Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Interfaith Dialogue is Not as Pointless as We Like to Think

The Xaverian Missionaries USA is collaborating with the American Humanist Association and Rutgers University in New Jersey on a special conference that brings humanists, atheists, and religious believers together to search our common ground, looking to what lies beyond dialogue: collaborative efforts to heal a divided world. We would like to share Jessica's blog post in The Humanist.Com.

Jessica Xiao is Project Assistant for the American Humanist Association

With one sweeping generality, it’s easy (albeit unconstructive) to dismiss or invalidate an entire community’s ideas. And try as we might to take our minds off autopilot in challenging our assumptions and ideas about others, there are still polarizations that we have a difficult time getting past: Democrat versus Republican, the “uneducated” versus the college-educated, theists versus nontheists.

But I am optimistic enough to contend that a good majority of us believe no grand chasm could possibly dissolve the linkage we share as Homo sapiens existing together on Earth in the year 2015, experiencing similar joy, suffering, and the burdens of living. With this confidence, the American Humanist Association and Xaverian Missionaries* have teamed up to host the Common Ground 2015 Conference on October 8, 2015, at Rutgers University to prove just that: it is possible, and valuable, to bring people of religious and secular backgrounds together to share worldviews and collaborate for social action.

Though we’ve received a surprising amount of pushback from those on both sides who consider even engaging each other in dialogue a breach of integrity, I am continually optimistic—realistically optimistic, as a former skeptic of this initiative myself. Before I became part of the planning committee for Common Ground, the idea that atheists like myself could collaborate with those of religious perspectives was a platitude—something I accepted as sounding “true” but would probably never try myself.

In other words, how could we agree on anything with an elephant in the room? By revealing it and disempowering it.

I don’t believe in a god. I don’t believe that “God” or any deity itself has any impact on the world (only we do and as a direct consequence of our beliefs)—so god-belief/lack-thereof as a debate is irrelevant to me. What worries me is when theism encourages discriminatory thoughts or behaviors. What worries me is when god-belief doesn’t allow focus on community-building and making the world a better place but perverts its own mission with negativity or exclusiveness. On the other hand, I do care that one percent of the world’s population owns more than half of the world’s wealth. I also care that mothers without access to healthcare are dying from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. I care that there are more social justice issues that are challenging, daunting, widespread, and persistent than I can possibly list here. And so do “they”—the wonderful people of all religious/irreligious backgrounds who I get to work with in organizing Common Ground.

Fr. Carl Chudy of Xaverian Missionaries cites French Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas in the value of true, uncompromising discourse:

He says when estranged groups go beyond superficial dialogue, their rivalrous relationship dissolves. Even more: true dialogue reveals what the rivalry covers up, a state of mutual need and responsibility. For him, authentic dialogue partners relate as healers of each other’s hurts and inadequacies. But fear and ignorance of each other makes us resist such vulnerability. The solution is simple: take the risk.

We aim to create a safe space where we can take courage in honesty and find strength in vulnerability. We aim to build together a culture of empathy, a space where we can transcend stereotypes to channel our best selves into social action. That’s why we’ve inviting panelists of all professional and faith backgrounds to talk earnestly about how we each find meaning in life and where we get our values and ethics. It’s also why participants will be given a good amount of time to work together intimately on controversial social issues like reproductive rights, religion in political elections, hate crimes against nonbelievers, and more.

As Chris Stedman, executive director of the Yale Humanist Community, author of Faitheist, and an upcoming Common Ground panelist told the Interfaith Youth Core:

The humanist case for interfaith cooperation is found at the center of my worldview: in the position that it’s unlikely that any divine or supernatural forces will intervene in human affairs to solve our problems. If this is so, it is ultimately up to human beings to address human problems. Thus, we have to work together: atheist and theist, Muslim and Christian, Buddhist and Jew, humanist and Hindu.

But the humanist case for cooperation goes beyond mere necessity. As a humanist, I believe that human beings have things to teach one another—that we can learn from people who have different experiences and beliefs. Interfaith cooperation not only humanizes our differences and lessens suspicion between communities—it teaches us that we are better together.

If you remain unconvinced, that’s okay. Those who will be attracted to the goals of Common Ground won’t be representative of all views, and there will still be those who do think the religious and nonreligious are at an impasse. I am not suggesting that the Duggars and Ted Cruzes of the world will come around. But even from a nontheistic point of view, if we want to be the change we want to see in the world, we must broker that change together.

I invite you to register for and come to Common Ground, holding your skepticism at bay and approaching each other with a compassionate, humanistically informed frame of mind.

