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My People

Vol. 29, Issue 11, November 2016

"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


Mother Teresa Tirelessly Worked For Mercy

Pope Francis canonized Saint Teresa of Calcutta in Vatican City on Sunday, September 4 during the Jubilee for workers of Mercy and volunteers. The Pope's homily follows:

" 'Who can learn the counsel of God?' (Wis 9:13). This question from the Book of Wisdom that we have just heard in the first reading suggests that our life is a mystery and that we do not possess the key to understanding it. There are always two protagonists in history: God and man. Our task is to perceive the call of God and then to do His will. But in order to do His will, we must ask ourselves, 'What is God's will in my life?'

"We find the answer in the same passage of the Book of Wisdom: 'People were taught what pleases you' (Wis 9:18). In order to ascertain the call of God, we must ask ourselves and understand what pleases God. On many occasions the prophets proclaimed what was pleasing to God. Their message found a wonderful synthesis in the words 'I want mercy, not sacrifice' (Hos 6:6; Mt 9:13). God is pleased by every act of mercy, because in the brother or sister that we assist, we recognize the face of God which no one can see (cf. Jn 1:18). Each time we bend down to the needs of our brothers and sisters, we give Jesus something to eat and drink; we clothe, we help, and we visit the Son of God (cf. Mt 25:40). In a word, we touch the flesh of Christ.

"We are thus called to translate into concrete acts that which we invoke in prayer and profess in faith. There is no alternative to charity: those who put themselves at the service of others, even when they don't know it, are those who love God (cf. 1 Jn 3:16-18; Jas 2:14-18). The Christian life, however, is not merely extending a hand in times of need. If it is just this, it can be, certainly, a lovely expression of human solidarity which offers immediate benefits, but it is sterile because it lacks roots. The task which the Lord gives us, on the contrary, is the vocation to charity in which each of Christ's disciples puts his or her entire life at his service, so to grow each day in love.

"We heard in the Gospel, 'Large crowds were travelling with Jesus' (Lk 14:25). Today, this 'large crowd' is seen in the great number of volunteers who have come together for the Jubilee of Mercy. You are that crowd who follows the Master and who makes visible His concrete love for each person. I repeat to you the words of the Apostle Paul: 'I have indeed received much joy and comfort from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you' (Philem 1:7). How many hearts have been comforted by volunteers! How many hands they have held; how many tears they have wiped away; how much love has been poured out in hidden, humble and selfless service! This praiseworthy service gives voice to the faith - it gives voice to the faith! - and expresses the mercy of the Father, who draws near to those in need.

"Following Jesus is a serious task, and, at the same time, one filled with joy; it takes a certain daring and courage to recognize the divine Master in the poorest of the poor and those who are cast aside, and to give oneself in their service. In order to do so, volunteers, who out of love of Jesus serve the poor and the needy, do not expect any thanks or recompense; rather they renounce all this because they have discovered true love. And each one of us can say: 'Just as the Lord has come to meet me and has stooped down to my level in my hour of need, so too do I go to meet Him, bending low before those who have lost faith or who live as though God did not exist, before young people without values or ideals, before families in crisis, before the ill and the imprisoned, before refugees and immigrants, before the weak and defenseless in body and spirit, before abandoned children, before the elderly who are on their own. Wherever someone is reaching out, asking for a helping hand in order to get up, this is where our presence - and the presence of the Church which sustains and offers hope - must be.' And I do this, keeping alive the memory of those times when the Lord's hand reached out to me when I was in need.

"Mother Teresa, in all aspects of her life, was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defense of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded. She was committed to defending life, ceaselessly proclaiming that 'the unborn are the weakest, the smallest, the most vulnerable.' She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity; she made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime - the crimes! - of poverty they created. For Mother Teresa, mercy was the 'salt' which gave flavor to her work, it was the 'light' which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering.

"Her mission to the urban and existential peripheries remains for us today an eloquent witness to God's closeness to the poorest of the poor. Today, I pass on this emblematic figure of womanhood and of consecrated life to the whole world of volunteers: may she be your model of holiness! I think, perhaps, we may have some difficulty in calling her 'Saint Teresa': her holiness is so near to us, so tender and so fruitful that we continual to spontaneously call her 'Mother Teresa.' May this tireless worker of mercy help us increasingly to understand that our only criterion for action is gratuitous love, free from every ideology and all obligations, offered freely to everyone without distinction of language, culture, race, or religion. Mother Teresa loved to say, 'Perhaps I don't speak their language, but I can smile.' Let us carry her smile in our hearts and give it to those whom we meet along our journey, especially those who suffer. In this way, we will open up opportunities of joy and hope for our many brothers and sisters who are discouraged and who stand in need of understanding and tenderness."

