The Blight of Racism

As we study the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and its Declaration on the Church’s Relation to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra aetate), we grapple with the anti-Jewish bigotry that has marred tragically the relationship of Jews and Christians over the centuries. The Council reminds us that education of the public requires our diligence generation after generation.

Originally, this document focused on Catholic-Jewish relations but was expanded to include a reflection on all major religions. My predecessor, Msgr. Oesterreicher, found this development to be very positive:

The Declaration [on the Church’s Relation to Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council (10/28/65) does not in the least indulge in a blind optimism that would bypass problems; it is rather the sign of a great hope…It has rightly been said that the Council is the end of the Counter-Reformation. It may be equally true to say that the Declaration marks the end of the Reformation. More exactly: the main concern of the Reformation is no longer our concern. Today, a devout Christian is no longer worried by Luther’s question: How do I get a gracious God? The question that troubles believers of our time is rather: How does God work the salvation of all creatures?

This throws new light on the reason for linking the Declaration on the Jews with the Church’s attitude on the religions of humankind. The whole Declaration makes it clear that all singularity exists for the sake of universality, all separation for the sake of commonality. Israel’s election, too, is directed toward the all-embracing kingdom of grace. Thus, the Declaration on the Jews has taken on a dimension far surpassing its original importance. It proved its value by becoming the nucleus around which old-new insights and expressions could gather. 

Msgr. John M. Oesterreicher, The New Encounter Between Christians and Jews (New York: Philosophical Library, 1986), p. 227.

The final section of Nostra aetate widens the call of the Church to her faithful in order to eradicate all forms of discrimination, let alone persecution, because of the inherent dignity of each person and the rights that flow from our creaturehood, in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-28):

5. We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of God. Man’s relation to God the Father and his relation to men his brothers are so linked together that Scripture says: “He who does not love does not know God” (1 John 4:8).

No foundation therefore remains for any theory or practice that leads to discrimination between man and man or people and people, so far as their human dignity and the rights flowing from it are concerned.

The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion. On the contrary, following in the footsteps of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, this sacred synod ardently implores the Christian faithful to “maintain good fellowship among the nations” (1 Peter 2:12), and, if possible, to live for their part in peace with all men,(14) so that they may truly be sons of the Father who is in heaven.

In 1997 the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace issued a fine statement on the problem of racism in contemporary society, The Church and Racism: Towards a More Fraternal Society. See the entire document here.

In the context of tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri and other places in this country, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral letter, calling people to address racism in our hearts and communities. This message of 2018 should be consulted again in the autumn of 2019. The text and many other resources can be on the Catholic Bishops’ Combating Racism page.

In recent years we have witnessed or learned about courageous actions of groups and individuals of many communities to stand with those suffering from bigotry. We salute the efforts of both Jewish and Christian groups to bear witness to the inconsistencies and acts of injustice within our society. We are to examine our conscience concerning the “sin of omission, when individuals, communities, and even churches remain silent and fail to act against racial injustice when it is encountered” (Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love, p. 4). These examples should inspire many who see the plethora of challenges not to be discouraged but to stimulate a response to the needs of those who cannot speak for themselves.

Week of Christian Unity Prayer Service

Ecumenical leaders of the Catholic Archdiocese of Newark and the Episcopal Diocese of Newark organized a prayer service for January 20, 2019 at the Church of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Roseland, NJ. The threat of bad weather caused the event to be postponed until February 3rd.

The 2019 theme of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, traditionally held from January 18-25 each year, was chosen by the Christians of Indonesia. They focused on the text of Deuteronomy 16:1-20. “Justice and only justice you shall pursue” (16:20) is a challenge that resonates throughout Jewish and Christian communities of faith worldwide. Originally this text applied to judges in Israel but can relate to all dimensions of leadership in service of humanity.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin, Archbishop of Newark, presided over the service with pastors of several congregations in the sanctuary with him. He introduced the service with a call to prayer. “As we pray together, we are reminded that our calling as members of the body of Christ is to pursue and embody justice. Our unity in Christ empowers us to take part in the wider struggle for justice and to promote the dignity of life.”

In his homily Cardinal Tobin drew upon the Gospel of Luke 4:14-21 with its quotation from Isaiah 61:1-2 as the basis for a challenge to Christians today. Referring to the Superbowl and its selection of heroes in the game, he drew attention to the 76th anniversary of the sinking of the USS troop ship Dorchester on February 3, 1943.  There was another kind of heroism in the witness of the four chaplains, Protestant, Catholic and Jewish, who gave their life-jackets to young sailors and perished, their arms linked in prayer.