*with help from the Rutgers University Department of Off-Campus Housing and Community Partnerships (Student Affairs), American Ethical Union, and the Rutgers Humanist Community

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The transforming power of New York in the life of some Italian Youth

By Fr. Michael Davitti, SX

On Wed. August 12th, a group of 22 Youth from Florence, Italy, visited the Xaverian community of Wayne, NJ. They were coming from Columbus, Ohio, where they had been hosted by Central Ohio Technical College. During their stay, they met Senator Jay Hottinger, who inspired them with the history, technology and artistic accomplishment of that community.

New York was the last part of their trip which had been devised as a full immersion experience with the American people and culture. The meeting with our community gave them possibility to sort out and share their various feelings and experiences.

All agreed in saying that it had been an unique experience: when they first arrived in New York, they were convinced that it was just another big concrete jungle, like any of the big cities in Europe. But, within a few minutes, they were caught-up in its magic and totally charmed by the city’s life style and its sights.
The “Big Apple” gave them a burst of extraordinary energy, as though they had always lived there. Its crowds made them realize that being anonymous is not such a bad thing: because no one knows you, no one cares for who you are, they don’t judge you and accept you for who you are.
Being such a diverse population gives this city an innate capacity to accept all kinds of people and their diversities.
The city of Florence is crowded by tourists of different nationalities, nevertheless the variety of races and cultures they met on the streets of the city, struck them deeply because they were not tourist but local people.

They noticed also how New Yorkers are constantly on the move. They never saw anyone or anything just standing here. They had the impression that the city is by itself on the move. The buzz or energy that enveloped them there compelled them to move on and be somewhere.

Ground Zero, on Lower Manhattan, proved to be for them a breathtaking and humbling experience: they realized that it was America's most sacred ground. September 11, 2001, is in fact a day that remains indelibly etched in the hearts and minds of New Yorkers. What impressed them was the deep silence and solemnity of the place.
This experience of Sacredness, of stepping on a holy-ground, became the turning point of their tour, which at that moment became a pilgrimage.

The last place to be visited was St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Midtown Manhattan. They could experienced for themselves how this holy place, is a spiritual haven of tranquility and renewal in the very heart of the city. They discovered how this church is not only the Center of Catholic life in the United States and also an iconic New York City and national landmark.

At the end of their trip, they came to realize that they entered USA as a tourists, and they were now exiting as  pilgrims. They felt transformed: their knowledge of different cultures and people had been deepened, their faith strengthened and the bonds of their friendship tightened.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Called to Ecological Conversion

We ran across this fine reflection that helps us understand the concerns of Pope Francis and the whole Church since the publication of his encyclical, On Care of our Common Home. This reflection was actually given in 2011 which speaks of the concerns of our faith and and stewardship of the earth long before the Pope's encyclical. Click Sr. Nothwehr's link below for the source of this reflection and the footnotes which you may find helpful.

by Sr. Dawn M. Nothwehr, O.S.F.

Praise be You, my Lord
through our Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains and governs us,
and who produces varied fruits
with colored flowers and herbs.

—Francis of Assisi, “Cantico di Frate Sole” (trans. Short)

A universal maxim proclaims: “There is no love more powerful than a mother’s love.” Standing amid the Umbrian hills near Assisi, St. Francis fittingly associated their lush verdancy with such a passionate and luxuriant affection. As Bonaventure tells us: “The realization that everything comes from the same source filled Francis with greater affection than ever and he called even the most insignificant creatures his brothers and sisters, because he knew they had the same origin as himself” (590).

Francis’ understandings about the earth and its Source came from Sacred Scripture, particularly the Psalms, the canticles of the daily liturgical office, and the agrarian culture of Assisi. He knew the creation stories from Genesis by heart and the reality that “the Lord’s is the earth and its fullness; the world and those who dwell in it (Ps 24:1). From Genesis 2:15 he believed that God entrusted the cultivation of the earth to humans—not to exploit it, but “to till it and to keep it” (as God sustains all of creation). Like the Israelites, he also understood, “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and guests with me” (Lev25:23). He comprehended the connection of human life to the land proclaimed in Psalm 65:9-13:

You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide the people with grain, for so you have prepared it. You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth. You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with richness. The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy. (NRSV)

Most North American Christians have lost such intimacy with the created world. We are not able to immediately recognize creation as God’s self-revelation complementing familiar biblical witnesses to God’s grandeur. In fact, we have come close to obliterating much of the natural world, marring it to the extent that it can barely eke out a mere whimper in praise of God’s glory rather than a “shout of joy.”

In his volume, The Weather Makers: How We are Changing the Climate, Tim Flannery stated:
In effect, 1986 marks the year that humans reached Earth’s carrying capacity, and ever since we have been running the environmental equivalent of a deficit budget, which is only sustained by plundering our capital base. The plundering takes the form of overexploiting fisheries, overgrazing pastures until they become deserts, destroying forests, and polluting our oceans and atmosphere, which in turn leads to the large numbers of environmental issues we face. In the end though, the environmental budget is the only one that really counts. (Flannery, 246, cited in McFague, 20) The most egregious effect of this benchmark plundering is the starvation of millions of our sisters and brothers across the globe and the irreversible damage that has been wrecked upon the bioregions of the world.

