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Defining our values: What Catholics can take from Bush's speech

New York City, N.Y., Oct 20, 2017 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- In a rare political speech on Thursday, former president George W. Bush had blunt words for America: Remember your identity or lose your freedom.

Bush spoke Oct. 19 at the “Spirit of Liberty: At Home, In The World” event at the Lincoln Center in New York.

Almost nine years removed from the nation’s highest political office, Bush offered a reflection on the current state of the country. At the heart of his reflection was a diagnosis – and a powerful wake up call:

“We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization. Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions – forgetting the image of God we should see in each other.”

Bush’s words ring true in a country still deeply divided one year after a contentious presidential election that polarized families, friends, and neighbors. In a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey, 80 percent of respondents categorized the U.S. as “mainly divided” or “totally divided.”

From birth control to gun control, from questions of undocumented immigrants to NFL players kneeling during the national anthem, America is fractured. And that division has become vitriolic, manifesting itself in insults spewed across comment boxes and hostile clashes in the media.

After exploring a litany of symptoms – from bigotry and nativism to fake news and gang violence – Bush offered his remedy for the polarization plaguing America: “we need to recall and recover our own identity. Americans have a great advantage: To renew our country, we only need to remember our values.”

But in a country so divided, what are our values?

In his address to the United States Congress in September 2015, Pope Francis laid out a set of values that he thinks define America at its best.

“A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as (Abraham) Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to ‘dream’ of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton,” the Pope said.

Catholics have an important role to play in shaping the values that define society. Deus Caritas Est, the first encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI, teaches, “The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society is proper to the lay faithful.”

The U.S. bishops, in their document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, note, “This duty is more critical than ever in today's political environment.” While there may be a temptation for retreat or discouragement, the bishops say, this is actually “a time for renewed engagement.”

In the early Church, Christians stood out from the rest of the Roman Empire. They took care of orphans and widows. They founded hospitals and schools. They cared for the poor. They didn’t work on Sundays. They loved their enemies.

Today, the U.S. Church is called to stand out, too. In a nation torn apart and confused about its own identity, people are exhausted from fighting and weary from talking past one another without ever being heard. People are looking for a better way.

Amid the political and social turmoil, Catholics can offer that better way. They can offer what the bishops describe as “a different kind of political engagement: one shaped by the moral convictions of well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good, and the protection of the weak and the vulnerable.”

And they can do it by engaging with others civilly, by creating the “culture of encounter” that Pope Francis refers to so often.

This lesson is critical for America’s future. Will the next generation be raised in a culture of encounter, or in what Bush describes as a culture of “casual cruelty,” marked with animosity and dehumanization? The former president notes with urgency that “our young people need positive role models” because “bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children.”

George W. Bush is right. America does need to return to her values. But first she needs to figure out what they are. And Catholics can help lay the groundwork for that, by working to create a society where people can dialogue without fear, where they discuss their different views without being attacked or demonized, ultimately a society where people can encounter truth.

As we approach the one-year mark after the most contentious election in recent history, Catholics have an opportunity to show Christian charity in their interactions with others. It’s a small gesture. But it could be the first step in helping people recognize, as the former president put it, “the image of God we should see in each other.”

 

Don't sacrifice justice and family for efficiency, Pope tells business leaders

Vatican City, Oct 20, 2017 / 02:43 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis met Friday with leaders in business and civil society, telling them not to get carried away by wealth and the demands of the global market, but rather to promote justice by eliminating the root causes of inequality.

“We must ask the market not only to be efficient in the production of wealth and in the assurance of sustainable growth, but also to be at the service of integral human development,” the Pope said Oct. 20.

“We cannot sacrifice on the altar of efficiency – the 'golden calf' of our times – fundamental values such as democracy, justice, freedom, the family, and creation,” he said, explaining that instead, “we must seek to 'civilize the market' with a view to an ethic friendly to man and his environment.”

Pope Francis spoke to members of the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences, who are gathered in Rome for an Oct. 19-21 conference on “Changing Relations Among Market, State and Civil Society.”

In his speech, the Pope spoke on the need to develop “new models of cooperation” among the market, the state, and civil society that more accurately respond to the challenges of our time.

Pointing to two primary causes which he said “nourish the exclusion of the existential peripheries,” Francis said the sharp levels of inequality today are caused in large part by the exploitation of the planet and the lack of opportunity for dignified work.

