Internally Displaced Persons: Uprooted in Their Own Land

The plight of refugees has not been featured in the news media for several months.  The Covid-19 pandemic has absorbed our attention and, more recently, we are shocked by the abuse of authority when certain police officers transgress by excessive use of force. Then perhaps we fail to consider how vulnerable these people in transit are to these threats, and we are challenged again to collaborate in education regarding rights and duties of each person in our societies.

The universal Church urges us to be aware of the multitude of refugees and other migrants who are in search of a home and future for their families. The estimated number, more than 60 million, refers to those who have been forced to flee from their country because of war or natural disaster.

On January 9, 2020 Pope Francis drew attention to “the tragedy of internally displaced people as one of the challenges of our contemporary world.” The estimated number who have been driven by terroristic acts or war from their homes and livelihood is estimated to be 20 million.

In his address for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees on May 13, 2020, Pope Francis offered a challenge: “To preserve our common home and make it conform more and more to God’s original plan. We must commit ourselves to ensuring international cooperation, global solidarity and local commitment, leaving no one excluded” (Osservatore Romano, May 15, 2020 p. 7).

In order to deal with this grave situation, Cardinal Michael Czerny of the new Dicastery of the Holy See on Integral Human Development has published “Pastoral Orientations on Internally Displaced People.” It is available here on the Vatican website (48 pages).

In the past we have drawn attention to the frequent and devastating attacks on Christian communities in the northeastern areas of Nigeria. This grim situation continues as The Tablet (London) reports in “COMECE urges defence of Christians in Nigeria.” 

The New York Times published the report of Ruth Maclean, “When the Soldiers Meant to Protect You Instead Come to Kill.” Attacks by terrorists and, it seems, by government soldiers have resulted in the death of 2,000 people in the last 18 months.  Internally displaced people are estimated to be 850,000. Among the desperate needs of such refugees is collaboration of Christians, Muslims and others to become part of a healing and restoration process. The first step, however, seems to be required of governments of each country with such a major problem. In the name of common decency and in a true response to the needs of people who desire peace for their families, may leaders in these countries be inspired to service of the most vulnerable!

Father Francis Morrisey, OMI- Requiescat in Pace

Father Francis G. Morrisey, OMI, Ph.D., JCD
(1936 – 2020)

The death of my classmate, Father Francis Morrisey, on May 23, 2020 in Ottawa brings a stellar servant of the Gospel to the completion of a priestly ministry with an impact on the universal Church.

From 1958-62 we studied theology and related subjects at St. Paul’s Seminary in Ottawa. As an Oblate of Mary Immaculate in the French province, Frank was a scholastic while I was a seminarian for the diocesan priesthood. He was always a cheery presence in the breaks between class. He went on to study Canon Law in a faculty that included great professors like Father Germain Lesage, OMI. Frank and I studied the 1917 Codex Juris Canonici, promulgated by Pope Benedict XV. In the preface to this Code, Cardinal Gaspari declared that it would endure until the end of time! However, Pope John XXIII convoked a commission to revise the Code; Father Morrissey was a contributor to this work that was promulgated in 1983. The vision of the Church as People of God in the New Covenant permeates the vision of the Law at the service of the faithful. The work of interpreting and applying the Gospel in delicate situations of tension within the Church and the wider society occupied Frank’s attention for the rest of his life.

“In recognition of his generous use of…expertise on behalf of health care professionals in the U.S., Canada and the world,” Fr. Morrisey received Catholic Health Association’s (CHA) Lifetime Achievement Award on June 10, 2019. CHA commemorated this honor with the video below:

On May 6, 2020, Saint Paul University awarded Fr. Morrisey the Eugène de Mazenod Medal. This medal honours individuals who have made significant contributions to make their community, their environment and society as a whole more just and humane.

“The Church has been enriched by Frank’s selfless outpouring and, through the Church, cultures and societies throughout the world have also been enriched,” noted Monsignor John Renken, Dean of the Faculty of Canon Law at Saint Paul University. “He was esteemed and admired by a plethora of social innovators, church leaders and professional colleagues. He showed himself to be a faithful son of Saint Eugène de Mazenod, who envisioned bringing healing and hope to the peripheries of his own day. Frank has done the same in today’s world.” From St. Paul’s University (Ottawa, Canada) Reflection on Fr. Francis Morrisey

We pray for the happy repose of Father Morrisey’s soul, with the hope that he has been welcomed already into the Kingdom as a good and faithful servant!

