Pope says welcoming refugees keeps us safe from terrorism

Catholic News Agency reports: Pope Francis has encouraged Europeans to welcome refugees, calling authentic hospitality “our greatest security against hateful acts of terrorism.”

Francis Saturday spoke to alumni of Jesuit schools in Europe who were in Rome for a conference on refugees.

The pope said: “I encourage you to welcome refugees into your homes and communities, so that their first experience of Europe is not the traumatic experience of sleeping cold on the streets, but one of warm welcome.”

He said each refugee “has a name, a face and a story, as well as an inalienable right to live in peace and to aspire to a better future” for their children.

“At this place and time in history, there is great need for men and women who hear the cry of the poor and respond with mercy and generosity,” the pope told a group of Jesuit alumni Sept. 17.

He noted how there are “tragically more than 65 million” forcibly displaced persons around the globe, calling the number “unprecedented” and “beyond all imagination.” [Continue reading…]

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Middle East bishops say U.S. has ‘moral responsibility’ to help Christians

Crux reports: Catholic leaders in the Middle East say that the United Sates has the “moral responsibility” to help stop the savagery against Christians in the region, and to provide assistance to help them stay in the region, because it was the U.S. that unleashed the chaos in the first place.

“They were the ones who invaded [Iraq] in 2003 and changed the whole region, and they had the moral responsibility to fix the situation before leaving the country,” said the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil, Iraq, Bashar Matti Warda.

Jean-Clément Jeanbart, Greek Melkite Archbishop of Aleppo, the “martyred city” of Syria, said that the U.S. has a two-fold responsibility. On the one hand, he asked the U.S. government to ensure that the aid being sent to the region is also distributed among Christians, which, he said, means entrusting a portion of it to the churches.

As the system is set up, he said, all the aid goes to the refugee camps. Yet Christians see their lives at risk there, so they generally choose to seek shelter at churches and convents instead.

“If the help went to the churches, it wouldn’t mean that they’re giving special rights to Christians, but that they’re actually helping everyone,”Jeanbart said at a press conference held on Wednesday during the Knights of Columbus’s 134th Supreme Convention, which took place in Toronto, Canada.

The many Christian churches in the region – in Syria, there are six different Catholic rites alone – fund schools, hospitals, and provide shelter to all refugees, without distinguishing between Muslims, Yazidis or Christians, he said. [Continue reading…]

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Pope Francis: Valuing money more than people ‘is a basic terrorism against all humanity’

Reuters reports: Pope Francis has said it was wrong to identify Islam with violence and that social injustice and idolatry of money were among the prime causes of terrorism.

“I think it is not right to identity Islam with violence,” he told reporters aboard the plane taking him back to Rome after a five-day trip to Poland. “This is not right and this is not true.”

The pope was responding to a question about the killing on 26 July of an 85-year-old Roman Catholic priest during a church service in western France. The attackers forced the priest to his knees and slit his throat. The killing was claimed by Islamic State.

“I think that in nearly all religions there is a always a small fundamentalist group,” he said, adding “We have them,” referring to Catholicism.

“I don’t like to talk about Islamic violence because every day when I look at the papers I see violence here in Italy – someone killing his girlfriend, someone killing his mother-in-law. These are baptised Catholics,” he said.

“If I speak of Islamic violence, I have to speak of Catholic violence. Not all Muslims are violent,” he said.

He said there were various causes of terrorism.

“I know it dangerous to say this but terrorism grows when there is no other option and when money is made a god and it, instead of the person, is put at the centre of the world economy,” he said.

“That is the first form of terrorism. That is a basic terrorism against all humanity. Let’s talk about that,” he said. [Continue reading…]

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Pope warns against ‘Balkanisation’ of Europe after Brexit vote

AFP reports: Pope Francis on Sunday warned of the “Balkanisation” of Europe in the wake of Britain’s shock vote to quit the EU and urged the bloc to chart a new way forward by giving member states greater freedoms.

“We have to come up with a new kind of Union,” the pontiff told reporters on a plane heading back to Rome after a controversial visit to Armenia, as the European Union grappled with the unprecedented task of having to negotiate a divorce from a member state.

“There is something that’s not working in this massive, heavy Union. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water,” Francis said.

He warned that places like Scotland and the Spanish region of Catalonia could push for “secession” following the seismic Brexit vote, which he said could lead to “the Balkanisation” of Europe. [Continue reading…]

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Peace and the politics of outrage

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“Any religion worth talking about is essentially political and any politics worth talking about has some vision of transcendence and of the mystery of human life,” said the Jesuit priest, antiwar activist and poet, Daniel Berrigan, at the time of the trial of the Plowshares Eight in 1981. Berrigan died on Saturday at the age of 94.

