Friday, January 23, 2015

Civil Conversations Project: Kwame Anthony Appiah — Sidling Up to Difference

One of the more remarkable projects out there today is one called: Civil Conversations Project: A Public Forum Providing Ideas and Tools for Healing our Fractured Civic Spaces. It is hosted by Krista Tippet. Each week, those who listen to her show ‘On Being’ have the opportunity of listening to Tippett in conversation with some of the most interesting people in the world. No matter what the subject, by the end of the program listeners have had their assumptions challenged, awareness expanded, and new questions formed.

In this particular conversation, how can unimaginable social change happen in a world of strangers? Kwame Anthony Appiah is a philosopher who studies ethics and his parents' marriage helped inspire the movie Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. In a tense moment in American life, he has refreshing advice on simply living with difference.

We as Catholics need to listen to many voices and the wisdom of God shared through the many rivers of faith and reason that flow throughout the world in many different ways. Our embrace needs to be wide and Mr. Appiah offers some interesting advice. Listen to this podcast from Krista Tippet.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Religious Commitment to Eradicate Human Slavery

On January 11 National Awareness Day for Human Slavery and Trafficking was held with activities
throughout the country to spotlight this insistent, relentless injustice that harms mostly women and children. Religious leaders from around the world gathered at the Vatican with Pope Francis in order to declare together that religions of the world must help eradicate human slavery. Human trafficking is a horrific crime against the fundamental rights and dignity of the human person. The United Nations Protocol on Human Trafficking defines it as "the "recruitment, transportation, harboring or receipt of persons by means of force, fraud or coercion."

What is Human Slavery?
According to the U.S. State Department, every country in the world is affected by trafficking. The United States is no exception, serving as a source, transit and destination country for men, women and children - both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals. According to the State Department's 2012 annual Trafficking in Persons Report. . . , federal and state human trafficking data indicate more investigations and prosecutions have taken place for sex trafficking than labor trafficking in the U.S.; however, victim service providers reported assisting significantly higher numbers of foreign national victims in cases of labor trafficking than in cases of sex trafficking. Non-governmental and religious organizations, such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, have noted increasing reports of children recruited into criminal activity, particularly at the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as traveling sales crews and peddling rings utilizing the forced labor of children and adults.

Why is Human Trafficking So Prevalent?
Owing to the lack of anti-human trafficking laws, enforcement of such laws where they exist, along with the ease and ability to re-exploit individuals, human trafficking has become one of the fastest growing sources of profits for criminal enterprises worldwide.  Though efforts to combat it have been increasing, human trafficking has been experiencing a dramatic resurgence in recent years according to the ILO.

Traffickers lure vulnerable men, women and children with false promises of good jobs, an education, economic security and even love. Once lured, the traffickers are able to keep their victims from seeking help by confiscating identification documents, using threats of violence against the victim or their family, as well as subjecting the victim to physical, psychological and/or sexual abuse.

No sector or industry is immune from human trafficking.  Victims have been identified in factories, restaurants, construction work, agricultural fields, hotels, spas, nail salons, and even private residences.
Catholic Social Teaching and Human Slavery
The Catholic Church's vehement opposition to human trafficking is rooted in principles of Catholic social teaching, central to which is the sacredness and dignity of human life, and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church which "for­bids acts or enterprises that, for any reason, lead to the enslavement of human beings – to their being bought, sold, and exchanged like merchandise, in disregard for their personal dignity." The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) Committee on Migration's Statement On Human Trafficking clearly outlines the Church's teaching on human trafficking, noting "Human trafficking is a horrific crime against the basic dignity and rights of the human person. All efforts must be expended to end it."

For over a decade the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has been a leader in the U.S. and global response to human trafficking, and has even established an Anti-Trafficking Program within the Migration and Refugee Services Department to coordinate the response of the U.S. Church. Explore the links below to learn more about the Church's effort and to find out how you can help.

Resources to Learn More and Act

God of freedom and love, we are saddened to know
that more than one million people are trafficked into
slavery each year.
The effects of contemporary slavery are felt in every
country around our world.
As sisters and brothers, we are tormented by this
reality that will leave devastating repercussions for
generations to come.
Our hearts grieve for what our minds can barely
comprehend, particularly when we hear of women,
men, and children who are deceived and transported
to unknown places.
We recognize this sexual and economic exploitation
occurs because of human greed and profit.
We are sorrowful and our spirits angry that human
dignity is being degraded through deception and
threats of force.
Help the violators to be transformed and enlightened
to realize the scope of their unjust actions.
Allow them to see the value and the dignity of every
human person.
Lord of Life, strengthen all those whose hearts have
been broken and whose lives have been uprooted.
As a people in solidarity with Your suffering children,
grace us with strength and courage to denounce this
crime against humanity and to work against the
demeaning practice of human trafficking.
~ Adapted from a prayer by Sr. Genevieve Cassani, Franciscans International

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Letter from Ebola Country, Sierra Leone, West Africa

Fr. Luigi Brioni, Xaverian Missionary in Sierra Leone for many years shares a candid look at Christmas in Sierra Leone at a time when the Ebola virus is claiming many lives. Please pray.

