Pope Francis on Easter: We Need Solidarity Not Indifference, Self-centeredness, Division, and Forgetfulness

via the Vatican:

Like a new flame this Good News springs up in the night: the night of a world already faced with epochal challenges and now oppressed by a pandemic severely testing our whole human family. In this night, the Church’s voice rings out: “Christ, my hope, has arisen!” (Easter Sequence).

This is a different “contagion”, a message transmitted from heart to heart – for every human heart awaits this Good News. It is the contagion of hope: “Christ, my hope, is risen!”. This is no magic formula that makes problems vanish. No, the resurrection of Christ is not that. Instead, it is the victory of love over the root of evil, a victory that does not “by-pass” suffering and death, but passes through them, opening a path in the abyss, transforming evil into good: this is the unique hallmark of the power of God….

Today my thoughts turn in the first place to the many who have been directly affected by the coronavirus: the sick, those who have died and family members who mourn the loss of their loved ones, to whom, in some cases, they were unable even to bid a final farewell. May the Lord of life welcome the departed into his kingdom and grant comfort and hope to those still suffering, especially the elderly and those who are alone. May he never withdraw his consolation and help from those who are especially vulnerable, such as persons who work in nursing homes, or live in barracks and prisons. For many, this is an Easter of solitude lived amid the sorrow and hardship that the pandemic is causing, from physical suffering to economic difficulties….

In these weeks, the lives of millions of people have suddenly changed. For many, remaining at home has been an opportunity to reflect, to withdraw from the frenetic pace of life, stay with loved ones and enjoy their company. For many, though, this is also a time of worry about an uncertain future, about jobs that are at risk and about other consequences of the current crisis. I encourage political leaders to work actively for the common good, to provide the means and resources needed to enable everyone to lead a dignified life and, when circumstances allow, to assist them in resuming their normal daily activities.

This is not a time for indifference, because the whole world is suffering and needs to be united in facing the pandemic. May the risen Jesus grant hope to all the poor, to those living on the peripheries, to refugees and the homeless. May these, the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters living in the cities and peripheries of every part of the world, not be abandoned. Let us ensure that they do not lack basic necessities (all the more difficult to find now that many businesses are closed) such as medicine and especially the possibility of adequate health care….

This is not a time for self-centredness, because the challenge we are facing is shared by all, without distinguishing between persons. Among the many areas of the world affected by the coronavirus, I think in a special way of Europe. After the Second World War, this continent was able to rise again, thanks to a concrete spirit of solidarity that enabled it to overcome the rivalries of the past. It is more urgent than ever, especially in the present circumstances, that these rivalries do not regain force, but that all recognize themselves as part of a single family and support one another….

Indifference, self-centredness, division and forgetfulness are not words we want to hear at this time. We want to ban these words for ever! They seem to prevail when fear and death overwhelm us, that is, when we do not let the Lord Jesus triumph in our hearts and lives. May Christ, who has already defeated death and opened for us the way to eternal salvation, dispel the darkness of our suffering humanity and lead us into the light of his glorious day, a day that knows no end.


Manufactured Fear vs. the Christian Call to Solidarity: Failing to Bother to Love

One of my professors in graduate school defined sin as a “failure to bother to love.” In this description of sin, Rev. James Keenan, SJ, invites us to consider sin less in terms of breaking rules and more in terms of what we fail to see, think, feel, say, and do.

Looking at our southern border, it is clear that far too many of us are failing to bother to love.

The migrant caravan is not a national security crisis but a peaceful march of people – more than half of whom are women and children – uprooted from their homes by gang violence, economic deprivation, and political instability. These are people fleeing crisis, not trying to attack our border or organizing an assault on our country, as the President has falsely claimed.

The President’s dehumanizing rhetoric – describing migrants with denigrating terms, whether rapists and murderers, criminals or animals, or gangs and mobs – is not only inaccurate, but it is anti-Christian, as Cardinal Dolan pointed out more than three years ago. It is also dangerous for all immigrants, regardless of their nation of origin.

No doubt, this vilifying language is part of a political strategy to defend the escalation at the border, sending troops before the midterm elections at the tune of $200 million. It helps justify the Administration’s efforts to make it harder to seek asylum at our southern border, which is at odds with international law. ICE enjoys a budget of $7.6 billion, even while it abuses thousands of migrants physically and sexually with complete impunity (even destroying records that document abuse).

