"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
|Children playing in Sudan. "...Peace can only be achieved by returning to the negotiating table and fully implementing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement," says Michel Roy, Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis (Credits: Caritas)|
(Editor's note: This report was provided by Vatican Information Service.)
The Commission for the Catholic Church in China, established by Benedict XVI in 2007 to study questions of major importance regarding the life of the Catholic Church in that country, held its fifth meeting in the Vatican from April 23 to 25. At the end of the gathering the commission released a communique in English and Chinese, the text of which is given below.
"With deep spiritual closeness to all brothers and sisters in the faith living in China, the Commission recognized the gifts of fidelity and dedication which the Lord has given to His Church throughout the past year.
"The participants examined the theme of the formation of the lay faithful, in view also of the 'Year of Faith' which the Holy Father has announced will be held from October 11, 2012, to November 4, 2013. The words of the Gospel, 'And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man,' set out the task to which the Catholic lay faithful in China are called.
"In the first place, they must enter ever more deeply into the life of the Church, nourished by doctrine, conscious of their being part of the Catholic Church, and consistent with the requirements of life in Christ, which necessitates hearing the word of God with faith. From this perspective, a profound knowledge of the Catechism of the Catholic Church will be a particularly important aid for them.
"In the second place, lay Catholics are called to take part in civic life and in the world of work, offering their own contribution with full responsibility: by loving life and respecting it from conception until natural death; by loving the family, promoting values which are also proper to traditional Chinese culture; by loving their country as honest citizens concerned for the common good. As an ancient Chinese sage put it, 'the way of great learning consists in illustrating noble virtues, in renewing and staying close to people, and in reaching the supreme good.'
"Thirdly, the lay faithful in China must grow in grace before God and men, by nourishing and perfecting their own spiritual life as active members of the parish community and by involving themselves in the apostolate, also with the help of associations and Church movements which foster their ongoing formation.
"In this regard, the Commission noted with joy that the proclamation of the Gospel by Catholic communities, which are sometimes poor and without material resources, encourages many adults to request baptism every year. It was thus emphasized that the dioceses in China should promote a serious catechumenate, adopt the rite of Christian initiation of adults, and care for their formation after Baptism as well. Pastors, both bishops and priests, should make every effort to consolidate the lay faithful in their knowledge of the teachings of Vatican Council II, and in particular of ecclesiology and the social doctrine of the Church. Moreover, it will be useful to dedicate special solicitude to the preparation of pastoral workers dedicated to evangelization, catechesis, and works of charity. The integral formation of lay Catholics, above all in those places where rapid social evolution and significant economic development are occurring, is part of a commitment to make the local Church vibrant and thriving. Finally, an adequate response to the phenomenon of internal migration and urbanization is to be hoped for.
"Practical indications, which the Holy See has proposed and will propose to the universal Church for a fruitful celebration of the 'Year of Faith,' will undoubtedly be heeded with enthusiasm and with a creative spirit also in China. These suggestions will stimulate the Catholic community to find adequate initiatives to put into practice what Pope Benedict XVI has written regarding the lay faithful and the family in his Letter of May 27, 2007, to the Catholic Church in the People's Republic of China.
"The lay faithful, therefore, are called to participate with apostolic zeal in the evangelization of the Chinese people. By virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation, they receive from Christ the grace and the task to build up the Church.
"In the course of the meeting, attention then focused on the pastors, in particular on bishops and priests who are detained or who are suffering unjust limitations on the performance of their mission. Admiration was expressed for the strength of their faith and for their union with the Holy Father. They need the Church's prayer in a special way so as to face their difficulties with serenity and in fidelity to Christ.
"Divine charity is the most precious gift of the Heart of Christ and of His Spirit: It is this which imparted to the Apostles and martyrs that fortitude, by the strength of which they fought their battles like heroes till death in order to preach the truth of the Gospel and bear witness to it by the shedding of their blood."