Most difficult for us westerners to grasp is that this ecological crisis has come about in the name of what the Enlightenment vision called “progress” and “good”! In fact, North American and European social, political, and economic systems are deeply rooted in Enlightenment thinking that valued the individual over the communal. That world view and moral vision also allowed humans to be lordsovernature. Humanity was to civilize and tame the wild world, using its vast resources to satiate every human desire. Unfortunately, because for generations the Earth’s hardy resilience masked the damage being done to its ecosystems, most people were blinded by the short term gains or “true goods,” to the long term evils that have been lurking just around the corner.

Indeed the losses column in the earth’s communal ecological budget has been growing geometrically. We in the United States generously contributed to that debt, feasting in opulence. Though we represent only 5 percent of the global population, we consume at least 25 percent or more of the world’s resources (McFague,155)! Pollution, unsustainable agriculture, reliance upon unsustainable energy sources and more—all of these things undermine the earth’s ability to support us.

The Food Crisis: An Occasion for Ecological Conversion

As my grandmother would say, “We’re in quite a mess!” One indicator of this “mess” is the current world “food crisis.” This space allows me to only indicate several of the complex and interlocking causes of this catastrophe (see Maryknoll News Notes). First, there was the liberalization of agriculture during the debt crisis of the1980s, that resulted in a decrease in local food production and a hugeincreasein food imports for many countries.

Land use changed from small sustainable food crop farming to giant agribusiness operations and monocrop farming. Overtaxed depleted soils, increasing required petro-based fertilizers. Additionally, biofuel production began replacing food production. In the United States, a total of forty-eight million tons of corn were consumed in 2007 over and above what was consumed in previous years. The manner in which those tons were consumed changed as well. Rather than all of the corn being consumed as food, thirty tons were now consumed in ethanol production and only eighteen tons were consumed as food.

Climate change also affects the food crisis. Dry regions of the globe are becoming drier. There are longer droughts and more frequent and destructive fires, and wetter places are becoming wetter, causing flooding and crop loss.

The weight of this data leaves us feeling overwhelmed, depressed, or even angry—and that is good! Such feelings indicate the moral sensitivity of a Christian disciple! Yet, it is tempting to simply deny or ignore these realities and to escape into even more destructive behaviors. But that’s not what Christians are called to do!

Church teaching is clear about the immorality of damaging the environment and destroying the earth’s ecosystems. Indeed, on March 10, 2008, Archbishop Girotti of the Vatican Office of the Apostolic Penitentiary listed “ecological” offences among the “New Forms of Social Sin” (see Hickman). Earlier, the late Pope John Paul II called us to “ecological conversion.” He admonished that what is: . . . at stake . . . is not only a physical ecology that is concerned to safeguard the habitat of the various living beings, but also a "human" ecology which makes the existence of creatures more dignified, by protecting the fundamental good of life in all its manifestations, and by preparing for future generations, an environment more in conformity with the Creator's plan.

In their 2001 statement, Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good, the U.S. Catholic bishops called for “a civil dialogue and prudent and constructive action to protect God's precious gift of the earth's atmosphere with a sense of genuine solidarity and justice for all God's children” (see the conclusion). The hope is that we know what significant life changes we must make toward halting global warming now!

However, beyond employing green technologies, the biggest “fix” that is needed is the transformation of the human heart and engagement of a lively moral imagination. Here is where St. Francis of Assisi, the patron of ecology can help us.

 A Franciscan View of the Earth

Only after his conversion, Celano tells us, did St. Francis truly delight in creation. Falling in love with Christ drastically shifted Francis’s capacity to see and to know. Then, as Bonaventure tells us, “In beautiful things he contuited Beauty itself . . . [and he] savored in each and every creature that fontal goodness” (596–97). The deep connection Francis experienced with the land and all of creation is best expressed in his Canticle of Brother Sun. Let’s look particularly at his verse about “our Sister, Mother Earth.”

First and foremost this work is a praise of God. Repeatedly, Francis used the Italian preposition per meaning “through” to indicate that it is God’s fecundity and generous love poured out in creation and the verdancy it bears forth. Francis used a “double feminine” image to express this praise given to God through the earth itself. This image of the Tellus Mater, representing the earth as soil, is a primeval notion. Francis takes things further, however. He repeats some ancient connections—the earth “feeds us” and “provides various fruits,” but typical of God’s opulent generosity, the earth also provides us with “colorful flowers and herbs”! As a bonus, our whole person is given a feast for the eye and the heart—the earth’s adornment reaches to the depth of the oceans and to the heights of the entire cosmos!

