some opposition. Has the Church already changed as you would have liked a year ago?

Last March, I didn’t have a project to change the Church. I didn’t expect this transfer of dioceses, let’s put it that way. I began to govern seeking to put into practice that which had emerged in the debate among cardinals in the various congregations. In my way of acting, I wait for the Lord to give me inspiration. I’ll give you an example. We had spoken of the spiritual care of the people who work in the Curia, and they began to make spiritual retreats. We needed to give more importance to the annual spiritual exercises. Everyone has the right to spend five days in silence and meditation, whereas before, in the Curia, they heard three talks a day and then some continued to work.
Kindness and mercy are the essence of your pastoral message…

And of the Gospel. It is the center of the Gospel. Otherwise, one cannot understand Jesus Christ, the kindness of the Father who sent him to listen to us, to heal us, to save us.

But has this message been understood? You have said that the Francis-mania will not last long. Is there something in your public image that you don’t like?

I like being among the people. Together with those who suffer. Going to parishes. I don’t like the ideological interpretations, a certain ‘mythology of Pope Francis’. When it is said, for example, that he goes out of the Vatican at night to walk and to feed the homeless on Via Ottaviano. It has never crossed my mind. If I’m not wrong, Sigmund Freud said that in every idealization there is an aggression. Depicting the Pope to be a sort of superman, a type of star, seems offensive to me. The Pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps calmly and has friends like everyone. A normal person.

(Do you have) nostalgia for your Argentina?

The truth is that I don’t have nostalgia. I would like to go and see my sister, who is sick, the last of us five (siblings). I would like to see her, but this does not justify a trip to Argentina. I call her by phone and this is enough. I’m not thinking of going before 2016 because I was already in Latin America, in Rio. Now I must go to the Holy Land, to Asia, and then to Africa.

You just renewed your Argentinian passport. You are still a head of state.

I renewed it because it was about to expire.

Were you displeased by the accusations of Marxism, mostly American, after the publication of Evangelii Gaudium?

Not at all. I have never shared the Marxist ideology, because it is not true, but I have known many great people who professed Marxism.

The scandals that rocked the life of the Church are fortunately in the past. A public appeal was made to you, on the delicate theme of the abuse of minors, published by (the Italian newspaper) Il Foglio and signed by Besancon and Scruton, among others, that you would raise your voice and make it heard against the fanaticisms and the bad conscience of the secularized world that hardly respects infancy.

I want to say two things. The cases of abuses are terrible because they leave extremely deep wounds. Benedict XVI was very courageous and he cleared a path. The Church has done so much on this path. Perhaps more than anyone. The statistics on the phenomenon of the violence against children are shocking, but they also show clearly that the great majority of abuses take place in the family environment and around it. The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility. No other has done more. And, the Church is the only one to be attacked.

Holy Father, you say ‘the poor evangelize us.’ The attention to poverty, the strongest stamp of your pastoral message, is held by some observers as a profession of ‘pauperism.’ The Gospel does not condemn well-being. And Zaccheus was rich and charitable.

The Gospel condemns the cult of well-being. ‘Pauperism’ is one of the critical interpretations. In Medieval times, there were a lot of pauperistic currents. St. Francis had the genius of placing the theme of poverty on the evangelical path. Jesus says that one cannot serve two masters, God and Wealth. And when we are judged in the final judgement (Matthew 25), our closeness to poverty counts. Poverty distances us from idolatry, it opens the doors to Providence. Zaccheus gave half of his wealth to the poor. And to he who keeps his granary full of his own selfishness, the Lord, in the end, will present him with the bill. I have expressed well in Evangelii Gaudium what I think about poverty.

You have indicated that in globalization, especially financially, there are some evils that accost humanity. But, globalization has ripped millions of people out of indigence. It has given hope, a rare feeling not to be confused with optimism.

It is true, globalization has saved many persons from poverty, but it has condemned many others to die of hunger, because with this economic system it becomes selective. The globalization which the Church supports is similar not to a sphere in which every point is equidistant from the center and in which then one loses the particularity of a people, but a polyhedron, with its diverse faces, in which every people conserves its own culture, language, religion, identity. The current ‘spherical’ economic, and especially financial, globalization produces a single thought, a weak thought. At the center is no longer the human person, just money.

The theme of the family is central in the activity of the Council of eight cardinals. Since the exhortation ‘Familiaris Consortio’ of John Paul II many things have changed. Two Synods are on the schedule. Great newness is expected. You have said of the divorced: they are not to be condemned but helped.

It is a long path that the Church must complete. A process wanted by the Lord. Three months after my election the themes for the Synod were placed before me. It was proposed that we discuss what is the contribution of Jesus to contemporary man. But in the end with gradual steps - which for me are signs of the will of God - it was chosen to discuss the family, which is going through a very serious crisis. It is difficult to form it. Few young people marry. There are many separated families in which the project of common life has failed. The children suffer greatly. We must give a response. But for this we must reflect very deeply. It is that which the Consistory and the Synod are doing. We need to avoid remaining on the surface. The temptation to resolve every problem with casuistry is an error, a simplification of profound things, as the Pharisees did, a very superficial theology. It is in light of the deep reflection that we will be able to seriously confront particular situations, also those of the divorced, with a pastoral depth.

