Thursday, April 24, 2008

Clergy of Zimbabwe Fear Genocide

The churches of Zimbabwe, all of the churches spoke with one voice. They have told the international community to intervene to prevent genocide.

President Mugabe’s party apparently lost reelection to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party lead by Morgan Tsvangirai. The election returns have not been disclosed. Voting or recounts are occurring, all in an n attempt to ignore or overturn the election results.

The clergy are sensitive to the explosive atmosphere and fear that their country will be yet one more country that uses a faced of democracy to in fact trample the will of the people. They worry that both sides will feel completed to react forcefully. The dangers are real.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches together stated:
"Organised violence perpetrated against individuals, families and communities who are accused of campaigning or voting for the 'wrong' political party ... has been unleashed throughout the country,".
The leaders went on to describe some of the alleged abuses. They included: torture, public humiliation, abductions and mass meetings in which people were instructed how to vote.

This is a nation in which basic needs are not being met. Food and medicines are often too expensive or in too short supply to help families survive. The church leaders were not shy in their predictions of what will happen in Zimbabwe if nations do not step in to help. The leaders went on to warn that Zimbabwe faces the same fate, genocide and violence, as Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi. They appealed to the United Nations, the Southern African Development Community and the African Unition to proved support.

The clegy knew they were gtaking a chance in making this appeal. Let us pray for Zimbabwe but also that the clergy do not trurn into our newest marytrs.

Why We Should Care: Children Singing in Zimbabwe

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Bishops of Kenya, "We Failed to Love One Another"

Kenya has been the focus of intense pressure to find a peaceful resolution to its election crisis. The violence after the election has been horrific. A country previously known as one of the best hopes for the future of the continent proved how fragile national pride is when tribal pride gets in the way.

The post-election violence left 350,000 people refugees in their own country. Thousands were injured and over 1000 Kenyans died in the conflict. And both side of the election blamed one another.

The faith communities of Kenyan and East African came together praying and negotiating for peace. What did the Catholic Church do? At a concelebrated mass at the Holy Family Basilica the bishops placed responsibility for the suffering on Christian Kenyan. They stated that had Catholic Kenyans which number 8 million loved one another and loved their fellow Kenyans the suffering could not have occurred. Cardinal John Njue apologized for the tragic consequences of the lack of Christian love. Bishop Philip Sulumeti stated,” We did not listen to the voice of the shepherd, who is Jesus Christ. We failed to love one another. We sinned by failing to love one another."

To be sure, the Catholics were not the only Christians making an honest assessment of their behavior. Protestant clergy throughout Kenyan also stated that had their congregations followed the teaching of Jesus the fighting could not have occurred.

Kenya had a promising future. It was a symbol of what African nations could achieve. The nation is now in a process of reconciliation and has a national government of unity. Perhaps in not blaming others, in taking responsibility, of returning to core values, perhaps Kenya has again reclaimed it future.

Pope Prays for Peace in Kenya

Pope Benedict XVI at Ground Zero

Pope Benedict XVI has visited and prayed for peace at ground zero. I find this incredibly moving. I volunteered with the American Red Cross in December of 2001. I worked six blocks from ground zero. I was there on Christmas Day as family members visited the unrecovered. I remember the exhausted, numb faces of firefighters from around the nation give up there time to search for remains. I remember police officers who were treated like heroes. I remember that stories of so many people whose lives were forever changed on that day. I remember the hush that extended for blocks around ground zero as people approached holy ground.

That the Holy Father is there this day says what happened on that horrible day is not forgotten. During his visit to the United States the Holy Father has met with representatives of various branches of the Christian family. He has met with representatives from Buddhism, Islam, Jainism, Hinduism and Judaism. He has spoken out for human rights and collective, not independent, action to protect those rights.

This day, in that place all of this comes together. He has prayed for an end to violence in the world. He as spoken of a need for an end to torture. He has called for the religious of all nations and all faiths to respect the religious rights of others.

I don’t believe that prayer just changes things automatically. I don’t believe God is a giant Santa Claus waiting to hear our wants and wishes and then giving us what we asked for if we were good boys and girls. I don’t believe God simply says, “Thanks for pointing that out to me, I hadn’t notice all the violence on your planet. Now Ill do something about it.”

