We are happy to welcome young men and women from colleges and universities throughout the United States and Canada for the Seminar on Catholic Social Teaching, entitled Building a World of Hope and a Community for Peace. At this third annual event, inspired by the recent visit of His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, students from Catholic colleges and univeristies are welcomed to New York to gather, listen, learn and share ideas on the ways of the world, through the lens of Catholic Social Teaching. You are invited to use these pages to share ideas, challenge one another, and to truly build bridges of justice! Congratulations for being selected for such an important seminar.
As you proceed up the long winding driveway, one immediately gets a glimpse of a large, traditional-looking motherhouse of a religious community. But this is no ordinary motherhouse! Inside the walls of this Mendham, New Jersey complex is the only fully-accredited Sister Formation College in the United States. Even more unique is that its 35 students are women religious from eleven countries all around the world.
The students at ACS exemplify the beauty of unity in diversity. These women, united in their aspirations to live a life of holiness as religious consecrated to God and in service to God’s people, are diverse in background, experience, nationality, race, and the charism of their own specific communities. They bring the rich traditions of their own religious communities and values and the diverse cultures of their native lands, including, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Tanzania, Malawi, the Philippines, Vietnam, and the United States.
After receiving an associates degree from ACS, these women then transfer to another college/university in order to pursue a bachelors degree. Upon graduation, each sister returns to her home country wherein she uses her education to serve the local communities of her native country.
This ministry addresses the concern of the governments of many developing countries, who wish to minimize “brain drain” or “human capital flight” that is, an emigration of trained and talented individuals to other nations, including for reasons due to conflicts, lack of opportunity, health hazards where they are living. Brain drain can occur either when individuals who study abroad and complete their education do not return to their home country, or when individuals educated in their home country emigrate for higher wages or better opportunities. This phenomenon is perhaps most problematic for developing nations, where it is widespread. In these countries, higher education and professional certification are often viewed as the surest path to escape from a troubled economy or difficult political situation.
Learn more about Assumption College for Sisters and how you can help teach the world at http://www.acs350.org/.
On Tuesday, September 25, 2007 from 1:15 to 2:45 pm, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See Mission, and its co-sponsors, the Path to Peace Foundation and Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN) and the University of Notre Dame (Notre Dame, IN), will host a side event at the opening of the 62nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly entitled: Global Health in Focus at Holy Family Hall, 315 East 47th Street, (between First and Second Avenues) New York. This side event will highlight how two world renowned universities located amid the United States are actively working on global health issues. These institutions will provide an overview of the work they are conducting, which ranges from HIV/AIDS testing, to the adoption of a Millennium village in Uganda, to malaria control methods, and to more efficiently providing health care in Africa. The projects to be discussed include those that could be implemented immediately and those that would serve as models. In short, but exciting sessions, presenters will identify and discuss an issue; support the dignity of the human person; describe current best practices; explore new possibilities; and provide a forum for the exchange of experiences across nations and enhanced communication among presenters and participants. More information about the work of the Holy See Mission is available at www.holyseemission.org, the Path to Peace Foundation at www.thepathtopeacefoundation.org, Purdue University at (www.purdue.edu) and University of Notre Dame at (www.nd.edu).
There are many movies that urge us to consider themes of social justice. Thanks to our friends at Loyola University New Orleans for compiling a list of some movies and documentaries that address these important themes. View the list, show the movies, engage in discussion, and don’t forget the popcorn!
My joy is God
is His truth
that inspires me.
is His will
is His word
leading me on.
is His peace
that gives me rest.
-Mother Julia Verhaeghe, foundress of the Spiritual Family The Work (from
This poem highlights another important focus of the Path to Peace- Holy See Mission
Seminar that I attended between May 20 and 25, 2007. Joy is a simple word whose meaning, I believe, is often lost amid our worldly cares, desires, and ambitions. This year’s Holy See Mission Seminar was all about joy, inasmuch as it was about God’s call to us to love each other and therefore to uphold the common good and to strive for social justice and for peace in the world.
