Friday, November 20, 2015

Jubilee of Mercy for Catholics, Jews, and Muslims

Opening the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica and the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis also hopes to open a year of "fervent dialogue" among Christians, Muslims and Jews, so that all who profess faith in a merciful God may be stronger in showing mercy toward one another.

The opening of the special jubilee year just a month after the terrorist attacks in Paris and at a time of continuing strife in the Holy Land and around the Middle East shows the size of the challenge facing those committed to interreligious dialogue, but it equally shows the need.

In his official proclamation of the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis noted that the Christian profession of faith in God's mercy "relates us to Judaism and Islam, both of which consider mercy to be one of God's most important attributes."

He prayed that the jubilee would "open us to even more fervent dialogue so that we might know and understand one another better; may it eliminate every form of closed-mindedness and disrespect, and drive out every form of violence and discrimination."

The Pope goes on to say: "There is an aspect of mercy that goes beyond the confines of the Church. It relates us to Judaism and Islam, both of which consider mercy to be one of God’s most important attributes. Israel was the first to receive this revelation which continues in history as the source of an inexhaustible  richness meant to be shared with all mankind. As we have seen, the pages of the Old Testament are steeped in mercy, because they narrate the works that the Lord performed in favour of his people at the most trying moments of their history. Among the privileged names that Islam attributes to the Creator are “Merciful and Kind”. This invocation is often on the lips of faithful Muslims who feel themselves accompanied and sustained by mercy in their daily weakness. They too believe that no one can place a limit on divine mercy because its doors are always open. " #23 Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy 

Friday, November 13, 2015

On the Way: Lutheran and Catholic Churches Come Closer Together

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and the Catholic Church released a very important document entitled: Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry, and Eucharist. The heart of the Declaration is the Statement of Agreements. On church, ministry and Eucharist, the Declaration draws together a litany of 32 consensus statements, where Catholics and Lutherans already have said there are not church-dividing differences between them. An elaboration of these agreements grounds them in the dialogues' work. Finally, a more tentative section identifies some "remaining differences" – not intending to be comprehensive but suggesting some ways forward. We would like to share with you the reflection of Bishop Denis Maden who has been working tirelessly in ecumenism.

A few days ago the Catholic-Lutheran ‘Declaration on the Way’ to Unity was released in Chicago and Washington by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Bishops Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops respectively.

My first feeling on this long-awaited occasion is gratitude to God. Jesus prayed at the Last Supper that all his followers may be one [John 17:21]. St. Paul continually sought unity in the Christian communities [e.g. 1 Cor 1:10-11; Ephesians 4: 1-3]. I am most appreciative of the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our work over the last three years. We prayed regularly for this guidance.

I am grateful for the thousands if not millions of Lutherans and Catholics internationally who work together quietly to feed the hungry, to help displaced families, and to serve their communities in so many other ways. Their example of Gospel living and of practical unity inspires the dialogues.

I am grateful to all those who worked so diligently and thoroughly on Catholic-Lutheran dialogues internationally and in various countries during the last 50 years. It is their hard work that we synthesized in this document.

As a Catholic, I am grateful for the Decree on Ecumenism [1964] of the Second Vatican Council that initiated pastoral collaboration and theological dialogues. I am most appreciative of the continual support of Saint John XXIII, Blessed Paul VI, Saint John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. I often think of Pope John Paul II’s magnificent encyclical on ecumenism Ut Unum Sint [1995] and especially on its discussion of the deep spiritual roots of ecumenism.

Let me encourage all of you who read the document to begin with a time of prayer. Prayer is the appropriate context for seeking the guidance of the Spirit before reading the text.

I encourage a careful reading of the text. Our Task Force spent many meetings poring over the precise wording so that we could be as accurate as possible. The cumulative force of the agreements is amazing. I did not expect so much agreement by so many dialogues on so many issues.

I did experience some challenges. I grew up in the Bronx before the Second Vatican Council. Our overall relationship with Protestants was still one of conflict. Though, in our neighborhood we got along. I still have some ‘flashbacks’ to those days and occasionally encounter inappropriate negative feelings. Perhaps you will too.

The Declaration on the Way challenged me to deeper understanding and balance. The generous and patient service of my colleagues on the Task Force challenged me to live the Gospel more fully.