Christians cannot abide this kind of discourse, and certainly not the kinds of policies that separate children from parents (some of whom may have been ripped apart permanently), detain families indefinitely, or use tear-gas, which is a weapon of war (even though it is not unprecedented in its use at the border). It is immoral that companies are making huge profits in what is now a billion dollar industry of detaining migrant families along our southern border. It is unconscionable to profit from the misery of such vulnerable people, but this is what happens when people of faith remain silent.

This isn’t just about the migrant caravan or the separation of families. This is about a deep-rooted fear of the other, a xenophobia that has haunted America for years. It is linked to white supremacy, a fundamental distrust of black and brown bodies, a presumption of guilt against them, and legitimizing violence against them. The president has no problem calling himself a nationalist, even while it so often connotes such virulent racism and anti-black violence, which seems to be emboldening hate groups, generating more anti-Semitism and hate crimes.

Embracing fear is easier than understanding the root causes of why people are being forced to flee – especially when so many of those root causes point to US involvement in Central and South America. US demand for illegal drugs gives power to the cartels that inflict violence and practice routine extortion in many villages. US trade policies make it cheaper to buy US products than those made in Latin America, driving unemployment in places like Guatemala. US political involvement has destabilized countries like Honduras. The list goes on.

The populist nationalist understanding of American exceptionalism thrives on amnesia of our past abuses, sins of commission and omission. #AmericaFirst – ignoring our obligations to other peoples and nations – repeats a shameful history of turning our backs on people fleeing persecution and violence. “America First” is idolatry. It too easily becomes isolation, which does not result in peace and security. Not for us, not for others. Moreover, it is a failure of solidarity, the logical extension of the great commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. (There are no non-neighbors as Luke 10:25-37 illustrates; Christians are commanded to love even enemies – see Luke 6:35 – so no exceptions apply.) American Christians are called to a kinship that reaches across borders.

Most American Christians might acknowledge this in theory: that we are all equal in the eyes of God, all brothers and sisters in God’s family. The Mexican and US Catholic Bishops reinforced this message with their 2003 Pastoral Letter, “Strangers No Longer.” Pope Francis illustrated this call to unity in a profound way by celebrating Mass at the US-Mexico border in 2016. In his homily, he reflected on the need to reinforce the bonds of belonging to “one single family and one same Christian community.” If we are to end our failure to bother to love, we must embrace solidarity and join Pope Francis in demanding, “No more death! No more exploitation!” What a powerful image, to see the Body of Christ – united in a spiritual sense – divided not just by the border, but by fear and distrust of those who do not share citizenship with us. Our citizenship is in heaven, Saint Paul reminds us (Phil. 3:20). Our allegiance is first to Christ and the reign of God, not America.

This is not to suggest all American Christians are xenophobic, anti-immigrant, or failing to bother to love. (In fact, one Gallup Poll found that 75% of Americans say immigration is a good thing, but you don’t see that being reported much these days.) However, we need to confront the problems associated with some of those who profess to love the poor and support the Church’s social ministries, including in Latin America. Each year 2 million American Christians go on short term mission trips to countries like Mexico, Honduras, and El Salvador, raising and spending $2 billion. It’s laudable that so many Americans go – or support others who go – to places of great need. But these service trips risk becoming an ego trip for social media, a resume-builder, or a guise of the white savior complex, if they are not motivated by a sense of solidarity and respect for the dignity of all. Too often, they are more focused on broadening the horizons of those who go than offering meaningful assistance to those being served. Not only does that paternalistically make the poor pawns in the learning experience of American youth, but it creates a vicious cycle of dependence, a toxic form of charity.

If we really loved the poor, we wouldn’t love them on our terms, for the brief duration of a service trip, or from the safe distance of our homes, schools, and churches. Love requires freedom, which means creating the conditions for the poor to be agents of their own future. That means that we do more than hop on a plane, help out for a while, and then come home. People have a right to migrate and to seek asylum. They are entitled to seek peace, security, and freedom for themselves and their families, to flee persecution, coercion, and other conditions that cause premature death. Would any one of us silently succumb to the poverty that results from unemployment or the fear and violence perpetrated by gangs and cartels? Is there any limit to what we would do for our children to provide them safety and a better future? How can we fault these parents for doing everything in their power to do what we ourselves would also do if we were in their situation?

