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Archive for June, 2007

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Simple living — aka voluntary simplicity — has just about as many definitions as there are individuals who practice it. Simple living is not about living in poverty or self-inflicted deprivation. Rather, it is about living an examined life — one in which you have determined what is important, or “enough,” for you, discarding the rest.

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The opening lecture of the Holy See Mission seminar focused on the role of the Church in building the common good throughout the world. As I mentioned in my previous post, the “common good” is an ambiguous term. The defense of this common good involves the protection of basic human rights. As such, the Holy See has maintained formal ties to the United Nations since attaining Permanent Observer status. It is the oldest diplomatic unit in the world. In seeing the whole human person as both sacred and social, the Holy See Mission to the UN focuses on issues related to policy and lawmaking, to social life, and to the family and to marriage. The Church especially upholds the dignity of the most vulnerable people, including the poor, refugees, women, children, and workers.

The Holy See’s relatively small delegation to the UN works with diligence and with charity in many areas. Its Permanent Observer Mission is a light to Catholics everywhere as we strive for justice, albeit on a much smaller and usually more localized scale. The Holy Spirit perpetually guides our efforts, even as we have but a limited understanding of our role in promoting the common good.

Even with only partial knowledge of God’s great commission that He gives to us, we can say as St. Peter did at the Transfiguration: “Master, it is good for us to be here”. (Luke 9:33) This passage, which most accurately summed up my thoughts as the second day of the seminar began, is inscribed above the altar of the Church of Our Saviour on Park Avenue, where Mass was held on the morning of Monday, May 21, 2007. Our Saviour is situated in one of the most affluent areas of Manhattan, yet despite the prosperity of this part of New York City, homeless people could be seen on the street near the church. As was noted during the reflections at the end of the day by Fr. Bob Meyer of the Holy See Mission, an expert on legal affairs and on pro-life causes, the plight of the homeless amid such wealth serves as another of “God’s reminders” to which we are impelled to respond with Christ-like compassion modeled for us by the Saints.

Those who have gone before us to Heaven are icons of Christ, as I remember one priest saying after a philosophy lecture I was attending. The Catholic Church believes icons to be written, not only drawn or painted, by the artist. In an even deeper sense, God has written us into existence, in His own image. (cf. Genesis 1:27) We, as God’s icons, are therefore destined to return to Him. As I stated in my previous article, our quest for sainthood begins with a change in mindset our in our decision-making process. Sainthood, though, is much more than an ideal or a lifestyle; we are called to be God’s word in action every day in order to unite ourselves fully with the Word of God. This was the message of the Homily delivered by Monsignor Leo Cushley of the Holy See Mission at Our Saviour. During his Homily, Msgr. Cushley pointed to the icons behind him, which were designed by Ken Jan Woo, a Chinese-born muralist who had recently been baptized by the pastor of the Church of Our Saviour, Fr. George Rutler. The most amazing of these icons, which is centered above the altar, is that of Christ Pantokrator (from Greek for “Almighty” or “Ruler of all”), a 28-foot-tall enlargement of a sixth-century Byzantine representation of Our Lord. This image is one of the oldest known icons of Jesus Christ. The breathtaking Pantokrator icon is surrounded by several smaller icons of Saints, seven of which were written by Woo. The most recent addition is an icon of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

As we gathered for Mass, I found the church’s grandeur humbling. A verse from the Book of Proverbs urges those that are very small to come to God, who is Wisdom. (cf. Proverbs 9:4) We are all like small children before the Almighty. We are like the child resting in the arms of Mother Teresa, as shown in the icon of her. Fittingly, then, at the Church of Our Saviour I felt like the smallest icon where I stood, along with fifty-two other living icons created in God’s likeness, who were being called out into the world to love and to serve the Almighty. One day, I can only imagine myself, the little unworthy icon, standing before the Judge of the living and of the dead, hoping that, by the grace and mercy of God, I may enter into life everlasting. More immediately, we ought to pray as one community of faith for the salvation of all souls entrusted to Our Divine Ruler.