I find that ecumenical encounters are a road to spiritual maturity. I hope and pray that all who study this Declaration will too.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

November 5: Feast Day of St. Guido Conforti, Founder of the Xaverian Missionaries

Fr. Carl Chudy, SX

On October 23, 2011, on a chilly morning overlooking the Piazza at St. Peter's in Rome, thousands of pilgrims gathered in a sea of yellow hats and scarfs marking us all as the larger family of the Xaverian Missionaries in 21 countries worldwide. The canonization of St. Conforti was a liminal moment in the history of the Church where the charism of this one man, which continues to touch so many to this day, helps us all open the boundaries of our hearts. The Catholic "embrace" is as wide as all of humanity, and even all of the cosmos.

Moved by God's Love

We can perceive in Conforti’s words the “mysticism ” of a man who had an intense experience of God’s love made manifest in Jesus Christ.He did not rest in his endeavors to ensure that this love was shared by all those who hadn’t received the opportunity to experience it in their own life. He cared deeply about communicating this love because he sensed that this was how humanity should be led to full knowledge and the true source of this love, in other words, to God himself. The experience of God’s love generates a certain malaise and a certain dissatisfaction in the human heart. In order to bring this experience to its fullness, we must share it, abandon our own comforts, break with our egoism and communicate a new possibility of life for all. He witnessed that all we receive from God must be shared with others.

Spirituality of Communion

The Founder’s writings contain some important expressions that show us how he lived the spirituality of communion: “I recommend that you have one heart and one soul among you, that you remain always united by the bond of perfect fraternal love which ‘does not think ill, does not claim its own rights and does not get irritated. It believes all, hopes all and endures all”.

St. Conforti was aware that each person must realize that he is part of a greater reality and transcend the limits of a purely personal well being to widen his horizons within the context of communal living, which makes it possible to “restore meaning” to one’s own personal history and live more profoundly the proposal of love that flows from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Passion for Christ, Passion for Humanity

In this sense, his passion for Christ moved him to see the wide embrace of God that transcends cultural and faith boundaries. He of course was a man of his time, who understood the missionary commitment of the Church in the theology of the beginning of the 20th century. He did not have the mind and heart of Vatican II which helped the Church completely change how we see the global mission of the Church today, and our relationship with those of other faiths and cultures. But his desire to go beyond the borders of his diocese to the lands of China spoke of his all embracing vision of God's Kingdom, and to see this as a priority for any diocese. The Xaverian commitment is to meaningfully connect the Church to the larger world that is neither Catholic, nor Christian. Inter-religious and intercultural dialogue is at the heart of our work. 

Opening up new vistas for Christian communities speaks of our encounter of God, the God of Jesus Christ, in the soul of every people, carrying only the cross of Christ – his love/giving – to do as He did and reveal to our sisters and brothers our own experience of this love.We discover that the Spirit of God has gone before us and that Jesus Christ is the only essential thing in the mission.The missionary is only the faithful servant of Jesus who bears witness to Him and draws others to Him through his evangelical witness.

First Proclamation: A New Beginning of Mission

For us Xaverian Missionaries, the day of the canonization was an opportunity to confirm and strengthen our commitment beyond faith and cultural boundaries: we did so in St. Peter’s Square, but also in the innumerable places where this same commitment has sent us. In that moment, the faces of the confreres who have gone before us to the Father’s House passed before our eyes. Present with us, and even more intensely than us, were our elderly and sick confreres who, in their weakness and from the cross, continue the proclamation. We also experienced that “to make of the world a single Family” is not utopia: the variety of faces, ages, languages, cultures and origins was the icon of a family gathered by the common ideal of holiness that was lived by our Founder.

Dialogue with cultures and religions is the common search for God and the signs of His presence in human history. Dialogue “is part of the Church’s evangelizing mission”, “it does not originate from tactical concerns or self-interest” and is considered today as an essential element of the mission. We promote the development and coordination of the Centers for intercultural and interreligious dialogue, so that they contribute to the theological and missiological reflection and offer new proposals of missionary methodology.

Our commitment to justice and peace should give special attention to these activities where they are already being carried out, and promote them wherever they are still not present, by collaborating with local organizations. We are reminded that sensitivity to these sectors, and a positive involvement in them, can contribute to a greater justice between the North and the South of the world and to reconciliation in countries where there is conflict.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Final Vows of Sister Susana Miranda Jimenez

On October 8, 2015, Sister Susana Miranda Jimenez professed her final vows as a religious missionary sister with the Xaverian Missionary of Mary Sisters. Sr. Susi (as we lovingly call her) is from Mexico and spent considerable time in her dedication to the Lord and to the global mission of the Church. Today, while working on her English, is assisting in the Latino ministry of the Diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts, along with her other sisters.