I do believe that prayer changes us. At our best we shut up and listen. Today I hope/pray that the faithful are listening to the pope. I hope we hear and realize that reactive violence is incompatible with our faith. I pray that we realize that at that site where the DNA of people from all over the world is mingled together, that we are one planet, one family, and we need to begin to treat one another that way. I am not someone who believes we ignore attacks on us. I do believe that my faith asks me to do something different, something much more difficult. It is to respond with love and I have no idea how that is even remotely possible without prayer.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI, Welcome to New York City

OK, so here is a song that just makes me feel old. As Dick Clark would say, “it has a good beat”… “Missing You” is dedicated to the love we have for Jesus and the love He has for us. I have to admit, I am a little distracted by a blue-eyed Jesus but I am also aware that is not the point. The song is also a welcome to New York to Pope Benedict XV!. It is visually and musically creative. It connects all of us in our suffering, it gets us in touch with the Cosmic Christ, it emphasizes we are all in this together. It helps visualize a Universal Church and the Mystical Body. It is creative. Did I mention it makes me feel old?

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Pope, Abuse and Healing

Pope Benedict simply does not follow other people’s expectations of him. Critics said he would only speak about clergy sexual abuse one time. He has spoken about it daily. They said he would not be overly involved, he has described the bishop’s management of the abuse as “mishandled”, hardly a neutral phrase. They said he would never meet with any of the victims, he did.

Pope Benedict has addressed the shame of the abuse. He has not minimized the after-effects of the abuse. Instead, he has called on the Church, priests, religious and lay members to support and care for the victims of the abuse for as long as they need it. This does not sound like minimizing to me.

For any type of healing to occur a problem must be named, addressed, and acknowledged. This has occurred. The perpetrators must be held accountable, this is occurring. The system must change so the problem or in this case abuse does not reoccur. While the Holy Father is setting the stage for system change, especially attitudinally in terms of Bishop responsibility, clearly no one person, not even the Pope can change the system by themselves.

In family therapy especially Structural Therapy you change the hierarchy and you begin to change the system. The head of this hierarchy is naming, claiming and calling out for change.

The reports by the victims of abuse who met with the Pontiff sound powerful and authentic. This was not rehearsed, this was shared grief, shared love and the beginning of healing.

Some may say it took too long. They are right. Some may say the bishops share a great responsibility in protecting the abusing priests. They are correct. Some may say it will still take a long time to heal all the hurts from decades of abuse, they are painfully correct.

The Church has had other periods of time when priests and hierarchy hurt instead of cared for the flock. The Church of Francis day was corrupt. However, what is important is to know that the abusers reflect humans and humanness and in fact stress the need for the Church. We will heal, we will grow. Unfortunately, because we are human we will find other ways to show our brokenness. When that happens let us pray voices rise up and the hurt does not extend for decades. Let us pray that with this visit we are beginning to see the end of a painful period in American Church history. Let us give thanks for a Pope who is brave, direct, caring and does not follow anyone else’s script for him.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Pope's American Pilgrimage

Well Pope Benedict XVI has not been shy. He has addressed the clergy sexual abuse issue at least three times since coming to America. He has reminded Americans that faith is not a private matter, it must have behavioral/social implications to be real. He was met by the President at Andrews Airbase. He visited the White House and now begins meetings, services and dialogue in Washington and New York.

All of this is exciting. This was a man liberal Catholics “knew” would be rigid and avoid controversy, a transitional pope. This was a man conservative Catholics “knew” would be one of them in all matters. Well, thank goodness, they were all wrong, he speaks out forcefully against the war in Iraq. He calls for immediate action to curb global warming, calls for open, honest and respectful dialogue among faiths. He calls for an end to the death penalty. Labels such as liberal and conservative are too restrictive and artificial to describe this man.

However, what I love most right now is the pageantry of a multicultural Pope shepherding a multicultural nation. The Solemn Mass in Washington reflected the ethnic tapestry of America. The Pope has repeatedly demonstrated his mastery of multiple languages. It is this diversity that must be embraced if we are to begin to solve world problems. It is this diversity that reflects a universal church.

So I will keep watching as the Pope moves up the east coast, as he meets with members of other faiths and as he meets with the presidents of Catholic universities. The world sorely needs to see its leaders talk to one another, embrace one another in friendship and to call out for an end to the excesses of fanatical religious intolerance in all faiths, an end to excessive materialism and an acknowledgment of interdependency. This is a small planet, a beautiful and bountiful planet but a tired and injured planet. We need all of us if we are to heal it.

Pope Benedict, thank you for your message of hope.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Bolivia's Constitutional Crisis and the Church

Another political stand-off that could possibly lead to violence? You bet, this time in Bolivia. The government of President Evo Morales is in a dispute with the opposition over plans to rewrite the constitution of four of the provinces of Bolivia.

The change in constitution is understandable. The president is the first President who is also ethnically indigenous. He is attempting to push for a rewrite that would give more power to the indigenous majority in the affected provinces. The opposition is also understandable since the point out the constitutional assembly that wrote the new constitution did not include the opposition.

