5 July 2018
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines (center), speaks during an interfaith conference on migrants and refugees at the U.N. headquarters in New York on 3 May (photo: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)
In last week’s post on the movement of peoples—mass migrations—taking place in the contemporary world, we looked at the terms which are used to refer to these people and to indicate wherever possible the legal implications these terms might have.
Today, I’ll look at some of the international efforts to deal with the problem of a mass movement of peoples — efforts CNEWA and the Holy See have been involved with in many ways, for many years. It has been clear that since the problem is international in scope, the solutions must also be international. When individual nations attempt to solve the problem in isolation, the result is often merely to intensify the problem in other, surrounding countries.
Despite all the rhetoric and fear-mongering in some quarters, the problem of the mass movements of peoples is really one of a clash of rights.
First, there is the concern over the rights of the refugee (using that term in its broadest sense.). The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) holds that “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” It also holds that “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution;”
But secondly, there is the sovereign right of states to safeguard their borders, although that right is not absolute; a state, for example, cannot use racism and xenophobia (fear/loathing of foreigners) as reasons to “defend its borders.”
Excluding racism and xenophobia, there is, nonetheless, a true conflict of rights involved. The international community understands this — and understands, as well, that the uncontrolled movements of people can cause chaos and violent conflict. The United Nations, aware of conflict between these rights, speaks of the necessity of a safe, orderly and regular migration.
The UN General Assembly on 19 September 2016 passed the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. The lengthy resolution outlines the rights and obligations of both migrants and states. The declaration recognizes the magnitude and complexity of the problem as well as the necessity of a comprehensive, international solution. In the second Annex to the Resolution, the UN announced the launch of a “global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration.” The purpose of the global compact is to “set out a range of principles, commitments and understandings among Member States regarding international migration in all its dimensions” (Annex II, I, 2).
In fact, two global contracts have arisen: the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) and the Global Contract on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM). As would be expected, these compacts have been the subject of intense and ongoing negotiations. Several drafts of both compacts have been published for further discussion and negotiations. It is hoped that “final” texts will be ready to submit to the UN General Assembly Session which convenes in September 2018.
In all this, Pope Francis has been very vocal on the need for a just and comprehensive solution to the problem of the mass movement of peoples. He spoke about this just last March, at the Plenary Council of the International Catholic Migration Commission. Recognizing the work of the UN, Pope Francis stated that the church “must encourage countries to coordinate more suitable and effective responses to the challenges posed by issues of migration.”
The Holy See has also engaged in practical efforts to deal with the crisis. Charitable organizations such as CNEWA, CRS, and Caritas Internationalis—to name just a few—are actively working on the ground to alleviate the sufferings of refugees in the Middle East, Africa and around the world. Likewise, the Permanent Observer Mission (Embassy) of the Holy See to the United Nations, under the leadership of Archbishop Bernadito Auza, has been very active in promoting the emerging Global Contracts through significant interventions in the General Assembly and symposia held at UN side events, co-sponsored by the Holy See.
A major side event, sponsored by the Holy See, was Sharing the Journey of Migrants and Refugees: An Interfaith Perspective on the Global Compacts on 3 May 2018. The website of the Mission of the Holy See to the UNmakes available all the statements and side events which the Holy See has sponsored on the problem of the movements of peoples.
The role which the Holy See and its charitable organizations, such as CNEWA, play is crucial. It is not unrealistically idealistic. It fully recognizes the competition, if not conflict, of rights and the incredible international legal and moral complexities involved here — and it attempts to achieve a just solution favorable to both sides. However, it is not merely engaged in abstract negotiations—as important as these are—but is actively engaged on the ground to help those millions of people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes.
28 June 2018
Tags: Refugees United Nations
In this image from 2014, displaced Iraqis gather for Evening Prayer outside a church in Erbil, Iraq. (photo: Don Duncan)
The planet is experiencing a “movement of peoples” unseen in decades, if not centuries.