But lest we miss the point, Francis also calls the earth, “sister.” Here Francis’s real point is to establish the deeper relationship between God, humanity, and the earth. “Sister” does not diminish the powerful understanding of “mother.” However, it does convey that the earth stands among the creatures, and she is not the ultimate singular source of life.

As co-creatures with our sister, Mother Earth, we are called to live together with her, with one another, all earth-creatures, the entire cosmos, and God in a relationship of cosmic mutuality. Such relationships are precisely the challenge of Franciscan theology and ethics for our day. In our ecologically threatened world, we must “confess to Almighty God” the times when we have used and abused the earth seeking material security and desiring god-like power. Such moments have contributed to the global conditions leading to the present food crisis. We have harmed the earth—committing sororicide, matricide, and even suicide—killing off our sister, Mother Earth, and endangering our own existence. Let us heed the call of Pope Benedict XVI: “I invite all believers to raise a fervent prayer to God, the all powerful Creator and the Father of Mercies, so that all men and women may take to heart the urgent appeal: If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation.” Indeed, with St. Francis we are called to live out the virtue of humility, to protect and preserve the earth and all creatures, which in their beauty and complexity draw us in, give us joy, inspire us to praise, and lead us to the heart of God.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Mr. Foday Kamara: Muslim and Catechist

Fr. Louis Birabaluge, SX is a Xaverian Missionary who works in Sierra Leone, West Africa, where the predominant religious faith is Islam. Our relationship with our Muslim friends is very good and we collaborate on many things. Here is a very interesting story of interfaith collaboration. 

Since 1965, the Catholic Church has recognized the dialogue with people from other religions as part of Christian mission. Thus, the Catholic Church has rediscovered itself as conversation (Pope Paul VI, Ecclesiam suam, n°67). It has invited all Catholic Christians to be ever aware of their duty to foster unity and charity among individuals and even among nations, whenever they are living in dialogue.

This main task has been carried on successfully by the Catholic Church with other religions, mainly with Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism, in different ways. There have been many initiatives, based on a faith in One God, Creator of all people and in their common sharing of human destiny: religious leaders’ meetings, common understanding, theological studies, acts of charity, common search for peace and justice...

While all religions are grateful to what has been done and commit themselves to continue the dialogue for the good of our divided world, some new questions have emerged especially due to the increase of violence and murder for “religious reasons”. The increasing number of crimes committed by the so-called Islamic State, Boko Haram in Nigeria and El Shebab in Somalia are now certainly shaking the conscience of many people, even those who do not belong to any religion.

Undoubtedly politics, economics and other factors play an important role in the violence and the murders. Thus, it’s unfair to refer only to religious reasons in order to justify this inhumane scandal. In his book: The myth of interreligious violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict, Oxford University press, 2009, William T. Cavanaugh, an American Christian writer, has shown, with strong arguments, that in the spread of the present violence, without excluding completely religious reasons, it’s not wrong to consider religious causes as pretexts. According to him, the true reasons are to be found within political and economical motives.

But, as many extremists and killers claim their religious identity - Boko Haram and El Shebab members for example call themselves “Islamic groups”, there is a need today to question the ability of religions and their diverse followers to be factors of peace, unity and reconciliation among people. Therefore, the purpose of interreligious dialogue should be redefined. New ways of witnessing to One God in whom all believers worship have to be explored.

Can Muslims and Christians join together to defend Christian minority when they are persecuted by extremist religious groups? Can Christians and Jews work together to defend and protect the rights of Muslim minority groups, in countries where their religious freedom are denied? We cannot avoid these questions nowadays. In a world where people are being killed or discriminated because of their religious identity, interreligious dialogue can no longer remain politically neutral or a mere consensus to avoid conflicts. If this was the case, all the efforts of so many years of dialogue and mutual understanding among believers should be considered useless.

Beyond words and academic discussions, it’s necessary today to identify and imagine concrete signs of promotion and protection of minority religious groups. That’s why the case of Mr. Foday Kamara, is a precious pearl. It has to be kept and to be made known. In my view, F. Kamara is a true example of interreligious dialogue, in true deeds, in the sense of encouraging religious diversity and supporting religious minority group.

Who is Mr. F. Kamara? He is a headmaster of the Roman Catholic (RC) primary school of Walia, Mongo Parish, Makeni Diocese in Sierra Leone and is a Muslim, by faith. While, I was visiting his school, I was taken by surprise because he introduced himself as a headmaster, a Muslim and a catechist. The word “Catechist” refers to someone who teaches Christian doctrine or helps non-Christians to understand and discover the Christian faith.

Naturally, I was curious to know how a Muslim can be involved in catechism in the sense of promoting the Christian faith. His answer was: “I believe we need Christians in our Muslim dominated village. A Christian presence may help us to understand that there are other religions in the world, other ways of worshiping God. That’s why I decided to help children who want to be Christians”.