Bolivia’s Catholic Church has not been quite in expressing their concern about the potential for deadly conflict. The 40 Bishops of the nation have asked for calm negotiations. The bishops have met with the governors of the four provinces asking for a slowing of the process to relieve tension, this is not to be.

Complicating this tense situation is the fact that these are oil producing provinces. The Church worries that the country is facing a polarizing crisis that will pit the poor against the rich, east against west, and indigenous peoples against the majority population.

Let’s pray the Churches call for calm, respectful negations and compromise is heard.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Pope's Message to America

My Pope is Coming to America

My Pope is coming to America. I know Pope John Paul II is the “super star” of modern day Popes. However, I became a Catholic shortly after he died.

So, Pope Benedict IS my Pope. However that is hardly the only reason. He is my Pope because I claim him. He may not have the charisma of John Paul II. He may not have the sense of drama or the vitality and attractiveness of a young John Paul. But oh that mind. He has the mind of someone who has been a theologian for decades, he is professorial. He is also complicated, black and white thinking does not work in describing him. He cannot be easily pigeonholed.

So, as Cardinal Ratzinger, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he was the gatekeeper of doctrine. However, today he is the chief Pastoral leader of the church. This is a job that combines the mind of a master theologian with the heart of a caring and sensitive shepherd. He is the right man for the job.

I suspect I am not the only one who feels this way. What is the evidence? Week after week his Wednesday audiences and his Sunday Services audiences are double the size of the late Pope’s. I suspect that is because people are not just looking for charisma. They come to listen, they come to be taught and MY Pope does that. He is my teacher.

And now he is coming to America. It is difficult for me to even type that last sentence without smiling, actually, it is impossible.


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Beijing Olympics and Human Rights Abuse

The Olympic Torch being extinguished multiple times. Disruptions of the Torch relay beginning in Greece and continuing in London and Paris. Disruptions and protests in San Francisco before the Olympic Torch even arrives. What does this tell us? It tells us the leaders of the Western Democracies are out of touch with their constituencies.

China refuses to use its influence to stop genocide in Darfur. China does virtually nothing while the regime of Burma viciously attacks Buddhist monks protesting the military dictatorship. And now China putting down protests in Tibet so severely it results in deaths.

What do our leaders do, the champions of human rights? At best they consider having their respective heads of state not attending the Opening Ceremonies. This is an insult to the brave people for Sudan, Burma and Tibet. It is an insult to the citizens of the Western Democracies.

Athletes’ rights to compete are not more important than basic human rights and the right to vote. Business is not more important than the right to stay alive. Having a massive national debt in the hands of the Chinese government does not translate into looking the other way while blood flows.

While the “leaders” of the democracies begin to get use to the fact that they are sharing in the human rights abuses of China by doing virtually nothing we can make it clear we do care about human rights. We can boycott watching the Olympics and boycott sponsors. Just because our leaders are incapable of leading does not mean we should be immobilized or prevented from showing our support for those who so desperately need it.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Zimbabwe, Votes and Faith

Another election and another crisis. The election results are being challenged in Zimbabwe. The President appears to have lost the election, he and his Party refuse to step down and the region awaits another humanitarian crisis.

One of the problems is the delay in even announcing the election results. So, anticipating conflict the churches of the region have come together to avert or at least diminish suffering.

The Christian Alliance which is a coalition of churches in Zimbabwe has called for a peaceful resolution to the election conflict. The coalition has been joined by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe.

The President is aware of the influence of the churches and has attempted to garner their support. This include calling for the “Africanzation” of the churches. The Catholic Church has been an outspoken advocate for democracy in the country. In fact Archbishop of Bulawayo, Mgr Pius Ncube had routinely criticized the administration for election and human right violations. .

This disruption could not have come at a worse time. The country is in economic crisis. 80% of the workforce is underemployed. Even before this conflict CAFOD had been struggling to maintain its stockpiles of food used to aid the hungry.

The Catholic Church in the region has prepared for an humanitarian crisis and is anticipating a refugee problem. Related agencies that have coordinated their services include: the Refugee Office of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference, the Catholic Relief Services and the Jesuit Refugee Service. The Catholic Healthcare Association (CATHCA) also focused on finding emergency medical personnel.

The people in Zimbabwe feel isolated from the rest of the world. it is important that they know they are supported. This must come from our prayers but also through our wallets in the form of aid to the involved agencies. Our Representatives must also know that the safety of the people in Zimbabwe is important to us. We must not be silent or passive.