The UN recently (20 June) observed World Refugee Day in recognition of this problem. People are fleeing oppressive regimes, climate change induced droughts, floods and loss of land, wars and other forms of what the United Nations calls “drivers of emigration.” Although Europe and North America receive the greatest amount of media attention regarding the problems they face as new people try to enter, their migration problems are dwarfed by countries such as Jordan and Lebanon where refugees form up to 20 percent of the overall population. For comparison, 20 percent of the population of the U.S. would be 66 million people!
CNEWA has been in the middle of this movement of peoples — helping refugees, internally displaced people and those suffering from war and persecution in the Middle East, the Horn of Africa and India. We have helped people in refugee camps obtain what they needed to get through winters, in addition to providing health, social and educational services.
It is important to note that this movement of peoples involves many types of people, leaving their homes for many different reasons and under a variety of circumstances.
There is often confusion in terms when speaking of refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants, etc. Terms often have a specific, legal meaning. Putting all groupings together, the UN speaks of “populations of concern” and “forcibly displaced people.” The terminology and legal structure is, however, evolving. And the distinctions are important.
The UN estimates there are 68.6 million people in the world who have been forcibly displaced. Of these, 40 million are internally displaced people, who have been driven out of their homes and forced to live in other places in their home country. For example, many Christians in Iraq were forced to leave Baghdad for the Nineveh Plain and then driven from there to Iraqi Kurdistan. In Syria large numbers of people—Christian and Muslim—have been driven from their homes to live in other parts of the country.
The internally displaced are, however, only part of the present crisis. Millions of people are leaving their native countries entirely. And the numbers are overwhelming.
It is estimated that, legally speaking in terms of international law, there are 25.4 million refugees, 3.1million asylum seekers and 10 million stateless people in the world. The problem is unprecedented and is putting tremendous economic, cultural and political pressure on target countries throughout the world. Although countries in Europe and North America are often loudest in bemoaning the crisis, the top refugee hosting countries in the world according to the UN are Turkey (3.5 million), Lebanon (1 million), Pakistan and Uganda (with 1.4 million each) and Iran (979,000). In countries such as Lebanon and Jordan, the refugee population is so large — up to one fifth of the people— it can cause incredible— indeed existential—economic, social and political problems.
But it’s important to note that the UN differentiates between refugees, migrants, stateless persons and asylum seekers. Let’s look how the United Nations defines these terms.
According to the UN: “Refugees are people fleeing conflict or persecution. They are defined and protected in international law, and must not be expelled or returned to situations where their life and freedom are at risk. Refugees are persons who are outside their country of origin for reasons of feared persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or other circumstances that have seriously disturbed public order and, as a result, require international protection. The refugee definition can be found in the 1951 Convention and regional refugee instruments, as well as UNHCR’s Statute.”
The UN says of migrants: “An international migrant is someone who changes his or her country of usual residence, irrespective of the reason for migration or legal status. Generally, a distinction is made between short-term or temporary migration, covering movements with a duration between three and 12 months, and long-term or permanent migration, referring to a change of country of residence for a duration of one year or more.”
Likewise the international legal definition of a stateless person is “a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law.” In simple terms, this means that a stateless person does not have a nationality of any country. Some people are born stateless, but others become stateless. Statelessness can occur for several reasons, including discrimination against particular ethnic or religious groups, or on the basis of gender; the emergence of new States and transfers of territory between existing States; and gaps in nationality laws. Whatever the cause, statelessness has serious consequences for people in almost every country and in all regions of the world.”
Finally, while asylum seekers form a distinct category, their legal rights are not clearly delineated. The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) holds that “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” And “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” However, it is not worked out what limitations sovereign states may impose on these rights, since the UN clearly recognizes that sovereign states have control of their borders. An initial attempt at dealing with migration is the UN Global Compact on Migration (2017), which attempts to deal with the complexity of the problem. Archbishop Bernadito Auza, the Permanent Observer (Ambassador) of the Holy See to the UN, has been very active in developing and promoting the Global Compact on Migration.