The first cause, he said, “is the endemic and systemic increase of inequalities and of the exploitation of the planet, which is greater than the increase in income and wealth.”

Both inequality and exploitation depend, aside from individual behaviors, on the economic rules “that a society decides to give themselves,” he said, and pointed to energy production, the labor market, the banking system, the welfare system, the tax system, and the school sector as examples.

The more these are projected, the more they have consequences “on the way in which income and wealth are divided among those who have competed to produce them,” he said. “If the aim of profit prevails, democracy tends to become a plutocracy in which inequalities and the exploitation of the planet grow.”

Neither of these phenomena are inevitable or a historic constant, he said, asserting that “there are periods in which, in some countries, inequalities diminish and the environment is better protected.”

Turning to what he said is another key cause of exclusion, the Pope focused on work “unworthy of the human person.”

“Yesteryear, in the age of Rerum novarum, 'just wages for workers' were demanded. Today, beyond this sacrosanct exigency, we also ask ourselves why it has not yet been possible to translate into practice what is written in the Constitution Gaudium et spes: 'The entire process of productive work, therefore, must be adapted to the needs of the person and to his way of life'.”

To this can be added, he said, respect for creation, referring to his 2015 encyclical Laudato si'.

In creating new opportunities for work “open and enterprising people, people of fraternal relations, of research and investment in the development of clean energy to resolve the challenges of climate change” are needed, he said, adding that this is concretely possible today.

He said it's also necessary “to get rid of the pressures of public and private lobbyists that defend sectoral interests,” and stressed the need to “overcome forms of spiritual laziness.”

“It is necessary for political action to be placed truly at the service of the human person, of the common good and of respect for nature.”

The explained that the challenge to meet “is to strive with courage to go beyond the prevailing model of social order prevalent today, transforming it from within,” such that the market will serve integral human development, as well as the production of wealth.

He also addressed “the rethinking of the figure and the role of the nation-state in a new context which is that of globalization, which has profoundly modified the previous international order,” the Pope said, explaining that the state “cannot understand itself as the sole and exclusive holder of the common good by not allowing intermediate bodies of society to express, in freedom, their full potential.”

To do this, he added, “would be a violation of the principle of subsidiarity which, combined with solidarity, is a cornerstone of the Church’s social doctrine.”

The role of society, then, can be summed up with an image used by French poet Charles Peguy, who described the virtue of hope as the “younger sister” in the middle of the other theological virtues: faith and charity.

“Hope then moves, taking them by the hand and pulling them forward. This is how the position of civil society seems to me: 'pulling' the state and the market forward so that they can rethink their reason for being and how they operate.”

Catholic leaders lament assassination of Maltese journalist

Valletta, Malta, Oct 20, 2017 / 11:29 am (CNA).- Both Pope Francis and the bishop of the local Church have expressed their sorrow over the death of Daphne Caruana Galizia, an investigative journalist who died in a car bomb attack on Monday.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta condemned her murder, saying Oct. 16 that “The loss of this brave journalist fills us with sadness and with determination to continue defending democracy until the very end.”

“This is not a time to wage war between us or to blame one another. As a people we must wake up, defend the dignity of each one of us, and stop the verbal attacks on each other. We must defend the great value of democracy by moving from words to actions.”

“I pray for the soul of this victim and her family, and I extend my solidarity to all journalists. I encourage them to defend the truth, to be afraid of no one and to be servants of the people and of democracy,” Archbishop Scicluna concluded.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, sent the archbishop a telegram Oct. 20 on behalf of Pope Francis.

It said the Pope is praying for Caruana Galizia's “eternal rest, and asks you kindly to convey his condolences to her family. The Holy Father also assures you of his spiritual closeness to the Maltese people at this difficult moment, and implores God’s blessings upon the nation.”

Caruana Galizia, 53, was killed when the rental car she was driving exploded shortly after she left her home in Bidnija, 9 miles northwest of Valletta, the Maltese capital. She was known for her investigations into corruption among the island nation's politicians, of both the ruling and the opposition parties.

Earlier this year she claimed that prime minister Joseph Muscat was linked to the Panama Papers scandal – that he and his wife had used offshore bank accounts to hide payments from the Azerbaijani ruling family.