Pope Pius XII, Haurietis Aqua
"The Church needs good bishops. They are a gift of God to His people, for the benefit of whom they exercise the office of teaching, sanctifying, and governing. They are also called to provide reasons for life and hope to all whom they meet. They receive from Christ, through the Church, their task and authority, which they exercise in union with the Roman Pontiff and with all the bishops throughout the world.
"Concerning the particular situation of the Church in China, it was noted that the claim of the entities, called 'One Association and One Conference,' to place themselves above the bishops and to guide the life of the ecclesial community, persists. In this regard, the instructions given in the Letter of Pope Benedict XVI, remain current and provide direction. It is important to observe them so that the face of the Church may shine forth with clarity in the midst of the noble Chinese people.
"This clarity has been obfuscated by those clerics who have illegitimately received episcopal ordination and by those illegitimate bishops who have carried out acts of jurisdiction or who have administered the Sacraments. In so doing, they usurp a power which the Church has not conferred upon them. In recent days, some of them have participated in episcopal ordinations which were authorized by the Church. The behavior of these bishops, in addition to aggravating their canonical status, has disturbed the faithful and often has violated the consciences of the priests and lay faithful who were involved.
"Furthermore, this clarity has been obfuscated by legitimate bishops who have participated in illegitimate episcopal ordinations. Many of these bishops have since clarified their position and have requested pardon; the Holy Father has benevolently forgiven them. Others, however, who also took part in these illegitimate ordinations, have not yet made this clarification, and thus are encouraged to do so as soon as possible.
"The participants in the plenary meeting follow these painful events with attention and in a spirit of charity. Though they are aware of the particular difficulties of the present situation, they recall that evangelization cannot be achieved by sacrificing essential elements of the Catholic faith and discipline. Obedience to Christ and to the Successor of Peter is the presupposition of every true renewal and this applies to every category within the People of God. Lay people themselves are sensitive to the clear ecclesial fidelity of their own pastors.
"With regard to priests, consecrated persons and seminarians, the commission reflected once again on the importance of their formation, rejoicing in the sincere and praiseworthy commitment to provide not only suitable programs of human, intellectual, spiritual, and pastoral formation for the seminarians, but also times of ongoing formation for priests. In addition, appreciative mention was made of the initiatives which are being undertaken by various female religious institutes to coordinate formation activities for consecrated persons.
"It was noted, on the other hand, that the number of vocations to the priestly and religious life has noticeably declined in recent years. The challenges of the situation impel the faithful to invoke the Lord of the harvest and to strengthen the awareness that each priest and woman religious, faithful, and luminous in their evangelical witness, are the primary sign still capable of encouraging today's young men and women to follow Christ with undivided heart.
"Finally, the Commission recalls that this upcoming May 24, the liturgical memorial of the 'Blessed Virgin Mary, Help of Christians' and the Day of Prayer for the Church in China, will provide a particularly auspicious opportunity for the entire Church to ask for energy and consolation, mercy, and courage, for the Catholic community in China."
VIS also indicated that "The Catholic news agency Fides has reported that 22,104 people were baptized in China on Easter Sunday. The statistics were collected by the Study Center of Faith in the Chinese province of He Bei. The newly-baptized Catholics, 75 per cent of whom are adults, belong to 101 dioceses. In He Bei itself 4,410 people were baptized on Easter Day, 615 more than last year, while in Hong Kong, which has more than 360,000 faithful, there were 3,500 baptisms.
"In evaluating these figures, it should be borne in mind that some dioceses do not celebrate all their baptisms at Easter. For example, in Shang Hai there were 379 Easter baptisms but the total figure could exceed 1,500 by the end of the year. According to Sr. Li Guo Shuang of the Study Center, 'there are still some dioceses or communities which, due to communication difficulties, have not yet reported data to us. So we must emphasize that the figures are not complete, they may still increase.' "
(Editor's note: This report was provided by Caritas.)
Caritas Internationalis fears that a full scale war is imminent between Sudan and South Sudan with dire humanitarian consequences for both unless there is pull back from further military action.