Pope Francis and his representative at the UN have been advocates and voices of justice and compassion for the millions of people displaced by violence all over the world. Recent discussions at the UN recognize that these people are forcibly displaced, i.e. the do not want to leave their homes. There is an emerging notion of “the right to remain,” that recognizes that the “drivers of emigration”—war/violence, poverty, persecution of minorities, climate induced changes such as droughts, disappearing island nations, etc., need to be addressed in a just and equitable way, if the problems of the contemporary movement of peoples is to be alleviated. Moreover, there is a growing recognition that people have a basic right to demand that governments do everything possible to remove the drivers of emigration which are causing the global problem.
And the Church, in part through the work of CNEWA, is seeking to bring compassion and hope to many of these people on the move.
As Pope Francis said, marking the World Day for Migrants and Refugees this year:
“Every stranger who knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ, who identifies with the welcomed and rejected strangers of every age (Matthew 25:35-43). The Lord entrusts to the Church’s motherly love every person forced to leave their homeland in search of a better future. This solidarity must be concretely expressed at every stage of the migratory experience — from departure through journey to arrival and return. This is a great responsibility, which the Church intends to share with all believers and men and women of good will, who are called to respond to the many challenges of contemporary migration with generosity, promptness, wisdom and foresight, each according to their own abilities.”
15 June 2018
Tags: Refugees Iraqi Refugees Migrants
In this 2012 photo, a young Ethiopian woman plans to be smuggled to Israel — an elaborate process that would require dressing in a veil; crossing into Sudan, then Egypt, likely being arrested; claiming to be Eritrean as a cover story to prevent being sent home; and linking up with another smuggler and finding her way to Israel, where she has friends currently working as domestic servants. For more details, read The High Cost of Leaving, from the May 2012 edition of ONE. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
In a world in which it seems there are ultimately no secrets, we tend to believe that if we haven’t seen it blaring on the news, it just does not exist or at least does not exist near me.
On the other hand, we also have the expression “hidden in plain sight.”
Human trafficking is one of those things “hidden in plain sight” — an injustice against human life and dignity that afflicts far too many in our world, and in the world CNEWA serves.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) defines trafficking as “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power, or of a person of vulnerability, or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control of another person for the purpose of exploitation” — such as prostitution or involuntary labor. Human trafficking is also commonly referred to as “contemporary forms of slavery.”
Although human trafficking is relatively unknown to many people in Western Europe and North America, it is a huge problem. DoSomething, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) created to educate about human trafficking and to end it, estimates that:
There are approximately 20 to 30 million slaves in the world
600,000 to 800,000 people — 80% of whom are woman and 50% children are trafficked across international borders annually
Human trafficking is the third largest international crime industry (behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking)
Even the United States is not immune to this scourge. In 2017, 8,524 cases of human trafficking were reported across the U.S. Of this, more than 6,000 were for sex trafficking and more than 1,200 for forced labor. It is certain the number of cases reported is a small percentage of the actual trafficking going on. In addition, although there are some who dispute the statistics, it is estimated that cities where the annual Super Bowl is held often experience a spike in prostitution, a large part of which is carried on by girls and women in sexual slavery.
If this is the case in the developed world — where there are laws forbidding trafficking and law enforcement agencies to enforce those laws — one can only imagine the situation in countries where the rule of law has broken down and the fabric of society is badly rent.
One of the major works of CNEWA is to help and support refugees in the Middle East. While there is a difference in international law between smuggling people (of their own free will) into target countries and trafficking people (against their will), the distinction often blurs in regions where there are large populations of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons. In some places, the situation is so bad that people in order to survive sell themselves or their children into what is, for all practical purposes, slavery. Very often people who believe they are being smuggled end up being trafficked.
In CNEWA’s world and elsewhere, it’s important to note that women religious have been at the forefront in the battle against human trafficking and sexual slavery. Both at the United Nations and on the ground, women’s religious communities have not only pressed for laws and international conventions against trafficking, they have also put their lives on the line in preventing it, rescuing those who have been trapped in all forms of slavery and trying to eliminate the causes which would bring people to sell themselves or their children into slavery.
