"If my people, who are called by My name, humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and revive their land." 2 Chronicles 7:14
"We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You because by Your Holy Cross,
You have redeemed the world."|
– St. Francis of Assisi
In his 2008 Lenten message, Pope Benedict XVI focuses on the traditional Lenten practice of almsgiving. His message, dated October 30, 2007, follows:
"Each year, Lent offers us a providential opportunity to deepen the meaning and value of our Christian lives, and it stimulates us to rediscover the mercy of God so that we, in turn, become more merciful toward our brothers and sisters. In the Lenten period, the Church makes it her duty to propose some specific tasks that accompany the faithful concretely in this process of interior renewal: these are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. For this year's Lenten Message, I wish to spend some time reflecting on the practice of almsgiving, which represents a specific way to assist those in need and, at the same time, an exercise in self-denial to free us from attachment to worldly goods. The force of attraction to material riches and just how categorical our decision must be not to make of them an idol, Jesus confirms in a resolute way: 'You cannot serve God and mammon' (Lk 16:13). Almsgiving helps us to overcome this constant temptation, teaching us to respond to our neighbor's needs and to share with others whatever we possess through divine goodness. This is the aim of the special collections in favor of the poor, which are promoted during Lent in many parts of the world. In this way, inward cleansing is accompanied by a gesture of ecclesial communion, mirroring what already took place in the early Church. In his Letters, Saint Paul speaks of this in regard to the collection for the Jerusalem community (cf. 2 Cor 8-9; Rm 15:25-27).
"According to the teaching of the Gospel, we are not owners but rather administrators of the goods we possess: these, then, are not to be considered as our exclusive possession, but means through which the Lord calls each one of us to act as a steward of His providence for our neighbor. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, material goods bear a social value, according to the principle of their universal destination (cf. n. 2404)
"In the Gospel, Jesus explicitly admonishes the one who possesses and uses earthly riches only for self. In the face of the multitudes, who, lacking everything, suffer hunger, the words of Saint John acquire the tone of a ringing rebuke: 'How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?' (1 Jn 3:17). In those countries whose population is majority Christian, the call to share is even more urgent, since their responsibility toward the many who suffer poverty and abandonment is even greater. To come to their aid is a duty of justice even prior to being an act of charity.
"The Gospel highlights a typical feature of Christian almsgiving: it must be hidden: 'Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,' Jesus asserts, 'so that your alms may be done in secret' (Mt 6:3-4). Just a short while before, He said not to boast of one's own good works so as not to risk being deprived of the heavenly reward (cf. Mt 6:1-2). The disciple is to be concerned with God's greater glory. Jesus warns: 'In this way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven' (Mt 5:16). Everything, then, must be done for God's glory and not our own. This understanding, dear brothers and sisters, must accompany every gesture of help to our neighbor, avoiding that it becomes a means to make ourselves the center of attention. If, in accomplishing a good deed, we do not have as our goal God's glory and the real well being of our brothers and sisters, looking rather for a return of personal interest or simply of applause, we place ourselves outside of the Gospel vision. In today's world of images, attentive vigilance is required, since this temptation is great. Almsgiving, according to the Gospel, is not mere philanthropy: rather it is a concrete expression of charity, a theological virtue that demands interior conversion to love of God and neighbor, in imitation of Jesus Christ, who, dying on the cross, gave His entire self for us. How could we not thank God for the many people who silently, far from the gaze of the media world, fulfill, with this spirit, generous actions in support of one's neighbor in difficulty? There is little use in giving one's personal goods to others if it leads to a heart puffed up in vainglory: for this reason, the one, who knows that God 'sees in secret' and in secret will reward, does not seek human recognition for works of mercy.
"In inviting us to consider almsgiving with a more profound gaze that transcends the purely material dimension, Scripture teaches us that there is more joy in giving than in receiving (cf. Acts 20:35). When we do things out of love, we express the truth of our being; indeed, we have been created not for ourselves but for God and our brothers and sisters (cf. 2 Cor 5:15). Every time when, for love of God, we share our goods with our neighbor in need, we discover that the fullness of life comes from love and all is returned to us as a blessing in the form of peace, inner satisfaction, and joy. Our Father in heaven rewards our almsgiving with His joy. What is more: Saint Peter includes among the spiritual fruits of almsgiving the forgiveness of sins: 'Charity,' he writes, 'covers a multitude of sins' (1 Pt 4:8). As the Lenten liturgy frequently repeats, God offers to us sinners the possibility of being forgiven. The fact of sharing with the poor what we possess disposes us to receive such a gift. In this moment, my thought turns to those who realize the weight of the evil they have committed and, precisely for this reason, feel far from God, fearful and almost incapable of turning to Him. By drawing close to others through almsgiving, we draw close to God; it can become an instrument for authentic conversion and reconciliation with Him and our brothers.