Victory in Europe

Winston Churchill Waves to Crowd After V-E Day, End of War in Europe. Public Domain.

On May 7, 1945 Germany surrendered unconditionally to the Allies. The “Act of Military Surrender” was signed in Rheims, France in the headquarters of General Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied commander. It went into effect on May 8th, ending the terrible conflict that began with the Nazi attack on Poland on September 1, 1939.

The report by military historian Rick Atkinson in The Wall Street Journal ends with Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s words on the challenge of rebuilding devastated Europe: “Forward, unflinching, unswerving, indomitable, till the whole task is done and the whole world safe and clean.” I presume that he meant safe from military attack and from polluting and polemical rhetoric.

The Wall Street Journal also published Benjamin Balint’s review of the biography of historian Lucy S. Dawidowicz (1915-1990) by Nancy Sinkoff, From Left to Right (Detroit: Wayne State Press). Dawidowicz’s book, The War Against the Jews, 1933-1945 (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1975) was very important. Balint remarks “where others had interpreted the genocide of the Jews more as a byproduct of the impersonal machinery of Germany’s war aims than a result of any special anti-Jewish animus, Dawidowicz understood what the Germans euphemistically call the ‘Final Solution’ as an intentional part of Nazi racial ideology, and end in itself.”

The tragedy of the entire Nazi period began in 1933 with official acts of bigotry against the Jews in Germany, as well as promotion of every kind of violence that culminated in the horrendous atrocities against Jews under the cover of war, blaming them for the world’s woes.

We have hoped that concerted efforts on the part of many people of good will to eliminate such hatred have been successful. However, Rabbi David Sandmel of the Anti-Defamation League has given a somber message recently: see “On Social Media, Haredi and Orthodox Jewish Communities are Scapegoated and Blamed for Covid-19.” The work of education and alert reactions to signs of stereotyping in local communities continue to be necessary everywhere!

The American Identity- Crisis at the Border

The “Great Minds Dialogues” is a series of lectures that complements Seton Hall University’s celebration of students who have shown great initiative in their studies and other activities, laying a foundation for a stellar future.  The School of Diplomacy and International Relations relates the call for excellence to be completed by seeing leadership as service.

Within this series, Sister Norma Pimental addressed the “Crisis at the Border” on February 6th in Bethany Hall.  Her qualifications and a video of her lecture can be found here. As Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, Sister Norma has led in the organization of this service of the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas.

Sister Norma could have presented data to show the accomplishments of her team in terms of efficiency and cost-effective use of resources. That would impress people celebrating “Great Minds.”

However, Sister Norma’s approach was anecdotal, describing the great effectiveness achieved when the heart is touched. Then the attitude of people “just doing their job” may be lifted to recognize the innate humanity of those depicted from afar as invasive hordes. Could Sister Norma be permitted to visit the children herded into prison cells?  She asked to go into a cell to pray with the children. This simple act had the potential for the guards to see these children from a different angle. Did they recall the parable of the “least of my brothers and sisters” (Matthew 25:31-46)?

The opening prayer by Msgr. Anthony Ziccardi, Vice President for Mission and Ministry, places the challenge of our time in the proper prospective:

Almighty God,
long ago you commanded Abraham, our father in faith, to leave his homeland
and promised him and his descendants a new country.
You accompanied your elected people’s patriarchs in their migrations
and protected them in their wanderings.

You provided for them on their journeys
and in their long sojourn in a foreign land.
But suffering bitter oppression, they called out to you,
and you led them out of slavery with mighty hand and outstretched arm.
You settled them in the land of your promise
and commanded them both to fidelity and to welcome:
they were to remain true to their unity and identity as your people,
but they were are also to welcome the immigrant and the sojourner among them,
for thereby they would become a reflection of you in the world,
as Moses explained: “The Lord your God loves the alien,
giving him food and clothing. Love the alien, therefore;
for you yourselves were once aliens in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)

Having received from you the whole wide earth as its temporal habitation,
humankind remains through time both settled and on the move.
Whenever and wherever conflicts arise between residents and sojourners,
turn the minds of both to thoughts of peace
and move their arms to open wide in mutual embrace
in the assurance
that peace, not enmity, is your will for us
and in the conviction
that none of us has here an enduring homeland or fixed abode,
but that such is to be found only in heaven,
the place of our true citizenship,
that home of countless mansions prepared by Christ your Son
where we have all been invited,
as your children and as brothers and sisters of one another,
to sit with all patriarchs at your one abundant table in the eternal kingdom.
We pray through same Christ our Lord.

