Pope Francis: Protect the Persecuted, the Poor, and the Vulnerable

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Pope Francis to young people:

When we embrace the new life bestowed on us in baptism, the Lord gives us an important and life-changing mission: “You are to be my witness!”

Today Christ speaks to you the same words that he spoke to Paul: Arise! Do not remain downcast or caught up in yourself: a mission awaits you! You too can testify to what Jesus has begun to accomplish in your lives. In Jesus’ name, I ask you:

– Arise! Testify that you too were blind and encountered the light. You too have seen God’s goodness and beauty in yourself, in others and in the communion of the Church, where all loneliness is overcome.

– Arise! Testify to the love and respect it is possible to instill in human relationships, in the lives of our families, in the dialogue between parents and children, between the young and the elderly.

– Arise! Uphold social justice, truth and integrity, human rights. Protect the persecuted, the poor and the vulnerable, those who have no voice in society, immigrants.

– Arise! Testify to the new way of looking at things that enables you to view creation with eyes brimming with wonder, that makes you see the Earth as our common home, and gives you the courage to promote an integral ecology.

– Arise! Testify that lives of failure can be rebuilt, that persons spiritually dead can rise anew, that those in bondage can once more be free, that hearts overwhelmed by sorrow can rediscover hope.

– Arise! Testify joyfully that Christ is alive! Spread his message of love and salvation among your contemporaries, at school and in the university, at work, in the digital world, everywhere.

We Need a ‘Culture of Belonging’

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Marcus Mescher writes:

Pope Francis’ call to build a “culture of encounter” is not just an invitation to bring people together across differences in the spirit of mercy, solidarity, and hope; it is also how disciples emulate Jesus Christ’s teaching and healing ministry by practicing inclusive outreach, engaging in mutually respectful exchange, and opening up new possibilities.

Jesus shows us how an intentional approach to encountering others can produce personal and social transformation. Although Jews and Gentiles were divided by belief and custom, Jesus’ inclusive table fellowship meant breaking bread with people who both suffered and benefitted from the oppressive Roman Empire. With this habit, Jesus revealed the dignity of those considered insignificant and unworthy. He also fashioned an ever-more-inclusive sense of communion that erased categories of “us” and “them.” He didn’t just heal the sick or provide food to the hungry; he made room for sinners like Zacchaeus, an encounter that spurs this corrupt and wealthy man to repent and atone for his extortion and exploitation (Luke 19:1-10)….

Social change can only happen when people feel welcome, valued, and free to be themselves. For this reason, the pope’s call to build a “culture of encounter” has to lead us from respectful accompaniment and fruitful exchange to the conditions for an inclusive and equitable “culture of belonging.” This means continually inviting people to overcome deception and fear, defensiveness and distrust, contempt and coercion. Such a commitment requires spiritual wisdom and stamina made possible by putting ourselves in touch with God, who is always seeking to encounter us….

In the end, a “culture of encounter” is not just about how to solve problems caused by social division or unjust inequalities. It is also an opportunity to become ever more attentive and responsive to the presence and power of the Triune God, the communion of love in whose image and likeness every person is made. To be human is to reach for our destiny: the equality, mutuality, and reciprocity of encounter that realizes inclusive belonging for the flourishing of all.

Pro-Life Feminists Can Play a Vital Role in the Feminist Movement

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At the NY Times,

The history of pro-life feminism is long and complex. Pro-life feminists assert that “without known exception,” the feminist foremothers, including Susan B. Anthony, opposed abortion, though critics say this claim is overly speculative. Fissures between pro-life and pro-choice feminists formed shortly after Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. Still, pro-life groups (like Feminists for Life) and pro-choice groups (like the National Organization for Women) banded together to support legislation like the Equal Rights Amendment.

The late 1970s and ’80s brought the decline of pro-life feminism. Both conservatives like Phyllis Schlafly and Beverly LaHaye and pro-choice organizations like NARAL and Planned Parenthood declared that one could not oppose abortion and be a feminist….