Volunteers Are Precious Gift

On September 3, Pope Francis celebrated all workers of mercy and volunteers during the Jubilee of Mercy in St. Peter's Square. The Pope's address follows:

"We have just heard the hymn to love which the Apostle Paul wrote for the Community in Corinth, and which constitutes one of the most beautiful and demanding texts for our witness of faith (cf. 1 Cor 13:1-13). How often Saint Paul spoke of love and faith in his letters; and here too we are given something exceedingly grand and original. He states that, unlike faith and hope, love 'never ends' (v. 8): it lasts for ever. This teaching must be for us an unshakable certainty; the love of God will never diminish in our lives or in human history. It is a love which remains forever youthful, active, dynamic, and which has an attraction beyond all telling. It is a faithful love that does not betray, despite our fickleness. It is a fruitful love which generates and surpasses our laziness. We are witnesses to this love. The love of God, truly, comes towards us; it is like a swelling river that engulfs us without overwhelming us. Quite the contrary is true: '[If I] have not love, I am nothing,' says Saint Paul (v. 2). The more we allow ourselves to be taken up by this love, the more our life will be renewed. We should say with all our being: I am loved, therefore I exist!

"The love of which the Apostle speaks is not something abstract or vague; rather, it is a love that is seen, touched, and experienced first hand. The greatest and most expressive form of this love is Jesus. His entire person and His life are nothing other than the concrete revelation of the Father's love, reaching its highest expression on the Cross: 'God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us' (Rom 5:8). This is love! They are not just words; this is love. From Calvary, where the suffering of God's Son reaches its culmination, the source of love flows, a love that wipes away all sin and transforms everything into new life. We always have indelibly within us, this certainty of faith: Christ 'loved me and gave Himself for me' (Gal 2:20). Of this we are very certain: Christ loved me, and gave Himself for me, for you, for all, for every one of us! Nothing and no one can ever separate us from the love of God (cf. Rom 8:35-39). Love, therefore, is the highest expression of life; it allows us to exist!

"Before this essential truth of our faith, the Church can never allow herself to act as that priest and Levite who ignored the man half dead at the side of the road (cf. Lk 10:25-36). She cannot look away and turn her back on the many forms of poverty that cry out for mercy. This turning one's back in order not to see hunger, sickness, exploited persons... this is a grave sin! It is also a modern sin, a sin of our times! We Christians cannot allow ourselves to do this. It is not worthy of the Church nor of any Christian to 'pass by on the other side,' and to pretend to have a clean conscience simply because we have said our prayers or because we have been to Mass on Sunday. No. Calvary is always real; it has not disappeared at all, nor does it remain with us merely as a nice painting in our churches. That culmination of compassion, from which the love of God flows to our human misery, still speaks to us today and spurs us on to offer ever new signs of mercy. I will never tire of saying that the mercy of God is not some beautiful idea, but rather a concrete action. There is no mercy without being concrete. Mercy is not doing good 'in passing,' but getting involved where there is something wrong, where there is illness, where there is hunger, wherever there is exploitation. And even human mercy is not authentic - that is, human and merciful - until it has attained tangible expression in the actions of our daily life. The warning of the Apostle John has perennial value: 'Little children, let us not love in word and speech but in deed and truth' (1 Jn 3:18). The truth of mercy, is expressed in our daily gestures that make God's action visible in our midst.

"Brothers and sisters, you represent the large and varied world of voluntary workers. You are among the most precious things the Church has, you who every day, often silently and unassumingly, give shape and visibility to mercy. You are crafters of mercy: with your hands, with your eyes, with your hearing, with your closeness, by your touch... craftsmen! You express one of the most noble desires of the human heart, making a suffering person feel loved. In the different contexts of need of so many people, your presence is the hand of Christ held out to all, and reaching all. You are the hand of Christ held out: have you thought about this? The credibility of the Church is also conveyed in a convincing way through your service to abandoned children, to the sick, the poor who lack food or work, to the elderly, the homeless, prisoners, refugees and immigrants, to all struck by natural disasters... Indeed, wherever there is a cry for help, there your active and selfless witness is found. In bearing one another's burdens, you make Christ's law visible (cf. Gal 6:2; Jn 13:34). Dear brothers and sisters, you touch the flesh of Christ with your hands: do not forget this. You touch the flesh of Christ with your hands. Be always ready to offer solidarity, to be steadfast in your closeness to others, determined in awakening joy and genuine in giving comfort. The world stands in need of concrete signs of solidarity, especially as it is faced with the temptation to indifference. It requires persons who, by their lives, defy such individualism, which is the tendency to think only of oneself and to ignore the brother or sister in need. Be always happy and full of joy in the service you give, but never presume to think that you are superior to others. Instead, let your work of mercy be a humble and eloquent continuation of Jesus' presence who continues to bend down to our level to take care of the ones who suffer. For love 'builds up' (1 Cor 8:1), day after day helping our communities to be signs of fraternal communion.

"And speak to the Lord about these things. Call on him. Do as Sister Preyma did, as Sister has told us: she knocked on the door of the tabernacle. So much courage! The Lord hears us: call on him! Lord, look at this... Look at all this poverty, this indifference, this turning one's back: 'This does not affect me; this is not important to me.' Speak about this to the Lord: 'Lord, why? Lord, why? Why am I so weak and yet you call me to give this service?' 'Help me, and give me strength, and make me humble.' At the heart of mercy is this dialogue with the merciful heart of Jesus.