Dear Friends and Xaverian Brothers to my heart:

It’s Christmas again this year, with the Babe that never says NO to be with us and for us all. Last year I spent the last ten days of December in hospital with serious malaria; this year Ebola has come to our Country and keeps everyone afraid and sorrowful. But I remain with you (without Ebola!) with my prayer and best wishes, with His heart and mine!

The situation now in the Country is still tragic, in spite of all the authorities’ promises and people’s expectations. Even yesterday 27 people have died of Ebola, and in the first two weeks of December 550. Many International Organizations have come to our help, but still there is no light by the end of the tunnel. The Catholic Church is making herself very present to the Nation by instructing people to avoid infection, by assisting quarantined families and villages with food and money, by taking care of some of the orphans that Ebola has made everywhere.

In my own area of Fadugu and in our whole District of hills and mountains the virus has remained fairly under control and at present we are “still” free from Ebola. But anything can happen at any time. That’s why the Government has decided a total lockdown of our northern part of the Country for 5 days beginning tomorrow morning. The only exceptions allowed would be the Masses on Christmas Day. But no public festivities, caroling, parties, football games … So our Christmas this year will be a very quiet one, just hoping that the Angels of Bethlehem will come nonetheless to visit us with their song of glory!

Personally I feel OK and my health holds on. But, as you can imagine, my heart cries to the Lord as I see our people living in fear and confusion and more misery, with children without education and traders without markets! To our poor in the area we try to be present with small money to make their Christmas meals less sober than usual. However we missionaries are far away from solving any problem this Ebola has created to the Country.

No matter what, at my Mass of Christmas, it will be my great joy to think of you all in adoration to the Little One, who is the only Great One of the world. And He will not fail to smile at all of us, both there and here, with the supreme smile of God.

May Bethlehem give us in Sierra Leone the joy of Jesus’ fraternal conviviality also with your prayer. Thank you.

Blessed Christmas to you all with my love and my missing.

Fr. Luigi Brioni, sx
Xaverian Missionaries
Sierra Leone, West Africa

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Very Busy, Interfaith Friendly Pontiff

This news was gleaned from the Interfaith News Roundup of the Interfaith Observer. This is a very useful resource for those interested in interfaith dialogue and collaboration.

Pope Francis may have been the busiest cleric on the planet last month. He vigorously chided European leaders for being unconcerned about unemployment and not caring for the migrants drowning in the Mediterranean in their attempts to reach Europe, 3200 so far this year.

On a journey to Turkey, he condemned the persecution of religious minorities in Syria and Iraq and called for Christian-Muslim dialogue. He met Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I (a powerful gesture towards healing an ancient breach), and they jointly signed a declaration urging leaders everywhere to help the victims of the Islamic State group and pleading for the right of Christians to remain in the lands where they have been at home for 2,000 years.

Back at the Vatican, Francis gathered with leaders from half a dozen faith traditions to initiate an anti-trafficking campaign with the goal of ending slavery by 2020.

In another historic first, Pope Francis visited a Pentacostal church and apologized for past oppression.

The pope also welcomed (though he didn’t organize) a conservative interfaith conference at the Vatican on marriage and the “complmentariety” of male and female.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Why I Choose to Live My Faith Outside of Organized Religion

We ran across an interesting blog post on Huffington Post by Mickey Mooney who authored the book, An Outsider's Guide to the Gospel. Mr. Mooney represents a growing number among our younger generation who are foregoing participation in institutional religion and are find their own ways to live out a faith life in God. Others bring together multiple identities that seems to fit their lives very well, like being both secular and Christian, or Hindu, or something else. Welcome to the world of the New Evangelization and what we must dialogue with in order to understand this new world we live in, and to find much better responses to a younger generation who have little trust in absolute truth, church hierarchy, and institutional religion. We include his blog post in its entirety in order to invite you to engage in a conversation about this. What is your response to Mr. Mooney? What are the implications of a younger generation opting out of the institutional churches and other faiths? We appreciate respectful and constructive comments.