You can read “No Greater Glory: The Four Chaplains and the Sinking of the USAT Dorchester” by Command Sergeant Major James H. Clifford, USA-Ret. to learn more about John P. Washington, Alexander D. Goode, George L. Fox and Clarke V. Poling and their brave sacrifice. Seton Hall University remembers its graduate Father John P. Washington, whose memory is recalled each year in St. Stephen’s Church in Kearny, NJ. (See https://ststephenkearny.com/father-washington-1).

The service on February 3rd included the commitment of the many participants to bring the call to pursue justice into their daily lives in the coming year. Our prayer is that this would be expanded so that the search for Christian unity will be put into action by deeds of the justice which works for peace in the world.

The Church and Interfaith Relations

Pope Francis and the Roman Curia on December 21, 2017. 
Photo: Vatican website, Christmas address to the Roman Curia.

Pope Francis addressed the Roman Curia with his Christmas message on December 21, 2017. He reflected on the Curia in its relationship with the nations, “with the Particular Churches (i.e. dioceses), with the Oriental Churches with ecumenical dialogue, with Judaism, with Islam and other religions – in other words, with the outside world.

Near the end of the address, the pope remarked:

The relationship of the Roman Curia to other religions is based on the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and the need for dialogue. “For the only alternative to the civility of encounter is the incivility of conflict”.[26] Dialogue is grounded in three fundamental lines of approach: “The duty to respect one’s own identity and that of others, the courage to accept differences, and sincerity of intentions. The duty to respect one’s own identity and that of others, because true dialogue cannot be built on ambiguity or a willingness to sacrifice some good for the sake of pleasing others. The courage to accept differences, because those who are different, either culturally or religiously, should not be seen or treated as enemies, but rather welcomed as fellow-travellers, in the genuine conviction that the good of each resides in the good of all. Sincerity of intentions, because dialogue, as an authentic expression of our humanity, is not a strategy for achieving specific goals, but rather a path to truth, one that deserves to be undertaken patiently, in order to transform competition into cooperation”.[27]

My meetings with religious leaders during the various Apostolic Visits and here in the Vatican, are a concrete proof of this.

In this passage Pope Francis refers to his Address to Participants at the International Peace Conference held at the Al-Azhar Conference Centre in Cairo, Egypt on April 28, 2017. Readers will be interested in this important text.

Wishing all who celebrate a very blessed and joyous Christmas!

[26] Address to Participants at the International Peace Conference, Al-Azhar Conference Centre, Cairo, 28 April 2017.
[27]
Ibid.

Multi-Religious Gathering with Pope Francis

Deep in the rock of lower Manhattan a Memorial and Museum has two levels beneath the street level. Along with the flow of water into deep nearby pools, this edifice commemorates the vicious attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Pope Francis addressed the United Nations General Assembly on the morning of September 25, 2015 and then came to a different experience of many nations; these were religious communities living in New York City and the surrounding area. They bore witness by their presence to the hope of building a spiritual edifice to strengthen the commitment of all to a vision of harmony built on mutual understanding that, in their diversity, they may contribute to the life of justice that lays the foundation for true peace in this city.

For the Catholic Church this commitment was expressed profoundly in the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration of the Church’s Relation to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate), which was promulgated on October 28, 1965. The anniversary was commemorated as background to this ceremony.

The Pope ended his “Prayer for Remembrance” that God

“Comfort and console us,
Strengthen us in hope,
And give us the wisdom and courage
To work tirelessly for a world
Where true peace and love reign
Among nations and in the hearts of all.”

After five religious leaders read a message of peace from traditions of East and West, the Jewish prayer in memory of the deceased was chanted. Pope Francis offered a reflection that can be read on Zenit  at http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/pope-s-address-at-ground-zero.

To symbolize hope for the future, the Young People’s Chorus of New York City sang “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”   [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fH2FekyDKdw[/youtube]May this experience become a foundation for the flow of peace to reach far beyond the five boroughs of New York City!

Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy: A Reflection from the Perspective of Dialogue

Prodigal_son_by_Rembrandt_(drawing,_1642)

Drawing on Leviticus 25, the universal Church initiated the jubilee year in 1300. The pattern developed to celebrate a spiritual releasing from debts and the slavery of sin every 25 years, with special jubilees relating to the major anniversaries of the Death of Jesus in 1933 and 1983-84. Pope Francis has declared that an extraordinary jubilee of mercy will be celebrated from December 8, 2015 to November 20, 2016, the Feast of Christ the King. The Second Vatican Council was closed by Blessed Paul VI on December 8, 1965, so Pope Francis looks back in gratitude and forward to the ways in which the Church should apply the balm of mercy to a needy world.

The bull announcing the Year of Mercy on April 11, 2015 offers a rich reflection on the divine attribute of ḥesed (lovingkindness, mercy) in the revelation of the ineffable Divine Name to Moses (Ex 34:6-7; see 3:14). “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16) distills these attributes into one (see #8).