"Tomorrow we will have the joy of seeing Mother Teresa proclaimed a saint. She deserves it! This witness to mercy in our time will join the vast array of men and women who, by their holiness of life, have made the love of Christ visible. Let us also imitate their example, as we ask to be humble instruments in God's hands in order to alleviate the world's sufferings, and to share the joy and hope of the resurrection. Thank you.

And before giving you my blessing, I invite you all to pray in silence for the many, many people who suffer; for so much suffering, for all who are discarded by society. Pray also for the many volunteers like you, who go out to encounter the flesh of Christ, to touch it, to care for it, to be close to it. And pray for the many, many who in the face of all this poverty simply turn their backs and who hear in their hearts a voice which says: 'This does not affect me, this is not important to me.' Let us pray in silence...

"And now let us turn to Our Lady: Hail, Mary..."

Refugee Crisis Requires Action

Vatican Secretary of State, addressed a United Nations Summit For Refugees and Migrants on September 19 in New York. His address follows:

"... The Holy See expresses its gratitude to you and to the Secretary General for convening this historic gathering of global leaders to address one of the biggest humanitarian, political, social, and economic issues of our time, namely that of the large movements of refugees and migrants. This is a moral imperative that those who carry responsibility for the wellbeing of peoples can neither avoid nor ignore.

"The values expressed in the Charter of the United Nations, particularly the respect for fundamental human rights and the dignity and worth of the human person, must be at the heart of our response to the plight of refugees and migrants. These same fundamental principles are affirmed by most major religious traditions in the world and by people of good will. The Golden Rule enjoins us to treat refugees and migrants the way we would want others to treat us if we were in their situation.

"Thus, as we try to find the most effective ways to respond to the challenges posed by the unprecedented movements of refugees and migrants, while taking into consideration the legitimate concerns of societies and countries, we should not lose sight of the real people, with names and faces, behind the staggering statistics. Refugees need our protection, but migrants also need respect for their rights, as well as solidarity and compassion. This approach requires the full commitment of 'a humanity that before all else recognizes others as brothers and sisters, a humanity that wants to build bridges and recoils from the idea of putting up walls to make us feel safer.'

"Our presence in this Institution, in fact, is a sign of our acknowledgement that walls and barriers among persons and peoples — whether physical or legislative — are never an acceptable solution to social problems. Such barriers divide persons and peoples, cause tensions among them and weaken and impede development. Instead, despite difficulties, electoral interests and understandable and legitimate concerns, our responsibilities demand that we overcome fears and obstacles and work for a world where individuals and peoples can live in freedom and dignity.

"The enormous and complex challenges that immense movements of refugees and migrants pose can only be solved if we all work together. My Delegation insists on the need for cross-border dialogue and cooperation among nations, international organizations, and humanitarian agencies. In this regard, partnership with religious organizations and faith communities is particularly helpful, for they are interested and skilled parties who are often first-responders to refugee and migrant movements across borders and to those internally displaced.

"All individuals have the right to remain in peace and security in their homelands and countries of origin. Yet millions risk everything, live in miserable conditions and thousands have lost their lives while trying to escape conflicts, violence, abject poverty, social exclusion, open persecution, and various forms of discrimination. Forty-eight million children are forced to leave their homes, and thousands of unaccompanied migrant children go missing and become prey to abusers and exploiters.

"The Holy See wishes to reiterate once more its urgent appeal for political and multilateral efforts to address the root causes of large movements and forced displacement of populations, especially conflicts and violence, countless violations of human rights, environmental degradation, extreme poverty, the arms trade and arms trafficking, corruption, and the obscure financial and commercial plans connected with them. At the same time, it is necessary to ensure that development funds are equitably and transparently assigned, delivered and used appropriately.

"The Holy See emphasizes the importance of this Summit, which echoes Pope Francis' warnings about the globalization of indifference. In doing so, it is motivated by a reiterated commitment to protect each and every person from violence and discrimination, to guarantee appropriate and quality health-care and to protect those who are vulnerable, particularly women and children.

"My Delegation notes that the political Declaration endorses urgently needed commitments to help both refugees and other forced migrants, since they share root causes that require a shared response. Likewise, the Declaration takes into account national realities, capacities, priorities, and levels of development, in a manner that is consistent with the rights and obligations of States under international law. Along these lines, we welcome the strong call for all States to work toward the elimination of the practice of child detention, which is never in the best interest of the child.

"The Holy See welcomes the agreement for a closer working relationship between the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations, and wishes to express its interest in participating in the continuing efforts of the Global Forum on Migration and Development and the Global Migration Group. We sincerely hope that these initiatives will stimulate better management of person-centered responses to refugee and migrant movements at global, national, and local levels.

"Mr President, allow me to conclude with the words of Pope Francis that express his message to this Summit: 'I invite political leaders and lawmakers and the entire International Community to consider the reality of persons forcefully uprooted with effective initiatives and new approaches to protect their dignity, to improve the quality of their life, and to address the challenges that emerge in modern forms of persecution, oppression, and slavery. It is, I stress, about human persons, who appeal to solidarity and assistance, who are in need of urgent interventions, but also and above all of understanding and goodness.' "

Syria's Tragedy In Black And White

by Caritas Internationalis

(Editor's note: This report was provided by Caritas Internationalis.)