We need to broaden the tent of feminism….

“The pro-life movement is changing. Many young activists identify as feminists,” wrote Emma Green in The Atlantic in 2017, “and reject a uniform alignment with the Republican Party, unlike their Phyllis Schlafly-style predecessors.” According to recent polls, a large minority (43 percent) of women identify as pro-life. This does not mean that these women reject vital causes of feminism, yet they are often excluded from and alienated by the current feminist movement.

Pro-life women need to be included within the feminist movement precisely because there is still much that needs to be improved for women. The United States is the only wealthy country in the world (and only one of six in total) that does not have some form of national paid leave for new parents. The gender pay gap has not improved in the last 15 years. Globally, women are far more likely to experience poverty and hunger, as well as domestic violence and homicide, and one in three women in the world experience physical or sexual abuse. The vast majority of human trafficking victims are women and girls. Around 140 million girls are “missing” as a result of sex-selective abortion. Women have less access to education than men and make up two-thirds of the world’s illiterate population.

The inequality of women is not an abstract idea. Real women face the fallout of continued sexism day in and day out. This is wrong, and we need to form a broad and diverse coalition to advocate for women. If the feminist movement ousts the millions of American women who oppose abortion, we will fail to address these other grave issues affecting women….

But moving forward, feminists who are pro-life and pro-choice can and must find common cause to improve the lives of women. Pro-life groups need to intentionally support women, not only babies in utero, and push for policies that make it easier to birth and raise children. (There is a growing “whole life” movement to address this need.) Pro-choice feminists need to prioritize the many other important issues affecting women besides abortion….

We need to recover the art of building coalitions across deep difference if we are going to ameliorate the complex problems women across the globe face.

Don’t Deny Those Being Executed Prayer and Human Touch

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Sr. Helen Prejean writes:

The one time I was allowed inside a death chamber was as the State of Virginia took Joseph O’Dell’s life in 1997. That night, I stood close to the gurney, looking into Joe’s face, with my hand firmly on his shoulder as I prayed. In my prayer I asked God to affirm Joe’s worth as a beloved son possessing a sacred dignity that even the ones killing him could not take from him.

Upholding the God-given dignity of the condemned has been the core reason I, a Catholic nun, have served as a spiritual adviser to seven men on death row. And nothing conveys a greater sense of dignity to a human being — especially one whom society designates as a despicable “untouchable” — than loving, respectful touch.

Joe was on my mind when I got a call from the American Civil Liberties Union to participate in an amicus curiae brief filed with the Supreme Court in support of John Henry Ramirez, a death row inmate in Texas. Mr. Ramirez is requesting that his Baptist pastor, Dana Moore, who has ministered to him for five years, be allowed to lay hands on him and pray audibly as the State of Texas takes his life.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice denied his request, informing Pastor Moore that he would have to stand silently in the death chamber and would not be permitted to touch Mr. Ramirez as officials carried out the execution. But the same day Mr. Ramirez was scheduled to die, the Supreme Court agreed to hear oral arguments on his request, which snatched him, at least for now, from death in the Huntsville killing chamber. He would have been the 573rd prisoner to be executed by the State of Texas since 1982….

I believe that Mr. Ramirez, while responsible for his crime, is worth more than that singularly worst act of his life. As one who seeks to follow the teachings of Christ, I believe that Mr. Ramirez can be truly remorseful, love others and change his life. The courts, however, have determined the opposite: that Mr. Ramirez’s heinous crime reveals the core of his true nature, which is incapable of personal transformation and, therefore, irredeemable. They demonize him, which is why, perhaps, they feel justified in denying his inalienable human right to live and in depriving him of a trusted pastor to lay hands on him as he dies….

I pray that John Henry Ramirez will not die at the hands of Texas executioners. But if he is killed, I pray that his faith companion, Pastor Moore, will be there with him, laying his hands on him, shoring up his dignity, commending him to God.