Her claims triggered early elections, which Muscat's Labour Party nevertheless won.

Muscat has condemned Caruana Galizia's murder, saying there was absolutely “no justification” for “this barbaric attack on a person and on the freedom of expression in our country.”

Caruana Galizia's sons have called on Muscat to resign, and to replace Malta's police commissioner and attorney general.

The journalist had reportedly told police two weeks ago she had received threats.

Australian state's lower house passes assisted suicide bill

Melbourne, Australia, Oct 20, 2017 / 10:31 am (CNA).- A bill to legalize assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia was passed by Victoria's Legislative Assembly on Friday after 26 hours of debate.

The bill will now advance to the upper house of the Australian state's parliament, the Legislative Council, where it is expected to pass. If it is signed into law, Victoria would become Australia's first state to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia.

The bill passed in the Legislative Assembly in a 47-37 vote Oct. 20. Hundreds of amendments were proposed, but none were accepted.

Critics of the bill worry it abandons the vulnerable, among other problems.

The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill is based on similar laws in the U.S. It allows adults who are terminally ill, expected to die within 12 months, and mentally competent to ask their doctor to prescribe a drug that will end their lives, the U.K.-based news site Politics Home reports. Physicians would be allowed to administer a lethal injection only when the patient is physically incapable of doing so.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, of the Australian Labor Party, had introduced the bill.

Victoria's coroner told the members of parliament that one terminally ill Victorian was taking their own life every week because of intolerable pain.

Critics of the bill questioned a lack of detail about what lethal drugs will be used. They said there is not a requirement for a psychological assessment to determine whether the patient suffers depression, the U.K. newspaper The Guardian reports. They also cited the risk that the elderly will be coerced into committing suicide.

Backers of the bill said it would only affect a small number of people who suffer terminal illnesses. They objected that palliative care cannot deal with all pain. They also claim the bill has among the most stringent safeguards in the world.

Paul Keating, who was Prime Minister of Australia from 1991 to 1996 and a member of the Australian Labor Party, lamented the bill's advancement, calling it a “truly sad moment for the whole country.”

“What this means is that the civic guidance provided by the state, in our second largest state, is voided when it comes to the protection of our most valuable asset,” Keating said in a statement. “To do or to cause to abrogate the core human instinct to survive and live, for the spirit to hang on against physical deprivations, is to turn one’s back on the compulsion built into the hundreds of thousands of years of our evolution.”

Keating also wrote that “Under Victorian law there will be people whose lives we honour and those we believe are better off dead.”

Bishop Peter Stasiuk of the Ukrainian Eparchy of Saints Peter and Paul of Melbourne said support of euthanasia and assisted suicide is “motivated by a false sense of compassion.” He wrote in an Oct. 12 pastoral letter that “Endorsing suicide as a solution to pain or suffering sends the wrong message, especially to the young. Suicide is a tragedy for the person who takes their own life, but it also seriously affects their family and community. It would be morally corrupt to legally endorse any form of suicide.”

And the Roman Catholic bishops in Victoria wrote a similar pastoral letter Oct. 9, noting that Victoria has “abolished the death penalty because we learnt that in spite of our best efforts, our justice system could never guarantee that an innocent person would not be killed by mistake or by false evidence. Our health system, like our justice system, is not perfect. Mistakes happen. To introduce this law presuming everyone will be safe is naïve. We need to consider the safety of those whose ability to speak for themselves is limited by fear, disability, illness or old age.”

In July Catholics, including Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, and leaders from several Christian denominations joined together to sign a letter protesting the proposal, charging that euthanasia and assisted suicide “represent the abandonment of those who are in greatest need of our care and support.”

In April, the local Catholic bishops said the proposal was based on “misplaced compassion.”

“Euthanasia and assisted suicide are the opposite of care and represent the abandonment of the sick and the suffering, of older and dying persons,” they said in a pastoral letter. They also invoked the commandment “You Shall Not Kill” and cited the situation in countries like Holland where there are pressures on the elderly to commit suicide.

The effort to legalize assisted suicide in Victoria has been debated for more than a year. In June 2016, a parliamentary committee recommended legalizing voluntary euthanasia.

At the time, some physicians criticized the move. They charged that some lawmakers had naïve expectations and overestimated the speed and painlessness of a euthanasia death.