At least 1,200,000 homes in Syria have been destroyed in half a decade of civil war, with over 10 million people forced from their homes and half the country's cities destroyed.

Nowhere is the level of destruction more evident than in the city of Homs. One of the first theatres of war between government and rebel forces, the sprawling, ancient metropolis has been turned into a post-apocalyptic landscape.

"Endless rows of inhabitable apartment blocks and not a living soul on the streets - that is what entire neighborhoods in Homs look like," said a Caritas staff person from Dutch member Cordaid.

Although limited fighting and bombing continues in parts of the city, the main conflict took place from 2011 to 2014. By the time opposition forces withdrew, two-thirds of the rebel held parts of the city was destroyed. Out of 1.4 million residents in Homs - more than half have been killed or displaced.

"It's utterly unbelievable. Entire blocks of apartments have been bombed flat. You won't even find dogs or cats on the streets. It really is a desert of destruction," the Cordaid team said, after a trip there in August.

What remains in Homs is sheer poverty. Daily life continues amid the rubble. There are small shops and stalls selling goods. A trio of restaurants has opened in the old town center. But the economic crisis is strangling any real return to normalcy.

Whereas Syrians used to make around 600 Euros a month on average, this same wage is now worth only 50 Euros because of the inflation. The costs of rent, food, and fuel have risen enormously. Many people have also lost their job or income because of the war.

Dealing with the humanitarian consequences of the war in Syria is the largest Caritas relief operation in the world. Caritas provides food, healthcare, basic needs, education, shelter, counselling, protection, and livelihoods in Syria and to refugees in host countries.

Caritas works in Homs supporting people with rent assistance, food stamps, hygiene packages, and help in getting medication. In the coming winter, Caritas plans to provide children with warm clothes in Homs and other cities. Caritas hopes to reach more than 2 000 children but still needs to raise 50,000 Euros.

Fatima, 38 years old, fled with her husband and seven children from Aleppo to Homs.

"In Aleppo, there was no water or electricity," she said. "We were stuck in-between the clashes, sometimes without food, locked in our house. One of my children, Omar, got hurt by a bomb. As soon as he was out of hospital, we left for Homs."

In Homs, the family survives by relying on aid. Six months ago, Fatima's husband returned to Aleppo to earn money.

"My husband used to keep a shop in electronics, but it was destroyed. Now, he makes sandwiches in restaurants. We used to be self-reliant and had a good life. It is so hard to accept that now, we are completely dependent on other people," she said.

Across Syria, 4000 schools have been destroyed or damaged. That's one in every four. More than 2 million children are out of school. A third of the hospitals have been destroyed and half the country's physicians have fled.

Suhil has to travel from Homs to Damascus for one week each month for his chemo therapy. He has leukemia.

His father works for the municipal water company. He does not earn enough to be able to take care of Suhil and his two brothers. Suhil now wears a mouth mask because his parents do not want him to inhale any bacteria.

The devastation in Homs is mirrored across Syria. In the country's second biggest city of Aleppo, residents and rescuers there described the bombardment in September as among the worst yet in the five-year war.

Caritas Internationalis renews its call for a negotiated peace to end the suffering of Syrian through its Peace is Possible campaign. Caritas is urging its supporters around the world to put pressure on their governments to:

  • Ensure all sides of the conflict come together to find a peaceful solution,
  • Support the millions of people affected by the war,
  • Give Syrians inside and outside the country dignity and hope

Joseph Stalin said, "A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic." With the international community unable to find a solution to end the war, Syria risks living up to his maxim.

Renew Efforts For Peace

Pope Francis met with members of Catholic organizations working in Iraq, Syria, and neighboring areas on September 29 in Vatican City. His remarks follow:

"... I thank you for your participation during this moment of common reflection on the Church's work in the context of the Syrian and Iraqi crisis. I greet all of you, Bishops, priests, religious, and lay faithful. In particular, I wish to greet Mr. Staffan de Mistura, Special Envoy to Syria of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, whom I thank for his presence. I express my grateful appreciation to Monsignor Dal Toso and the Pontifical Council Cor Unum for the attentive and effective support for what the Church is doing to alleviate the suffering of the millions of victims of these conflicts. In this respect, I would like to stress the importance of renewed cooperation at all levels between the different actors working in this sector.

"We must note with great sadness that since our last meeting a year ago, despite extensive efforts made in a variety of areas, the logic of arms and oppression, hidden interests, and violence continues to wreak devastation on these countries and that, even now, we have not been able to put an end to the exasperating suffering and repeated violations of human rights. The dramatic consequences of the crisis are already visible well beyond the borders of the region. This is seen in the grave phenomenon of migration.