South Sudan became independent from Sudan last July following a popular vote. It was the culmination of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended decades of war.
However, areas of contention including border demarcation, the status of disputed areas in Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and oil rights still have not been resolved.
The Caritas confederation of over 160 Catholic aid agencies fears that recent clashes over these issues have now brought the two countries to the brink.
Caritas is also concerned over the use of extreme rhetoric by officials and that it is inciting an environment of fear. Attacks in Sudan on Christians such as the ransacking of the Presbyterian Evangelical Church in Khartoum on Saturday are deeply troubling.
Over 500,000 South Sudanese live in Sudan. Relations at a community level between the predominately Muslim Sudanese and the Christian South Sudanese remains good.
"I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be offered for all men, especially for kings and those in authority, that we may be able to lead undisturbed and tranquil lives." (1 Tm 2:1-2)
Caritas Internationalis Secretary General Michel Roy says, "Caritas appeals to Sudan and South Sudan to stop military actions along the border. It's not too late for both governments to check the momentum leading to an all out war. Peace can only be achieved by returning to the negotiating table and fully implementing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
"The international community has failed to act decisively to prevent an escalation towards war. They must follow through with their commitments to ensure all outstanding issues are resolved peacefully.
"Two million people died in the last war. Everyone will be losers in another conflict. Our belief is that the peoples of Sudan and South Sudan want peace. Their governments and the international community achieved great things in ending the war, they cannot allow those gains to be lost.
"Both sides must exercise restraint. They have a duty to all their people and must ensure their safety. This includes refraining from inflammatory language that incites violence against minorities.
"Caritas Internationalis stands in solidarity with the people of Sudan and South Sudan. We are committed to supporting the efforts of the Church at providing humanitarian assistance and fostering peace between the nations."
Caritas Internationalis is looking for more details after Sudanese security forces closed the offices of its member Sudan Aid and partner SCC in Nyala, Darfur. Sudan Aid and SCC are part of relief efforts for 500,000 people in Darfur providing food, clean water, healthcare, and other aid.
Caritas organizations have operations in Sudan and South Sudan, including pre-emergency planning to cope with the fallout from a return to fighting with its large displacement of people.
Fred H. Summe is Vice President of Northern Kentucky Right to Life, P.O. Box 1202, Covington, Kentucky 41012
"It is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church's public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life.
"Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion. Many of you have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices," warned Pope Benedict XVI in his address of January 19, 2012, to the U.S. bishops on their ad limina visits in Rome. He continued: "Others have spoken to me of a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience."
Will the sleeping giant arise?
More and more, one sees signs that the U.S. bishops may be taking seriously the warning of our Pope of the pending threat to religious freedom. Faithful Catholics should be encouraged to take an active role in defending our Church from actions taken by federal and state governments.
Even though you may have seen little in the Church bulletin, only a few articles in the diocesan-owned newspaper, or nothing in the publications of the local Catholic hospitals, colleges, or high schools, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has published a number of statements addressing this issue.
In a March 14, 2012, statement of the Administrative Committee of the USCCB, the bishops state:
"One particular religious freedom issue demands our immediate attention: the now-finalized rule of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that would force virtually all private health plans nationwide to provide coverage of sterilization and contraception – including abortifacient drugs – subject to an exemption for 'religious employers' that is arbitrarily narrow, and to an unspecified and dubious future 'accommodation' for other religious organizations that are denied the exemption."
The bishops go on to clarify what their concern is or is not about President Obama's federal mandate:
So what is it about?
It is about an unwarranted restrictive government definition of freedom of religion.
"The mandate includes an extremely narrow definition of what HHS deems a 'religious employer' deserving exemption – employers who, among other things, must hire and serve primarily those of their own faith.
"Government has no place defining religion and religious ministry. HHS thus creates and enforces a new distinction . . . between our houses of worship and our great ministries of service to our neighbors, namely, the poor, the homeless, the sick, the students in our schools and universities, and others in need, of any faith community or none.