"Almsgiving teaches us the generosity of love. Saint Joseph Benedict Cottolengo forthrightly recommends: 'Never keep an account of the coins you give, since this is what I always say: if, in giving alms, the left hand is not to know what the right hand is doing, then the right hand, too, should not know what it does itself' (Detti e pensieri, Edilibri, n. 201). In this regard, all the more significant is the Gospel story of the widow who, out of her poverty, cast into the Temple treasury 'all she had to live on' (Mk 12:44). Her tiny and insignificant coin becomes an eloquent symbol: this widow gives to God not out of her abundance, not so much what she has, but what she is. Her entire self.
"We find this moving passage inserted in the description of the days that immediately precede Jesus' passion and death, who, as Saint Paul writes, made Himself poor to enrich us out of His poverty (cf. 2 Cor 8:9); He gave His entire self for us. Lent, also through the practice of almsgiving, inspires us to follow His example. In His school, we can learn to make of our lives a total gift; imitating Him, we are able to make ourselves available, not so much in giving a part of what we possess, but our very selves. Cannot the entire Gospel be summarized perhaps in the one commandment of love? The Lenten practice of almsgiving thus becomes a means to deepen our Christian vocation. In gratuitously offering himself, the Christian bears witness that it is love and not material richness that determines the laws of his existence. Love, then, gives almsgiving its value; it inspires various forms of giving, according to the possibilities and conditions of each person.
"Dear brothers and sisters, Lent invites us to 'train ourselves' spiritually, also through the practice of almsgiving, in order to grow in charity and recognize in the poor Christ Himself. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read that the Apostle Peter said to the cripple who was begging alms at the Temple gate: 'I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk' (Acts 3:6). In giving alms, we offer something material, a sign of the greater gift that we can impart to others through the announcement and witness of Christ, in whose name is found true life. Let this time, then, be marked by a personal and community effort of attachment to Christ in order that we may be witnesses of His love. May Mary, Mother and faithful Servant of the Lord, help believers to enter the 'spiritual battle' of Lent, armed with prayer, fasting, and the practice of almsgiving, so as to arrive at the celebration of the Easter Feasts, renewed in spirit. . ."
In a meeting with Latin bishops from Arab countries on January 18, Pope Benedict XVI stressed the essential role of Christians in Arab countries. The bishops were on their "ad limina" visit. The Pope expressed his spiritual closeness to them and his desire for peace:
". . .I would first like to tell you again of the importance I attach to the witness of your local Churches. . .In your Region, the endless outbursts of violence, insecurity, and hatred make coexistence extremely difficult for everyone, sometimes even giving rise to fear for the life of your communities. This poses a serious challenge to your pastoral service. It impels you to strengthen the faith and sense of brotherhood of the faithful so that all may live with a hope based on the certainty that the Lord never abandons those who turn to him, for he alone is our true hope by virtue of which we can face our present (cf. Spe Salvi, n. 1). I warmly invite you to remain close to the people entrusted to your ministry, supporting them in trials and always showing them the way of authentic fidelity to the Gospel while they do their duty as disciples of Christ. In the difficult situations with which they are familiar, may they all have the strength and courage to live as ardent witnesses of Christ's charity.
"It is understandable that circumstances sometimes force Christians to leave their homeland in search of a welcoming country that enables them to live in dignity. Nevertheless, it is essential to give firm support and encouragement to those who choose to remain faithful to their homeland in order to prevent it from becoming an archaeological site deprived of ecclesial life. By developing a solid fraternal life, they will find support in their trials. I therefore give my full support to the initiatives you are taking to contribute to the creation of social and financial conditions that help the Christians who remain in their country, and I appeal to the entire Church to wholeheartedly support these efforts.
"The vocation of Christians in your Countries has an essential importance. As artisans of peace and justice, they are a living presence of Christ, who came to reconcile the world with the Father and to gather together all his dispersed children. Thus, authentic communion and serene and respectful collaboration among Catholics of different rites needs to be increasingly affirmed and developed. These are in fact eloquent signs for other Christians and for society as a whole. In addition, Christ's prayer in the Upper Room 'that they may all be one' is a pressing invitation to strive ceaselessly for unity among Christ's disciples. I am therefore pleased to know that you are placing importance on deepening fraternal relations with the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities. They are a fundamental element on the path to unity and a witness borne to Christ 'so that the world may believe' (Jn 17:21). Obstacles on the paths to unity must never extinguish enthusiasm for creating the conditions for a daily dialogue, which is a prelude to unity.