Sister Winifred Doherty, RGS, a Good Shepherd sister, has worked with people at risk of becoming victims of trafficking in Ethiopia. She was interviewed by CNEWA for our magazine, ONE, in 2012. Sister Winifred summed up the situation in Ethiopia and the challenges so many women are facing:
“I think in Ethiopia, particularly in the rural areas, the situation of young girls is still critical,” she said. “Lack of education, lack of opportunities for childhood, then being forced to deal with many negative cultural practices like female genital mutilation, kidnapping and forced marriage. These practices don’t help to empower and promote women. This cycle must be broken. The poverty, lack of education, lack of good economic environment — this still has deep influences on women and continues to keep them in poverty.
Having said that, I think we have to look at the more positive things that have happened, through our own services, through the help of CNEWA, and through NGOs and other religious organizations that continue to empower women. So I prefer to look at it from the positive aspect. Changes are happening and are continuing to happen.”
7 June 2018
Tags: Migrants human trafficking
Pope John XXIII visits Regina Coeli jail on 26 December 1958. (photo: Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche/Getty Images)
In many of the places where CNEWA works, there are prisons. Most have appalling conditions; many are places where hope is in short supply. The March 2018 issue of ONE, CNEWA’s magazine, chronicles the work of prison chaplains in Ethiopia who are seeking to change that. While this story is, of course, unique, it is replicated by committed Christians all over CNEWA’s world — and, in fact, the whole world — who are responding to the Gospel mandate to visit the imprisoned.
This story offers us an opportunity to reflect on where that mandate originates, and why it matters so much.
To begin with, prisons appear several times in the Bible. In the New Testament, John the Baptist is imprisoned and ultimately executed by Herod. In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter and John are imprisoned several times as is Paul. In fact, in his letter to the Ephesians Paul describes himself twice as a “prisoner of the Lord.” However, perhaps the most important appearance of prison is in Matthew 25. In his description of the Last Judgment, Jesus harshly condemns those who are “on the left side of the Son of Man.” He condemns them: “Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt 25:41). This is one of the harshest statements of Jesus in all the Gospels. When he explains why these people are cursed, he notes they did not feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked and visit the sick. These are actions which we would expect of a follower of Jesus, especially after he makes them quite literally the linchpins of salvation. What is interesting is that Jesus not only includes visiting the sick but also visiting the imprisoned. The seriousness of this cannot be overlooked. Visiting the imprisoned is for Jesus here a condition for salvation.
Since the time of Jesus, prisons have evolved — though, to be honest, rarely improved. In the ancient world, a prison was basically the place where criminals where held until they we executed, sold into slavery, etc. Imprisonment itself was not the punishment but merely the place where one was held before punishment.
In the Middle Ages, imprisonment itself became a punishment. The ability to execute and imprison people was a sign of power and authority and many a nobleman had a dungeon in his castle where people were held in the most degrading conditions. In the 18th and 19th centuries in England and among the Quakers in Pennsylvania a new concept of the prison evolved. These reformers saw imprisonment not merely as a punishment but as rehabilitation. Prisons became “correction facilities,” where the criminal would repent, reform and return to society as a productive, law-abiding citizen. While a noble idea, it didn’t get very far; centuries later, prisons are horrible places where a “correction facility” far too often releases people who arefrequently no better — and often worse — than when they were initially incarcerated.
Recent popes have been increasingly concerned with the plight of the imprisoned. After years as “prisoner of the Vatican,” the first pope to leave the Vatican was Pope John XXIII. On 26 December 1958 the pope’s first excursion out of Vatican City was a Christmas visit to the prisoners at Regina Cœli, the notorious Roman prison on the Gianicolo. Since that time, popes have regularly visited the imprisoned. Pope Francis has made Holy Thursday the traditional day for such a trip, traveling outside the Vatican to celebrate the Holy Thursday liturgy and wash the feet of prisoners. He is modeling for us what Christ taught — and embodying in a powerful and modern way the very message of Matthew 25.