"Violence begets violence, and we have the impression of being caught up in a spiral of arrogance and inertia from which there is no escape. This evil which grips our will and conscience should challenge us. Why, even at the cost of untold damage to persons, property, and the environment, does man continue to pursue abuses of power, revenge, and violence? We think of the recent attack on a United Nations humanitarian convoy... This is the experience of the mysterium iniquitatis, that evil which is present in man and in history and which needs to be redeemed. Destruction for destruction's sake. And so, during this Year, in which we fix our gaze more intensely on Christ, on Mercy incarnate who has conquered sin and death, I am reminded of the words of Saint John Paul II: 'The limit imposed upon evil, of which man is both perpetrator and victim, is ultimately the Divine Mercy' (Memory and Identity). It is the only limit. Yes, the answer to the drama of evil lies in the mystery of Christ.

"Seeing the many suffering faces in Syria, in Iraq, and in the neighboring and distant countries where millions of refugees are forced to seek shelter and protection, the Church beholds the face of her Lord in His Passion.

"The work of all who like you, represent so many workers in the field, who are committed to helping refugees and to safeguarding their dignity, is certainly a reflection of God's mercy and, as such, a sign that evil has limits and does not have the last word. This is a sign of great hope, for which I wish to thank you, and also the many unnamed people - though not nameless to God - who, especially in this Jubilee Year, are praying and interceding in silence for the victims of conflicts, particularly for children and the weak, and who in this way are also supporting your work. In Aleppo, children have to drink polluted water!

"Beyond the necessary humanitarian aid, what our brothers and sisters in Syria and Iraq want more than anything else today is peace. And so I will never tire of asking the international community for greater and renewed efforts to achieve peace throughout the Middle East, and of asking not to look the other way.

"Putting an end to the conflict is also in the hands of men and women: each of us can and must become a peacemaker, because every situation of violence and injustice is a wound to the body of the whole human family.

"This request is my daily prayer to God, to inspire the minds and hearts of all who have political responsibility, that they may be able to renounce their own interests in order to achieve the greater good: peace.

"In this regard, our meeting gives me the opportunity to thank and encourage international organizations, in particular the United Nations, for their work of support and mediation among various governments, so that there can be agreement which ends conflict and finally gives priority to the good of defenseless populations. It is a path we must travel together with patience and perseverance, but also with urgency, and the Church will certainly continue to make her contribution.

"Finally, my thoughts turn to the Christian communities of the Middle East who suffer the consequences of violence and look to the future with fear. In the midst of so much darkness, these Churches hold high the lamp of faith, hope, and charity. As they courageously and without discrimination assist all who suffer and work for a peaceful coexistence, Christians in the Middle East today are a clear sign of God's mercy. They have the admiration, recognition, and support of the universal Church.

"I entrust these communities and those who work at the service of victims of this crisis to the intercession of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, exemplar of charity and mercy.

"May the Lord bless you and our Blessed Mother keep you. And thank you, many thanks for what you do. Many thanks!"

For "GIFT" Ness

by Leiann Spontanio

In a tweet dated September 21, 2016, Hannah Brockhaus quoted Pope Francis as saying to a general audience that forgiveness is a gift. For a while this past summer, I had wanted to write an essay on such topic. Then I did not. I guess God works in mysterious ways.

If there is forgiveness that needs to take place in your life, the other party need not know about it. Forgiveness does not mean you are condoning the behavior or action, not does it mean the other party matters more than you.

Forgiveness does not excuse or justify what the person did. To be forgiven does not mean to be forgotten because forgiveness is not forgetting.

Forgiveness is a vulnerable act. It can feel like you are opening up yourself to more pain.

Remember that forgiveness does not always mean that you give the other person a second chance. It means that you are not willing to suffer any longer.

Instead of calling it "forgiveness," why not "for GIFT ness?" If we allow others to steal our peace and rob us of our joy, we are essentially giving them the drivers seat in our life.

Stop giving that person power over how you feel and free yourself to be happy again!

Pleasant thoughts support a pleasant mood. Show yourself just how strong you are! Nothing you do today can change what happened. Change your attitude as quickly as possible and smile again!

Works Cited:

Jesus Thirsts

On September 20 before a meeting of world religious leaders in Assisi, Italy, Pope Francis offered the following mediation:

"Gathered before Jesus crucified, we hear His words ring out also for us: 'I thirst' (Jn 19:28). Thirst, more than hunger, is the greatest need of humanity, and also its greatest suffering. Let us contemplate then the mystery of Almighty God, who in His mercy became poor among men.

"What does the Lord thirst for? Certainly for water, that element essential for life. But above all for love, that element no less essential for living. He thirsts to give us the living waters of His love, but also to receive our love. The prophet Jeremiah expressed God's appreciation of our love: 'I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride' (Jer 2:2). But he also gave voice to divine suffering, when ungrateful man abandoned love - it seems as if the Lord is also speaking these words today - 'they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that can hold no water' (v. 13). It is the tragedy of the 'withered heart,' of love not requited, a tragedy that unfolds again in the Gospel, when in response to Jesus' thirst man offers Him vinegar, spoiled wine. As the psalmist prophetically lamented: 'For my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink' (Ps 69:21).