Even though migration is legally protected (and ardently defended by Pope Francis), Christians still object. They say migrants should follow laws, that immigrants will bring more crime, take away jobs, demand handouts, and change our culture. But we should also consider that not every law is moral. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. raised this concern in his Letter from Birmingham City Jail, reminding those who objected to his peaceful protests, boycotts, and other nonviolent public demonstrations that everything Hitler did was perfectly legal. King enjoyed very little support during the Civil Rights movement (including just 13% of black churches), which he often attributed to those who preferred order to justice. But, “justice delayed is justice denied,” he countered. We have a broken immigration system, and while partisan differences persist, Americans overwhelmingly support immigration reform. But Congress has failed to make progress in this area. One thing every one of us can do is to hold our elected officials accountable to a more humane immigration system. Not open borders, but a system that works for those who want to come here to work (many of whom want only to stay a short period of time and return home), to be reunited with family, or to create a new future by contributing to American society. Every church and school should be on board with this effort, in defense of human dignity and the principle of solidarity. Boosting foreign aidnot cutting it, as Trump has promised – could also help improve conditions in Latin America, which would make people less likely to leave for the US border.

It should be pointed out that most immigrants do enter the country legally, per federal data. At the same time, the complex, overloaded process, for legal immigration includes numerous obstacles. Unauthorized immigration should be seen as an act of desperation more than deception. El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala have some of the highest murder rates in the world. Imagine the agony a parent experiences at the prospect of either staying to endure violence or risking it on the journey. When journalists interview those who come to our border, they routinely say, “We will be killed if we stay.” Leaving home is their last resort for survival. If the Catechism (no. 2408) teaches that theft is not a sin in a situation of necessity, then we should not be so quick to judge those who believe the only way to survive is to brave a most perilous journey northward.

While it might be easy to condemn parents for not following the rule of law (“But they’re illegal!”) or be indifferent to the crisis at the border (“It’s so far away! What can I do?”), consider also the reasons why they leave their homes and the horrors they endure along the way for the peace, security, and freedom they seek: they risk injury and death, extortion, dehydration, extreme weather conditions, getting separated from their family and sold to traffickers, and for as many as 70% of women and almost as many children, sexual assault. For some, there is no legal path. In light of these realities, perhaps it would be more accurate to treat these families as refugees than migrants.

Anti-immigrant myths lead folks to believe that immigrants steal jobs and commit crimes. They do not. Immigrants pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits. They are much less likely to commit crimes than native-born citizens. And while they sometimes compete with low-skill workers, they mostly take jobs most Americans don’t want and make many positive contributions to the economy.

But we shouldn’t welcome immigrants because it benefits us. We should welcome them because it is what Christ commands. Matthew 25:31-46 depicts the Final Judgment not based in piety or prayer, but love. The sheep (those who are saved) are just as surprised as the goats (those who are condemned) that they are welcomed into the kingdom of heaven because they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and welcomed the stranger. And if that was the standard even before Jesus offered this instruction to his disciples, then so much so will it be for us who have been warned. This scene represents a fitting test or examination of conscience for whether we are failing to bother to love God, self, and neighbor as Jesus commands.

In our American context, we too often restrict our moral duties to our immediate family members and friends. This stands in stark contrast to Jesus’ teaching in the gospels. While Jesus affirmed the respect owed parents and elders (Matthew 15:4), he also minimized the importance of blood ties by saying, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother, sister, and mother” (Mark 3:35, Matthew 12:50, and Luke 8:21). Going even further, Jesus reminds us that the demands of discipleship supersede family obligations (Mark 10:29-30, Matthew 10:34-37 and 19:29, and Luke 12:51-53 and 18:29-30). He warns, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-26). While this can sound rather harsh to modern ears, it is a prophetic admonition intended to keep family bonds from becoming idolatrous, preventing us from being attentive and responsive to the needs of those we fail to recognize as kin. Jesus expands his followers’ conception of family so that it is no longer defined by blood, but love—a  love that “has no alibi” when it comes to others in need. That doesn’t mean that we love migrant children the same as our own, but it does mean that we are called to make room to love the children whose need is far greater than that of our own.

We need to be honest with ourselves about our failure to bother to love. And we need to get to the bottom of why it’s so hard for us to love people who are so different from us. Maybe it’s because we don’t understand what it’s like for them to be who they are, to face these struggles, and to make choices that might differ from the ones we’d make. But the command to love our neighbor as our self – the Greatest Commandment, as Jesus taught – means that we don’t impose qualifications or differentiate between who is worthy or unworthy. As Thomas Merton wrote, “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business, and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.”