Around the Web: Articles on Racial Justice and Reform

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Are racial justice movements straying from Catholic tradition — or are Catholic leaders out of touch? by Alessandra Harris: “The racial justice movement will continue until Black people are no longer treated as second-class citizens, segregated in economically depressed neighborhoods, denied adequate education and health care, and disproportionately incarcerated and murdered by the death penalty. I, along with millions of Christians and Catholics, will continue to carry the mantle while proclaiming the Gospel message. We do not need the U.S.C.C.B. to give us permission. We need only follow what the prophet Micah proclaims the Lord requires: to do justice, to love goodness and to walk humbly with God.”

The Racial Justice Debate Needs Civil Discourse, Not Straw Men by Esau McCaulley: “By God’s grace, we can find our way forward in the critical race theory debate and the various related disputes. That progress begins with interpreting others’ words and ideas with generosity, not with fearmongering. It begins with seeking semantic clarity and understanding semantic range. And it begins with opening to the world the whole of our faith tradition—including Christian social teaching—with the confidence that he who began a good work will carry it on to completion on the day of our Lord.”

The Black church has major generational challenges. Here’s what we’re doing about it. by  T.D. Jakes and Sarah Jakes Roberts: “As pastors with more than 50 years’ experience between us, preaching and ministering to people in several of the nation’s largest cities, we maintain that the role of the church as an anchor of the Black community is just as important as ever, despite emerging data that shows fewer young people in our community are embracing the church.”

A crisis within a crisis by Nicquel Terry Ellis and Adrienne Broaddus: “The US has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed countries. About 700 women die each year in the US due to a pregnancy-related complication either during pregnancy or within the year after delivery, says Dr. Wanda Barfield, Director of the CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health. ‘What’s even more striking is when you’re looking at the differences between Black and White women,’ she says.”

I was disturbed reading ‘Beloved’ at my Virginia high school — and rightly so by Christine Emba: “I was also asked to read “Beloved” in a high school English class, also in Virginia — Richmond, to be precise. It was a hard read. You felt bad. It was also an illuminating corrective, studied against the Virginia backdrop of Robert E. Lee worship, Stonewall Jackson fetishization, and the plantations where enslaved people, we heard in our history classes, worked mostly happily for noble, caring masters.”

Black Catholic History Month: An Interview with Dr. Shannen Dee Williams: “In the United States, where the Church’s African roots are as old as its European roots, many people, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, believe that African American Catholics do not exist or are historical anomalies resulting from the Church’s twentieth-century evangelization efforts to Black migrant communities in the urban North, Midwest, and West. However, much of early African American history is Catholic history, and much of early American Catholic history is Black history.”

Is America Willing to Tell the Truth About Its History? by Tish Harrison Warren: “The question before us as a nation is simple: Are we willing to tell the truth about our history or not?”

How to Teach a Little Girl to Love Her Brown Skin by Wajahat Ali: “How many girls like Nusayba look in the mirror and see only defects and imperfections? A nose that’s too big, lips that are too full, eyes that should be rounded, hair that must be straightened, skin to be bleached. This must end here.”

Pope Writes Letter to Michael O’Loughlin, Author of New Book on Catholics and the AIDS Epidemic

In the NY Times, millennial Catholic journalist writes:

As a reporter who covers the church, I had started interviewing Catholics who worked and fought during the height of the H.I.V. crisis in the United States, roughly 1982 to 1996. People like Ms. Baltosiewich persisted amid frequent hostility from church leaders toward gay people and the broader stigmas of the time. A poll in 1987 found that 43 percent of Americans agreed with the statement, “AIDS might be God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior.”

A Catholic myself, I’d long internalized that being honest about my sexual orientation could be dangerous. L.G.B.T. people have been fired from their jobs at Catholic organizations. Some groups supporting L.G.B.T. Catholics have been barred from parishes. So even someone like Ms. Baltosiewich, who has loved and served countless gay men, could feel risky.