"Meeting with members of other religions, Jews and Muslims, is a daily reality for you. In your Countries, the quality of relations between believers acquires a very special meaning, since it is at the same time a witness borne to the one God and a contribution to establishing more brotherly relations between people and between the various components of your societies. A better mutual knowledge is therefore necessary in order to foster ever greater respect for human dignity, the equality of rights and duties of people and renewed attention to the needs of each one, particularly those who are the poorest. Moreover, I firmly hope that authentic religious freedom may be effective everywhere and that the right of each individual to practice his or her religion freely, or to change it, may not be hindered. This is a primordial right of every human being.
"Dear Brothers, the support of Christian families who are facing numerous challenges such as religious relativism, materialism, and all the threats to the social moral values of the family, must continue to be one of your priorities. I ask you in particular to pursue your efforts to give a sound formation to young people and adults in order to help them strengthen their Christian identity and face courageously and serenely the situations they encounter, with respect for those who do not share their own convictions.
"I know of your communities' commitment in the fields of education, health care, and social assistance, appreciated by both the Authorities and populations of your Countries. In the conditions in which you live, by developing the values of solidarity, brotherhood, and mutual love, you proclaim in your societies God's universal love, especially for the poorest of the poor and the least privileged.
"Indeed, 'a pure and generous love is the best witness to the God in whom we believe and by whom we are driven to love' (Deus Caritas Est, n. 31c). I also acknowledge the courageous commitment of priests and men and women religious to accompanying your communities in their daily life and witness. Human and spiritual support for them must be an essential concern of their Pastors, whom you are.
"Lastly, I would like to express to you once again my closeness to all those in your region who suffer from many forms of violence. You may count on the solidarity of the universal Church.
"In addition, I appeal to the wisdom of all people of good will, especially those who hold responsible positions in public life, so that by giving priority to dialogue between all parties, violence may cease, true and lasting peace may be built, and relations of solidarity and collaboration may be established. . ."
Fred H. Summe, vice president of Northern Kentucky Right to Life
"Today, there are 10 of them in the apartment. . . Smiling and laughing, some of the babies sing quietly to themselves, kicking their legs and waving their arms. Others play with the books and stuffed animals scattered about the room.
"They are happy. They are loved. And they are dying," writes Emily Stimpson, in her article, "A Mother's Tears," published in the Franciscan Way, Winter 2008 issue, published by Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.
Proudly proclaiming that it is "academically challenging and passionately Catholic," Franciscan University brags on one of its successful graduates. No, not successful in the world of money, but in service to Jesus.
Dec 24, 2005 - March 29, 2007
Wan Feng was a sweet little boy with big eyes and a precious smile. He had spina bifida and hydrocephalus. He underwent many surgeries for the hydrocephalus, but continuously developed infections.
The article continues, "From the living room window, you can see the Beijing skyline. In front of the window, holding one of the babies, is a pretty young American woman in jeans, Shannon Walsh, a 1998 graduate."
After reading Steve W. Mosher's A Mother's Ordeal, which reveals the struggle of a woman against China's One-Child Policy, Shannon began to pray. A couple of years later, she was found in China working at a privately run orphanage.
Stimpson reports: "The home was always overflowing because of the disproportionate number of special needs orphans in China. The number is partly due to cultural prejudices against physical deformities and partly to the One-Child Policy. 'Families want their one child to be healthy,' Shannon explains."
Although the orphanage could assist most children, there were other ones it could do little for. Being overwhelmed with the number of children in need, some suggested that those who would not survive be returned to the state for their care.
Rather than see such a thing happen, Stimpson reports that Shannon proposed a solution to the problem. "She would open her own home for the dying children, freeing up beds in other orphanages for children who could be treated. On February 1, 2007, the 31-year-old woman from Indiana did what seemed both unthinkable and impossible: She opened the doors to the Loving Heart Home for Dying Orphans."
Stimpson continues: "The babies are cared for by Shannon and 15 local Chinese women and other volunteers.
"The children's problems have ranged from hydrocephalus and spina bifida, to cancer, seizure disorders, and heart defects. There is always medicine to administer, feeding tubes to change, and oxygen machines to check. Most of the children's conditions are inoperable, although some of the children have surprised everyone with their will to live, recovering enough under Shannon's care that she's now raising money to pay for surgeries as well.