We are privileged to follow that example in our own work. Supported by CNEWA, prison ministers — very often lay people — are bringing hope and a future to people who otherwise would not have it. Based on a deep conviction that people can change, that grace is more powerful than sin and goodness more powerful than evil, prison ministers help the imprisoned turn their lives around and ultimately return to society.
31 May 2018
Tags: Ethiopia Pope
This 18th-century icon of Mary by Pokrov Bogomateri hangs at the museum in Palekh, Russia. The Orthodox tradition reveres Mary, but never separates her from Christ. (photo: Sean Sprague)
Last week in our reflections on Mary, Mother of the Church, a new Marian feast initiated by Pope Francis, we looked at how Christians in the Western (Roman Catholic) church revere Mary. Today, we will look at how she is revered in the Eastern (primarily Byzantine Orthodox here) churches. These are churches that have a special relationship to CNEWA, for they are cornerstones of faith in many of the regions we serve. Understanding their devotion to the Mother of God helps us understand, as well, the piety of the people — many of whom draw strength and consolation from Mary.
Perhaps the best insight into the Eastern churches’ reverence for Mary can be found in “The Sanctity and Glory of the Mother of God: Orthodox Approaches” by Kallistos of Diokletia (The Way, Supplement 51, 1984), a scholar at Oxford and titular Metropolitan of Diokletia.
At the outset, Metropolitan Kallistos states that “she (Mary) is honored, revered, loved but not the subject of critical analysis. We have no developed ‘Mariology’; indeed, the very word, suggesting as it does an autonomous and systematically organized body of doctrine, has about it a non-orthodox flavor.” For Roman Catholics, accustomed to Marian devotion in the Catholic Church and (at best) Protestant discomfort with it, the Orthodox way is both interesting and important. The Orthodox approach to Mary shows that there is more than one way to approach reverence to the Mother of God and still be faithful to the church’s tradition.
Bishop Kallistos notes that — unlike in the west — there are only two titles of Mary which are fully recognized among all Orthodox: Theotokos (Mother of God) and Aeiparthenos (Ever Virgin). The primary title is Theotokos but — as the bishop correctly notes — the title speaks “not so much about the person of Mary as about the person of Christ.” Orthodox tradition never separates Mary from Christ. When Pope Paul VI in his Apostolic Exhortation ”Marialis cultus” (2 February 1974) wrote of “the indissoluble link and essential relationship of the Virgin to the Divine Savior; we reject any tendency to separate devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary from its necessary point of reference — Christ,” Orthodox theologians and believers could only approve.
Bishop Kallistos treats two recent points of divergence between Catholic and Orthodox understanding of Mary, namely the Immaculate Conception (proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1854) and the Assumption of Mary (Pius XII in 1952). It is not that the Orthodox reject these Catholic dogmas, although they sometimes understand them differently; rather, the Orthodox recognize that “the Mother of God was never a theme of the public preaching of the apostles,” while Christ was proclaimed to the whole world. With the traditional Orthodox sensitivity to the “ineffable” — or that which cannot be adequately expressed — Bishop Kallistos warns, “There is a danger of trying to say too much about the Mother of God. St. Basil’s warning is not to be forgotten: ‘Let things ineffable be honored in silence.’ “
The different ways of giving reverence to Mary reflect the different “theological cultures” of the Eastern and Western churches. While the West has a tendency to analyze, to define and to codify the “mysteries of the faith,” the Eastern churches have a tendency rather to contemplate in awe and silence. The same applies to a great extent to how the two traditions approach Mary in the church in the lives of believers.
We in the West might have something to learn from churches in the East. Not everything is best dissected, categorized and studied. Some things are best simply contemplated. While adding titles to the lengthy Litany of the Virgin Mary might be helpful to some Catholics, quietly entering into the deeply mystical relationship between Mary, Mother of God, and Christ her son might also be a useful thing.