Pope Francis to the City (Rome) and the World

At Christmas each year the Pope leads the faithful in prayer and proclaims a message “Urbi et Orbi” (to the City and the World).

Now that we have entered the year 2020 with hope, the grim realities of the past year were placed by Pope Francis in a context of prayer and an earnest search for peace.

I wish to share this message in case some have not read it. Among the “trouble spots” in various continents, we think of the Middle East and pray for peace among all nations so that ordinary people will find tranquility and order as a sign of hope, pointing to the angelic prayer for peace among all beneficiaries of God’s good will (Luke 2:14).

The paragraph on African nations is especially poignant with reference to Christians who have been kidnapped by extremist groups.  May those who have been snatched from schools over several years and recently from the seminary of Kaduna diocese be returned safely!

“Jewish Genius” in The New York Times

On December 27, 2019 columnist Bret Stephens offered a reflection on “The Secrets of Jewish Genius” that received considerable attention. The Times published a short comment with a correction but The Jewish Week of December 31, 2019 provided a report that put the matter in a wider perspective: “Times Amends, Apologizes For Stephens Column.”

On December 22, 2019 The Wall Street Journal published Dominic Green’s review of Norman Lebrecht’s book, Genius and Anxiety: How Jews Changed the World, 1847-1947 (Scribner, 2019). Getting away from the dangerous theories of eugenics that contributed to Nazi ideology, Mr. Green has a point that is pertinent to the current discussion:

There is no Jewish gene, Mr. Lebrecht argues, only Jewish genius; no “Jewish exceptionalism,” only an exceptional situation. Jews’ minds were sharpened by the hermeneutical whetstone of the Talmud, their lives perpetually threatened.  They were conditional insiders and eternal outsiders, “driven by a need to justify their existence in a hostile environment and to do it quickly.”

Probing the questions posed by Mr. Stephens requires more than a brief essay or even a book or two. May these efforts to ponder the mystery of one community’s contributions to society be made with a humble and generous spirit!

The Book of Life (Exodus 32:33)

Robert W. Service circa 1905

Robert W. Service (1874-1958) was an Englishman who wandered widely and penned rollicking ballads of the Yukon gold rush days and poignant poems of the trenches of the First World War. He never claimed to be a poet. “I’m a rhymer,” he said, and yet his stories give evidence of a solid education and, at times, hints of his Christian faith

In May 1914 he described the beginning of each day as a clean page in the Book of Life. What we make of any given day will be seen on Judgment Day. The second stanza expresses the desire to re-write certain pages, and the third is a prayer for divine guidance so that his bearing reflects God’s image so that every day may be golden.

Another day of toil and strife,
Another page so white,
Within that fateful Log of Life
That I and all must write;
Another page without a stain
To make of as I may,
That done, I shall not see again
Until the Judgment Day.

Ah, could I, could I backward turn
The pages of that Book,
How often would I blench and burn!
How often loathe to look!
What pages would be meanly scrolled;
What smeared as if with mud;
A few, maybe, might gleam like gold,
Some scarlet seem as blood.

O Record grave, God guide my hand
And make me worthy be,
Since what I write to-day shall stand
To all eternity;
Aye, teach me, Lord of Life, I pray,
As I salute the sun,
To bear myself that every day
May be a Golden One.

Collected Poems of Robert Service (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1921) p. 454

Hunger as a Challenge for All

A farmer at work in Kenya’s Mount Kenya region. Pic by Neil Palmer (CIAT).

The specter of starvation must be a horror beyond the imagination of those who are assured of ample food each day. We cannot be ignorant of this dimension of the burdens caused by poverty in so many parts of the world. Organizations such as Catholic Relief Services  describe the urgent needs of so many in various parts of the world. The current and ongoing challenge was presented by Pope Francis in his Message for the World Food Day 2018.