"'The first thing visitors usually say is how surprised they are by what a happy place this is,' Shannon says. 'They expect it to be gloomy and depressing, but it's not at all.'
March 25, 2006 - March 13, 2007
Chun Xin had severe hydrocephalus. Although she suffered brain damage due to the pressure in her head, she knew when someone was with her and loved to hear singing and hold onto someone's hand.
"'These babies are going to die whether we take care of them or not,' explains Shannon. 'But if we're not loving them and caring for them, nobody will love and care for them. Nobody will cry when they die. We cry.'"
Loving Heart Home
Information from China Little Flower Missions' website includes: "Loving Heart is a special place to provide comfort, love, and care to Chinese orphans who are dying. Although it is difficult to watch a little one suffer and die, we consider it a privilege to be able to care for these children. To fill their short lives with love and happiness is our goal.
"Recognizing the beauty and dignity of each and every individual person, China Little Flower seeks to build a culture of life by reaching out to those who are rejected, abandoned, deemed as useless, and who are most vulnerable."
China Little Flower operates under the generosity of its donors. If you would like to make a donation to help them in their work, please send a check to: China Little Flower, 7644 Edmondson Drive, Newburgh, Indiana 47630. You can visit their website at www.chinalittleflower.org.
Hanoi, Vietnam — Catholic Relief Services (CRS), an American non-governmental organization, announced on January 31 its launch of a program of inclusive education and health for children with severe disabilities living in areas affected by dioxin from herbicides such as Agent Orange used during the Vietnam War. The announcement accompanies the release of a report, "Assessment of Educational and Health Needs for Children and Youth with Disabilities Identified as Affected by Agent Orange / Dioxin."
The report, written by Dr. Pham Huy Tuan Kiet and colleagues at the Hanoi Medical University, finds that children identified as dioxin-affected have the same types of disabilities as other children, but with higher severity and rates of many types of impairments. Approximately 50% of children surveyed attend mainstream schools, while the remainder stays at home, never pursuing an education.
"In the past, children with disabilities were viewed as objects of pity or charity. This continues to be the case for many children who are considered to be affected by Agent Orange. But pity and charity are not enough," said CRS-Vietnam Education Program Manager, Nguyen Thi Thuy.
In the new CRS program, as many as 5,000 children with disabilities will be included in regular schools between now and 2010 in central and southern Vietnam—areas that were the scene of environmental contamination resulting from US involvement in the Vietnam War.
"Access to health and education are the rights of these children. We call on other donors to join in matching support for inclusive, child-centered programs that build equity and human dignity, and that turn the corner from legacies of war in Vietnam," said Gregory Auberry, CRS Country Representative.
CRS has supported programs for inclusion of people with disabilities in Vietnam since 1995 that, to date, have helped more than 10,000 children. With funding from private donors as well as the US Agency for International Development, CRS programs involve raising awareness and sensitivity on disability issues; training teachers, parents, and education administrators; and providing health support for children with severe disabilities to attend mainstream schools.
A significant achievement of this programming has been a recent national policy priority for inclusive education for children with disabilities and other disadvantaged groups. Vietnam's Ministry of Education and Training has partnered with CRS to implement inclusive education nationwide in preschools, primary and junior secondary schools, reaching more than 270,000 children.
"Vietnamese law now requires the promotion of all children's rights to education and health care. Since children develop best in their own families and communities, we work with local authorities and schools to support children at the local level," said CRS's Nguyen Thi Thuy.
The CRS report on children's educational and health needs can be accessed online at http://publications.crs.org/ under the heading "Education," or directly from CRS-Vietnam by e-mail to email@example.com.
Background: Inclusive Education Program
Inclusive education is the principle and practice of educating all children within a common educational setting. It especially targets those children traditionally excluded from general education for reasons of gender, geographic remoteness, ethnicity, poverty, and disability. The principle of inclusion promotes the idea that as barriers in the environment and society are overcome, all children can benefit from learning in a general education classroom, provided sufficient education and community support. Inclusive education is a method of creating communities, schools, and societies free of discrimination.
Catholic Relief Services is the international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. The agency provides assistance to people in more than 100 countries and territories based on need, regardless of race, nationality, or creed. CRS has worked in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam since 1992, with 35 Vietnamese and international staff, a representative office in Hanoi, and development programs in 11 Vietnamese provinces. For more information, please visit www.crs.org.