They warned that the legalization risked diminishing palliative care, which they said was already underused and underfunded.

A proposal similar to the Victorian bill will be debated in New South Wales in November. Last year, the national parliament defeated a euthanasia bill, as did the parliament of Tasmania in 2013.

Australia's Northern Territory legalized assisted suicide in 1995, but the national parliament overturned the law two years later.

Georgetown pro-marriage group faces sanctions after students complain

Washington D.C., Oct 20, 2017 / 09:53 am (CNA).- A pro-marriage student group at Georgetown University is in danger of being defunded and barred from campus facilities, after fellow students have petitioned that it be recognized as a “hate group.”

The Hoya, Georgetown’s student newspaper, reported on Oct. 20 that Love Saxa, a student organization promoting Catholic doctrine regarding marriage, will undergo a Student Activities Commission hearing on Oct. 23, to defend itself against charges that the group fosters hatred and intolerance. The hearing is a response to a petition filed by a student-senator in the Georgetown University Student Association, and supported by leaders of gay pride student organizations at Georgetown.

Love Saxa intends to petition for a delay before the hearing takes place. The group told CNA they were only officially informed of the hearing’s date on the evening of Oct. 19, giving them an insufficient amount of time to prepare. The group also says they haven’t been given a copy of the petition, or an exact rendering of the charges against them.

Lova Saxa’s student-president Amelia Irvine told CNA, “I believe that Love Saxa has the right to exist, especially at a Catholic school. We exist to promote healthy, loving relationships at Georgetown.”

In a Sept. 6 column in The Hoya, Irvine wrote that “we believe that marriage is a conjugal union on every level – emotional, spiritual, physical and mental – directed toward caring for biological children. To us, marriage is much more than commitment of love between two consenting adults.”

Leaders of gay pride student organizations at Georgetown denounced this language as “homophobic,” and claimed it violated university standards.  

The university’s Student Organization Standards state that: “Groups will not be eligible for access to benefits if their purpose or activities … foster hatred or intolerance of others because of their race, nationality, gender, religion, or sexual preferences.” Love Saxa is accused of fostering hatred and intolerance, because of its support for Catholic teaching regarding marriage.

Love Saxa receives $250 of funding from the university, and is permitted to use university facilities for its activities, according to The Hoya. Results of the hearing could lead to loss of funding and facility access, among other sanctions, the newspaper reported.

Irvine told CNA that Love Saxa is hopeful about the results of the hearing. “We're optimistic that the university will uphold our right to exist, given that we share the Catholic view on marriage,” she added.

In an Oct. 20 editorial, The Hoya’s editorial board advocated for Love Saxa’s defunding. The editorial board wrote that Love Saxa fosters intolerance by “actively advocating a limited definition of marriage that would concretely take rights away from the LGBTQ community.”

Georgetown is a Catholic university in Washington, D.C., founded by the Society of Jesus in 1789.

 

Burma's cardinal: 'The Pope will come to heal the wounds of the country'

Yangon, Burma, Oct 20, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA).- Pope Francis’ trip to Burma will help heal the wounds of his country, especially for minorities under attack, the nation's sole cardinal maintains.

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon is the first Burmese cardinal in the history of the Church. He was made a cardinal by Pope Francis in 2015.

Speaking with CNA about the upcoming papal trip to the country, Cardinal Bo stressed that the “Vatican and others need to work toward healing the wounds of our nation, by showing a future that can bring positive results for all communities.”

Burma, also known as Myanmar, has garnered increased international attention in recent years because of an escalating persecution of the Rohingya, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group within the Buddhist majority state.

Pope Francis has made a number of appeals for the protection of the Rohingya, since at least May 2015.

Since late August, the United Nations estimates that 582,000 Rohingya have fled Burma's Rakhine state for Bangladesh.

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Cardinal Bo told CNA he “hopes that the Pope will address the burning questions” of Rohingya persecution in a meeting scheduled with the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi during the November trip.

He also said that the Pope will likely “encourage good steps”, and said that “as a Church, we want to affirm the intensity of human suffering” experienced by the Rohingya because “this problem has been there for last 60 years, and most intensely since 1982, when an unjust citizenship law passed.”