24 May 2018
Tags: Eastern Christianity Eastern Churches Mary
Apparitions of Mary are a relatively recent phenomenon, occurring primarily in the West, but they have served to popularize devotion to the mother of Jesus. This stained glass window at St. Mary Church in Manhasset, N.Y., depicts Mary appearing to St. Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France, in 1858. (photo: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)
In continuing our reflections on Mary, Mother of the Church, a new Marian feast initiated by Pope Francis, we will be comparing how Christians in the Western (Roman Catholic) and Eastern (primarily Byzantine Orthodox, here) churches revere Mary.
While CNEWA works closely with Eastern churches in much of the world we serve, our mission is also to help build bridges between East and West. Understanding Marian devotion can serve to add more planks to that bridge.
This week, let’s look to the West.
First, a little history: In the earliest days of Christianity, the role of Mary was primarily, if not exclusively, as the virgin mother of Jesus. She is mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke; never mentioned by name in John’s Gospel and never mentioned at all in the other books of the New Testament. This is not surprising since the kerygma — the Good News, the preaching and message of early Christians — was about Christ.
St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), a Western Father of the Church, is one of the major theologians of the West in the first five centuries of Christianity. He produced a tremendous amount of letters, sermons, biblical commentaries and theological treatises. As A. D. Fitzgerald notes in “Augustine Through the Ages: An Encyclopedia,” Augustine never dedicated a separate treatise to Mary, “nor did he advocate a Marian devotion in any of his collected works.” Although Mary is the subject of intercessory prayer in Egypt as early as the second century, Augustine never addresses Mary as a subject of intercessory prayer.
Indeed, in the early centuries of the Western church, Mary’s role was secondary and subordinate to that of Christ. The Council of Ephesus in 431 declared that Christians could rightly call Mary theotokos, “Mother of God,” something that had been common among the Syriac-speaking Christians. However, in calling Mary theotokos, Ephesus was concerned more with saying something about Christ than about Mary. In calling Mary theotokos, ”Mother of God,” the Council was stating that in the person of Christ, humanity and divinity were so closely united that what was said of his humanity could also be said of his divinity and vice versa. Nevertheless, the title gave impetus to devotion to Mary in the church.
The Middle Ages gave rise to the troubadour tradition, which paid great and romantic honor to the “pure woman”; coupled with this was the rise of the mendicant orders, such as the Franciscans and Dominicans, which made devotion to Mary increasingly popular. Theologians and preachers from the 12th through 14th centuries — such as Sts. Bernard of Clairvaux, Francis of Assisi, Dominic, Bonaventure, Aquinas and Duns Scotus — all wrote and preached a great deal about devotion to Mary. As a result, during this time, Mary became a very important theme in theological treatises, sermons and, significantly, art. A new “theology of Mary” — Mariology — was developed which dealt with the person, titles, privileges and reverence due the mother of Jesus.
So intense — and, at times, extreme — was the Medieval reverence for Mary that the Protestant Reformation reacted to it negatively. Devotion to Mary was judged by the reformers to be unbiblical, diminishing the centrality of Christ, and was considered by some of the reformers to be idolatrous.
At the beginning of the modern era, a new Marian phenomenon began to emerge in the West — the apparition. The mystical suddenly became visible. Mostly, but not exclusively, in Western Europe, apparitions of Mary began to be reported. We find apparitions at Guadalupe (Mexico 1531), LaSallette (France 1846), Lourdes (France 1858), Knock (Ireland 1879), and Fatima (Portugal 1917), which gave rise to intense and widespread devotion to Mary. With most of these apparitions, the center of attention situated Mary in a particular geographic and cultural context.
As we noted last week, Vatican II (1962-1965) recognized the importance of reverence for Mary and also of correcting some of the exaggerations and at times abuses that had grown up around some Marian devotions. Also, by dedicating itself to ecumenism (i.e., the work for Christian unity), the Catholic Church took seriously some of the criticisms of the Reformation.
In our own day, the church thus situates reverence for Mary in the context of the saving work of God in Christ, which is always at the center of Christian faith and life. Recognizing the importance of local pilgrimage sites, the church underlines that Mary is the Mother — not just of a particular geographic locale or culture — of the entire church.