(Source: CRS press release)
(Editor's note: Mr. Templeman writes from Michigan. He is a student at Guadalupe Bible College, which is part of Presentation Ministries. We welcome contributions to this column. We would like to hear from a variety of prisoners.)
Ask, and it shall be given to you;
Search, and you will find;
Knock, and the door will be opened to you.
(Matthew 7:7 NRSV)
This lavish Gospel promise provokes us to pray. These words of Jesus amaze us with His extravagance. What could such a generous promise mean?
As I write this, I am in a prison cell having nearly completed the sixth year of a ten year sentence. How should I interpret this promise. That God would avenge me and grant me justice? I have repeatedly used this Scripture in my prayers. However, in this environment, this promise only seems to mock me.
Is my prayer perspective much different from that of other "prisoners"? The wheelchair bound? The poor, unemployed, single mother pregnant with her fifth child? The caregiver spending her "Golden Years" with an invalid child or spouse? It is easy to get caught up in a trap, a grind, a prison of some kind. So what do we "prisoners" do with such a marvelous promise?
We must strive to accept this promise as truth and not bitterly insult God by thinking His word is unreliable. So let us reexamine it and try to inwardly digest it. In verse 7, (above), Jesus makes the promise. In verse 8, He re-words and repeats it in order to emphasize its importance:
For everyone who asks receives,
And everyone who searches finds,
And for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
(Matthew 7:8 NRSV)
Then He explains it using a metaphor:
Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread will give a
(Matthew 7:9 NRSV)
The answer of course is no. And He continues, if parents who are "evil" know to be good parents, "how much more will your Father in Heaven give good things to those who ask Him?"
Jesus puts His finger on a troubling dynamic that is intrinsic in the divine/human fellowship. Trust, we must go to God for "bread" but deep in our hearts we mistrust Him and figure He will either ignore us or, indeed, give us a "stone." The phrase "it must be God's will" is usually breathed out with a sigh of resignation at the encounter of yet another disappointment. Let's examine Jesus' metaphors a little more closely.
If a child asks for bread, the parent may, instead, give crackers and cheese or a baked potato. A good parent will not relinquish control of the child's diet. What if the child wants chocolate cake at 7:30 a.m. or unwittingly asks for poison? Even if she is sincere, reasonable, and passionate in her asking, the parent will not relent.
As I personalized this scripture passage, I become the child and the parent becomes God. That part's easy. But what is bread? Here's the rub. I may call something bread that God knows is ultimately not good for me. I may also demand that dinner time be right now. However, God may inject His voice in deciding what's for dinner and what time dinner will be. Jesus once said His bread/food was to do the will of God (John 4:34). Should we not hunger for and request the same?
When Joseph, the son of Jacob and one of the twelve patriarchs of Israel, was in prison in Egypt, he prayed regularly for release from prison. Had God answered Joseph when he first prayed, he would have returned to Palestine and resumed his life as a nomadic sheep herder and never have become Pharaoh's prime minister and the savior of his people.
Had God healed Joni Erickson Tada's broken neck, she would never have established her international ministry and millions would have missed the gospel message through her testimony; hundreds of thousands of struggling people would have missed her life-transforming encouragement, and thousands of wheelchairs would not have been distributed to the poor and handicapped throughout the world.
God is a good parent. He had bread for Joseph. He has bread for Joni. He has bread for me. He has bread for you. He will answer. He will be on time. Resolve to be courageous enough to trust God. Questioning God leads to bitterness and the destruction of the soul. Jesus encourages us to hang on. He knows the bitter experience of committing Himself to a Father whom circumstances seemed to insist had abandoned him. He continued to trust God even through the experience of the cross, refusing to believe other than the truth that God is a good parent.
. . .how much more will your Father in Heaven give good things to those who ask Him!
Ask, search, knock, and continued to trust.
God is a good parent.
The Church observed the annual World Day of the Sick on February 11, the memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes. In his message for the day, dated January 11, Pope Benedict XVI said it was ". . .a propitious occasion to reflect on the meaning of pain and the Christian duty to take responsibility for it in whatever situation it arises. This year this significant day is connected to two important events for the life of the Church, as one already understands from the theme chosen, 'The Eucharist, Lourdes, and Pastoral Care for the Sick': the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of the Immaculate Mary at Lourdes, and the celebration of the International Eucharistic Congress at Quebec in Canada. In this way, a remarkable opportunity to consider the close connection that exists between the Mystery of the Eucharist, the role of Mary in the project of salvation, and the reality of human pain and suffering is offered to us.