In the last five articles on the seminar, I have mentioned many of the people and groups that conveyed a sense of joy throughout the event. However, I have yet to express my thanks to so many others, from the other fifty-two retreatants from the U.S., Canada, and Germany, who were so wonderful to be around and to converse with, to those who cooked breakfast every morning at the Cardinal Spellman Retreat Center, to Brother James, a Passionist who welcomed us with kindness to his order’s retreat center in Riverdale. Chris Valka, a Basilian seminarian, helped to organize the week’s activities, while Fr. Vittorio Guerrera, a diocesan priest from Hartford and the personal Secretary to Archbishop Celestino Migliore at the Path to Peace Foundation, presided over Mass on the fifth day and was a friendly presence over all six days. I could then include the Holy See Mission intern Theresa Klein, and last but not least, Sisters Monika Mader of the Netherlands and Mirjam Hugens of Austria, who belong to the Order started in Belgium in 1938 called the Spiritual Family the Work (in Latin, Familia Spiritualis Opus, hence the Order’s abbreviation, FSO), whose foundress’ poem I found especially suitable to begin this post.
This list of people to whom I owe much gratitude is not exhaustive, and there are likely several names that I have not included here. Nonetheless, those whom I met during that week in May were all united in a singular cause under Christ, who, as I reflected on the formal reception on the evening of May 24, entreats us to love one another as He loves us.This love of Christ impels us. At one point during the reception, we were asked to share our thoughts about the Holy See Mission Seminar. Prior to taking my turn, I had been listening to Msgr. Leo Cushley, Second Councillor of the Holy See Mission. During the discussion, Msgr. Cushley poignantly quoted from St. Paul‘s second epistle to the Corinthians: “Caritas (enim) Christi urget nos…” (“The love of Christ urges us on…”)
“…æstimantes hoc, quoniam si unus pro omnibus mortuus est, ergo omnes mortui sunt: et pro omnibus mortuus est Christus: ut, et qui vivunt, jam non sibi vivant, sed ei qui pro ipsis mortuus est et resurrexit.” (“…for we are convinced that One has died for all; therefore all have died. And He died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died and was raised for them.”) (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)
By His death and resurrection, Christ draws us beyond ourselves and therefore ever closer to Himself. In serving other people, we necessarily overlook ourselves, yet we become more human than if we were to remain merely self-interested. To that effect, Jean Vanier, son of former Governor General of Canada Georges Vanier and founder of l’Arche, an international association of homes for the intellectually disabled that is named after Noah’s ark (cf. Genesis 6:14), wrote:
“Is this not the life undertaking of us all…to become human? It can be a long and painful process. It involves a growth to freedom, an opening up of our hearts to others, no longer hiding behind masks or behind walls of fear and prejudice. It means discovering our common humanity…(This) discovery is a journey from loneliness to a love that transforms, a love that grows in and through belonging, a belonging that can include as well as exclude. The discovery of our common humanity liberates us from self-centered compulsions and inner hurts; it is the discovery that ultimately finds its fulfillment in forgiveness and in loving those who are our enemies. It is the process of truly becoming human.” (Vanier, “Becoming Human”, Toronto: Anansi Press, 1998, pp. 1, 5.)
In just six days at the Holy See Mission, the Christ-centered humanism of which Jean Vanier wrote was abundant. In becoming one like us in all but sin, Our Lord showed us how to become fully human like Him. Complete humanization entails self-sacrifice. To give of ourselves, we must occasionally strive to work beyond what is comfortable and routine. Our labours should be accompanied with joy and our hardships borne with patience. The Mass readings for Friday, May 25 revealed that our belonging to and unity with God in Heaven will far exceed any difficulties that are encountered in our life of temporary exile on earth.