The Xaverian Missionary Sisters of Mary

The Xaverian Missionary Sisters (of Mary) were established in Parma, Italy, in 1945. The seeds of this foundation can be found in the prophetic insights of Saint Conforti. “In the Xaverian Congregation I would like to start a Community of Sisters, for I consider it of great importance.” (Conforti, in 1927). Celestine Healy Bottego, born in Glendale, Ohio on Dec. 20 1895, and lived in Butte, Montana until her 14th birthday, expressed her consent to collaborate with Fr. James Spagnolo to start the community of sisters, in 1944 in Italy.

Today, the Missionaries of Mary – Xaverian Sisters – are present in Italy, Brazil, Mexico, United States, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Japan and Thailand. They are engaged in evangelization, catechetical activity, health care, and human promotion (especially of women). They live in small mission communities, often in areas of great poverty. They strive to respond to deep-rooted aspirations of the local churches and people among whom they live, and whose journey, sufferings, hopes and expectations they share.

Consecrating our Lives to Something Grand

The missionary sisters draw inspiration from Mary, in the mystery of the Visitation and hold her to be
the model of their interior spirit. Like Mary they travel the world, that all people will know the love of God. At the heart of Mary's role in our lives is the model she provides of one who consecrates themselves to the dreams of God that transcends all plans and dreams of happiness.

In many profound ways, the gesture of Sr. Susi is really a reflection of the deepest, most profound desires within all of us: consecrating our lives to something larger than our small visions and personal interests. What are you willing to consecrate yourself to? What are you willing to embrace that would take up all of your life, decisions, actions, and aspirations?

For religious missionaries, the horizon is open; we are called to prayerful watchfulness, interceding for the world. On the horizon, we continue to see little signs heralding an abundant, beneficial rainfall on our dryness, faint whispers of a faithful presence.

Pope Francis has a direct questions for us: "Do you struggle with the Lord for your people, as Abraham struggled? It is here where religious missionaries find themselves at the crossroads of the world. The experience of the poor, interreligious and intercultural dialogue, the complementarity of men and women, environmentalism in a sick world, eugenics without scruples, a globalized economy, planetary communication: these are the new horizons that must be inhabited and brought firmly under the guidance of the Spirit. It is here where consecrated missionary life becomes a welcome dialogue in search for God which has always stirred the human heart.

Seeds for the Future

In this Year of Consecrated Life, religious missionaries, along with many others, is called to "wake up the world," since the distinctive sign of religious life is prophesy. This prophetic role, like with the Old Testament prophets, is all about people, like Sr. Susi, with a unique role to read and respond to the times in which they live. We need to encourage many more to consecrate themselves to something grand, something bigger than our little dreams. It is our role to enflesh the dreams of God for all of humanity.

Check out our resources on the Year of Consecrated Life

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Let's JAM: Believers and Non-Believers Find Common Ground

Jessica Xiao is Project Assistant for the American Humanist Association and this article was take from The Xaverian Missionaries USA collaborated with the AHA in this wonderful project which we hope we create new circles of dialogue, collaboration, and action.

“Common ground” is a term that gets used a lot and certainly has positive connotations. Of course, what underlies the attempt to find common ground with another individual or group is the admission that something separates you in the first place. The Common Ground 2015 conference held last Thursday on Rutgers University’s New Brunswick campus in New Jersey was an earnest, lighthearted, and successful attempt by the Xaverian Missionaries and the American Humanist Association to foster an open space for honest dialogue between religious believers of all backgrounds, secular humanists, and nontheists of all stripes through panel discussions and work-shopping.

Before you stop reading because this is all just a bit too touchy-feely for you, consider what AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt said in his panel presentation about our ability to shut down and close our minds:

Sometimes atheists and freethinkers are among the worst at unthinkingly lumping all Christians and Muslims together as if billions of people could have monolithic views. Just reminding them of this obvious statement helps bring people back to reality. We have to recognize the true variety out there, which gives us the chance to work in a coalition large enough to make a positive difference. I firmly believe such a strategy is far more effective than efforts at conversion.

Panelists were tasked with the challenge of condensing their years of learning and experiences into ten minutes of speaking time on topics like finding meaning in life, where we derive our ethics and values, best practices for collaborating in diverse environments, and best practices for social activism (I’ve listed some of my favorite takeaways below).