Let me start by making my premise clear: Believing in God doesn't mean I believe in religion, and believing in Jesus doesn't mean I believe in the religion of Christianity. While I accept I'll often be lumped into these groups because I believe in God and Jesus, I know that I myself don't subscribe to any organized religion. I have in the past, and I learned my lesson.

While some say only one religion leads to God, and others might say all religions lead to God, I would say the opposite: That no religion leads to God. They may talk of God, point to him even, and have some relevant points, but, in my opinion, they do not, and can not, lead fully to God; the various branches and denominations of Christianity are no exception.

The very structure religion confines itself within, along with its immovable dogmas, is proof enough that it will always fail to lead anyone to the full reality of our boundless, cosmic-sized God. It's clear to me that God is bigger than any box a religion can set up to put him in.

While it seems popular to think Jesus came to build an army of sorts for God, and to then organize his followers to build him an empire on earth, I personally don't subscribe to such a concept. In fact, I think Christ came to do the opposite; I believe he came to end empire thinking and bring each of us back to a personal, individual experience of God.

I believe it is a divine experience that is not based on us (as some kind of Christian army) conquering the world on his behalf, but rather, it is the experience of Christ himself conquering our individual heart with the victory of his love. For it is only when his love has fully overcome our hearts that we can truly be led into a divine understanding of God.

So what does a personal relationship with God feel like? It feels personal, that's what. It's a relationship that you and God experience and understand. It's not a corporate relationship. Yes, many others also have a personal relationship, and that's a beautiful thing, just as connecting with other believers is a beautiful experience, but I don't expect their relationship to God to be a cookie cutter of mine. Vocabulary that describes my faith and belief is -- and I think should be -- different. The way I connect with my divine Father naturally varies to others.

The thoughts and questions that God stirs my heart with -- and the answers I find -- are never going to be the same as everyone else, because my relationship with God is personal.

Contrary to this is organized religion. Religion creates a corporate identity. When we buy into religion we end up speaking, sounding, even looking like everyone else within that corporate branded identity. Same thoughts. Same beliefs. Same well-defined doctrines; and if you step out of line and have questions that don't fit that corporate identity, chances are you might be silenced, or even booted out.

Well, you know, I don't mind if I don't fit the corporate identity of organized religion, nor do I seek membership. I'm happy to have a relationship that is unique with my creator, to let go of long-held religious ambitions, and simply live in the reality of everyday life. I simply want to walk freely in each day, with an open mind to learn new things and an open heart to connect authentically with the world around me.

Mick Mooney is the author of An Outsider's Guide to the Gospel.
The best place to connect with Mick is on his facebook page.

Follow Mick Mooney on Twitter:

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Peacemaking in the Cultural Wars of Christmas

We ran across the blog of Rachel Held Evens which brings an insightful point to what some have called the cultural wars of Christmas. Some Catholics and other Christians imagine a kind of "persecution" from our non-Christian friends, religious or not by imagining that Christ can be "taken out of Christmas" by replacing Christian symbols with secular ones. It is an imagined battle where we need to retaliate in order to preserve the real meaning of Christmas. What it instead displays is a kind of Christian insecurity in a very diverse and pluralistic society we actually live in. We should instead find ways to engage the religious with the secular in the common ground of our humanity, our common concerns for family, love, and the goodness of the world we share. Based on our common ground, common compassion in a divided world is possible. We present Rachel's perspective in its entirety. Merry Christmas!

There is a pernicious rumor that resurfaces every Advent season and spreads across social media faster than a cold in a kindergarten class.

It’s the rumor that God can be “kept out” of Christmas.

You may have heard it from Kirk Cameron or an anchor at Fox News or an army of culture warriors who have once again worked themselves into a frenzy over the “War on Christmas.” Galvanized by fear, they storm checkout counters to demand that clerks issue them a “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” and cry persecution when inflatable manger scenes are moved from public courthouses to private property. They pine after the good-old-days when Christians could force Jewish kids to sing Christmas carols at school and they demand that every gift purchased, every mall opened late, every credit card maxed out must be done so in Jesus’ name or else Christ will be “kept out” of Christmas. They do it because someone told them that God needs a nod from the Empire to show up, forgetting somehow that the story of Advent is the story of how God showed up as a Jew in the Roman Empire.

In a barn.

As an oppressed minority.

To the applause of a few poor shepherds.