The reflection on God’s patience and mercy quotes Psalms 103:3-4; 146:7-9; 147:3, 6 to show “the grandeur of his merciful action” (#6). The litany Psalm 136 with its refrain “For his ḥesed endures forever” is important in the Jewish liturgy and was prayed by Jesus and the disciples after the Last Supper (#7).

The extensive reflection on the public ministry of Jesus avoids any contrast between “Law and Gospel” (#8-9); rather, the continuity of God’s plan to bring forgiveness and peace to the world is implicit throughout (see #17 with quotations from Micah 7:18-19 and Isaiah 58:6-11).

With the quotation of Hosea 6:6 in Matthew 9:13, Jesus offered “a liberating vision of mercy as a source of new life; Jesus was rejected by the Pharisees and the other teachers of the Law. In an attempt to remain faithful to the Law, they merely placed burdens on the shoulders of others and undermined the Father’s mercy” (#20). This document is not the place for a lengthy discussion of how Pharisees, especially in the House of Hillel, found ways to alleviate burdens brought by changing circumstances. However, phrases like “the Pharisees” might read “some Pharisees.” The paragraph ends: “The appeal to a faithful observance of the Law must not prevent attention from being given to matters that touch upon the dignity of the person.”

Appealing to Hosea’s dictum, “’I desire ḥesed and not sacrifice…’ Jesus affirms that, from that time onward, the rule of life for his disciples must place mercy at the center, as Jesus himself demonstrated by sharing meals with sinners…This is truly challenging to his hearers, who would draw the line at a formal respect for the Law. Jesus, on the other hand, goes beyond the Law; the company he keeps with those the Law considers sinners make us realize the depth of his mercy” (#20).

Coming to the apostle Paul, who pursued the justice of the Law with zeal (see Phil 3:6), Pope Francis states that “his conversion to Christ led him to turn that vision upside down…” The Greek term translated as “justice” would be rendered better as “righteousness,” the divine attribute that is in a creative tension with mercy as people strive to imitate God in their lives. Hosea is quoted at length (11:5-9) to “help us see the way in which mercy surpasses justice.” The next part of #21 gives the assurance that “God does not deny justice. He rather envelopes and surpasses it with an even greater event in which we experience love as the foundation of true justice.” For Christians, “God’s justice is his mercy given to everyone as a grace that flows from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.“ The reader must recall that this document is addressed primarily to Catholics, and here touches on themes about which, over the centuries, many saints and scholars have pondered at great length!

In generosity of spirit, the bull notes: “There is an aspect of mercy that goes beyond the confines of the Church…Israel was the first to receive this revelation (of God’s mercy) which continues in history as the source of an inexhaustible richness meant to be shared with all mankind.” Muslims “too believe that no one can place a limit on divine mercy because its doors are always open” (#23). This section ends with an appeal:

I trust that this Jubilee year celebrating the mercy of God will foster an encounter with these religions and with other noble religious traditions; may it open us to even more fervent dialogue so that we might know and understand one another better; may it eliminate every form of closed-mindedness and disrespect, and drive out every form of violence and discrimination.

May people in many parts of the world take up this challenge for encounters and discussions that will bring a deeper understanding of the call to temper the search for justice with the blessing of mercy.

Vicious Persecutions: Past and Present

PrayerWe pray for all who suffer persecution for their faith.

In recent years the pressures against Christians in many nations have been intense.

At present, refugees are pressing against the borders of neighboring countries, hoping for freedom from danger. In an ecumenical prayer service in Washington D.C. several patriarchs called for international humanitarian assistance. Read Action needed more than aid in The Western Catholic Reporter (WCR) for the full story.

Earlier this week, a bishop from Northern Nigeria also described the grave danger to Christians in his area from attacks by a radical group as told in ZENIT’s report, Bishop of Yola: ‘Without Concrete Assistance, Nigerian Christians Will Be Exterminated.’ 

Lastly, the recent visit of Pope Francis to Albania recalls the years of an atheistic attack on the Church and on all adherents to religion. See the WCR’s Papal visit to Albania honours persecuted Church and the following detailed reports on the Pope’s visit by ZENIT: Pope’s Address to Interreligious Leaders of Albania and Pope Weeps Upon Hearing Witness of Religious Persecution in Albania.

 

The Coptic Orthodox Church

Recently we have heard little about the Coptic Christians in Egypt, who have been suffering from discrimination and episodes of persecution for many years.

Mr. Julien Hammond, director of ecumenical relations for the Edmonton Archdiocese, recently prepared an excellent overview in relation to Patriarch Tawadros II’s visit to Alberta.  Many thanks to Mr. Hammond for his permission to post his insightful summary below.

JH

JH 2

JH 3

JH 4

Here’s the video Mr. Hammond references above:

[youtube]http://youtu.be/aoGLK1ckRXo?list=PL5wSmhPb25V_WYAJuFVARKPR2_BzqgZKX[/youtube]