We also pray for those who are given the gift of teaching and preaching God’s message in word and in deed. Also, may those who hear the Good News be faithful to it and not be distracted from its Source that we are asked to follow. In the first reading heard on May 21 (cf. Acts 19:1-8), St. Paul warned about such distractions from the Word of God. St. Paul had traveled to Ephesus, where many people were found to be followers of John the Baptist. Thus, John the Baptist’s Ephesian disciples hadn’t heard of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul proceeded to teach the Ephesians and to baptize them, and “the Holy Spirit came upon them”, conferring upon some Ephesians the gifts of prophecy and of speaking in tongues. (Acts 19:6) St. Paul argued persuasively in favour of “the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8), but some persisted in “(speaking) evil of the Way before the congregation”. (Acts 19:9) Those who refused to believe were confused as the gifts of the Spirit were made manifest at Ephesus. They couldn’t see a “still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31) beyond the gifts of tongues and prophesy. This confusion, as well as St. Paul’s teaching against the worship of the goddess Artemis, led to a riot in Ephesus (cf. Acts 19:21-41). When order was restored by the town clerk, Paul was able to sail to Macedonia. Almost 1900 years after St. Paul’s time, on August 26, 1910, Skopje, Macedonia would become the birthplace of Mother Teresa (Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu), one of the greatest servants of God the Church has ever known.

This Blessed “saint of the gutters” showed the face of the Lord, the “Father of orphans and the protector of widows”, to the most downtrodden. Mother Teresa, who opened her soul so that it became God’s “holy habitation”, gave “the desolate a home to live in”. (Psalm 68:5-6) She is an example of one who spoke plainly of the Father’s love, serving Christ faithfully. (cf. John 16:29) When we, the disciples of Christ, are “scattered, each one to his home”, (John 16:32) we are still united in our love for the least of our brothers and sisters. (cf. Matthew 25:40) We must therefore make of our souls an abode for Christ. Through us, Christ’s hands and feet on earth, Our Saviour goes out to conquer the world. Thus we need not fear the persecution or hardships of this world. The Father is with us, so that we may live in peace. (cf. John 16:33)

Msgr. Barney Auza, a native of the Philippines, delivered the opening lecture of Day 2 of the seminar. The talk featured a superb historical overview of the Holy See and of its Permanent Observer Mission to the UN. When one thinks of the Catholic Church, one often immediately speaks of the Pope, the Church’s Supreme Leader. The Pope is the Catholic Church’s top executive, judicial, and legislative power, as well as being her foremost spiritual authority, an apostolic successor to St. Peter. (cf. Matthew 16:18-19) The governing body that surrounds the Pope is referred to as the Roman Curia. Confusion arises over the title of the temporal government of the Church. It is frequently, though mistakenly, referred to as “the Vatican”. In fact, the Vatican City State, in the middle of Rome, is a relatively new entity. It was created by the Lateran Treaty of 1929*, signed between the Italian King Victor Emanuel III and Head of State Benito Mussolini, and, on behalf of Pope Pius XI, “His Eminence Lord Cardinal Pietro Gasparri”, with the Papal Secretary of State, His Eminence Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, as a key negotiator. (cf. Intro) The Lateran Treaty guaranteed “sovereignty of the Holy See in international matters” and within the boundaries of Vatican City. (Art. 2, cf. Art. 3) Italy also was bound to recognize Roman Catholicism as the official state religion, as per the Italian Constitution of March 4, 1848. (cf. Art. 1) In exchange, the Treaty subjected the citizens of the Holy See to Italian laws when such legislation was not overridden by that of the Holy See. (cf. Art. 9)

The Lateran Treaty put an end to a period called “The Roman Question”, which began with the Congress of Vienna of 1815. That agreement, which sealed the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte, left Italy, then a series of disconnected states, in political and economic disarray. Pope Pius IX, whose policies included cautious acceptance of liberalism, where it upheld principles of objective moral truth, of natural law, and of social justice, was elected in 1846. Soon thereafter, Charles Albert, King of Sardinia, led a war against Austria to sustain his own monarchy. He was aided by a Genoese lawyer, Giuseppe Mazzini. In the process, Pope Pius IX was imprisoned at Gaeta for refusing to join in the fighting, and Papal Minister Count Rossi was assassinated. St. Peter’s Basilica and other important churches at the Vatican were pillaged and desecrated. The French counter-offensive of Louis Napoleon, the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte and the eventual Emperor Napoleon III, capitalized on pan-European anger over the Pope’s captivity. Mazzini and Garibladi were easily defeated. The Pope returned amid great joy to Rome in 1850. Order, at least on the surface, was maintained for a decade, while the Italian nationalistic movement became progressively anti-Catholic. The freemason Count Camillo de Cavour then united the many broken states of Italy around Sardinia, while also taking over the Papal States between 1860 and 1870. The French, preoccupied with the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, left the Papal States open to de Cavour’s onslaught. Pope Pius IX thus voluntarily made himself a prisoner of the Vatican Palace, which was surrounded by Italian territory. It would remain so until 1929.