The prophet Amos presented an even graver situation for the people of ancient Israel:

Yes, days are coming, says the Lord God
When I will send famine upon the land:
Not a famine of bread, or thirst for water,
But for hearing the word of the Lord.
Then shall they wander from sea to sea
And rove from the north to the east
In search of the word of the Lord,
But they shall not find it. (Amos 8:11-12)

The Sacred Scriptures provide spiritual nourishment in abundance for people of faith.  Besides the Word of God as the foundation of the Church’s prayer, the Divine Office in English translation offers poetry and prose that manifest the way God’s Word is integrated into the lives of the faithful. Besides the classical poems of Latin and Greek, we savor how the English language is a vehicle of prayer. On Wednesday evening of the First Week of the four week cycle instituted after the Second Vatican Council, the introductory hymn reads:

O Father, whose creating hand
Brings harvest from the fruitful land,
Your providence we gladly own,
And bring our hymns before your throne
To praise you for the living Bread
On which our lives are daily fed.

O Lord, who in the desert fed
The hungry thousands in their need,
Where want and famine still abound
Let your relieving love be found,
And in your name may we supply
Your hungry children when they cry.

O Spirit, your revealing light
Has led our questing souls aright;
Source of our science, you have taught
The marvels human minds have wrought,
So that the barren deserts yield
The bounty by your love revealed.

From the Christian perspective, the ultimate human vocation is to give adoration and praise to God the Father through the Son and in the unity effected by the Holy Spirit.  We “own” or acknowledge that divine providence is the continuation of the divine act of creation. For Christians the food that sustains our bodily life prepares us for the Bread of Life (see John 6:48-58), the medicine of immortality.

The miracles of Jesus multiplying loaves and fish provide an example for his followers to act in his Name to attend to the hungry, especially among children, in our time. Our feeble efforts are placed within the context of prayer because it is God’s mercy that brings a solution to people’s true needs.

The Holy Spirit guides both the prayers of petition and the deeds of the faithful. “Source of our science” reminds us of Hannah’s hymn (1 Samuel 2:3) where the phrase “Deus scientiarum Dominus (An all-knowing God is the LORD)” became the motto of the University of Ottawa. The unifying spirit of all Christian universities should be expressed in the ordering of all knowledge to the service of our neighbor as the expression of a theocentric vision. May the human quest for knowledge be guided by the divine gift of wisdom so that our choices may bring a yield that truly serves human needs while respecting the way in which all creation is in the service of God. “For the elements, in variable harmony among themselves, like the strings of the harp, produce new melody, while the flow of music steadily persists” (Wisdom of Solomon 19:18).

The hymn’s text written by the Methodist Donald Wynn Hughes (1911-1967), the Headmaster of Rydal School in Wales, evokes at the closing of a day the sentiments of prayer guiding a life of service. It is sung to music by Erik Routley (1917 – 1982).

Just Peacemaking through Nonviolence

 

“Peace Studies” was the title of an initiative of professors at Seton Hall from 1977 to 1983. A group of 35 faculty members across all of the Colleges of the University wished to build on the University’s Masters programs and related academic work with a focus on the contribution that the major religious and philosophical traditions of East and West can make to peace. This was within the context of the United States Catholic Bishops Conference’s preparation of a “Peace Pastoral Letter” during this period. Bishop John J. Dougherty, former President of Seton Hall, was in residence here at the time. He was an early supporter of the World Conference on Religion and Peace, but we had to wait more than two decades for another President to guide the University in creation of the School of Diplomacy and International Relations, beginning with the undergraduate curriculum, soon followed by a Master’s program. This school developed several facets of our dream.

For many decades the Holy See has promoted the search for peace on every level. The elderly among us recall Pope John XXIII’s encyclical “Pacem in Terris” to all people of good will and the dramatic words of Pope Paul VI at the United Nations in 1964: “War never again!”

Seton Hall has plans to review the work of the three more recent popes who continue this sacred tradition. The lecture by Peter Cardinal Turkson of the Holy See’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development on September 30th will inaugurate a conference that presents a review of Pope Francis’ initiatives. In coming years the focus will be on the teachings of Popes Benedict XVI and Saint John Paul II.

The announcement of the 2019 conference brings an invitation to all our friends: https://www.shu.edu/diplomacy/peacemaking-conference.cfm. If possible, join with us for these events and keep the promotion of peace as a special intention in your prayers.

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.