When we fail to bother to love like this, we sin. It’s not enough to acknowledge that; we have to repent and make amends. We should financially support direct service to those in need along the border and participate in the campaign for hospitality to #sharejourney with migrants and refugees, to welcome, protect, promote, and integrate them into our communities, as Pope Francis has urged. We extend God’s welcome to all because, as Scripture reminds us, we were strangers once. We belong to each other, as members of one single community, God’s family. Each one of us will have to answer for how we used our freedom and the limits of our love, just like the sheep and goats in Matthew 25:31-46. Just as God never fails to bother to love us, so we must keep striving to bother to love as much as we can.


Colin Kaepernick’s Opposition is an Act of Solidarity

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Colin Kaepernick—the very mention of his name elicits strong reactions from football fans. Last August, as a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem in protest of ongoing police violence against black men and women around the country.  The decision sparked considerable controversy and has likely cost Kaepernick his football career.

Football season is now upon us, and while I do not intend to rehash all that has been written on the NFL protests, I must say that I find the knee jerk claim that the players protesting are unpatriotic disturbing.  In Christian ethics, opposition and political protest are important ways of participating in the common good. They are methods utilized by Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement, as well as, by the Solidarity movement in Poland. Catholic social thought (and St. John Paul II, in particular) understands opposition as an important component of solidarity.

In Poland, Karol Wojtyla actively opposed communism as a student leader, as a philosophy professor, and as Bishop of Krakow. He is famous for his support of the Solidarity movement as pope and his support of opposition to communism.  St. John Paul II’s understanding of participation and the role of opposition is crucial to understanding his theology of solidarity, as “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all” (SRS 38).

He understood that solidarity required a delicate balance between accepting the duties and responsibilities imposed by the community and opposition to unjust forms of exclusion and oppression.

For John Paul II, solidarity does not exclude opposition; it can mandate it. In Toward a Philosophy of Praxis, Wojtyla explains:  “Experience with diverse forms of opposition . . . teaches that people who oppose do not wish to leave the community because of their opposition. They are searching for their own place in the community –they are searching for participation and such a definition of the common good that would permit them to participate more fully and effectively in the community” (49). Catholic social thought has long recognized racism as both a structure of sin and as intrinsically evil. Public opposition to unjust social structures should be seen as participation in the common good.

Professional athletes have long utilized athletic spaces to publicly oppose injustice.  If we examine Kaepernick’s own explanations of his protest, a clear commitment to his understanding of the common good emerges.  When asked why he was doing this, he replied, “People don’t realize what’s really going on in this country. There are a lot of things that are going on that are unjust. People aren’t being held accountable for. And that’s something that needs to change. That’s something that this country stands for freedom, liberty and justice for all. And it’s not happening for all right now.”

And how long did he plan to sit? His answer was clear, as long as the injustices persist;  “When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”

His protest is not a rejection of the community; it is a demand that the community be one of greater justice.  His protest, like the protests of many athletes before him, is an example of opposition in service of solidarity. The national anthem and flag are symbols of the community and, as such, are a logical locus for calling the nation to more fully live up to its highest ideals.  In the wake of white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, it should be evident to all that we still have considerable work to do in bringing about racial justice and dismantling white supremacy.

This preseason, Michael Bennett of the Seahawks, Marshawn Lynch of the Raiders, and a number of other players continued the protest begun by Kapaernick and others. On August 18, 80 current and former NYPD officers rallied in support of Kaepernick in Brooklyn. For his efforts, Kaepernick will be honored at the Smithsonian African-American History Museum as part of the Black Lives Matter exhibit.  As NFL owners and fans consider his future in football, it is worth noting that instead of seeing his actions as unpatriotic, according to St. John Paul II’s theology of solidarity, his opposition one genuine avenue for advancing the common good.


Global Solidarity in an “America First” Nation

On March 15, Millennial co-sponsored an event with the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University on the Catholic commitment to global solidarity at a time of rising ‘America First’ nationalism. The event was moderated by Initiative director John Carr and featured Millennial writer and Washington Post editor Elizabeth Bruenig; Shaun Casey, a senior fellow at Georgetown’s Berkley Center, who previously served as US special representative for religion and global affairs and director of the US Department of State’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs; and Robert Costa, national political reporter for the Washington Post and a political analyst for NBC and MSNBC.