Mass on the final day of the seminar was celebrated by Archbishop Celestino Migliore at the Cardinal Spellman Retreat Center. The first reading, from Acts 25:13-21, centered on Paul, who had been arrested in the Temple and had faced several tribunals and judges, including “the chief priests and elders of the Jews”, before being imprisoned by the Roman Governor Felix. (Acts 25:15, cf. Acts 24:24-27 and 25:14) This passage from Acts and the chapters preceding it highlight many important details about St. Paul and about the time in which he lived and preached. Paul, a Jew from Tarsus, had been handed over to Felix after several failed attempts by Jewish authorities to have him condemned to death for teaching according to the Way of Jesus. (cf. Acts 24:14) Felix, who himself was married to a Jew, Drusilla, had detained Paul for two years before being succeeded by Porcius Festus. Although the Romans were reputably brutal, Paul was treated reasonably well during his imprisonment in Caesarea, having been granted access to friends who would take “care of his needs”. (Acts 24:23-24, cf. v. 27)
Chapter 25 of the Book of Acts states that Festus was only three days into his reign as Governor when he was almost immediately thrust into the controversy surrounding Paul. (cf. Acts 25:1) Porcius Festus traveled to Jerusalem to discuss the charges that the religious leaders wished to levy against Paul, but although the chief priests and elders were planning to have Paul sent to Jerusalem where he could be ambushed and killed (cf. Acts 25:3), they could not produce enough evidence against him to convince the new Governor. Festus was likely exasperated with the Jewish elites who were unable to charge Paul with any crime, but could only argue that he had disagreed with them on some points of Jewish teaching, and that Paul had taught that Jesus, who had been declared to be dead, was alive. (cf. Acts 25:19)
The Roman Governor had little knowledge and even less jurisdiction over matters of the Jewish faith, so Festus reported Paul’s case to King Agrippa, son of Herod Agrippa I. The king, who was a minor political voice in first-century Palestine along with his sister Bernice, requested to have Paul brought before him anyway. Paul, though, was also a master of both religious and of secular law. He had competently defended himself through a series of trials before both Jewish and Roman judges. Notably, he endured his ordeal “cheerfully”. (Acts 24:10)
To add a further complication, Paul was entitled to rights both as a Jew and as a Roman citizen. Thus he appealed to be tried by Caesar as a Roman. In the first century as well as now, citizenship is important. In reference to my earlier quotation of Jean Vanier, human beings essentially feel a sense of belonging. Each person is acquainted with groups of other people; for example we assemble along cultural (including linguistic or religious) lines, we identify with particular groups of friends, and we belong to a specific country.
This last instance can be called citizenship in the strict sense. Large differences exist among the world’s nations and their inhabitants, but as we are all united in our humanity we have much in common. Both the diversity and the similarities of the world’s people are widely demonstrated at the UN, where nations and persons with varied interests come to work together. The Holy See, of course, contributes to this spirit of interdependence and peace as a greatly respected diplomatic force. As she preaches through her social doctrine and shows through the actions of the Holy See Mission to the UN, the Church must mirror the unity to which all are called under God. The Lord wishes for all people to be citizens of His Kingdom. As much as humankind is diverse, we will be fit for Heaven when we work as one, having “fought the good fight, finished the race, (and) kept the faith” as St. Paul did. (2 Timothy 4:7)
The theme of citizenship was also captured in the Psalm reading for May 25. All people are under God’s power. (cf. Psalm 103:19) We “do not forget the gifts of God” (Psalm 103:2), and we bless the Lord in unison, as we remember His love and forgiveness that extends universally. (cf. Psalm 103:11-12) The angels and saints in Heaven join us in praise of God. The faithful who have gone before us to be part of the Communion of Saints share directly in God’s strength because they are attentive and obedient to the Almighty. (cf. Psalm 103:20) We pray, therefore, for their intercession so that we may also follow the way to citizenship in Heaven.
Along the path to life everlasting, struggle surely awaits us. St. Peter, whom Jesus hand-picked from among the Apostles to be the first leader of the Church, eventually learned to accept the Cross which comes along with loving service in Christ. Throughout the seminar, with the exception of the last day, the Gospel readings heard during Mass were taken sequentially from John 17, Jesus’ high-priestly prayer for His followers. However, the Gospel reading for the last day in New York was of St. John’s portrayal of the final conversation between Jesus and Peter.
John’s Gospel says that this dialogue happened following breakfast. Since I am not a morning person, I empathize somewhat with St. Peter who may well have been only half awake when Jesus asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Even though he was unprepared for the question, Peter answered astutely, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you”, to which Jesus responded, “Feed my lambs.” (John 21:15) Jesus asked Peter a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”, and, after Peter again affirmed his love for Our Lord, Jesus commanded him, “Tend my sheep.”
Despite Peter’s repeated profession of his love for the Son of God, Jesus knew that his journey toward complete and selfless love was far from complete. In the first two instances where Jesus asked Peter whether he loved Him, the Greek translation of the verb “to love” is given as “αγαπας” (“agapas”, the present tense of “agape”, suggesting unconditional love). Subsequently, Jesus asked Peter a third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter, upset because he had been questioned yet again, replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” (John 21:17) The third time Jesus questions Peter, the Greek word changes from “αγαπας” to “φιλεις” (“phileis”, meaning love as between friends).