The cardinal also noted that “there is a new energy let loose by the global Islamophobia. The xenophobic regulations in rich countries against Muslims encourages this. Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. Muslims are not suffering only in Burma.”

He explained that recent government persecution of the Rohingya was a response to attacks on police stations by Rohingya militant groups. “Yet,” he said, “nothing can justify what happened afterwards.”

Cardinal Bo also addressed controversy surrounding Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and Burma’s State Councillor, the nation’s head of government. A longtime human rights activist, she has been criticized for failure to recognize or stop military atrocities against the Rohingya, and for assigning blame to both sides of the conflict.

The cardinal said that “Aung San Suu Kyi could have done better, but to stigmatize her as if she did nothing is a far fetched theory.”

The cardinal recalled that Aung San Suu Kyi formed the Kofi Annan Commission, an advisory commission on the Rakhine State chaired by the former UN General Secretary Kofi Annan and composed by six Burmese and three international members.

The commission issued a final report in August, requesting that Burma's 1982 citizenship law that classifies Rohingya as illegal immigrants be reviewed. As a short term recommendation, the commission requested that Burma clarify the rights of people who are not granted full citizenship, including the Rohingya.

Cardinal Bo noted that Aung San Suu Kyi “agreed to implement the recommendations” of the Annan Commission.

Cardinal Bo noted that, unfortunately “the very day the Commission report was released, there was a militant attack and the reprisal started.” This, he explained, prevented implementation of recommendations.

But, he said, “by attacking Aung San Suu Kyi, nobody wins. She is still a hope for democracy.”

Cardinal Bo underscored that “Burma is one of the poorest countries in the world, and Rakhine State is the poorest: 70 percent of its people live in extreme poverty.”

In the end, Myanmar “has so many resources, but these do not go to the poor. The Pope is a great prophet of economic justice and environmental justice. He should raise his voice against these two injustices.”

The Archbishop of Yangon also emphasized that the Pope needs to “shed light on other unresolved conflict and displacements.”

The cardinal mentioned the situations in the states of Karen, Kachin, and Shan. Anti-Christian persecutions in Myanmar were highlighted in a 2016 report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The report said that in three Burmeses states, Christians are subjected to forced relocation, attacks on their places of worship, and an ongoing campaign of forced conversion and brainwashing in schools funded by the government.

According to the 2016 Report on Religious Freedom by Aid to the Church in Need, minorities are often targeted in Burma in a sort of continuous conflict that takes place in ethnic states.

The report refers in particular to Kachin, where at least 66 churches have been destroyed in ethnic conflicts ongoing since 2011.

The report also underscored that “in the prevalent Christian states of Chin and Kachin, the Burmese army has promoted a policy that forces Christians to remove crosses from the hills and the top of the mountains, sometimes forcing them to build Buddhist pagodas to replace them.”

This practice, the Report stressed, has “diminished since 2012, but never ceased.” In the state of Chin, a Christian was jailed for the crime of building a cross.

Cardinal Bo stressed that the “Rohingya situation is a great tragedy,” but added that “the country needs healing on various fronts.”

“The Holy Father,” he concluded, “has stood against the winds of criticism and mourned the suffering of Muslims and Rohingyas. With unflinching courage we need to stand against global Islamophobia. What happens here is a spill-over and to see this tragedy detached from other human tragedies would be a fragmented truth.”

Commentary: Redefining gender while California burns

Sacramento, Calif., Oct 20, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA).- California is still burning.

At this point, 42 people are dead. Some 217,000 acres are devastated. Thousands of homes are destroyed. Entire towns are now charred wreckage. As the fires burned their hottest, trees glowed a seething orange behind their bark, before exploding. Families took shelter wherever they could find it; one couple spent a long, cold night submerged to their necks in a neighbor’s pool, seeking refuge from falling embers.  

The fires are now mostly contained. But the cleanup will be massive. It will take political cooperation at the local, state, and federal levels to allocate funds, organize rebuilding, and provide relief to the tens of thousands of people who are now displaced – homeless – with no certainty about their future. It will take leadership, compromise, and statesmanship. It will take selflessness.