The Pope continued: "The 150 years since the apparitions of Lourdes invite us to turn our gaze towards the Holy Virgin, whose Immaculate Conception constitutes the sublime and freely-given gift of God to a woman so that she could fully adhere to divine designs with a steady and unshakable faith, despite the tribulations and the sufferings that she would have to face. For this reason, Mary is a model of total self-abandonment to God's will: she received in her heart the eternal Word and she conceived it in her virginal womb; she trusted in God and, with her soul pierced by a sword (cf. Lk 2:35), she did not hesitate to share the Passion of her Son, renewing on Calvary at the foot of the Cross her 'yes' of the Annunciation. To reflect upon the Immaculate Conception of Mary is thus to allow oneself to be attracted by the 'yes' which joined her wonderfully to the mission of Christ, Redeemer of humanity; it is to allow oneself to be taken and led by her hand to pronounce in one's turn 'fiat' to the will of God, with all one's existence interwoven with joys and sadness, hopes and disappointments, in the awareness that tribulations, pain, and suffering make rich the meaning of our pilgrimage on the earth.
"One cannot contemplate Mary without being attracted by Christ and one cannot look at Christ without immediately perceiving the presence of Mary. There is an indissoluble link between the Mother and the Son generated in her womb by the work of the Holy Spirit, and this link we perceive in a mysterious way in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, as the Fathers of the Church and theologians have pointed out from the early centuries onwards. 'The flesh born of Mary, coming from the Holy Spirit, is bread descended from heaven,' observed St. Hilary of Poitiers. In the Bergomensium Sacramentary of the ninth century we read: 'Her womb made flower a fruit, a bread that has filled us with an angelic gift. Mary restored to salvation what Eve had destroyed by her sin.' And St. Peter Damiani observed: 'That body that the Most Blessed Virgin generated, nourished in her womb with maternal care, that body, I say, without doubt and no other, we now receive from the sacred altar, and we drink its blood as a sacrament of our redemption. This is what the Catholic faith believes, this the holy Church faithfully teaches.' The link of the Holy Virgin with the Son, the sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, is extended to the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. Mary, observes the Servant of God John Paul II, is a 'woman of the Eucharist' in her whole life, as a result of which the Church, seeing Mary as her model, 'is also called to imitate her in her relationship with this most holy mystery' (Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n. 53). In this perspective one understands even further why in Lourdes the cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary is joined to a strong and constant reference to the Eucharist with daily celebrations of the Eucharist, with adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, and with the blessing of the sick, which constitutes one of the strongest moments of the visit of pilgrims to the grotto of Massabielles.
"The presence of many sick pilgrims at Lourdes, and of the volunteers who accompany them, helps us to reflect on the maternal and tender care that the Virgin expresses towards human pain and suffering. Associated with the Sacrifice of Christ, Mary, Mater Dolorosa, who at the foot of the Cross suffers with her divine Son, is felt to be especially near by the Christian community, which gathers around its suffering members who bear the signs of the passion of the Lord. Mary suffers with those who are in affliction, with them she hopes, and she is their comfort, supporting them with her maternal help. And is it not perhaps true that the spiritual experience of very many sick people leads us to understand increasingly that 'the Divine Redeemer wishes to penetrate the soul of every sufferer through the heart of his holy Mother, the first and the most exalted of all the redeemed?' (John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, n. 26).
"If Lourdes leads us to reflect upon the maternal love of the Immaculate Virgin for her sick and suffering children, the next International Eucharistic Congress will be an opportunity to worship Jesus Christ present in the Sacrament of the Altar, to entrust ourselves to him as Hope that does not disappoint, to receive him as that medicine of immortality which heals the body and the spirit.
"Jesus Christ redeemed the world through his suffering, death, and Resurrection, and he wanted to remain with us as the 'bread of life' on our earthly pilgrimage. 'The Eucharist, Gift of God for the Life of the World': this is the theme of the Eucharistic Congress and it emphasizes how the Eucharist is the gift that the Father makes to the world of his Only Son, incarnated and crucified. It is he who gathers us around the Eucharistic table, provoking in his disciples loving care for the suffering and the sick, in whom the Christian community recognizes the Face of its Lord. As I pointed out in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis: 'Our communities, when they celebrate the Eucharist, must become ever more conscious that the sacrifice of Christ is for all, and that the Eucharist thus compels all who believe in him to become "bread that is broken" for others' (n. 88). We are thus encouraged to commit ourselves in the first person to helping our brethren, especially those in difficulty, because the vocation of every Christian is truly that of being, together with Jesus, bread that is broken for the life of the world.