Here are some highlights of the panelists’ remarks:

Robert Costa

  • Steve Bannon was talking about the importance of populism in 2010 and 2011, citing the impact of globalization on American workers
  • Trump’s America First views are grounded in a hostile view towards immigration and globalization
  • Trump’s dad thought the US was ‘losing’ because of trade and immigration. This is a foundation of Donald Trump’s America First approach
  • Donald Trump’s worldview is a blend of Fred Trump and Steve Bannon
  • Trump is not a real religious person. I’ve seen him sign autographs at church, he’s always moving around
  • Evangelicals supported Trump because they see someone who will fight a culture they don’t like
  • Religious voters see Trump as blunt instrument to protect religious freedom, even if he doesn’t share their values
  • David Brooks has said Trump is the wrong answer to the right question. Lots of communities are isolated.
  • Democrats only know how to run against Paul Ryan-type Republicans; they haven’t figured out strategy vs. Trump yet
  • Someone on the Romney campaign likely told Paul Ryan he needed to talk about Aquinas to remake is image as an Ayn Rand devotee
  • If the healthcare plan fizzles, where is Paul Ryan’s political capital? Where does he stand with Trump?
  • Take Trump and Bannon seriously when they talk about deconstructing the administrative state
  • Trump wants to fight with educated do-gooder types, he enjoys it

Shaun Casey

  • Trump and Pope Francis have a radically different moral vision of the “other”
  • Clearest contest between Pope Francis’ and Trump’s vision is on refugee resettlement
  • Muslim ban is “existential challenge” to religious agencies involved in refugee resettlement
  • Subsidiarity helps to navigate between (typically secular) statism and libertarianism
  • Trump’s protectionism is not going to rescue people, but hopefully his victory opens up room for new ideas
  • The alt-right is acidic on the bonds of solidarity.
  • Cuts to foreign aid (which was already underfunded) undermine our ability to carry out imperatives of solidarity
  • There is not a functioning Democratic Party in huge chunks of the country. It’s all base turnout.
  • Democrats need to develop compassion-driven policies and actually engage with small town voters.
  • Both parties are really confused about their identity and future

Elizabeth Bruenig

  • We people of faith need to care for refugees/immigrants precisely because we know how important family and place are
  • There are 3 political visions: secular liberal support for the current global order; America First populism; and the third is (often religious) personalist view that rejects rootlessness but also an exclusionary approach
  • In 2016, the Democratic Party was seen by many as having been taken over by a professional class
  • Some economically vulnerable voters who also feel like their culture is not respected felt recognized by Trump
  • Both Republicans and Democrats have been liberal parties (as in Enlightenment liberalism)
  • There is an illiberal reaction by a lot of young people who worry their lives will be worse than their parents’ lives
  • There is a lot of debt, hopelessness, isolation. Democrats have to figure out how to respond beyond more “liberty”
  • We’re at a high point in terms of inequality. Historically war or disease has reversed this. What will happen now?
  • The reactionary view ties sense of place to blood and soil. It’s counter-Enlightenment Romantic view. The liberal worldview struggles to explain how we are all connected to one another.

You can watch video of the event here:


Sports, Solidarity, and #BlackLivesMatter

gdfgEarlier this week, ESPN hosted its annual award show, the ESPYS.  This year’s show—usually a lighthearted celebration of sports’ greatest athletes and accomplishments from over the previous year—got off to a poignant and powerful start.  Four of the NBA’s top stars, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James, Dwyane Wade (who recently joined the Chicago Bulls after 13 years playing for the Miami Heat), the NY Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony, and LA Clippers’ Chris Paul, joined together in a call to action in the face of escalating racial tensions and heartbreaking violence, including the tragic shootings that killed 49 and wounded dozens of others at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile by police officers, and the sniper attack in Dallas that gunned down five police officers and wounded seven others.  In this three-and-a-half minute moving speech, these world-class athletes told their peers and fans that we need to join together to “educate ourselves, explore these issues, speak up, use our influence and renounce all violence and, most importantly, go back to our communities, invest our time, our resources, help rebuild them, help strengthen them, help change them. We all have to do better.”

In making this claim, these four men communicated their desire to pick up the mantle of other activist-athletes like Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens, Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe – and especially the recently deceased Muhammad Ali, perhaps the most courageous activist among all those in the pantheon of sports heroes. Anthony and Paul are less known for their social views, although Carmelo did share some mighty words on this summer’s violence just last week.  Wade and James made headlines for their demonstrations after the deaths of Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin a few years ago, but James was criticized for his silence in the wake of the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland.  Read More