Thus, Jesus knows that we, like Peter, are usually willing to accept Him as a friend. But Jesus expects us to grow in love to where we love without condition. We must therefore love each other as God loves us. Jesus asks us to work for and with each other. In doing so, we give ourselves to Him as He gave Himself for us on the Cross. We are reminded in the exchange between Jesus and Peter to patiently endure the trials that accompany our Christian journey:
“Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (John 21:18)
Lord, you are with us in our joys and in our sorrows. Help us to be stewards of Your wonderful creation. Help us also to love each other. You sustain the work of the Holy See Mission to the UN. May we, Your Church, follow its example of service and of justice. We lift up our hearts to You. Take them, and unite us to Yourself, so that when you come again we may see Your glory face to face. We pray in song:
Lord, You have my heart,
And I will search for Yours;
Jesus take my life and lead me on.
Lord, You have my heart,
And I will search for Yours;
Let me be to You a sacrifice.
And I will praise You, Lord.
And I will sing of love come down.
And as You show Your face,
We’ll see Your glory here.
-Martin Smith (Audio-video clip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=np-uDG9yGHc&mode=related&search=)
Jesus take my life and lead me on. You are my joy, my all in all. Caritas Christi urget nos. Amen.
Warren Schmidt, Edmonton, Canada
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Canticle of the Sun, St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226):
Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord,
All praise is Yours, all glory, honor and blessings.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong;
no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.
We praise You, Lord, for all Your creatures,
especially for Brother Sun,
who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor,
of You Most High, he bears your likeness.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Moon and the stars,
in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.
We praise You, Lord, for Brothers Wind and Air,
fair and stormy, all weather’s moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Water,
so useful, humble, precious and pure.
We praise You, Lord, for Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night.
He is beautiful, playful, robust, and strong.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Earth,
who sustains us
with her fruits, colored flowers, and herbs.
We praise You, Lord, for those who pardon,
for love of You bear sickness and trial.
Blessed are those who endure in peace,
by You Most High, they will be crowned.
We praise You, Lord, for Sister Death,
from whom no-one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in their sins!
Blessed are those that She finds doing Your Will.
No second death can do them harm.
We praise and bless You, Lord, and give You thanks,
and serve You in all humility.
The fourth day of the Holy See Mission Seminar in New York City opened with Mass at Holy Family, the Parish of the United Nations, which was followed by a panel discussion led by the ambassadors of Austria, Senegal, and Honduras at the UN itself. Subsequently, talks were given by retired Canadian Senator Douglas Roche and by a representative of Covenant House, which assists homeless youth in Manhattan. The many activities of Wednesday, May 23 gave the seminar’s attendees much food for thought. The day ended with the Circle Line Cruise at sunset. This was a great opportunity to discuss and to reflect on the topics of the seminar to that point, while appreciating the beauty of New York.
The seminar had begun with a welcome message from the Papal Nuncio to the UN, Archbishop Celestino Migliore. After a Monday afternoon tour of New York, we arrived at the Cardinal Spellman Retreat Centre in Riverdale, a magnificent and serene place run by the Passionists, situated away from the bustle of the city. The initial lectures focused on the history and purpose of the Holy See and its presence at the UN as a Permanent Observer. Later talks, including those of Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput on religious tolerance, Br. David Carroll on Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East, Dr. Daniel Sulmasy on HIV/AIDS, the World Youth Alliance and Sisters of Life on youth and pro-life causes, and Sen. Roche on disarmament and environmental issues, showed how the Catholic Church is deeply involved in so many areas associated with upholding human dignity. The challenges inherent in several different aspects of service toward each other and toward God were also made clear by the aforementioned talks.
Monday, May 21 ended with a group reflection session led by Fr. Bob Meyer. That discussion further reinforced the relational nature of humankind. People need to work together for the world’s betterment. Love of neighbour and love of God involve relationships. This love is the solution to the troubles of the world.
We draw upon the saints as exemplars of love. Those in Heaven rest from their earthly labour, having given their all to God in gratitude for all that God has created for us. St. Francis of Assisi prayed and lived gratefully. Nature and all beings that surrounded him were as brothers and sisters. St. Francis accepted death, not only as inevitability, but as a cherished moment in the bond between himself and the Creator. On his deathbed, St. Francis wrote one of the earliest examples of Italian literature. His Canticle of the Sun is also our prayer of grateful praise to God.