Why did the speech from Cardinal Walter Kasper during the last consistory (an abyss between doctrine on marriage and the family and the real life of many Christians) so deeply divide the cardinals? How do you think the Church can walk these two years of fatiguing path arriving to a large and serene consensus? If the doctrine is firm, why is debate necessary?

Cardinal Kasper made a beautiful and profound presentation that will soon be published in German, and he confronted five points; the fifth was that of second marriages. I would have been concerned if in the consistory there wasn’t an intense discussion. It wouldn’t have served for anything. The cardinals knew that they could say what they wanted, and they presented many different points of view that are enriching. The fraternal and open comparisons make theological and pastoral thought grow. I am not afraid of this, actually I seek it.

In the recent past, it was normal to appeal to the so-called ‘non-negotiable values’, especially in bio-ethics and sexual morality. You have not picked up on this formula. The doctrinal and moral principles have not changed. Does this choice perhaps wish to show a style less preceptive and more respectful of personal conscience?

I have never understood the expression non-negotiable values. Values are values, and that is it. I can’t say that, of the fingers of a hand, there is one less useful than the rest. Whereby I do not understand in what sense there may be negotiable values. I wrote in the exhortation ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ what I wanted to say on the theme of life.

Many nations have regulated civil unions. Is it a path that the Church can understand? But up to what point?

Marriage is between a man and a woman. Secular states want to justify civil unions to regulate different situations of cohabitation, pushed by the demand to regulate economic aspects between persons, such as ensuring health care. It is about pacts of cohabitating of various natures, of which I wouldn’t know how to list the different ways. One needs to see the different cases and evaluate them in their variety.

How will the role of the woman in the Church be promoted?

Also here, casuistry does not help. It is true that women can and must be more present in the places of decision-making in the Church. But this I would call a promotion of the functional sort. Only in this way you don’t get very far. We must rather think that the Church has a feminine article : ‘La’. She is feminine in her origin. The great theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar worked a lot on this theme: the Marian principle guides the Church aside the Petrine. The Virgin Mary is more important than any bishop and any apostle. The theological deepening is in process. Cardinal Rylko, with the Council for the Laity, is working in this direction with many women experts in different areas.

At half a century from Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, can the Church take up again the theme of birth control? Cardinal Martini, your confrere, thought that the moment had come.

All of this depends on how Humanae Vitae is interpreted. Paul VI himself, at the end, recommended to confessors much mercy, and attention to concrete situations. But his genius was prophetic, he had the courage to place himself against the majority, defending the moral discipline, exercising a culture brake, opposing present and future neo-Malthusianism. The question is not that of changing the doctrine but of going deeper and making pastoral (ministry) take into account the situations and that which it is possible for people to do. Also of this we will speak in the path of the synod.

Science evolves and redesigns the frontiers of life. Does it make sense to artificially prolong life in a vegetative state? Can a living will be a solution?

I am not a specialist in bioethical issues. And I fear that every one of my sentences may be wrong. The traditional doctrine of the Church says that no one is obligated to use extraordinary means when it is known that they are in the terminal phase. In my pastoral ministry, in these cases, I have always advised palliative care. In more specific cases it is good to seek, if necessary, the counsel of specialists.

Will the coming trip to the Holy Land bring an agreement of intercommunion with the Orthodox that Paul VI, 50 years ago, nearly signed with Athenagoras?

We are all impatient to obtain ‘closed’ results. But the path of unity with the Orthodox means most of all walking and working together. In Buenos Aires, in the catechism courses, some Orthodox came. I spent Christmas and January 6 together with their bishops, who sometimes also asked advice of our diocesan offices. I don’t know if the episode you are telling me of Athenagoras who would have proposed to Paul VI that they walk together and send all of the theologians to an island to discuss among themselves is true. It is a joke, but it is important that we walk together. Orthodox theology is very rich. And I believe that they have great theologians at this moment. Their vision of the Church and of synodality is marvelous.

In a few years, the biggest world power will be China, with which the Vatican does not have relations. Matteo Ricci was Jesuit like yourself.

We are close to China. I sent a letter to president Xi Jining when he was elected, three days after me. And he answered me. There are relations. They are a great people, whom I love.

Why doesn’t the Holy Father ever speak of Europe? What doesn’t convince you about the European design?

Do you remember the day I spoke of Asia? What did I say? I didn’t speak of Asia, nor of Africa, nor of Europe. Only of Latin America when I was in Brazil and when I had to receive the Commission for Latin America. There hasn’t yet been occasion to speak of Europe. It will come.

What book are you reading these days?

Peter and Magdalene by Damiano Marzotto, on the feminine dimension of the Church. It is a beautiful book.

And are you not able to see any nice films, another of your passions? “La Grande Bellezza” won an Oscar. Will you see it?

I don’t know. The last film I saw was “Life is Beautiful” from Benigni. And before, I saw “La Strada” of Fellini. A masterpiece. I also liked Wajda…

St. Francis had a carefree youth. I ask you, have you ever been in love?

In the book “Il Gesuita,” I tell the story of when I had a girlfriend at 17 years old. And I speak also of this in “On Heaven and Earth,” the volume I wrote with Abraham Skorka. In the seminary a girl made me lose my head for a week.

And how did it end, if I’m not indiscreet?

They were things of youth. I spoke with my confessor (a big smile).

Thanks Holy Father.

Thank you.