In 2006, noting that the “short fuse of the American left is typical of the highs and lows of American emotional life,” Berrigan said: “It is very rare to sustain a movement in recognizable form without a spiritual base.”

This absence of a spiritual base, expressed through commonly held values, can be seen as one of the defining characteristics of the politics of dissent in the post 9/11 era.

The commonalities around which shifting forms of unity have emerged and dissolved have invariably come in the form of shared outrage and hatred.

We decide who we stand with by flagging what we stand against:

  • American Empire
  • Western Imperialism
  • Zionism
  • Capitalism
  • Neoliberalism
  • Militarism
  • Corporate power
  • Globalization
  • National security state
  • Mass surveillance
  • Mass incarceration
  • Police brutality
  • Racism
  • Xenophobia
  • Islamophobia
  • Homophobia
  • Sexism

But the affirmative common ground gets far less clearly defined if articulated at all.

Where humanitarianism and internationalism once prevailed, anti-interventionism has become one of the most frequently voiced principles.

Opposition to America imposing its values on the world, has come to mean the plight of people who lives and basic rights are in peril can often be ignored.

It seems we have less responsibility to make this a better world than to merely claim we have done it little harm.

It is as though the measure of a life well lived be that it is of no consequence as we each swear to a political Hippocratic oath.

Indeed there are those who now view the concept of human rights as so tainted that it functions as nothing more than a justification for war.

Out of this emerges for some a libertarian insularity where the least harm each of us might do is to mind our own business, and for others an isolationist social-justice realism which says, take care of the folks at home instead of trying to fix the world.

In a political context where it’s much safer to assume an adversarial posture and stand up against our nameable enemies, what’s much harder is to move beyond divisions and to focus instead on the greatest deficits in our world: a lack of love and kindness and the absence of a widely embraced vision of a better future.

It’s much easier to unify around what we stand against.

Bring love and kindness into the equation and most of the boundaries we use to define our political identities become less secure; our opponents cannot so easily be made other.

Consider, for instance, the issue of Palestine.

If viewed through a dispassionate political lens, we can talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in terms of self-determination, social justice, and anti-colonialism and yet as a human concern, empathizing with Palestinians being bombed in Gaza by Israelis is surely no different than responding with empathy to atrocities being carried out in Aleppo.

For those on the ground, the outcome of the bombing is no different and yet the fact that the former provokes global outcries while the later is met largely with global indifference speaks to something that few observers will dare state: their hatred for the perpetrators of the violence is more deeply rooted than they sympathy for the victims.

* * *

To recognize the political and social influence of Daniel Berrigan did not require that you shared his pacifism or his religious beliefs and yet his striking integrity derived from the fact that he was a living expression of religion and politics made indivisible.

In 2006, as Berrigan turned 85, he was interviewed by Chris Hedges for The Nation:

All empires, Berrigan cautions, rise and fall. It is the religious and moral values of compassion, simplicity and justice that endure and alone demand fealty. The current decline of American power is part of the cycle of human existence, although he says ruefully, “the tragedy across the globe is that we are pulling down so many others. We are not falling gracefully. Many, many people are paying with their lives for this.”

“The fall of the towers [on 9/11] was symbolic as well as actual,” he adds. “We are bringing ourselves down by a willful blindness that is astonishing.”

Berrigan argues that those who seek a just society, who seek to defy war and violence, who decry the assault of globalization and degradation of the environment, who care about the plight of the poor, should stop worrying about the practical, short-term effects of their resistance.

“The good is to be done because it is good, not because it goes somewhere,” he says. “I believe if it is done in that spirit it will go somewhere, but I don’t know where. I don’t think the Bible grants us to know where goodness goes, what direction, what force. I have never been seriously interested in the outcome. I was interested in trying to do it humanly and carefully and nonviolently and let it go.”

“We have not lost everything because we lost today,” he adds.

A resistance movement, Berrigan says, cannot survive without the spiritual core pounded into him by [Thomas] Merton. He is sustained, he said, by the Eucharist, his faith and his religious community.

“The reason we are celebrating forty years of Catonsville and we are still at it, those of us who are still living — the reason people went through all this and came out on their feet — was due to a spiritual discipline that went on for months before these actions took place,” he says. “We went into situations in court and in prison and in the underground that could easily have destroyed us and that did destroy others who did not have our preparation.”

During an interview in 1981, Berrigan was asked how he came to the “deep waters” — the spiritual perspective — that enabled his activism.

It’s a question of coming from somewhere, having some tradition available to you — some symbols, some worship, some common life… coming from somewhere better than America, because I don’t think America is anywhere to come from.

In a world where it has become so easy to denounce America and point to the extensive harm this nation has done as its imperial power ungracefully unwinds, the politics of outrage nevertheless evokes little sense of somewhere better than America.