After the Circle Line Cruise and the dinner that followed, we returned to the retreat house. The day had been busy, so most of us retired for the night soon after arriving back in Riverdale. Prior to falling asleep, I read for a short time from the Autobiographical Manuscripts of Ste. Thérèse de Lisieux, who was born in Alençon, France, on January 2, 1873. I was elated to have received the near-original French-language Oeuvres Complètes (Complete Works) of Ste. Thérèse from France just before my departure for New York, after twice having read a heavily edited English translation of “The Story of a Soul”* between March and May.
In her autobiography, Ste. Thérèse recounts her lengthy wait to enter the Carmelite convent in Lisieux at the age of 15 in 1888. Due to her age, she had been politely refused entry by the Lisieux Carmel’s superior, Msgr. Jean-Baptiste Delatroëtte. Thérèse met the same opposition from the Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux, Msgr. Flavien Hugonin, though Msgr. Hugonin had offered to speak to Msgr. Delatroëtte. Undeterred, little Thérèse Martin took her cause all the way to Rome while on a pilgrimage organized by the Dioceses of Coutances and Lisieux to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the priestly ordination of Pope Leo XIII. During the papal audience, although pilgrims had been warned not to speak to Pope Leo, but only to kiss his slipper and ring and to receive a blessing, Thérèse pleaded with the Holy Father:
“Holy Father…in honour of your jubilee, please permit me to enter Carmel at 15!” («Très Saint-Père…en l’honneur de votre jubilé, permettez-moi d’entrer au Carmel à 15 ans!») (Autobiographical Manuscript A, p. 63, front side)
Thérèse had been urged by her free-spirited sister Céline, three-and-a-half years Thérèse’s senior, to speak to the Pope despite the warning of the Vicar General of Bayeux and Lisieux, Fr. Maurice Révérony, not to do so for fear of delaying the papal audience. The Pope looked kindly into Thérese’s eyes and responded, “Well, my child…, do as your superiors tell you.” («Eh bien, mon enfant…, faites ce que les superieurs vous diront.») Thérèse then placed her hands on the aging Pope’s knees and renewed her request: “Oh! Holy Father, if you were to say yes, (the superiors) would consent also!” («Oh! Très Saint Père, si vous disiez oui, tout le monde voudrait bien!… ») Leo XIII replied, in a manner that became indelible in Thérèse’s mind: “You will enter if the Good God wills it.” («Vous entrerez si le Bon Dieu le veut.») Afterward, the papal guards carried Thérèse away. (All references and quotations in this paragraph are from Ms. A, p. 63, front side. Translations are mine.)
God willed indeed for Thérèse to enter Carmel. Eventually, four of the five surviving Martin sisters would be together in the same Carmelite monastery: Marie (Sr. Marie du Sacré-Coeur, 1860-1940), Pauline (Mère Agnès de Jésus, 1861-1951), Céline (Sr. Geneviève de Ste. Thérèse, 1869-1959), and Thérèse (Sr. Thérèse de l’Enfant-Jésus et de la Sainte-Face).** But Thérèse had to wait until after Lent (April 9, 1888) to be admitted to the Lisieux Carmel, according to a letter from Bishop Hugonin to the Carmelite Prioress, Mother Marie de Gonzague. That letter had been sent on December 28, 1887, but Thérèse, who went with her father Louis to the mailbox daily, only to return empty-handed, did not receive news until a few days later.
Following midnight Mass on Christmas Day, 1887, Céline sensed that her younger sister was despairing for lack of information as to her appeal to enter Carmel. Céline found a model ship and placed it in a basin in Thérèse’s bedroom. On the body of the ship, Céline inscribed a verse from the Song of Solomon (5:2): “I slept but my heart was awake” («Je dors mais mon coeur veille»). Céline also wrote on the ship’s sail, “Abandon!” (cf. Ms. A, p. 68, reverse side).
The biblical verse on the ship and the single word on the sail became emblematic of Thérèse’s long wait to enter Carmel, and of her whole life. This was the last sentence of her autobiography that I read on May 23 before falling asleep, unable to read further owing to fatigue and to the profundity of the text. I continue to reflect on this passage almost daily. It certainly developed for me into a theme of the entire Holy See Mission seminar.