Pius XI, the “Pope of the Conciliation”, guaranteed mutual recognition of the sovereignty of Italy and of the Holy See, in the aforementioned Lateran Treaty. The paranoid Mussolini was left unafraid of a potential overthrow orchestrated by the Holy See, whereas the Holy See’s property, citizens, and diplomatic rights were protected within the Vatican City State. The autonomy of the Holy See was instrumental in its response to later abuses perpetrated by the Fascist regimes of Mussolini and of Hitler, and to its organization of safe havens for those persecuted, particularly in Nazi Germany and in Vichy France.

The Lateran Treaty explicitly mentions the title of the temporal arm of the Church as the Holy See, which dates from the granting of legal status to Christianity by the Roman Empire. After World War II, the Holy See took an active role in examining the creation of the United Nations. It gained Permanent Observer Status at UNESCO in 1952, and at the UN in 1964. Its first formal delegation to the UN oversaw the regulation and control of nuclear energy at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) beginning in 1957.

The UN today includes 173 member states, of the 193 recognized countries in the world. The newest UN member is Montenegro, which joined in February, 2007. Since Switzerland’s entry in 2002, the Holy See remains the only nation with Permanent Observer status. Some, though, question whether the Holy See ought to be a part of the UN. As a non-member, the Holy See cannot vote in the General Assembly, though it may present declarations and participate in various debates and committees. The Holy See also opposes any move by the General Assembly that advocates easier access to abortion or to artificial contraception, for example. But the Holy See counters that it never imposes its moral views on the majority of nations; it only proposes a better way, to paraphrase Pope John Paul II.

Other matters, some of which are largely obscured by hot-button moral issues that are nonetheless important, concern the Holy See, including the abolition of torture, nuclear disarmament, and the eradication of anti-personnel mines, of small arms, and of the use of child soldiers. The Holy See functions pivotally as a member of the Convention on Persons with Disabilities. HIV/AIDS, which is best countered by access to food and to water, education, monogamy within marriage or abstinence without, and proper access to antiretroviral drugs, presents a worsening crisis, particularly in Africa. This continent is already beset by many of the problems already cited, as well as governmental corruption, the use of child labour, and civil wars…Speaking of war, the Catechism of the Catholic Church provides for limited conditions under which war is justified (cf. Section 2309). However, avoidance of war should always be sought. While acknowledging the occurrence of war, armed conflict can be avoided by focusing on its economic, political, and social root causes, especially poverty and underdevelopment.

In February, 1942, Franklin D. Roosevelt envisioned a United Nations that would not only prevent and prosecute war, but that would be a movement for peace. The UN has had many successes, namely the Declaration on Human Rights and the Declaration on the Rights of the Child. It attempts to abide by the rule of law and by democratic principles. Over its existence, the number of democracies has risen significantly. Despite this, the UN’s shortcomings and slowness have been well documented. For example, the ineffective Commission for Human Rights was replaced by the equally dysfunctional Human Rights Council in 2006. Much to the chagrin of those including former U.S. ambassador to the UN John Bolton and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, this Council’s declarations tend to be watered down, while states that are large-scale human rights abusers are admitted to critical councils.

Even accounting for its deficiencies, the world is much better with than without the UN. On a daily basis, the Holy See Mission in New York carries out its far-reaching, Christ-centered vision. It is often, according to Msgr. Leo Cushley, a discreet diplomatic force as opposed to a noisy advocate. In the style of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the Church must continue to defend social doctrine that is founded on human dignity. This is done by and for “human beings, one person at a time”.