Therefore by teaching catechism, Mr. Kamara is promoting Christianity in his Muslim village. One may ask “how is it possible to teach Christian doctrine without being Christian?” It’s true that for the Catholic Church, catechists are not people transmitting an external doctrine which they do not believe themselves. They are supposed to believe what they teach. For our Muslim catechist, this is not the case. He is just helping children to know and understand a little bit what Christian doctrine is. Among the new catechumens of Walia, the village of Mr. Kamara, there are two of his children. To teach catechism, he uses the materials provided by the Parish Priest, who is first the one responsible for catechism in the school. However when he is absent, Mr. Kamara always takes over. Some Sundays, when the Parish Priest comes for the Service of the Word of God and for prayer, Mr. Kamara always helps him to gather the catechumens together.

In a village where there are no Christian adults, the help of someone like Mr. Kamara is crucially important and his religious identity doesn’t necessarily matter. Whether a Muslim can be a catechist is a question for another time. We can just praise his openness and good will. He helps to understand one main purpose of interreligious dialogue -not to convince other religious partners to change their own faith, but in common understanding, to help each other to stand firm in one’s own faith, to worship truly the of God his faith and to be a witness of God’s love among people.

This is also the conviction of Mr. Kamara. In our conversation, I asked him if in teaching catechism he was not changing his faith and becoming Christian. He answered me saying: “I do not need to become Christian. If I do not love properly my neighbours, it’s not because I am Muslim. It’s because I do not practise what my Muslim faith teaches me. Had I been a true witness of One God in whom I believe and worship, a true Muslim, I would surely have been better than what I am today”.

Living in diverse cultural contexts, missionaries have helped the Catholic Church to be more aware of the challenge of interreligious dialogue and to take it seriously. By their encounter with people of other faith, they have helped Christians to better understand other believers and urge other Christians not to reject anything of what is true and holy in other religions. (Vatican II, Nostra Aetate, n°2). Missionaries have to carry on this task, with zeal and with conviction.

In the midst of the many shameful bad news coming from countries like Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Kenya...because of violence based somehow on religion, the case of Mr. Foday Kamara, Muslim and catechist, is indeed a small piece of good news from Sierra Leone, where religion is no longer a cause of conflict. He reminds us that religious diversity is not always a factor of division and violence. The faith of other believers is a gift given to all to deepen their own faith and to live it truly.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Christian perfection is not the privilege of a few

Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai
Vatican City
August 3, 2015

To read one’s own personal history in faith is often an exercise in deepening the awareness of God’s loving presence in one’s own life.

That is why Pope Francis invites us to experience the joy of encountering Christ and to renew it constantly, asking us to re-read our own personal story and to scrutinize it in the light of God’s loving gaze.

It is God who, out of his great love, gives us life and calls us to abide in him.

My parents were not Catholics when I was born. They were neither atheists nor adherents of any specific religion. They gave me a name: Tai-Fai (in Cantonese), literally meaning “great light”.

There was a reason for this: an existential one. A few years before my birth, my elder brother passed away. My parents followed the customary belief that some spirits came and took him away. To prevent this from happening again, my parents gave me a big name, in the hope that the spirits might be kept at a distance. However, what they never imagined was that God would come to take me and place me in his service within the Church.

My brother and sisters were studying in Catholic schools. My elder brother was the first convert in the family. After his baptism, the other siblings could also do the same, but at a younger age. As a result, I was baptized at the age of 10. My Christian name is “Dominic Savio,” literally meaning that I am “of the Lord in a wise way.”

In my case, God gave me the wisdom to treasure the light of faith I had received as a great gift of Jesus in my baptism. Those following the steps of Jesus will never lose sight of the divine light he brought to us in his Incarnation. It is through their constant imitation of Christ that the same divine light shines forth from the Church. This divine light constitutes the holiness of the Church, to which all of the faithful are called by virtue of their baptism.

Two years after I was baptized, I joined the Salesian minor seminary. In 1969, I made my first profession as a Salesian, and God has never failed me along my vocation journey. In spite of all my limits and imperfections, I still want to respond even today to his call and to serve him in the Church.

Baptismal grace

All that matters for baptism is love. God is love. He pours out into our hearts his love, by which we love him above all things and our neighbor as ourselves, including those with whom we have no direct contact: all because of God.

Baptismal consecration is the starting point of Christian life by virtue of the initiation sacraments.

Sacraments of initiation (baptism, the Eucharist and confirmation) are three distinct celebrations. Yet there remains a strong unity among them. The equal dignity of all the members of the Church is closely related to these three sacraments. I use “baptism” to mean the three.