It is about a mandate to act against fundamental moral and conscience rights.
"Those deemed by HHS not to be 'religious employers' will be forced by government to violate their own teachings within their very own institutions.
It is about a violation of personal civil rights.
"Individuals who, in their daily lives, strive constantly to act in accordance with their faith and moral values [will] face a government mandate to aid in providing 'services' contrary to those values – whether in their sponsoring of, and payment for, insurance as employers; their payment of insurance premiums as employees; or as insurers themselves – without even the semblance of an exemption."
On April 11, 2012, the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty warned that the Obama mandate is (1) governmental unprecedented forcing of religious institutions to fund a product contrary to their moral teachings, and (2) the federal government trying to define which "religious institutions" are "religious enough" to merit protection of their "religious liberty." The Committee calls this mandate "an unjust law."
The bishops' Ad Hoc Committee also expressed deep concern about other government actions:
As with the Holy Father, the bishops again warned that religious freedom may be reduced simply to freedom of worship.
"Religious liberty is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the rosary at home. It is about whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans." The bishops ask will the government alone "determine who gets to contribute to the common good and how they get to do it.
"All these Americans make their contribution to our common life, and they do not need the permission of the government to do so.
"One common threat, spanning both the international and domestic arenas, is the tendency to reduce the freedom of religion to the mere freedom of worship."
St. Thomas Aquinas properly taught that a human law, which is not rooted in eternal law and natural law, is an unjust law. An unjust law cannot be obeyed. "In the face of an unjust law, an accommodation is not to be sought, especially by resorting to equivocal words and deceptive practices. If we face today the prospect of unjust laws, then Catholics in America, in solidarity with our fellow citizens, must have the courage not to obey them," teaches the USCCB.
The bishops call for a 14-day vigil from the Feast of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More (June 21) to Independence Day (July 4) to be dedicated to religious freedom, asking that all dioceses and parishes around the country have special events providing a great national campaign of teaching and witness for religious liberty.
The bishops invite us all to join in an urgent prayer for religious liberty:
ALMIGHTY GOD, Father of all nations,
For freedom You have set us free in Christ Jesus (Gal 5:1).
We praise and bless You for the gift of religious liberty, the foundation of human rights, justice and the common good. Grant to our leaders the wisdom to protect and promote our liberties; By Your grace may we have the courage to defend them, for ourselves and for all those who live in this blessed land.
We ask this through the intercession of Mary Immaculate, our patroness, and in the name of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, with Whom You live and reign, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
(Editor's note: Mr. Nurek writes from Ohio. This article first appeared in the newsletter, The Oblate. We welcome contributions from prisoners. We would like to hear from a variety of prisoners.)
Many men enter prison having felt that a God they once may have believed in either doesn't exist or has abandoned them. Some become interested in religion while in prison and become "holier than thou," casting aspersions and judgments upon those they feel have committed crimes worse than their own. Other inmates may go hopping from religion to religion hoping to find a "God" who meets their needs and expectations.
For inmates who are serious about seeking a meaning for their life, the Rule of Saint Benedict provides a structure that can be readily applied to prison. While prison environments and procedures vary in type, purpose, and location, many characteristics are similar. The Rule provides spiritual teaching as well as practical regulations for the ordering of daily life, priorities, and self-directed discipline.
Inmates are required to work, which is necessary for the operation of the prison (e.g., clerks, orderlies, food service personnel, teacher aides, etc.). As the day is structured around controlled movements, prison logistics, meals, education classes (if required) and leisure activities, it provides for time that can be constructively used for lecito, prayer, and Liturgy of the Hours. The work activity of prison life can actually provide a time of welcomed relaxation from the mental activities required during reading and prayer.
A Special Prayer for Father
God, bless all the fathers in the world. Guide them to be good role models and loving to all their children. Help them to be a father like You are. Give them grace and patience to handle situations in a loving way. Amen.