Even in ordinary times, the political cooperation and organizational infrastructure required after a disaster of this magnitude are a challenge. The political infighting after Hurricane Katrina is the stuff of legend. And these are not ordinary times. After a particularly brutal hurricane season, federal recovery dollars will be hard to come by. And Washington has never been more polarized, or less stable. California is beginning a gubernatorial primary season, which brings with it the kind of posturing and grandstanding that make it difficult to get real work done. At the same time, finger-pointing has begun, as Californians try to explain the causes of the massive wildfires that consumed so much of the Napa Valley. Governor Jerry Brown is already being blamed for the fires, after vetoing a bipartisan 2016 bill intended to make power lines less likely to contribute to the spread of wildfire in residential areas.

In such extraordinary times, facing such a monumental task, it’s natural to hope for a singularly focused, consensus-building political leader, who would cut through partisanship and pettiness to help rebuild lives, homes, and communities across California. Governor Brown, who has a very long record of public service in California, and has few political limitations in the year before his final term expires, should be the man for the job. That is why it is so disappointing that on Sunday night, while the wildfires were still spreading, the governor took time to sign California’s Gender Recognition Act, which allows Californians to choose a “non-binary” gender identity on drivers’ licenses, and to change name and gender on state identification documents with ease.

Signing the bill will cement Brown’s legacy among libertines and elites, who already revere him because of his support for gay marriage and assisted suicide. But while the Gender Recognition Act will win him adulation from progressive pundits, it won’t make it easier for Brown to solve the real and immediate problems his state is facing. In fact, he’s made that job harder.

In the face of a crisis requiring broad cooperation, especially from churches and religious social service agencies, Brown chose to remind Californians of faith that their views don’t matter, and that they have no place in his vision for California. Instead of building the consensus that would help real Californians, Brown chose to secure his place in the pantheon of progressive demagogues, consequences be damned. Instead of facing the reality of California’s needs, Brown spent his time trying redefine what’s real, to usher in a new world in which reason is supplanted by confusion, masquerading as freedom.
 
In the classic 1951 film Quo Vadis, based upon Henryk Sienkiewicz’ novel, the emperor Nero is a mad narcissist: licentious, insecure, and cruel. Nero is far more concerned with securing his place in history – with being remembered as a genius, and an artist – than he is with leading his people. They suffer for his madness, and for his neglect.  

Eventually, Nero’s Rome burns to the ground, in a fire which the emperor himself began. But he is impervious to the suffering of his citizens. He stands overlooking his burning city, plucking a harp, and obsessing about his place in history, and a new world he’ll create in his own image – Neropolis.

“That is my epic,” Nero tells his courtiers. “To change the face of the world. To demolish and create anew.”

California is burning. Brown is not the cause of the fire. But he should be singularly focused on helping his people. Instead, he seems more concerned with plucking a harp for his place in history, redefining reality with his pen. “To change the face of the world. To demolish, and create anew.”

 

How Los Angeles Catholics help the homeless

Los Angeles, Calif., Oct 20, 2017 / 12:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With growing numbers of people suffering homelessness in the expensive megalopolis of Los Angeles, Catholics and people of other religions are working together to provide a serious response.

“The faith community is really a giant part of the services provided to the folks in need,” Kathleen Domingo, Director of the Los Angeles archdiocese’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace, told CNA.

There’s a reason Catholics help the homeless.

“We’ve been told that our salvation depends on how we treat those in need,” said Domingo. “Our faith isn’t just in praying and personal spirituality, it’s actually in what we put into action.”

She said the homeless are “the face of Christ, especially in Los Angeles.” Many residents live in such prosperity that “to turn our backs on the homeless is really to turn our backs on Christ.”

“We really need to ask ourselves: are we willing to sacrifice our salvation, literally, for our own convenience or our own comfort at not getting involved?” Domingo said.

Leaders of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities gathered at the University of Southern California campus Oct. 18 for a roundtable discussion that aimed to find new ideas and a united approach to responding to homelessness.

Among the scheduled speakers was Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles. He joined other religious leaders, homeless experts, and representatives from Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti’s office.

In a June 6 column, Gomez warned that an increase in homelessness shows a failure to foster a strong “human ecology.” It reflects a widening gap “between those who have what they need for a dignified life and those who do not.”

“I worry that we are getting accustomed to these sights in our city,” he said. “We cannot allow ourselves to accept a Los Angeles where sidewalks become permanent residences for our neighbors.”