"It thus appears clear that it is specifically from the Eucharist that pastoral care in health must draw the necessary spiritual strength to come effectively to man's aid and to help him to understand the salvific value of his own suffering. As the Servant of God John Paul II would write in the already quoted Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris, the Church sees in her suffering brothers and sisters as it were a multiple subject of the supernatural power of Christ (cf. n. 27). Mysteriously united to Christ, the one who suffers with love and meek self-abandonment to the will of God becomes a living offering for the salvation of the world. My beloved Predecessor also stated that: 'The more a person is threatened by sin, the heavier the structures of sin which today's world brings with it, the greater is the eloquence which human suffering possesses in itself. And the more the Church feels the need to have recourse to the value of human sufferings for the salvation of the world' (ibid.). If, therefore, at Quebec the mystery of the Eucharist, the gift of God for the life of the world, is contemplated during the World Day of the Sick in an ideal spiritual parallelism, not only will the actual participation of human suffering in the salvific work of God be celebrated, but the valuable fruits promised to those who believe can in a certain sense be enjoyed. Thus, pain, received with faith, becomes the door by which to enter the mystery of the redemptive suffering of Jesus and to reach with him the peace and happiness of his Resurrection.
"While I extend my cordial greetings to all sick people and to all those who take care of them in various ways, I invite the diocesan and parish communities to celebrate this coming World Day of the Sick by appreciating to the full the happy coinciding of the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady at Lourdes with the International Eucharistic Congress. May it be an occasion to emphasize the importance of the Holy Mass, of adoration of the Eucharist and of the cult of the Eucharist, so that chapels in our health-care centers become a beating heart in which Jesus offers himself unceasingly to the Father for the life of humanity! The distribution of the Eucharist to the sick as well, done with decorum and in a spirit of prayer, is true comfort for those who suffer, afflicted by all forms of infirmity.
"May the. . .World Day of the Sick be in addition a propitious occasion to invoke in a special way the maternal protection of Mary over those who are weighed down by illness, on health-care workers, and workers in pastoral health care! I think in particular of priests involved in this field, women and men religious, volunteers and all those who with active dedication are concerned to serve in body and soul the sick and those in need. I entrust all to Mary, Mother of God and our Mother, the Immaculate Conception. May she help everyone in testifying that the only valid response to human pain and suffering is Christ, who by rising defeated death and gave us life that knows no end. . ."
cairo, egypt – As thousands of Palestinians stream from Gaza into Egypt following cutoffs in fuel and supplies, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has joined other aid agencies responding to the territory's humanitarian crisis. Already facing an unusually cold winter for the region, many Gazans now lack food, heating, and medical supplies.
While some are buying goods on the Egyptian side of the town of Rafah, those who don't cross into Egypt—or don't have money to spend—could feel the pinch as Gaza shortages continue. "This situation has been building for months," says Tom Garofalo, CRS country representative for Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. "The mass exodus highlights how desperate Gazans are for basic goods like dairy products and children's clothing, which have been extremely scarce and expensive since the border crossings between Israel and Gaza were closed in June 2007. With the closures, it's the innocent who suffer most, not political leaders."
CRS' Gaza staff is working with its partners on the ground to monitor the situation. CRS Egypt will also assess whether Palestinians flooding to Egypt require humanitarian assistance, like medical care, that they could not get in Gaza during the last seven months. "In coordination with the Egyptian Red Crescent, CRS is sending personnel to Rafah to look at the needs of especially vulnerable groups," says Luc Picard, country representative for Egypt. Caritas Egypt will also join the mission.
CRS has been working in Gaza since the 1970s. Its programs in the territory have included food distribution, trauma counseling for children following the June 2007 violence, and educational support for high school students. The United Nations reports that two-thirds of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza – two million people – now live on less than $2 a day and rely on humanitarian assistance to support their families.
(Source: CRS press release)
Dakar, Senegal – Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is assisting thousands of Chadian refugees fleeing the country into neighboring Cameroon after violence broke out in the capital of N'Djamena last weekend (Feb 1-3).
On Wednesday morning (Feb 6), the capital was calm and many Chadians are using the break in fighting to flee into the northern Cameroon city of Kousseri. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports at least 20,000 Chadians have crossed into northern Cameroon.
CRS Chad country representative Christophe Droeven was one of over 200 people trapped in a French school in N'Djamena, where gun-fire could be heard less than 30 meters away from the building.