Inmates and monks are both searching for God in similar environments. Like the walls of a monastery, the fenced in walls of prison do not restrict one from a life that is completely dedicated to God. Neither of these walls or fences restrains the resident from responsibility to the world outside.
Seeking God above all else is the foundation of Benedictine values. The prison environment provides as exciting, but demanding, quest to realize God's work in everyday life. It's easy to become discouraged while attempting to discover how God leads moment-by-moment. However, it is this very action of seeking that facilitates friendship with God.
A prison population in many respects is a microcosm of society. It is home to rich and poor, the educated and uneducated, the mannered and ill-mannered, the kind and the malicious. As in a monastery, inmates are enmeshed in their environment. A major difference, however, is that the inmate's placement was not a direct reflection of personal choice.
Saint Benedict's Rule offers insights into human nature and the principles that regulate human relationships. These remain the same whether one is a monk or an inmate. As the Rule indicates, God is everywhere, at all times, and is present in every aspect of our daily lives. An effective method of applying the Rule, while helping to make prison life both tolerable and beneficial, is to seek God in every person that one meets as well as to look for God in every life situation. This searching for discovery and meaning can keep the inmate focused on God, rather, than on the day-to-day conflicts that arise from pride, anger, and selfishness. The searching can be enhanced by asking the following questions: What can I learn — beneficial or otherwise — from my interaction with this individual?
In the Rule, Benedict indicates that monks should not be permitted to have possession of anything beyond the simple staples of life. An inmate is seriously limited in the possession of personal items. All materials must be maintained in a locker (1'x1.5'x5'), while any single item must be valued under one hundred dollars. By viewing the imposed limitations in a positive light, simplicity can be seen as a key to personal freedom. Clothing and footwear are distributed to the inmate by the prison. It is consistent among inmates and designed to reflect an air of humility.
The Rule of Benedict devotes itself to the virtue of moderation. While the diet presented to inmates does not force mortification, as such, it does restrict the amount and type of items available. The menu gives the inmate the ability to employ the Benedictine principle of self-control, as the desire to consume too much of any food or drink can have a negative effect on the body as well as the spirit.
Obedience, stability, and conversion of life are all values that can enhance an inmate's prison stay. Dedicating oneself to the service of God, as well as neighbor, reflects the scriptural foundation of the Rule of Satin Benedict.
Fundamental to the virtue of obedience is that the life-situation in which we find ourselves, the here and now, is a result of our decisions and choices. As we cultivate a loving relationship with God, obedience becomes an attitude of the heart. Obedience reflects ongoing conversion that can be demonstrated both physically and spiritually. An inmate's state of life is largely determined by the prison setting, where rules and obligations are clearly defined. By following the Rule and listening to God in one's own heart, the inmate seeks God's will.
As a prisoner grows through suffering, the "unknowing" of daily life, by faith and prayer, he comes to more closely imitate the life of Christ. Obedience increases the bonds of fidelity to Christ, thereby enhancing one's responsibility to the prison community.
Stability means being rooted in Christ at all times. By perseverance inmates can learn to focus on the obligations of their daily lives. Through sustained faith, the prisoner acknowledges the small blessings with which they are confronted on a daily basis. Physical stability is provided through the structure of the prison environment. Spiritual stability is developed by prayer and sincere concern for fellow inmates. Those who follow the Rule come to realize that it is through their own sufferings that they come to share in the Cross of Christ. Through this suffering the inmate becomes more tolerant and understanding of fellow inmates as they too have extreme crosses to bear.
Through God's grace and by following Benedict's Rule, an inmate can live a monastic style of life. When he is seeking Christ in the ordinary of daily life, every moment provides an opportunity for ongoing conversion. Living in a cube (8'x6'8") with two other inmates necessitates the self-sacrificing of one's will. As trust in God deepens and one surrenders himself to Christ, charity grows, murmuring lessens, and the prison experiences provide an ongoing opportunity for conversion of life.
(Editor's note: This report was provided by Vatican Information Services.)