Going forward, each of us is to be an exemplar of truth, justice, and charity, perhaps starting at a small, local level. One might donate food, clothing, or money to the service of the less fortunate. Following the example of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first U.S. native to be canonized (by Pope Paul VI on September 14, 1975), one might work to ensure proper treatment of immigrants, including prompt processing of applications for legal status and for access to employment with just wages. Many university students, who live the vocation made possible in part by St. Thomas Aquinas, also struggle to maintain basic necessities on top of paying for tuition fees and for textbooks. Sponsorship of families and especially children abroad is another option. The mission of the Holy See and of all Christians is clear, as per the words of His Holiness Pope Paul VI in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope- 1965):

“The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds.”

Lord, though we are scattered throughout the world, we are one body, united in Christ. We are one in our humanity. United in our joys, hopes, griefs, and anxieties, may we be the salt of the earth that never loses its taste. May we be the light of the world that never fades, so that all may give glory to Our Father in Heaven. (cf. Matthew 5:13-16) We pray that we may exclaim together: “Master, it is good to be here.” Amen.

Saints Elizabeth Ann Seton and Thomas Aquinas, the Apostles Peter and Paul, and Blesseds Pius XII and Mother Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us…

-Warren Schmidt, Edmonton, Canada

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While I was filling out the application to attend the seminar on Catholic Social Teaching in New York, I realized how little I knew about the United Nations or about the Church’s influence within such a large worldwide organization. Even so, it was a great privilege to have attended this symposium from May 20 to 25, which was officially entitled “Catholic College Students and the Common Good; Building a Better World”. This gathering of over 50 students was organized by the Path to Peace Foundation of the Holy See Permanent Observer Mission to the UN. Therefore, the prayer at the end of my last article, which was intended both as a reflection on the controversy narratives in the Gospel of Luke and as an introduction to my account of the seminar, concluded with the passage from the Canticle of Zechariah that asks God “to guide our feet in the path of peace”. (Luke 1:79)

Many of my thoughts also centered on the lives of the Saints, particularly young figures who lived Christ’s mission. I began with a discussion on Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, the “Man of the Beatitudes”. His biography, written by his sister Luciana, is organized into chapters that show how Pier Giorgio exemplified each of Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven, for in the same way they prosecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:3-11)

The Beatitudes are clearly exhortations toward action, yet many people find them difficult to understand, let alone to live out. For example, what does it mean for a person of even average means in a developed nation to be poor in spirit or meek? Surely we aren’t meant to mourn constantly. Hunger and thirst for righteousness and purity of heart seem to be abstract terms. Mercy is a hard concept, especially when we legitimately feel wronged. One would prefer not to be persecuted for one’s beliefs (as such, countries have enacted provisions for tolerance of a wide range of convictions). How is one to be a peacemaker, especially when one’s nation is at war or is under armed attack?

I have heard more than one priest refer to the “Be-attitudes”- attitudes that are essential for being a Christian. In a pluralistic environment such as the UN, living a Catholic Christian life often appears difficult. One cannot explicitly mention God, Jesus, or the Bible, or defer to the Pope’s authority at every turn and in every document issued. If Catholics were to do so, people of other faiths or of no professed religion likely wouldn’t be inclined to listen. Yet the Church must appeal to a universal law- a common good.

This doesn’t mean that Catholics need to abandon or to dilute their faith in the international community. Instead, the Church must demonstrate that the common good is at the very root of her teachings and especially of those of her founder, Our Lord Jesus Christ. This common good is based on love that has sustained the Church since the beginning. We must love not only other Catholics according to Jesus’ commandment (cf. Mark 12:29-31), but our love must seek the good of all people, our neighbours throughout the world.

Another ambiguous term has been added here without an adequate definition- the “common good”. Without knowing fully what it is, members of the Church still strive to work for this ideal in a setting like the UN. The social teaching of the Catholic Church has developed over the Church’s history. It was maintained during a period of frequent persecutions of early Christians who had no political clout. The Council of Nicaea in 325 then established the Holy See as a diplomatic unit that today has ties to 171 countries. In 1891, Pope Leo XIII published Rerum Novarum, which clarified Catholic social teaching in the face of the opposing evils of Marxism and of uncontrolled capitalism at the expense of the right to the basic necessities of life. This groundbreaking Encyclical letter has been referred to in many of the Church’s social documents since then, namely Quadragesimo Anno (Forty Years- 1931), Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth- 1963), Gaudium et Spes and Dignitatis Humanae (Joy and Hope and On Human Dignity- both in 1965), Centissimus Annus (One Hundredth Year since Rerum Novarum- 1991), and Deus Caritas Est (God is Love- 2005), to name a few…Furthermore, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church was published in 2004.