"The walls were shaking and everyone was crouched under the tables," Droeven recounts. "We opened the windows so they didn't shatter on us, and we were talking to the children, trying to keep them calm. We were under the tables for 7 hours."
"The situation in Kousseri is really quite serious," said Jennifer Nazaire, CRS Cameroon country representative. "Chadians are pouring out of N'Djamena, and there's little set up to receive them at the moment. The Catholic Church in Kousseri, the local government, United Nations, and aid agencies are all scrambling to work out temporary and longer-term measures to host people."
CRS is working with our partners in Cameroon, including Caritas and the local church, to conduct an assessment of refugee needs in border areas of Cameroon. CRS' response will also be in coordination with Caritas International and French and German Catholic partners, Secours Catholic and MISEREOR.
As of Tuesday, the local Catholic church in Kousseri was housing some 7,000 refugees in its school, health center, and presbytery. The Diocese of Yagoua, of which Kousseri is a part, has purchased rice and will start initial food distributions. In the next couple of days, CRS partners in Kousseri expect more than 50,000 refugees will arrive in northern Cameroon, more than was originally estimated by UNHCR.
Another local partner, Secours Catholique et Developpement (Catholic Relief and Development) continues food distributions to the Farchana refugee camp in eastern Chad, the area that borders Sudan, despite deteriorating security in the area. The agency is concerned over the vulnerability of supply lines to the camps in eastern Chad, which could threaten the health and security of the more than 200,000 refugees and displaced persons.
CRS has been working in Cameroon since 1960 and in Chad since 2002.
(Source: CRS press release)
Herat, Afghanistan – Thousands of people are in need of relief in the western Afghan provinces of Herat and Ghor, suffering from the harshest winter in several decades. As much as 5 feet of snow have left villages without sufficient food, heating fuel, and access to medical care. It is reported that 70 people and thousands of livestock have died in Herat province, with freezing temperatures over two weeks in early January.
From its field office in Herat city, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has mobilized emergency relief teams of engineers, hygiene promoters, and field officers who set out to the surrounding districts of Kohsan, Kush, and Adraskan today. In Ghor province, CRS teams are carrying out assessments in Dulaina and Chaghcharan districts.
CRS, which already was carrying out a winterization program in the area funded by the Lithuanian government for vulnerable rural families, has committed another $50,000 of private funds to the emergency, and plans to source additional funding for a large-scale response. The agency has provided heaters and fuel to transit centers for Afghans who have been deported from Iran and plans are underway for the immediate initiation of road clearing work.
"Access right now is severely limited in most areas of Ghor. The main passes are closed, with government-supported teams trying to get them open. Implementing additional cash for work projects along secondary roads will provide quick cash to villages, while clearing the roads will enable greater access to people in need," said Nancy Hearne, CRS program coordinator in Ghor.
Food for work activities will also be of a part of CRS' relief effort given the recent increase in food cost, lack of stock in the local market, and blocked access to markets due to the extreme weather conditions.
"The rising cost of wheat is going to hit the poor very hard. Therefore, food for work, and food assistance to the very poor, is what is needed urgently," said Paul Hicks, CRS Afghanistan country representative.
This winter emergency follows a season of poor crop yields in Ghor which, according to a FEWSNet food security assessment, is likely to result in an estimated 230,000 people in need of 11,700 metric tons of food this winter/spring.
The CRS field emergency teams are equipped with first aid kits, medicine, fuel, heaters, food, water supplies and transportation to make work possible in the harsh conditions and with the dwindling supplies in local markets. They are also trained in emergency preparedness specialized for winter conditions, and collaborating closely with the local leadership and ministries to maximize the support available across the area. The Ministry of Public Works is helping to clear the road from Chaghcharan to Herat, via Jam and Dahane-garmab, which is the main way into Shahrak and the southern part of Ghor.
CRS has worked in Afghanistan since 2001. With offices in the Afghanistan's capital of Kabul, western provinces of Herat and Ghor, and a new office in Bamiyan, CRS programs focus on long-term development projects reaching some of the poorest and most rural populations, and helping communities strengthen their means for self-sufficiency and an overall improved quality of life.
(Source: CRS press release)
Because we are sons and daughters of God, saved by Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we do not merely read the news but make the news. We direct the course of world events by faith expressed in action and intercession. Please pray for the stories covered in this paper. Clip out this intercessory list and make it part of your daily prayer.
Published by: Presentation Ministries, 3230 McHenry Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45211, (513) 662-5378, www.presentationministries.com