But my conversations with Ms. Baltosiewich and others like her — the fellowship, gratitude and moments of revelation we exchanged — had a profound effect on my own faith. So much so that recently, I wrote a letter to Pope Francis to share the book I wrote based on those conversations, and even to tell him a little about myself as a gay Catholic. To my surprise, he wrote back. His words offer me encouragement that dialogue is possible between L.G.B.T. Catholics and church leaders, even at the highest levels….

I’ve felt isolated and alone at times as a gay Catholic trying to find a place in the church. I stay partly for cultural reasons, taking comfort in practicing the faith of my ancestors. I also find order and meaning in Catholicism, especially when life feels unpredictable. With U.S. bishops meeting in Baltimore this week, following months of debate about the worthiness of some Catholics to receive Communion, I’ve realized that personally, I stay in the church mostly for the Eucharist, that ritual during Mass when I believe the divine transcends our ordinary lives and God is present. I haven’t found that elsewhere….

Pope Francis had written back….

“Thank you for shining a light on the lives and bearing witness to the many priests, religious sisters and lay people, who opted to accompany, support and help their brothers and sisters who were sick from H.I.V. and AIDS at great risk to their profession and reputation.”…

“Instead of indifference, alienation and even condemnation,” Pope Francis continued, “these people let themselves be moved by the mercy of the Father and allowed that to become their own life’s work; a discreet mercy, silent and hidden, but still capable of sustaining and restoring the life and history of each one of us.”

Bishop Stowe: Greater Urgency Needed on Climate Issues and Racism

Here are some highlights from John Gehring’s Commonweal interview with Bishop John Stowe of Lexington:

I do believe that climate issues are not getting enough attention among the Church’s leadership. Specifically, I think we bishops need to help people connect their personal and communal faith to the importance of reverence for creation and the necessary conversion away from personal comfort to the sacrifices that will need to be made for the survival of the planet and for the common good. The pope has effectively led the way, but I still do not see the urgency of climate matters being discussed at the USCCB gatherings or in enough dioceses….

It seems to me that the bishops of the United States need to collectively accept and integrate the magisterium of Pope Francis and defend his role as the universal shepherd from those who publicly work against him….

I have always believed that the Church must be political; Pope Francis talks about the politics of love and the noble profession of politics and public service. We do a disservice to our membership if we call for an apolitical Church, because that would be a Church that is aloof to the concerns of the human family and just the opposite of how the Church is described in Gaudium et spes. At the same time, I also believe that the Church should be nonpartisan. Catholic theology and even Catholic social teaching does not align neatly with any political party…Because of that distaste for partisanship, it was very hard to speak out clearly about the former President of the United States. Yet to speak only in generalities would have been a failure to communicate at a critical time. When as a candidate or in office he was brashly demonstrating his disregard for the truth; spoke of immigrants in dehumanizing language; treated women as objects for sexual pleasure and disregarded their equal dignity; suggested that white supremacists marching in hate included very good people; had no difficulty bragging about never needing forgiveness; expanded the use of capital punishment; undid decades of progress for care of the environment; dismissed the concerns of labor and behaved in so many ways that are antithetical to what the Church teaches about the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life, I felt compelled to point out that these words and actions were completely opposed to being “pro-life” as the Church understands it. Catholicism has thrived in the United States, and with its form of democracy; when the exercise of that democracy is under attack and violence is promoted, it is well outside the limits of normalcy and the Church has a responsibility to speak out for the common good….

I’m unapologetic about promoting social justice because that was and is the mission of Jesus. Kentucky certainly is a red state, but it is a state where there is great poverty, where there is insufficient access to healthcare, where educational funding is always reduced and threatened, where drug abuse is rampant—it is where the radical message of Jesus is truly needed….

Of course I would advocate for the inclusion of LGBTQ persons and promote their dignity because they are made in the image and likeness of God. I struggle to understand why treating such persons with respect and taking their stories and struggles, along with their joys and accomplishments, seriously is such a threat to straight Christian.

I sure wish I knew how to convince more white Catholics to be interested in dismantling racism and recognizing its presence in the Church and world.