The whole story of Advent is the story of how God can’t be kept out. God is present. God is with us. God shows up—not with a parade but with the whimper of a baby, not among the powerful but among the marginalized, not to the demanding but to the humble. From Advent to Easter, the story of Jesus should teach us that God doesn’t need a mention in our pledge or on our money or over the loudspeaker at the mall to be present, and when we fight like spoiled children to “keep” God in those things, we are fighting for idols. We’re chasing wind.

Religious persecution is real. Suffering is real. But sharing the public square is not persecution and being wished “happy holidays” causes no one to suffer. We would do well this time of year to remember the words of the Apostle Paul from Philippians 2:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!  

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Facing Ebola at our Parish St. Guido Conforti, Makeni, Sierra Leone

Fr. Girolamo Pistoni, Xaverian Missionary, points toward Sierra Leone his home
Fr. Girolamo Pistoni, Xaverian Missionary and pastor of our parish, St. Guido Conforti in Makeni, Sierra, shares his experience as the parish grapples with the terrible effects of the Ebola Virus. 

When the virus Ebola hit the Northern Province of Sierra Leone in July, tension was high due to the lack of acquaintance with this new disease. But later one question arose in the diocese of Makeni and among the Xaverian Missionaries: What can be done to help the country in this dramatic situation?
The first answer was: be very prudent!!

Thanks to the sensitization promoted by the authorities, through the media, especially through the FM radio stations, almost everybody in the country now knows how to avoid Ebola infection. We ourselves try to implement the simple measures that can help to save lives, such as: avoiding body contact, for example the shaking of hands when greeting; suspension of the funerals, main source of contagion; cancellation of all pastoral activities, except the Mass in the morning and the rosary in the evening.

This information has been passed on also to the prayer leaders, by organizing a workshop in each parish of Bombali and Port Loko Districts. A diocesan team, formed by a priest, a nurse, a member of Caritas and one of Justice and Peace Commission visited the parishes and presented very useful information on Ebola from the pastoral, medical and social point of view. In Conforti Parish the workshop was held on Wednesday 22nd of October and was attended by 26 people.

The Diocese and the Xaverians realized  that those who suffered were not only those infected by the virus, but also their families, who were put in quarantine and therefore the second answer to what could be done to help the country was: “coming to the aid of the families in quarantine”.
When a member of a family is found positive to Ebola, all those who live in the same house are obliged to remain inside the boundary of their compound, without coming into contact with other people, for 21 days. The soldiers and the police guard these places to prevent any escape or intrusion from outsiders. If later another member of the same family presents symptoms of Ebola or dies for the same reason, the counting of the days of the quarantine period starts again from zero.

A family of Masongbo, a village distant four kilometers from Makeni, started their quarantine on the 7th of August and finished on the 15th of October! They were thirty in number at the beginning of the crisis, half of them died.

This isolation is a very serious problem, because most people have not saved any money, not even
extra food in their house. At the same time they cannot go out and do some work to provide for their sustenance. Hunger becomes a real threat. The head of a family in New London (a zone of our parish) was complaining and crying because the neighbours did not allow them to draw water from the well.

In addition, their friends and their family members, due to ignorance, are afraid to visit them and therefore they remain isolated and without help.

The Government came to the rescue by providing them some food. But when the family is large, the rations received last only for a few days. For this reason, in dialogue with the Diocese, we decided to add something to the supply given by the authorities.

 Fr. Natale, the Administrator, and our General Direction have offered money donations. Even the catholic community of Mongo Bendugu have collected some cash for the Conforti parish in order to help the people in need.

The christian community of St Conforti parish, too, decided to join in these efforts by bringing to the church, during the Sunday mass, some provisions, such as rice, clean water, onions, charcoal, salt, maggies, milk for the babies and other items, to be shared among the families in quarantine.

When a parishioner brings the message that a family living inside the boundary of St Conforti parish, regardless of their religion, has been put in quarantine, a team, formed by the priests and some members of the church, visit them, to express their sympathy and to see how the community can address their needs.

They keep at a safe distance, in order to avoid contagion and ask them information of the members who have been brought to the hospital and they are encouraged to be strong in such a difficult moment, because as the krio proverb says: “hawevar tin tranga tete, i de don” (even if a situation is very difficult, it will come to an end).

After praying together, they are informed that the team will return the following day with the food they need to survive.

Even if they suffer a lot for the loss of their beloved (in one of the families with 20 members, who received assistance, only six survived), they do not feel abandoned and left to themselves. They are certain that the Catholic community has not forgotten them and will be close to them during the duration of the quarantine.

Ebola-hit Sierra Leone city crying for help