The collapse of empire is nothing to celebrate if we lack a vision of something better to take its place.

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Daniel J. Berrigan, defiant priest who practiced pacifism, dies at 94

The New York Times reports: The Rev. Daniel J. Berrigan, a Jesuit priest and poet whose defiant protests helped shape the tactics of opposition to the Vietnam War and landed him in prison, died on Saturday in New York City. He was 94.

His death was confirmed by the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor at large at America magazine, a national Catholic magazine published by Jesuits. Father Berrigan died at Murray-Weigel Hall, the Jesuit infirmary at Fordham University in the Bronx.

The United States was tearing itself apart over civil rights and the war in Southeast Asia when Father Berrigan emerged in the 1960s as an intellectual star of the Roman Catholic “new left,” articulating a view that racism and poverty, militarism and capitalist greed were interconnected pieces of the same big problem: an unjust society.

It was an essentially religious position, based on a stringent reading of the Scriptures that some called pure and others radical. But it would have explosive political consequences as Father Berrigan; his brother Philip, a Josephite priest; and their allies took their case to the streets with rising disregard for the law or their personal fortunes.

A defining point was the burning of Selective Service draft records in Catonsville, Md., and the subsequent trial of the so-called Catonsville Nine, a sequence of events that inspired an escalation of protests across the country; there were marches, sit-ins, the public burning of draft cards and other acts of civil disobedience. [Continue reading…]

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Pope Francis takes 12 refugees back to Vatican after trip to Greece

The New York Times reports: Pope Francis made an emotional visit into the heart of Europe’s migrant crisis on Saturday and took 12 Muslim refugees from Syria, including six children, with him back to Rome aboard the papal plane.

The action punctuated the pope’s pleas for sympathy to the plight of the refugees just as European attitudes are hardening against them.

Those taken to Rome were three families — two from Damascus and one from the eastern city of Deir al-Zour — whose homes had been bombed in the Syrian war, the Vatican said in a statement as the pope departed the Greek island of Lesbos.

”The pope has desired to make a gesture of welcome regarding refugees,” the statement said, adding that the Vatican would care for the three families.

The announcement capped a brief trip by the pope to Greece that again placed the plight of migrants at the center of his papacy.

“We have come to call the attention of the world to this grave humanitarian crisis and to plead for its resolution,” Francis said during a lunchtime visit to the Moria refugee camp on Lesbos, where leaders of Eastern Orthodox Christian churches joined him.

“As people of faith, we wish to join our voices to speak out on your behalf,” Francis continued. “We hope that the world will heed these scenes of tragic and indeed desperate need, and respond in a way worthy of our common humanity.”

Francis’ first papal trip in 2013 was to the Italian island of Lampedusa, to call attention to the refugees who were arriving there from Libya — or drowning before they reached shore. During his February visit to Mexico, Francis prayed beneath a large cross erected in Ciudad Juárez, just footsteps from the Mexican border with the United States, and then celebrated Mass nearby, where he spoke about immigrants. [Continue reading…]

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Papal official denies report Sanders invited himself to Vatican

Reuters reports: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was invited to speak at an April 15 Vatican event by the Vatican, a senior papal official said on Friday, denying a report that Sanders had invited himself.

“I deny that. It was not that way,” Monsignor Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo told Reuters in a telephone interview while he was traveling in New York. Sorondo, a close aide to Pope Francis, is chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, which is hosting the event.

He said it was his idea to invite Sanders.

A Bloomberg report quoted Margaret Archer, president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, as saying that Sanders had broken with protocol by failing to contact her office first.

“This is not true and she knows it. I invited him with her consensus,” said Sorondo, who is senior to Archer. [Continue reading…]

Bloomberg reported: Archer, an English social scientist appointed the head the pontifical academy in 2014, said that while she “quite liked” Sanders’s program on paper, his failure to contact her first is a breach of protocol. “The president of the academy organizing this event has not been contacted with monumental discourtesy,” she said, referring to herself. [Continue reading…]

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Pope washes feet of Muslim refugees, says ‘we are brothers’

The Washington Post reports: Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of Muslim, Christian and Hindu refugees Thursday and declared them all children of the same God, as he performed a gesture of welcome and brotherhood at a time of increased anti-Muslim sentiment following the Brussels attacks.

Francis denounced the carnage as a “gesture of war” carried out by blood-thirsty people beholden to the weapons industry during an Easter Week Mass with asylum-seekers at a shelter in Castelnuovo di Porto, outside Rome.

The Holy Thursday rite re-enacts the foot-washing ritual Jesus performed on his apostles before being crucified, and is meant as a gesture of service. Francis contrasted that gesture with the “gesture of destruction” carried out by the Brussels attackers, saying they wanted to destroy the brotherhood of humanity represented by the migrants.