If prayer and the Word of God do not nourish our spiritual life, we run the risk being suffocated by the many cares and concerns of daily existence. Prayer makes us see reality with new eyes and helps us to find our way in the midst of adversity. These words were pronounced by Benedict XVI in his catechesis during this morning's general audience, held in St. Peter's Square in the presence of more than 20,000 faithful.
The Pope explained how prayer encouraged the early Church, though beset by difficulties, and how it can help man to live a better life today. "Ever since the beginning of her journey the Church has had to face unexpected situations, new questions and emergencies, to which she has sought to respond in the light of the faith, allowing herself to be guided by the Holy Spirit," he said.
This was already evident at the time of the Apostles. In the Acts, Luke the Evangelist recounts "a serious problem which the first Christian community in Jerusalem had to face and resolve, . . . concerning the pastoral care of charity towards the isolated and the needy. It was not an unimportant issue and risked creating divisions within the Church. . . What stands out is that, at that moment of pastoral emergency, the Apostles made a distinction. Their primary duty was to announce the Word of God according to the Lord's mandate, but they considered as equally serious the task of . . . making loving provision for their brothers and sisters in situations of need, in order to respond to Jesus' command: love one another as I have loved you."
The Apostles made a clear decision: it was not right for them to neglect prayer and preaching, therefore "seven men of good standing were chosen, the Apostles prayed for the strength of the Holy Spirit, then laid their hands upon them that they might dedicate themselves to the diaconate of charity." This decision, the Pope explained, "shows the priority we must give to God and to our relationship with Him in prayer, both as individuals and in the community. If we do not have the capacity to pause and listen to the Lord, to enter into dialogue with Him, we risk becoming ineffectually agitated by problems, difficulties and needs, even those of an ecclesial and pastoral nature."
The saints, Pope Benedict said, "experienced profound unity between prayer and action, between total love of God and love for their fellows." St. Bernard, a model of harmony between these two aspects, "affirmed that too many concerns . . . often end up by hardening our heart and causing our spirit to suffer. This is an important reminder for us today, accustomed as we are to evaluating everything with the criterion of productivity and efficiency. That passage from the Acts of the Apostles reminds us of the importance of work and commitment in daily activity, which must be carried out with responsibility and dedication, but also of our need for God, for His guidance and His light which give us strength and hope. If we do not pray trustingly every day, our activities become empty, they lose all profundity and are reduced to mere activism which, in the final analysis, leaves us unsatisfied. . . . Every step, every action in our lives, even in the Church, must be done before God, in prayer and in the light of His Word."
When prayer is nourished with the Word of God "we see reality with new eyes, with the eyes of the faith and the Lord, Who speaks to the mind and to the heart, gives new light for the journey in all times and situations. We believe in the power of the Word of God and of prayer. . . . If the lungs of prayer and of the Word of God do not nourish the breath of spiritual life, we risk suffocating in the midst of a thousand daily cares. Prayer is the breath of the soul and of life."
In conclusion, Benedict XVI noted that when we pray, "in the silence of a church or in our room, we are united in the Lord to our brothers and sisters in the faith, like so many instruments which, each in its own individuality, raise a single great symphony of intercession, thanksgiving, and praise."
O GOD OUR CREATOR,
from your provident hand we have received
our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
You have called us as your people and given us
the right and the duty to worship you, the only true God,
and your Son, Jesus Christ.
Through the power and working of your Holy Spirit,
you call us to live out our faith in the midst of the world,
bringing the light and the saving truth of the Gospel
to every corner of society.
We ask you to bless us
in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty.
Give us the strength of mind and heart
to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened;
give us courage in making our voices heard
on behalf of the rights of your Church
and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith.
Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father,
a clear and united voice to all your sons and daughters
gathered in your Church
in this decisive hour in the history of our nation,
so that, with every trial withstood
and every danger overcome—
for the sake of our children, our grandchildren,
and all who come after us—
this great land will always be "one nation, under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
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