As Son, Jesus lived his consecration through the Paschal event, loving the Father above everything, submitting Himself totally to the Father’s will. All the faithful by means of the anointing received at baptism are incorporated into him, and consecrated to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit, belonging to God alone unreservedly and decisively. So each of them is called to share the mission of Christ. This consecration constitutes the identity of every Christian.

Thus, all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. Christian perfection is not the privilege of a few. Every member of the faithful is consecrated.

If laying down one’s life for one’s friends is the greatest proof of love, Jesus offered his own life for all, even for his enemies, in order to transform their hearts.

However, his death must be seen in the light of his Resurrection. In my religious life, I was given different responsibilities as schoolteacher, assistant of the young in the boarding school, theology professor, director of an institute, even Provincial Superior, but none of these, strictly speaking, are my mission.

My mission is to be one with Christ so as to be freely sent by Him to whatever community, to carry out whatever service, for whatever people, and in whatever responsibility. Everyone in the Church is called to holiness.

Called to shine forth

When I started with a re-reading of my own personal story and the meaning of my name, I tried to scrutinize these things in the light of God’s loving gaze. The meaning of being “called to shine forth” has become clearer to me.

Only then we will have found the beauty of the truth that redeems. Nothing can bring us into close contact with the beauty of Christ himself other than the world of beauty seen through the eyes of faith, and the light that shines forth from the faces of the saints, through whom his own light becomes visible.

Being called to shine forth bears a particular urgency regarding the care for “our common home,” as our Holy Father has recently called it. Pope Francis has expressed his great concern for an integral ecology by offering his new encyclical, Laudato sì'.

In fact, he especially shares the attitude of Saint Francis of Assisi in his concern for God’s creation and for the poor and the outcast. Saint Francis loved, and was deeply loved, for his joy, his generous self-giving, and his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim, who lived in simplicity and wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature, and with himself.

Pope Francis shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.

What we need above all in this moment of history are people who, through an enlightened and lived faith, make God credible in this world.

In a time where the certainty of a meaningful life is losing its strength, where the natural capacity for beauty is curtailed, and where nature, as “our common home”, is being diminished, we need consecrated people who are willing to plunge themselves into a serious form of evangelical radicalism.

Then, after all the purifications that they will be obliged to undergo, they will somehow mysteriously manage to become the light of the world, and to found a city upon a hill, gathering from the various ruins every possible strength to rebuild and reshape a new world.

Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai SDB is secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples

Monday, July 20, 2015


By Fr. Vito Scagliuso, SX

Driven out of China, where they had been working in the Honan for over 50 years and had founded the dioceses of Cheng-chow and Loyang, the Xaverian Missionaries had to find new hospitable shores in order to continue the work initiated four centuries before by their patron saint, Francis Xavier. On the way to the Indies, Francis Xavier had made a stop in the land of the Temnes and Sherbros of Sierra Leone, whose villages, scattered along the estuary of  the Rokel river, provided to the European ships a refuge, abundant drinking water and other goods (often even slaves), before continuing their voyage towards the Cape of Good Hope.

The founders of the Xaverian Mission in Sierra Leone, Bishop
Azzolini, Fr. Calza, Fr. Olivani, and Fr. Stefani.
In the summer of 1950, the four pioneers of the first xaverian adventure in Africa retraced the atlantic route of Francis Xavier. A merchant ship discharged the missionaries Calza, Olivani, Stefani and the dean of the group Azzolini on the pier of the Freetown port, where two Irish missionaries were waiting for them. Soon they left for the Northern Province of Sierra Leone, where they had been previously assigned by the Roman authorities, to plough a territory as large as Lombardy, almost entirely Islamized.

At Lunsar, a mine centre of the Region and in Makeni, an important base of the English colony, the Italian missionaries found a minute group of Christians and many school projects to be realized. They had been sent to the North, not too open to external ethical and cultural influences - so  much so that several people had commented: “They only go to waste time!” – to answer the appeal of  local chiefs, educated in the missionary schools of Bo and Freetown, who were keen to extend the benefit of education also to their villages.

They wasted no time. Within a few years they built schools, dispensaries, hospitals and professional centres. Groups of catechumens, too, sprouted as well as parish centres and a seminary, to welcome the first vocations to the priesthood. Other Xaverians came to help them and more institutions dedicated to education, to the care of the disabled, to the assistance of the poor and needy of society and to the promotion of women.

When in the spring of 1987 Bishop Azzolini handed over the responsibility of the diocese to Bishop
George Biguzzi, who had been a teacher  in St Francis’ secondary, Makeni, for several years and then Regional Superior of the Xaverians in Sierra Leone, the diocese already numbered 30,000 Catholics, distributed in 10 parish centres and many outstations. More than 35,000 students were attending his primary and secondary schools and the Makeni Teachers’ College. The Lunsar hospital and the dispensaries of Makeni, Kambia and Kalamba were among the most appreciated in the country, together with an efficient network of mobile clinics for the local service to leprosy patients, polio children and other sick people. Rightly the President of Sierra Leone, Dr Shiaka Stevens, when conferring on him the highest honour of the state, the Rokel of the illustrious benefactors, stated: “You and your missionaries have worked miracles in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone”.