Ste. Thérèse de Lisieux, who was taken by God into her Celestial Home at 24 years of age on September 30, 1897, after a lengthy and painful struggle with tuberculosis, always possessed a wakeful and pure heart. She provides us with an excellent model to follow. The French verb in the passage from the Song of Solomon, «veiller», suggests not only mere wakefulness but vigilance from the heart. Ste. Thérèse joins with all the saints in keeping vigil over us, as we watch over each other and protect and nurture God’s creation while waiting joyfully for Christ to come again.
(Thursday, May 24, 2007) After breakfast at the Cardinal Spellman Retreat Center, we proceeded for the second straight morning to the UN building in Manhattan. Inside, there were several images from a worldwide photography competition. Other displays included information on topics such as human rights, the UN Millennium Goals, the proliferation of weapons, and the history of the UN. The guided tour two days earlier was excellent, though we were able to walk about and to discover even more about the United Nations. Some of the more memorable exhibits at the UN, some of which I have posted in the photo gallery of this blog, were a radiation-damaged statue of St. Agnes recovered from the ruins of Nagasaki, Japan in 1945, a Golden Rule mosaic created by Norman Rockwell, and a series of gifts by countries like Thailand, which contributed a gold sculpture of a Buddhist temple, and China, which gave a ship model to the UN.
The only other activity of Thursday morning was a panel discussion with representatives from Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and from OXFAM. CRS is a religious-based aid organization, whereas OXFAM is more secular and works more closely with government officials, but both organizations share common values.
Seminar attendees were welcomed by the CRS speaker with “God’s blessings of peace and solidarity”. CRS, she said, was founded in 1943 by the U.S. Bishops in response to the devastation of World War II. The organization continues working toward its initial vision of global justice and peace. Its first project was the resettlement of Polish refugees who had fled Soviet Gulags for Iran.
The Rwandan genocide was also a major challenge for CRS, which has been active in Rwanda since its independence in 1962. On April 6, 1994, the Hutu presidents of both Rwanda and Burundi were killed when their airplane was shot down while landing in Kigali. This touched off the brutal four-month slaughter of Rwandans by Rwandans. By July, 1994, 800 000 people, mainly Tutsis and moderate Hutus, were dead. For the previous forty-two years, post-independence ethnic clashes were “often dismissed as ‘bad governance’”. That approach changed with the grotesque loss of human life in Rwanda only thirteen years ago. CRS, which had lost many staff, as well as their family members and friends, responded to the genocide with a further 200 delegates to the ravaged nation. The mission then called for a “renewed focus on Catholic Social Teaching, the common good, and the dignity of the human person”, which must be “revered and upheld”. The CRS speaker also stated that “principles of Catholic Social Teaching influence all peoples of faith”. Indeed, all major faiths share a ‘golden rule’ of human relationships. In the Bible, we read, “Love your neighbour…” (Luke 6:38) That love needs to be expressed in a wider social context, said the CRS spokesperson. The aftermath of the recent Pakistan earthquake was an ideal opportunity to show love. In fact, in this time of crisis those assisting the injured, grieving, poor, and displaced observed numerous commonalities between Christianity and Islam.
CRS helps the disadvantaged by practicing two key principles: subsidiarity and a preferential option for the poor, as per Catholic social doctrine. Subsidiarity means involving people at the lowest level possible to improve their standard of living. Therefore, the implication of government leaders tends to be less important than the encouragement of villagers to help in bringing necessities to their localities: food, a safe water supply, health care, for example. CRS also serves as an advocate for fair-trade farming, where producers receive just compensation for their goods in order to provide for themselves and for their families. Improved farming techniques are taught as well. As a result, poor families in developing countries are made less dependent on strenuous, low-wage labour in sweatshops, and are less likely to avail themselves to high-risk activities like prostitution. Advocacy in the developed world should extend to university campuses; young people can also engage themselves in the legislative process, according to the CRS representative, who concluded with a plea to Catholics “to imagine the world as it could be…”
Between the presentations by CRS and by OXFAM, both members of the panel spoke about delays in immigration reform in the U.S. Subsequently, a few quotations from Nelson Mandela were shared. Mandela once said that “our deepest fear isn’t that we are powerless, but that we are powerful beyond measure.” The former South African president also urged people to “learn to make manifest the glory of God within us”, for “we are children of God” who must “let our light shine”.