(Sunday, May 20, 2007)…The seminar in New York began with lunch at the Holy See Mission, where we were welcomed by the Papal Nuncio to the United Nations, Archbishop Celestino Migliore. His Grace is originally from Cuneo, Italy. His given name, as he said in his welcome, means “from heaven”, while his surname means “the best”. After lunch, we were treated to a bus tour of New York before we arrived at the Passionist Retreat Centre on the east bank of the Hudson River. The peaceful retreat house was a welcome temporary departure from the bustle of New York City, which truly never sleeps.

Mass, the ideal start to the seminar, followed shortly thereafter at the retreat centre, with Archbishop Migliore presiding. I was chosen to read the second reading for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, from the Book of Revelation (22:12-14, 16-17, 20). I felt greatly honoured, especially since I enjoy reading at Mass and because this time I was to read before a Papal Nuncio, one who is indeed a gift to the world, one of the best from Heaven. The reading, one of my favourite passages but one that I find difficult to capture its full significance, begins with the verse:

“Behold, I am coming soon. I bring with me the recompense I will give to each according to his deeds.” (Revelation 22:12)

These words convey a necessary urgency to our deeds. Jesus will return soon to judge the living and the dead. Our good works are essential and are expected of us. Therefore no one ought to boast about their own righteousness. (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:29) Rather, we must humbly endeavour to do more good than what we have already accomplished. All our goodness comes from God, “the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13), who expects us to use His gifts selflessly.

As the reading continues, Jesus is referred to by the messianic titles “root and offspring of David” and “bright morning star”. (Revelation 22:16) I am reminded here of St. Matthew’s Nativity account, where the magi are guided by a star to the stable where the Child Jesus lay. The star in the Gospel can be taken to mean a literal star, it could be a symbol of Jesus Himself, or the star could be a reference to us, who are asked to be Christ’s “light of the world”. (Matthew 5:14)

Both God and the Church- the Spirit and the Bride- unite in beckoning the one who thirsts to come forward. (cf. Revelation 22:17) All people thirst for love and justice, as did Jesus when he asked the Samaritan woman for a drink. (cf. John 4:1-42) The Lord says, “Come”, and the hearer responds, “Come”. (Revelation 22:17) The hearer approaches the source, until the Spirit and the Bride become one as God intended… “Amen! Come Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)

The first reading from Sunday, May 20 was perhaps an even more fitting introduction to our visit to the Holy See Mission. In the passage from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear of St. Stephen, who is traditionally regarded as the first martyr. St. Stephen, “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:55) professes his faith in Jesus Christ before the religious authorities, who condemn him to death by stoning for what is perceived as blasphemy. As Stephen is dying, his words closely resemble those of Our Saviour on the Cross: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”…“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:59-60, cf. Luke 23:46, 23:34)

The story of St. Stephen was the focus of much of Archbishop Migliore’s Homily afterward. There will be people who, upon hearing the Gospel message, will become enraged and will look to persecute those who live and preach the truth. Others will stand by silently holding the coats of those who directly perpetrate evil, (cf. Acts 7:58) yet some among us will have the strength of St. Stephen, whose silence in death spoke as loudly in favour of goodness and love as did the words of wisdom spoken through him by the Spirit while he was living. (cf. Acts 6:10)

Tertullian (c. 155-230) wrote that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church”. Not long after the stoning of St. Stephen, the Book of Acts tells of the conversion of Saul (cf. Acts 9:1-19), who would also go on to give his life for Christ who gave His life for us. Indeed, the willingness of the early martyrs to love so deeply as to die for their faith amazed even their persecutors. These followers of Christ unto Calvary were ideal witnesses to God’s love, so that many more came to believe in the One sent by the Father (cf. John 17:21). Such devotion is still strong today. In fact, the twentieth century is sometimes referred to as the “century of martyrs” (cf. H.W. Crocker, Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church, a 2000-Year History) because more Christians were killed for their faith than in any previous century, owing in part to the rise of fascist and communist regimes where failure to worship the state meant endangering one’s own life.