In the autumn of 1985 the octogenarian Pa Shiaki, as he was called by the people, handed over power to the former Chief of staff of the army, Joseph Momoh, who would reveal himself unable to solve the problems of the country. The situation became more and more unmanageable to the point of provoking a coup d’etat, improvised and corrupt military governments, rebellions in the army and guerilla warfare. All this precipitated the country into the gulf of the civil war and into the savagery, to which the whole world looked with horror.

In 1987 the new Bishop G. Biguzzi inherited a church that was well organized and lively in its manifold realities, but also conditioned by a history that looked to new things with mistrust. The pioneers who had introduced in the Northern Province considerable innovative contributions in the educational, social and religious fields, were still present and active: honoured and esteemed both by christians and muslims. Makeni diocese already had 7 local priests and about 30 seminarians. By the year 2000 they would have doubled.

Towards these privileged sons of Sierra Leone the new Bishop directed his attention as a shepherd, in order to ensure a future without traumas to his church, threatened by the approaching of a revolution that seemed to put into question all the ethical and cultural values of the past. When the civil war mercilessly erased many works and places of Christian piety, the Bishop supported and encouraged the hidden, yet alive, communities in the villages, in the bush, in the refugee camps. He worked hard to find a safe place for his priests, his young seminarians, the missionaries, the religious men and women, who had often given witness by imprisonment, by physical and moral sufferings and by life itself, to their faithfulness to Christ and to their service to the brethren.

Through the radio and by all other means, he tried to convince those who were fighting on various fronts to desist from unreasonable plans. He managed to set up and lead a delegation of religious leaders to convince the combatants to accept a truce, to facilitate negotiations of peace and to promote reconciliation in the country. He appealed even to the United Nations that they might not forget Sierra Leone, in need of urgent political and humanitarian interventions, of specific help to safeguard its own natural and civil resources, to make it possible for this small country of W. Africa to rise from the ruins and to look to the future with serenity.

When accompanying to Rome a delegation of former child soldiers for the Jubilee 2000 and on the occasion of international acknowledgements and prizes for his commitment in favor of minors, particularly hit by civil war, he called the attention of the world to the thousands of  the young victims of  hatred and violence that needed rescuing, re-education and re-union with their families, so that they might return to a normal life, to a childhood of playing, of dreams and of the school in their villages of the hinterland.

On 7th January 2012 Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of the Bishop of Makeni, Bishop George Biguzzi, for having reached the age limit.

In the Northern Province of Sierra Leone, for some time both the clergy and the people had been waiting as his successor a local Bishop from their own Province. They felt that the time had come for a priest of the Northern Province to be consecrated Bishop. The procedure for the appointment of the new Bishop in a diocese as large as half of Sierra Leone came to be entangled and divisive. After several consultations, Fr Henry Aruna, a priest of the diocese of Kenema, in the South East of Sierra Leone, was chosen as Bishop. He was a lecturer of philosophy in the St Paul’s Major Seminary and also the secretary of the Episcopal Conference.

He was not accepted by many priests, religious and Christian communities and, later, by the population of the Northern Province, Muslims and protestants included. The designated Bishop Henry Aruna has not been able yet to make his entry into the diocese of Makeni. Some journalists have called this crisis of regional pride “tribalism”, a “schism” or a serious “rebellion” to the Pope. An Apostolic Administrator, the Xaverian Fr Natale Paganelli, is still in charge of the diocese, while waiting for the Holy See to make a final decision about the situation.

Almost contemporaneously to this sorrowful religious crisis, Sierra Leone had to face, after the
Fr. Carlo Di Sopra, Provincial of the Xaverian Missionaries
in Sierra with some friends near Kabala.
disastrous civil war that lasted more than 10 years (1989-2001), more suffering owing to a virus called Ebola, which started in neighboring Guinea and has caused thousands of human victims; it continues to worry all W. Africa.

We are now waiting that this latest trial may definitively cease and wipe away, with Ebola, also the divisions and the grudges in the small and tormented Sierra Leone. May the diocese of Makeni sing again the Alleluia of a newly found unity, under the leadership of a Bishop accepted and loved by the whole population of the Northern Province. We hope and believe that this may come about soon.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Secular Humanists and Religious Believers Connecting on Common Ground

By Fr. Carl Chudy, SX

The Xaverian Missionaries USA are pleased to announce a conference of dialogue between secular humanists and religious believers called COMMON GROUND: GROWING UNDERSTANDING & COOPERATION BETWEEN RELIGIOUS BELIEVERS AND SECULAR HUMANISTS.  It will take place October 8 at Rutgers University, from 8 am to 6 pm. 