“We have different cultures and religions, but we are brothers and we want to live in peace,” Francis said in his homily, delivered off-the-cuff in the windy courtyard of the center.

Several of the migrants then wept as Francis knelt before them, poured holy water from a brass pitcher over their feet, wiped them clean and kissed them. [Continue reading…]

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Pope Francis and the Republican Party’s unchristian values

Religion should be kept out of politics — unless we’re talking about abortion, gay marriage, family values or any other issue where apparently it’s reasonable for religion to enter politics.

But for an Argentine pope to shove his nose into a U.S. presidential election, ranks in audacity close to Fidel Castro threatening America.

No doubt there are lots of Republicans who are convinced that Francis is really just a commie dressed in white — another Latino revolutionary out to stir up trouble.

In fact, the remarks the pope made yesterday that were reported as an attack on Trump were simply a rather basic enunciation of Christian values — as expressed in the Sermon on the Mount.

Maybe the Republicans would prefer the pope to refrain from preaching altogether. They might be happier if henceforth he simply be the Catholic church’s chief smiley face.

Michael Sean Winters writes: The difference could not be more stark. Pope Francis, in Ciudad Juarez yesterday, called for justice for migrants and an economic structure that serves people before profits and measures its health by the degree to which it includes everybody. Meanwhile, the Republican party’s presidential candidates are falling all over themselves to see who can be the toughest on immigration and the idea that profit is not the final arbiter of economic relations is viewed not just skeptically but as a kind of heresy.

The pope gave three talks in Ciudad Juarez, one to prisoners, one to workers, and a sermon at a Mass alongside the border with the United States. All three were a kind of rhetorical photographic negative of the attitudes we see championed by today’s Republican Party. [Continue reading…]

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The bond between the Vatican and Iran is a partnership destined to endure

rouhani-francis

Following a meeting on Tuesday at the Vatican between Pope Francis and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and noting that the Vatican has had diplomatic ties with Iran since 1954 (30 years longer than U.S.-Vatican relations), John L. Allen Jr. writes: the close ties between Rome and Tehran reflect the often under-appreciated fact that both the Vatican and post-revolutionary Iran are basically theocracies, representing spiritual traditions — Catholicism and Shia Islam — that have a surprising amount in common.

Iranian writer Vali Nasr, author of the 2006 book “The Shia Revival,” argues that the divide between Sunni and Shia bears comparison to that between Protestants and Catholics, with Shia being the branch closer to Catholicism.

Among those points of contact are:

  • A strong emphasis on clerical authority
  • An approach to the Quran accenting both scripture and tradition
  • A deep mystical streak
  • Devotion to a holy family (in the case of Shiites, the blood relatives of Mohammad) and to saints (the Twelve Imams)
  • A theology of sacrifice and atonement through the death of Hussain, grandson of Mohammad and the first imam of Shia Islam
  • Belief in free will (as opposed to the Sunni doctrine of pre-destination)
  • Holy days, pilgrimages, and healing shrines
  • Intercessory prayer
  • Strongly emotional forms of popular devotion, especially the festival of Ashoura commemorating Hussain’s death

One recent sign of the spiritual vicinity is that Iranian scholars recently translated the Confessions of Augustine and the Catechism of the Catholic Church into Farsi, the result of a 12-year effort.

In terms of sheer realpolitik, both parties also have strong motives for keeping their relationship green.

From Iran’s point of view, it aspires to being not merely a regional but a global player, and to do so it requires not merely “hard” power, to invoke the famous distinction of Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye, but also “soft,” meaning moral legitimacy. The perception of being in dialogue with the Vatican is crucially important, counteracting Bush administration rhetoric about Iran being part of an “axis of evil.”

Tehran also sees the Vatican as a firebreak with sometimes hostile Western nations. In 2007, when it seemed as if concerns over Iran’s nuclear program might lead to armed conflict with the United States, Iranian diplomats quietly sought out the Vatican as a potential mediator. [Continue reading…]

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Pope Francis attacks consumerist society in midnight mass at Vatican

The Guardian reports: Pope Francis returned to one of his favoured themes in his homily at midnight mass on Christmas Eve at the Vatican, castigating a hedonistic and consumerist society and a culture of indifference.

Meanwhile, one of his senior cardinals, Vincent Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster and the leader of the Catholic church in England, focused his Christmas Eve message on “gratuitous violence” in the home and the suffering of persecuted Christians around the world.

Neither Catholic leader mentioned the continuing refugee crisis, a surprising omission at the end of a year in which the plight of those fleeing conflict, persecution and hardship has dominated international headlines. In September, Francis called on every religious community across Europe to offer sanctuary to refugee families. [Continue reading…]

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