Panelists and attendees then worked together on topics of their interest, some prompted by issues raised in Q&A and in pre-written case studies—like affordable housing, reproductive rights, combatting stereotypes, separation of church and state, and religion’s influence on running for public office. Others formed impromptu groups, driven by their own specific commitments to social activism—such as a group formed around the Black Lives Matter movement and another to address Islamophobia.

The conversation did not end that day. Just as the Xaverian Missionaries did with their early reprisal of Common Ground in Scotland in 2013, we are assembling a journal to gather and share the reflections and learnings at the event.

If I was previously even a touch skeptical about the merits of this kind of approach to collective action, I now firmly believe in its necessity. As much as I would like to pat the organizers on the back for the well-balanced panels, for the emergence and reemergence of particular themes, the coalescing of ideas from secular, luminous, anecdotal, and clinical or research-driven perspectives into a universal language seeking “truths” in the human experience, we could not have expected the day to be guided by a common endeavor so visceral it translated directly into the intent behind every interaction: to share in experiencing “being human” and acting on behalf of humankind. As Arun Gandhi said, “Everyone is in the human family.”

It’s about time atheists and humanists joined the interfaith dialogue. Too often we are uninvited or worse, dismissive and close-minded to the value of caring together. As Dr. Will Storrar, the Common Ground moderator and executive director of the Centre for Theological Inquiry in Princeton, New Jersey, put it:

In our dialogue, humanists and religious together, we have been cultivating our common ground: a common commitment to common action on common concerns—the flourishing of our common humanity and the preserving of our common planet. And we made “JAM” from the fruit of our cultivation: Joint Actions Memos that set out common actions we can take to tackle our common concerns. On our common ground, we launched the new JAM-ming movement of humanists and religious believers, respecting our differences, affirming our commonalities, and collaborating for the common good. Let’s JAM!
Takeaways, Redefinitions, and Reflective Questions

Though these takeaways can be attributed to multiple sources throughout the day, I’ve referenced panelists who most directly spoke on certain topics and identified which panel sessions were most relevant to them (they are linked to the conference videos on the American Humanist Association’s YouTube channel).

Finding meaning (or purpose), whatever the source, is positively related to wellbeing and prosocial tendencies. (Panel 1, David Bryce Yaden, Dr. Julien Musolino)

Religion’s role, as seen in the eyes of many panelists, is to act as a human-made construct from which moral “truths” can be distilled from fiction, a way to contextualize an individual life as being part of a whole and interconnected, and a way of seeing existence through mortality. The question is whether one’s truths and beliefs are working in practice. (Panel 1& 2, Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer, Fr. John Sivalon)

That doesn’t mean there aren’t forms of belief that are conversation stoppers. We are capable of criticizing institutional religions and the idea that atheism is a prophylactic against stupidity. But we should aim to negotiate without patronizing each other and without forcing each other to betray our lifestances and beliefs. (Panel 1 & 2, Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, Dr. Julien Musolino, Dr. Declan Mulhall, Dr. Anthony Pinn)

Ethical Culturists and Unitarian Universalists believe in “deed before creed.” We can escape theological debates when working towards a common goal when we focus on outcomes, rendering the question “can one be good without a god?” inapt when the question should be “how can one be good?” But, is process just as important as outcome? Should benchmarks of success be motivated by the process? (Panels 2 & 3, Hugh Taft-Morales, Bart Worden, Dr. Anne Klaeysen, Dr. Anthony Pinn)

Separation of religion and state is crucial. (Panels 1, 2, 3)

In order to be a good ally or supporter of a movement, you must (1) educate yourself, (2) build relationships, (3) be an agent of cultural change, and (4) show up. Also, get good at telling stories. (Panel 3, Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer, Nadia Hassan, Dr. Sarah Spengeman)

Panelists in Session 2: Ethics and Values are challenged to some tough questions about abortion, the meaning of “deed before creed,” and more.

Secular and religious leaders shared touching lessons about how to be a good ally in other social movements, deliberated whether outcomes are more important than the process and the struggle, and shared personal experiences of social activism as an individual or within their respective organizations in Session 3: Leaders Speak Out!

Panelists and attendees “JAM” together on social issues during the afternoon workshop.

Panelists and attendees “JAM” together on social issues during the afternoon workshop.

Jessica Xiao is a Project Assistant for the American Humanist Association.

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.