In an unprecedented collaboration between a national atheist association and a Roman Catholic religious order, the Xaverian Missionaries are working together with the American Humanist Association in efforts to search out our common ground together. It is graciously hosted by Rutgers University which provides an opportunity for students to dive into this very important conversation and dialogue between faith and secular culture, a dialogue they confront sometimes on a daily basis.

Common Ground 2015 is an all-day conference, free and open to the general public, that aims to bring together religious believers, secular humanists, and nonbelievers in conversation to gain perspective on each other’s ways of seeing the world, while embracing commonalities in our human experience that unite us for social change. Through four panel sessions and networking attendees will hear academics and leaders from national and local organizations discuss views on finding meaning in life, ethics and values, and how to collaborate for social action. 

Common Ground friends in 2013 gathered at the Scottish House of Parliament
where we led a panel discussion.
Why This Dialogue?
In 2013 we began this "Common Ground" project with the Xaverian Missionaries in the United Kingdom, spending an entire weekend with those invited from the British and Scottish Humanist Societies, Catholics, Church of Scotland, Muslim, Bahai, and other religious traditions to tease out where we stood on common ground in such areas as a community, ethics, family, education, and more. As Catholics, Pope Francis shared from the Joy of the Gospel: 
“As believers, we also feel close to those who do not consider themselves part of any religious tradition, yet sincerely seek the truth, goodness and beauty which we believe have their highest expression and source in God. We consider them as precious allies in the commitment to defending human dignity, in building peaceful coexistence between peoples and in protecting creation.” 
The Pope here raises up an enormous concern that threads through his predecessors from Pope Paul VI's establishment of the Secretariat Non-Believers in 1965, and the strengthening of that work of that secretariat which became the Pontifical Council for Dialogue with Non-believers by Pope Saint John Paul II. The Pontifical Council for Culture of the Roman Catholic Church created a program, already underway in parts of Europe called Courtyard of the Gentiles through the direction of Benedict XVI. Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Council says this:  "We wish to broach a dialogue, maintaining ourselves sturdy in our territories, but respecting the identities. It is the place to search for common itineraries, without shortcuts or distractions or disturbances, in which listening becomes fundamental in spite of the differences.” For Catholics, we have far to go and much to do to allow this concern of the Church to be internalized in the plans of the new evangelization in each and every diocese, particularly in Europe and the United States.

Ordinary People Seeking Meaningful Connections
Secular humanists and religious
discussing common social
One of the remarks that surfaced consistently in our Common Ground conference among humanists
and religionists was that it seemed easier to find ways to dialogue among religious believers and humanists because we all believed this dialogue was important to undertake and came to the conference for that explicit purpose. This in fact was one aspect of “common ground” we all found. We all need to be in this dialogue relationship. That conviction that we all saw so apparent in our conference is in fact not shared at all with many of our colleagues, friends and fellow believers. In some ways, for theists and atheists, the necessity of this dialogue and collaboration is still new.
The labels we use with each other often deter us from understanding the real diversity and real, human deep concerns of both believers and secular humanists. It is not so much a dialogue of convictions or faiths as much as it is a dialogue of persons who hold convictions and faith very imperfectly. The things we hold precious, the convictions we live by are hard fought and shaped and honed over years of living life. It is much more than a communication of convictions and faith, it is a sharing of our lives where trust is enlivened, where our love and concern can be shared in words and in the nonverbal. This dialogue thrives on friendship and service.

The Mysticism of Encounter
Pope Francis invites us to live the"mysticism of encounter": "The ability of hear, to listen to to other people. The ability to seek together the way, the method...also means not being frightened of things." Our driving force is a solicitude for the world and for humanity, inspired by Vatican II. Like secular humanists, we Catholics also wish to honor and serve humanity, to strengthen its ties with each other and to embark on our common human journey where we walk shoulder to shoulder.Moved by the Spirit of Christ, we are called to recognize what is truly human, Dominated as we are by pervasive and global communication, and at the same time a failure often to communicate what is true and authentic, we are called to be welcoming, transparent, and sincere, to see ourselves as a community open to the complementary of meeting in fellowship those who are different. 

A Muslim and Humanist participant at the Common Ground Conference in Scotland.
Growing Circles of Dialogue
Our hopes with the Common Ground Conference at Rutgers University is that it will spur further opportunities for secularists and religious believers to come to understand one another more profoundly in many walks of life.. The first thing that often changes in these encounters is our minds about each other. We often in religious circles imagine ourselves at battle with secularists, a fear driven outlook which deters us from seeking further the real truth that we are allies in a world that is often sick and violent, called to heal together. For Catholics, this is indeed an opportunity to unveil our own eyes in order to gaze at the powerful and pervading presence of the Trinity in all persons.