Chad Dobson, Government Affairs Director for OXFAM, was next to speak. Like CRS, OXFAM was founded in 1943, with its head office in Geneva. Its initial purpose was to fly food into Macedonia and Greece, which were under a British blockade during World War II. Fifty-one years later, as a result of the aforementioned Rwandan genocide, OXFAM established an office in Washington, D.C. Though it is a secular organization, religious values are important within OXFAM, which was established by academically-minded Quakers. Its ties to the Catholic Church are noteworthy. For example, Chad Dobson spoke of a meeting between himself and an American Catholic bishop, who reminded Dobson of the “moral responsibility” of organizations like OXFAM to “reach out internationally”. At the last OXFAM congress, roughly 20% of delegates were Catholic.
Currently, OXFAM operates out of 13 sites around the world. It’s American head office in Boston operates on a $50 million annual budget. The group seeks even greater global coordination within itself. Its main focus is the reduction of poverty, which Dobson called a “(denial of) the basic rights to which humans are entitled.” To achieve that goal, OXFAM strives to “work on (poverty’s) causes, not just to alleviate its symptoms”. To defeat poverty, more equitable systems of resource distribution need to be reached. Like CRS, OXFAM empathizes with farmers and therefore works to implement fair-trade programs.
OXFAM has an additional advantage: it reputably works with corporations and governments on issues such as fair trade farming and the balancing of intellectual property interests of the pharmaceutical industry, for instance, with more universal access to drugs. Through its interaction with businesses, OXFAM is also better positioned to help in upholding workers’ rights.
Following the CRS and OXFAM panel discussion, intriguing questions were raised on topics ranging from the use of ethanol for fuel and prevention of climate change to the difference between aid and development funding. In response to the latter question, the CRS speaker commended the generosity of Americans following the December 26, 2006 tsunami in south Asia. In such situations, direct aid is appropriate, whereas a process of development must be sustained over a longer period of time.
The last question concerned the resale of cheaper drugs back to the U.S. This so-called “grey market”, said OXFAM’s Dobson, fails to help developing nations or their citizens. This problem highlights deficiencies in the delivery of health care in the U.S. that would be best corrected by adopting a hybrid public-private system seen in most European countries. Furthermore, Chad Dobson reminded the audience that “access to life-saving medicines takes precedence over profits”.
On all issues, the OXFAM and CRS spokespersons showed empathy in particular toward the world’s poor, who lack the necessities most in developed countries take for granted. During Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral afterward, the significance of our witness to all creation was again emphasized. The Lord told St. Paul as He tells us: “Take courage”. (Acts 23:11) A true Christian bears witness to God’s love always and everywhere. We pray then in the words of the Psalmist:
“Lord, my allotted portion and my cup, you have made my destiny secure. I bless the Lord who counsels me; even at night my heart exhorts me. I keep the LORD always before me; with the Lord at my right, I shall never be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, my soul rejoices; my body also dwells secure…” (Psalm 16:5-9)
We rejoice therefore in Our Lord Jesus Christ, who wills for us to remain one with Him at all times. Jesus prayed to Our Father “that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.”
That love is united to Christ and is ever-vigilant. Jesus told His Apostles to “be alert at all times”. (Luke 21:36) Even in our sleep, then, our hearts may then be taught God’s wisdom. (cf. Psalms 4:8, 90:12)
The saints know the alertness which God asks of us. For example, Ste. Thérèse de Lisieux wrote to her sister Céline on May 8, 1888, a month after entering the Carmelite monastery: “Our desires are the same and our hearts beat together.” («Nos desirs sont les mêmes et nos coeurs battent ensemble.») (Letter 47, from the Complete Works of Thérèse de Lisieux) In another letter to Céline, Thérèse affirmed: “The whole Trinity is keeping watch over us.” («La Trinité toute entière veille sur nous.»)
Likewise, we desire what Christ desires. Human beings have a relationship amongst each other that is unique amongst creatures. May we use our distinctive capability to love each other as God loves us. We ask for the intercession of Ste. Thérèse de Lisieux and of St. Francis of Assisi and of all Your saints.
We pray, as in daily Compline that concludes the Liturgy of the Hours:
Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in His peace. Amen. Alleluia!
Warren Schmidt, Edmonton, Canada