A May 2017 report from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority found a 23 percent increase in homelessness in Los Angeles County since the previous year. According to the Associated Press, about 7,700 volunteers counted about 58,800 homeless people, an increase of 11,000.

The number of homeless veterans had increased 57 percent. The number of homeless aged 18 to 24 increased 64 percent, while the number of those under 18 increased 41 percent.

The report did find improvements in the number of homeless families who have shelter. The number of families without shelter decreased 21 percent.

Officials said there is increasing financial stress on renters in the Los Angeles area. Over 2 million households spend half their income or more on housing costs.

The roundtable is sponsored by four USC organizations, including the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies. Father James L. Heft, founder and president of the institute, said there are many different religions in Los Angeles working to ameliorate the homelessness crisis.

“People in these different religions are doing good things to address this crisis. But they often work by themselves,” he said. “I thought it would be good for the leaders of the different religions to talk with each other, learn from each other, and through these conversations find even better ways to work at solving the crisis of homelessness.”

According to Heft, the roundtable aims to help advance understanding of the “complex issue of homelessness” and learn the most effective ways to address it.

“We want to promote greater cooperation among religions in addressing a serious challenge that our whole community faces,” the priest said.

For Domingo, Catholic action for the homeless in Los Angeles already has a record of success.

In 2016, Catholic Charities of Los Angeles and the St. Vincent de Paul Society worked together to place about 300 people in permanent housing. Though the numbers seem small compared to the problem, the beneficiaries are given a sustainable place to live and the means to stay there for the long-term. They also receive help with job placement and other support resources.

The work of individual parishes is significant, but sometimes difficult to report, Domingo said. “Much of it is done just in a manner of course as the parishes operate.”

Domingo noted a five-parish cluster in the archdiocese’s eastern San Gabriel region which collectively offers cold weather shelter to the homeless. The parishes also offer food, including some meals homemade by parishioners.

In addition, parish outreach seeks barbers, stylists and manicurists for these beneficiaries to “make them feel good and look good while they’re here,” she said.

The parishes involve homeless guests in Christmas activities, including Las Posadas, the traditional Mexican Advent season commemoration of the journey of the Holy Family, in which they found no room at the inn of Bethlehem.

Local schoolchildren make prayer cards, placemats, and table settings to help welcome the hosted families. A jazz band from the local Catholic high school also comes to play.

“You could just see this exhaustion melt away as people listen to music that maybe they haven’t been exposed to for years,” said Domingo, who added: “These are really amazing moments. It doesn’t get a lot of press, but it’s really the parish coming together to do something impactful.”

Some parishes collaborate with the nationwide Family Promise program to house families that have just become homeless. When they secure permanent housing quickly, they have a better chance of not becoming homeless again.

Domingo praised the “housing-first” approach to homelessness. This approach, developed in recent decades, aims to provide permanent housing immediately for those in need, rather than put them through transitional programs whose conditions are sometimes counterproductive and harder to fulfill for someone without permanent housing. She suggested the archdiocese would be happy to pursue such an approach.

“That’s also an approach that’s very much in keeping with Catholic social teaching, with the dignity of the person,” she said. Getting someone a house is something basic that does not need many restrictions.

“Just get people housed. That’s a very good step in the right direction,” said Domingo.

Many Catholic charities, St. Vincent de Paul organizations, and parishes in Los Angeles are taking part in a process called the Coordinated Entry System. It helps to ensure some knowledge about who is getting services and to ensure that some people are not “falling through the cracks.”

Domingo attributed the shortfall in housing for those at risk of homelessness to the “not in my backyard” mindset. Many projects have been halted due to local opposition.

“As Catholics we could help to shift the conversation on that,” she suggested. Catholics could help rally their neighbors to welcome homeless families to their neighborhood just as they’d welcome any family.

She also stressed the need for people to educate themselves about the options specifically available for homeless minors and the elderly so that they could help those the encounter find temporary assistance.

“It seems small in a sense, but they’re realistic steps, and I think that they can be incredibly effective,” she said.

First Reading: Romans 4:1-8

1 What then shall we say about Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh?
2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
3 For what does the scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness."
4 Now to one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due.
5 And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.
6 So also David pronounces a blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works:
7 "Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;
8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not reckon his sin."

Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 32:1-2, 5, 11

1 Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
5 I acknowledged my sin to thee, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD"; then thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin. [Selah]
11 Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!