" 'Love is not loved:' this reality, according to some accounts, is what upset Saint Francis of Assisi. For love of the suffering Lord, he was not ashamed to cry out and grieve loudly (cf. Fonti Francescane, no. 1413). This same reality must be in our hearts as we contemplate Christ Crucified, he who thirsts for love. Mother Teresa of Calcutta desired that in the chapel of every community of her sisters the words 'I thirst' would be written next to the crucifix. Her response was to quench Jesus' thirst for love on the Cross through service to the poorest of the poor. The Lord's thirst is indeed quenched by our compassionate love; He is consoled when, in His name, we bend down to another's suffering. On the day of judgment they will be called 'blessed' who gave drink to those who were thirsty, who offered true gestures of love to those in need: 'As you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me' (Mt 25:40).

"Jesus' words challenge us, they seek a place in our heart and a response that involves our whole life. In his 'I thirst' we can hear the voice of the suffering, the hidden cry of the little innocent ones to whom the light of this world is denied, the sorrowful plea of the poor and those most in need of peace. The victims of war, which sullies people with hate and the earth with arms, plead for peace; our brothers and sisters, who live under the threat of bombs and are forced to leave their homes into the unknown, stripped of everything, plead for peace. They are all brothers and sisters of the Crucified One, the little ones of His Kingdom, the wounded and parched members of His body. They thirst. But they are frequently given, like Jesus, the bitter vinegar of rejection. Who listens to them? Who bothers responding to them? Far too often they encounter the deafening silence of indifference, the selfishness of those annoyed at being pestered, the coldness of those who silence their cry for help with the same ease with which television channels are changed.

"Before Christ Crucified, 'the power and wisdom of God' (1 Cor 1:24), we Christians are called to contemplate the mystery of Love not loved and to pour out mercy upon the world. On the cross, the tree of life, evil was transformed into good; we too, as disciples of the Crucified One, are called to be 'trees of life' that absorb the contamination of indifference and restore the pure air of love to the world. From the side of Christ on the Cross water flowed, that symbol of the Spirit who gives life (cf. Jn 19:34); so that from us, his faithful, compassion may flow forth for all who thirst today.

"Like Mary by the Cross, may the Lord grant us to be united to Him and close to those who suffer. Drawing near to those living as crucified, and strengthened by the love of Jesus Crucified and Risen, may our harmony and communion deepen even more. 'For He is our peace' (Eph 2:14), He who came to preach peace to those near and far (cf. v. 17). May He keep us all in His love and gather us together in unity, that path which we are all on, so that we may be 'one' (Jn 17:21) as He desires."

Thirst, Pray for Peace

Religious leaders from around the world met September 20 in Assisi, Italy, to pray for peace. The day ended with an interreligious ceremony. Pope Francis' address follows:

"I greet you with great respect and affection, and I thank you for your presence here. I thank the Community of Sant'Egidio, the Diocese of Assisi and the Franciscan Families that have prepared this day of prayer. We have come to Assisi as pilgrims in search of peace. We carry within us and place before God the hopes and sorrows of many persons and peoples. We thirst for peace. We desire to witness to peace. And above all, we need to pray for peace, because peace is God's gift, and it lies with us to plead for it, embrace it, and build it every day with God's help.

" 'Blessed are the peacemakers' (Mt 5:9). Many of you have travelled a great distance to reach this holy place. To set out, to come together in order to work for peace: these are not only physical movements, but most of all movements of the soul, concrete spiritual responses so as to overcome what is closed, and become open to God and to our brothers and sisters. God asks this of us, calling us to confront the great sickness of our time: indifference. It is a virus that paralyzes, rendering us lethargic and insensitive, a disease that eats away at the very heart of religious fervor, giving rise to a new and deeply sad paganism: the paganism of indifference.

"We cannot remain indifferent. Today the world has a profound thirst for peace. In many countries, people are suffering due to wars which, though often forgotten, are always the cause of suffering and poverty. In Lesbos, with our beloved Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, we saw the sorrow of war in the eyes of the refugees, the anguish of peoples thirsting for peace. I am thinking of the families, whose lives have been shattered; of the children who have known only violence in their lives; of the elderly, forced to leave their homeland. All of them have a great thirst for peace. We do not want these tragedies to be forgotten. Rather together we want to give voice to all those who suffer, to all those who have no voice and are not heard. They know well, often better than the powerful, that there is no tomorrow in war, and that the violence of weapons destroys the joy of life.

"We do not have weapons. We believe, however, in the meek and humble strength of prayer. On this day, the thirst for peace has become a prayer to God, that wars, terrorism, and violence may end. The peace which we invoke from Assisi is not simply a protest against war, nor is it 'a result of negotiations, political compromises, or economic bargaining. It is the result of prayer' (John Paul II, Address, Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels, October 27, 1986: Insegnamenti IX,2 [1986], 1252). We seek in God, who is the source of communion, the clear waters of peace for which humanity thirsts: these waters do not flow from the deserts of pride and personal interests, from the dry earth of profit at any cost and the arms trade.