While martyrdom is not the call of many Christians, some are still called to be taken where we do not wish to go. (cf. John 21:18) All of us, though, are called to serve others in smaller ways in order to make Christ known to all by sharing His love (cf. John 17:26). Usually, one does not need to be literally martyred, but as St. Francis of Assisi said, we must “preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.” This is best achieved through daily acts of kindness that are carried out joyfully.

Seeing Christ in our brothers and sisters, especially those most in need, we become more aware of opportunities for justice. Decisions ought to be based firstly on what is best for our neighbour. The common good and love of God and of neighbour are the basis of Catholic social teaching. The observance of the Church’s social teaching requires a change in our mindset and decision-making process. According to the introductory presentation by Luke Swanepoel of the Holy See Mission, we are often limited by our decision-making “tool box”: we decide based on gut reactions that involve self-interest and little reason, or on empirical data derived from observations designed to test a hypothesis. Our decisions can also be founded upon past events, or upon national or familial interests. However, this tool box lacks a moral element that is fundamental to Christian living.

Catholic social teaching, which is summarized in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, provides this moral element of decision-making. Firstly, one must respect the rights to life and to dignity of the whole human person, who is by nature both “sacred and social” in Swanepoel’s words, from conception to natural death. Therefore, the Holy See supports initiatives to protect the unborn and to promote peace. Its Permanent Observer Mission to the UN provides an ideal forum for the maintenance of widespread diplomatic relations with other countries.

The defense of human rights also entails many responsibilities. The basic moral test is how we protect the world’s most vulnerable persons. These especially include the elderly and disabled, children, refugees, and women. The Holy See Mission also strives to be a voice for workers, in the tradition of Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Workers. I found one quotation used by Luke Swanepoel to be most pertinent to the topic of workers’ dignity: “The economy (must serve) people, not people the economy”. Solidarity is at the root of human rights protection.

A unified human family can transcend ethnic boundaries, and even the most oppressive ideologies. This was shown most effectively by Pope John Paul’s stance toward the communist regime in his native Poland. The late Pontiff was thus quoted by Swanepoel: “If you want peace, work for justice”. In Poland and elsewhere, humans have overcome great obstacles to fundamental dignity by working together.

The Church also focuses on care for all of God’s creation. Humankind has been given the gift of “dominion…over every living thing that moves upon the earth”. (Genesis 1:28). Environmental stewardship is thus another facet of moral Christian living.

Lord, may we live the Beatitudes, always working toward the common good. We pray for the strength to uphold the rights and dignity of every person. May you also guide us toward the most responsible use of resources that you created for us in your infinite goodness. Amen.

-Warren Schmidt, Edmonton, Canada

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I recently ran across a site that you all might be interested in:  Youth for Human Rights. Here is the link.

From the site:  “YHRI holds events and produces instructional tools to raise human rights awareness such as the award-winning music video UNITED – a street-savvy, multi-ethnic, five-minute film in 15 languages – conveying the power of human rights awareness.  Most recently, YHRI released a series of 30 audiovisual public service announcements, one for each article of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The first of these messages, released in late 2005, have been screened to more than 130 million people.”

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More grads opt to serve the poor

PROVIDENCE — Standing in a squishy salt marsh beside the Providence River, with a soft breeze in her face and an antsy crab in her hand, 25-year-old Emily Winser has reason to smile.

After all, payments aren’t due yet on the $51,000 she and her parents borrowed for tuition and expenses at the University of Rhode Island. Food stamps and shared housing enable her to live here on less than $200 a week. And she’s succeeding in her job: Sixth-grade girls, who screamed “eeww!” at the sight of crab eggs moments ago, are now picking up the crabs and asking questions.

“We’re able to show the kids, especially the girls, that you can get a really fun job doing science and math and getting dirty,” says Winser, whose national service through AmeriCorps involves working with kids on field trips to Save the Bay, an environmental education project on a cleaned-up former landfill site.

Recent college graduates, including tens of thousands graduating this spring, are seeking community service jobs, where they can learn marketable skills while doing work they find meaningful. For many, it offers a chance to test out a career before settling into one.

But as interest in service grows, some organizations are getting more selective; others are feeling the squeeze of a competitive market for idealistic young adults.