Workfest 2008: Update #4 (The Amber Carter Collection)

Monday, April 7, 2008

Nine Deaths, Seven Days and Prayer

Sometimes numbers are fun like 21 or 7/11. Sometimes numbers are special like the number 3 as in the Trinity. However, sometimes numbers can be incredibly sad. Such as 9 homicides in 7 days or six homicides in 30 hours. And those are the numbers that describe the Fort Wayne experience this past week.

I write about so many tragedies around the world and yet this week we are a center of suffering. So what can be done in the face of so much suffering and loss?

In our community religious leaders have come together. They recognize the problem is too big, the pain too powerful for any one congregation to handle. The Peace and Justice Commission of the Associated Churches of Fort Wayne have formed a prayer response team. The team invites members of the larger community to join them as they gather for “Heal the Land Services.” This past weekend they met at four different locations, the locations of six of the murders.

So what does the group do? They form a circle, join hands and they pray. They remember the fallen, the families and they reclaim the land, the site of such ugly violence, they re-claim it for God.

Does it make a difference? You’ll have to ask the participants, the families of the fallen, the larger community. I know neighbors feel supported, remembered and not labeled.

Two years ago there were two horrible murders within a short distance from our home. I would walk my dogs past the homes and the area felt defiled, people crossed the street, people crossed themselves. There were memorials at the front and back of the houses. Then the land was reclaimed, in prayer, for God. The houses are still the sites remembered for one horrible day and yet they are not avoided. Perhaps prayer had nothing to do with it, perhaps it is the change that comes with the passage of time. However, time would not help neighbors and families feel supported when they most need it. Time would not alone remind the larger community that the slain were more than young people caught up in criminal behaviors. Time would not have reminded us that the slain were the children of mothers and fathers. Prayer binds us together and right now our community needs to come together.

So we pray.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

New Orleans: A Missionary Church

The 7th Annual Satchmo Fest in New Orleans Held in St. Augustine Catholic Church

Archbishop Hughes of New Orleans has announced that major changes will soon be coming to that Archdiocese. Some of the churches were struggling before the devastation of Katrina. All have been affected since. No new Catholic Schools will be opening at this time.

So what can parishioners expect? Some churches will be closed, many consolidated. None of the decisions have been made lightly. Whatever is decide all will know those decisions were the result of hard work, deliberations, assessment and prayer.

The Archdioceses is the second oldest in the country. However, after the very fabric of the city was ripped apart by Katrina and its aftermath the church has become, in the Archbishop’s words, “a missionary church.” That is a huge change from one of the oldest, largest and most vibrant Catholic communities in the nation.

A letter announcing that the decisions will be forthcoming was sent to all 140 parishes in the area. The Holy Cross fathers have also announced that they will have to leave the city and the churches they were at, not because of Katrina but because of their won dwindling number of priests.

These are indeed difficult times for the area. The area is still missing 20% of its pre-Katrina parishioners. The expectation is that the dioceses will continue to lose priests for the next five years. However, the Archbishop anticipated the sense of loss and seems to respond with a sense of “God is in control” and “fear not”. He stated, "We will move forward together with fewer priests, fewer churches, fewer schools, but, hopefully, with a greater evangelizing spirits,"

I find my heart going out to my friends at St. Augustine Catholic Church. Let us pray for them and all of New Orleans as our brothers and sisters struggle to make important decisions that will affect them for years to come.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Another Priest Killed in Iraq

The Lord's Prayer in Assyrian "Aramaic"

It seems that familiarity has not lessened sadness. Another priest has been killed in Iraq. The priest is Father Yousif Adel of Saint Peter's Church. The father is, was (I hate these frequent transitions) an Assyrian Orthodox priest.
Father Adel was a 40 year old priest who was married. He lived in central Baghdad but had moved from a church in a neighborhood that was viewed as more dangerous for Christians.

Father Adel had been an engineer and then responded to the call to the priesthood when he was 34 years old. He has lived and worked in both Sunni and Shia neighborhoods.

He is described as a loving man who was optimistic and a Christian who cared about all Iraqis.

The violence against Christians in Iraq appears to go unabated despite the “surge”. While everyone is suffering in that sad country it is the ancient Christians that face extinction. This war has opened up the floodgates of ethnic and religious hatred. For 2000 years Christians have lived in the land of Ur. Now Assyrian Orthodox, Chaldean Catholics and members of other Oriental Churches face the very real possibility of ceasing to exist as a culture. The spoken language of Jesus, gone from the land. Apostolic Eastern Churches, gone, the descendants of an even more ancient people, gone.

The Holy Father calls out for an end to murder in Iraq. Now if people would only heed his cry for peace. The Kurds, Shia and Sunnis will survive this horrible period of their history. The Christians may not, what have we all done?