"Our religious traditions are diverse. But our differences are not the cause of conflict and dispute, or a cold distance between us. We have not prayed against one another today, as has unfortunately sometimes occurred in history. Without syncretism or relativism, we have rather prayed side by side and for each other. In this very place Saint John Paul II said: 'More perhaps than ever before in history, the intrinsic link between an authentic religious attitude and the great good of peace has become evident to all' (Address, Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels, October 27, 1986: Insegnamenti IX,2, 1268). Continuing the journey which began thirty years ago in Assisi, where the memory of that man of God and of peace who was Saint Francis remains alive, 'once again, gathered here together, we declare that whoever uses religion to foment violence contradicts religion's deepest and truest inspiration' (Address to the Representatives of the World Religions, Assisi, January 24, 2002: Insegnamenti XXV,1 [2002], 104). We further declare that violence in all its forms does not represent 'the true nature of religion. It is the antithesis of religion and contributes to its destruction' (Benedict XVI, Address at the Day of Reflection, Dialogue and Prayer for Peace and Justice in the World, Assisi, October 27, 2011: Insegnamenti VII,2 [2011], 512). We never tire of repeating that the name of God cannot be used to justify violence. Peace alone is holy. Peace alone is holy, not war!

"Today we have pleaded for the holy gift of peace. We have prayed that consciences will be mobilized to defend the sacredness of human life, to promote peace between peoples and to care for creation, our common home. Prayer and concrete acts of cooperation help us to break free from the logic of conflict and to reject the rebellious attitudes of those who know only how to protest and be angry. Prayer and the desire to work together commit us to a true peace that is not illusory: not the calm of one who avoids difficulties and turns away, if his personal interests are not at risk; it is not the cynicism of one who washes his hands of any problem that is not his; it is not the virtual approach of one who judges everything and everyone using a computer keyboard, without opening his eyes to the needs of his brothers and sisters, and dirtying his hands for those in need. Our path leads us to immersing ourselves in situations and giving first place to those who suffer; to taking on conflicts and healing them from within; to following ways of goodness with consistency, rejecting the shortcuts offered by evil; to patiently engaging processes of peace, in good will and with God's help.

"Peace, a thread of hope that unites earth to heaven, a word so simple and difficult at the same time. Peace means Forgiveness, the fruit of conversion and prayer, that is born from within and that, in God's name, makes it possible to heal old wounds. Peace means Welcome, openness to dialogue, the overcoming of closed-mindedness, which is not a strategy for safety, but rather a bridge over an empty space. Peace means Cooperation, a concrete and active exchange with another, who is a gift and not a problem, a brother or sister with whom to build a better world. Peace denotes Education, a call to learn every day the challenging art of communion, to acquire a culture of encounter, purifying the conscience of every temptation to violence and stubbornness which are contrary to the name of God and human dignity.

"We who are here together and in peace believe and hope in a fraternal world. We desire that men and women of different religions may everywhere gather and promote harmony, especially where there is conflict. Our future consists in living together. For this reason we are called to free ourselves from the heavy burdens of distrust, fundamentalism, and hate. Believers should be artisans of peace in their prayers to God and in their actions for humanity! As religious leaders, we are duty bound to be strong bridges of dialogue, creative mediators of peace. We turn to those who hold the greatest responsibility in the service of peoples, to the leaders of nations, so that they may not tire of seeking and promoting ways of peace, looking beyond self-serving interests and those of the moment: may they not remain deaf to God's appeal to their consciences, to the cry of the poor for peace, and to the healthy expectations of younger generations. Here, thirty years ago, Pope John Paul II said: 'Peace is a workshop, open to all and not just to specialists, savants, and strategists. Peace is a universal responsibility' (Address, Lower Piazza of the Basilica of Saint Francis, October 27, 1986: l.c., 1269). Sisters and brothers, let us assume this responsibility, reaffirming today our 'yes' to being, together, builders of the peace that God wishes for us and for which humanity thirsts."

Everyone Loses In War

At the end of their September 20 meeting in Assisi, religious leaders issued the following appeal:

"Men and women of various religions, we gather as pilgrims in the city of Saint Francis. Thirty years ago in 1986, religious representatives from all over the world met here at the invitation of Pope John Paul II. It was the first such solemn gathering that brought so many together, in order to affirm the indissoluble bond between the great good of peace and an authentic religious attitude. From that historic event, a long pilgrimage was begun which has touched many cities of the world, involving many believers in dialogue and in praying for peace. It has brought people together without denying their differences, giving life to real interreligious friendships and contributing to the resolution of more than a few conflicts. This is the spirit that animates us: to bring about encounters through dialogue, and to oppose every form of violence and abuse of religion which seeks to justify war and terrorism. And yet, in the years that have followed, numerous populations have nonetheless been painfully wounded by war. People do not always understand that war harms the world, leaving in its wake a legacy of sorrows and hate. In war, everyone loses, including the victors.

"We have prayed to God, asking him to grant peace to the world. We recognize the need to pray constantly for peace, because prayer protects the world and enlightens it. God's name is peace. The one who calls upon God's name to justify terrorism, violence, and war does not follow God's path. War in the name of religion becomes a war against religion itself. With firm resolve, therefore, we reiterate that violence and terrorism are opposed to an authentic religious spirit.