AmeriCorps, a federal program that offers stipends of about $10,000 a year and a $4,725 education award in exchange for a 10-month term of service, has seen enrollments among college graduates climb to 13,447 this year from 7,608 in 1999. Numbers are based on a one-day snapshot taken in February each year.

Teach for America, which places recent graduates in public-school teaching jobs in low-income areas, accepted about 2,400 of its 19,000 applicants in 2006. That’s up from 13,500 applicants in 2004.

The Peace Corps, which sends volunteers overseas, has seen applications rise to 12,242 in 2006 from 8,917 in 2001.

But Eckerd Youth Alternatives, whose programs include a wilderness program for troubled youth, has seen applications for counselors slip to fewer than 8,000 this year from about 11,000 in 2002. Because the position requires a special person, Eckerd no longer advertises in mass media but instead recruits at targeted events such as “Life After AmeriCorps.”

“What we have to do to become attractive (to recent graduates) takes more work” than it did two years ago, says Robyn Roett, director of recruiting.

The Jesuit Volunteer Corps, meanwhile, touts an expedited timetable for acting on applications as a drawing card for college seniors eager to firm up their post-commencement plans, says Maggie Conley, project manager for national activities. Offering a decision in just two or three months helps the group attract a few hundred applicants to a program year filled with steep demands, such as communal living with other volunteers and poverty-level stipends while working among the poor.

“There is an increase in interest (in community service), but there’s also an increase in the number of places where they can go to do this kind of work,” Conley says. “As the competition has increased, we’ve asked, ‘How can we be as responsive and attentive to our applicants as possible?’ “

In this competitive atmosphere, career-minded graduates are finding they can sometimes gain practical skills without surrendering to “regular” jobs in their 20s.

Greg Arte of Spokane, Wash., plans to be a high school teacher, yet he opted to spend the coming year teaching and tutoring in a Jesuit Volunteer Corps middle school, in part because he says it will help him learn to work with a wide range of immigrant populations. He’s also eager for the spiritual challenge of living “in community” — housemates cook, do chores and pray together — and surviving on $80 a month in New York City.

“I’m young. I don’t feel like I particularly need to jump into the real world right now by getting a real job,” says Arte, who graduated in May from the University of Portland in Oregon. “I see my friends trying to get jobs, and it’s very stressful. People can have no money and still be happy just by surrounding themselves with a community.”

Community service workers also may enjoy a level of responsibility that prepares them for positions of authority down the line. Teach for America members, for instance, oversee a classroom after just five weeks of intensive training.

“It’s not going into a regular office environment and trying to work your way up a corporate ladder,” says Elissa Clapp, senior vice president of recruitment.

Here on the riverbank, AmeriCorps members share a common mission to educate kids about ecology. But the 10 months in this picturesque spot serves very different purposes in each of their lives.

Maureen Quigley, of Biddeford, Maine, has discovered she likes working with students far better than doing environmental consulting, which was lucrative but “way too dry and not engaging.” She lights up as kids who have found algae-covered mussels pepper her with questions: “Are they alive? How do they breathe? How do they eat? Could we eat them?”

“It means a lot to me that we have been a catalyst,” she says during a quiet moment. “It sort of plants a seed of hopefulness.”

For Krista Cole, a 2006 graduate of Prescott College in Arizona, the work helps focus her plans for graduate school. “Perhaps at the end of the year, I won’t want to work with kids that much anymore. I don’t see that happening, but I need to find out now.

“I wanted to make sure I would find something that would make me really, really happy,” she says. “My parents always told me it doesn’t matter how much money you’re making. What matters is how happy you are with your job, so it doesn’t feel like a job.”

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Thanks to the folks at Education for Justice for the following “earth friendly” actions we can take.  You should also consider joining the Education for Justice resource list, which for a minimal cost, provides incredible opportunities and ideas.

See the following attachment:

Stewardship

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Are you a good writer? You may be interested in …

UNESCO International Essay Contest for Young People:

UNESCO and the Goi Peace Foundation are inviting young people (ages 7 to 25) from around the world to enter the International Essay Contest for Young People.  This year’s theme is the role of media and information and communication technologies in building a peaceful world.  First prize winners will receive a cash award and a trip to Japan.  The deadline for entry is June 30, 2007.  Complete guidelines are available on the UNESCO website at: www.unesco.org/youth.

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