"We have heard the voice of the poor, of children and the younger generations, of women and so many brothers and sisters who are suffering due to war. With them let us say with conviction: No to war! May the anguished cry of the many innocents not go unheeded. Let us urge leaders of nations to defuse the causes of war: the lust for power and money, the greed of arms' dealers, personal interests and vendettas for past wrongs. May there be a greater commitment to eradicating the underlying causes of conflicts: poverty, injustice, and inequality, the exploitation of and contempt for human life.

"May a new season finally begin, in which the globalized world can become a family of peoples. May we carry out our responsibility of building an authentic peace, attentive to the real needs of individuals and peoples, capable of preventing conflicts through a cooperation that triumphs over hate and overcomes barriers through encounter and dialogue. Nothing is lost when we effectively enter into dialogue. Nothing is impossible if we turn to God in prayer. Everyone can be an artisan of peace. Through this gathering in Assisi, we resolutely renew our commitment to be such artisans, by the help of God, together will all men and women of good will."

Authors Look At Heaven

by Michael Halm

Writers who have never been there are writing about Heaven. Anthony DeStefano's is titled A Travel Guide to Heaven. Teresa Tomeo's is God's Bucket List, subtitled Heaven's Surefire Way to Happiness in This Life and Beyond.

DeStefano's is organized like a guidebook referring to fellow Christians as fellow travelers, saints and angels as our guides, our new glorified bodies as our luxury accommodations. He recommends leaving behind gloominess, stuffiness, cynicism, pessimism, intellectual snobbery, close-mindedness, self-righteousness, and prejudice against God or religion. That is because, as he emphasizes in the book, "if we know anything about Heaven, it's fun."

"It's a place of unlimited pleasure, unlimited happiness, and unlimited joy." It's the ultimate destination, "Disney World, Hawaii, Paris, Rome, and New York all rolled into one." He recalls C.S. Lewis's statement that the serious business of Heaven is joy. This tour would also add that much of the fun is getting there.

He does include Scriptural and theological references, of course, but looking at Heaven in this new way might help the reader break out of misconceived ideas about Heaven. For one thing those who already passed on are not angels. They are anxiously awaiting a new glorified body, like the one they had in life, but much better.

He notes, "Eye has not seen, nor ear has heard, what God has prepared for those who love Him," is all the Scriptures really tell us. He also compares Heaven to Dorothy's backyard, rather than far-off OZ. The things and people we love here is this life will be there in the next. The difference is that in Heaven they will never end. As he puts it "Ten billion years from today, your mom will still be your mom."

DeStefano writes that "As I've learned more about Heaven, my willingness to endure more suffering in this life has also increased." His belief in the eternal helped him, he says, accept many of the sacrifices and hardships of the temporal.

Tomeo looks at Heaven in a different way through her grandfather's eyes and her own life experiences as a revert. He taught her "larte di non fare nien," the art of doing nothing, of relaxing and enjoying the life and glory of God about you, in other words, preparing for life with Him in eternity.

She quotes Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on the problem in our day, "Put simply, we are no longer able to hear God — there are too many frequencies filling our ears." She also reminds of St. Teresa of Calcutta's observation, "We cannot find God in noises and agitation."

We listen to hear our calling, our vocation. Tomeo mentions Nick Syko's "Careers Through Faith" seminars as a help here. His SAINT process includes examining one's Skills, Abilities, Interests, Nature, and Talents, and building on them.

Listening for God what God wants from us, however, takes many forms. She also encourages reading the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the papal encyclicals, particularly Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae and St. John Paul II"s Evangelium Vitae, and other Church writings.

She notes a Pew Center "U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey" found that Jews, Mormons, and even atheists scored higher than Christians. About 45 percent of Catholics had no idea what happens at Communion. A Kaiser Family Foundation study also found that teens and tweens spend 53 hours a week watching a screen, mostly television.

Getting disconnected from what the consumeristic world wants from us and reconnected to God is getting easier. As aids she recommends several daily devotionals: The Magnificat, the Word Among Us, Living Faith, and Presentation Ministries' own One Bread, One Body.

The Corporation for Nation and Community Service reported in The Health Benefits of Volunteering that all kinds of giving are more blessed than receiving. Volunteers reported greater longevity, lower rates of depression, higher functional ability, and fewer incidences of heart disease. Tomeo includes many more resources in an appendix.

Edge To Edge

Pray The News

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.

  • We pray that the elections in the United State will be under the lordship of Jesus.
  • We pray for an immediate ceasefire in Syria and for a peaceful resolution.
  • We pray in thanksgiving for the life and example of Saint Teresa of Calcutta and that we might be apostles of mercy.
  • We pray for a spirit of thanksgiving to God.
  • We pray for the victory of the civilization of life and love over the culture of death.
  • We pray for a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation.
  • We pray in thanksgiving for the example of all the saints.
  • We pray for encouragement for all volunteers.
  • We pray for courage and encouragement for persecuted Christians.
  • We pray for all veterans.

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