Pope Francis’ recent institution of a new Marian feast — Mary, Mother of the Church, observed the Monday after Pentecost (21 May this year) — is the fruit of the work of Vatican II, finally giving liturgical expression to an idea as old as Ambrose but as modern as Paul VI.
Next week, we will look at how devotion to Mary evolved in the traditions of Orthodoxy.
Hailing Mary, Part 1 — Mary, Mother of the Church
17 May 2018
Tags: Catholic Church history Mary
A new feast to honor Mary as Mother of the Church will be observed the Monday after Pentecost. Marian devotion is widespread among Christians around the world. Here, an altar server prepares for the liturgy near a statue of Mary in a Syriac Catholic church in Stockholm, Sweden. (photo: Magnus Aronson)
On 8 March this year Pope Francis initiated a new feast to honor the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. The feast — which will be observed on the Monday after Pentecost Sunday — will honor Mary as Mother of the Church. Monday 21 May 2018 will be the first observance of this feast in the Catholic Church.
The number of titles given to Mary in the Roman Catholic Church almost goes beyond counting. Some, like Mother of God (Greek: theotokos) are extremely ancient, while others like Mother of the Church seem more recent. In a sense,”Mary, Mother of the Church” is a title both ancient and recent.
Looking back, we find that mention of ”Mary, Mother of the Church” is rare in Catholic history. In 1895, Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical ”Adjutricem populi” (“Helper of the People”) referred to Mary as “Mother of the Church and Queen of the Apostles.” But we rarely hear mention of that title again until the Second Vatican Council.
There, it appears in the Vatican II document ”Lumen Gentium” (the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 21 November 1964). After dealing with the church from almost every aspect, the bishops at the Council decided to add a chapter (VIII) on “Our Lady.” Although the Council does not give him credit, the German theologian Hugo Rahner in 1944 showed that Ambrose (ca. 340-397), bishop of Milan and a Church Father, saw in Mary a type/image of the church. The Council refers to Ambrose and this teaching and develops it.
The title ”Mary, Mother of the Church,” as understood by Vatican II, is extremely important. The church at the same Council committed itself, among other things, to ecumenism — to the work of restoring unity to Christians. The Council was aware that there have been and continue to be different attitudes towards Mary among Christians. Protestant Christians have sometimes disapproved of Marian devotion, seeing it as taking away from the unique role of Christ. Some have even seen the devotion as idolatrous.
Vatican II was aware not only of the deep importance of devotion to Mary, but also aware of some of the excesses that had grown up over the centuries. The Council “strongly urges theologians and preachers … to be careful to refrain as much from all false exaggeration as from too summary an attitude in considering the special dignity of the Mother of God” (LG par. 67). It reminds the faithful “that true devotion consists neither in sterile or transitory affection, nor in a certain vain credulity, but proceeds from true faith.” (ibid.)
This title recognizes that faith, and recognizes Mary as the mother of all Christians. Her maternal embrace enfolds all under mantel. Modern popes have used the term repeatedly; since 1964, the title ”Mary, Mother of the Church” has been used by every pope since Pope John XXIII.
But it wasn’t until now, with this new feast, that Pope Francis has given it expression in the devotional life of the church.
Byzantine and Eastern Orthodox Christians — people with whom CNEWA works closely — have a great devotion to Mary. However, it is a devotion that is different — though no less intense — from that of Roman Catholics. We’ll explore more of that in the coming weeks.
It would be easy to believe that Pope Francis has just added another Marian feast to a liturgical calendar that is perhaps already overburdened with such feasts (a cursory reading of the liturgical calendar shows 15 Marian feasts a year). However, that is not the case. In fact, by instituting this feast, Pope Francis has countered a certain centrifugal force in Catholic Marian devotion. This centrifugal force can unmoor Mary from Christ, placing emphasis on specific geographical locations, acculturations, etc., which have at times occurred. ”Mary, Mother of the Church” focuses attention on Mary and her role within the church (very similar to the theology of Ambrose) and links her closely — indeed, inseparably — to Christ.
In the next two weeks we will look at how two ancient traditions — Catholic in the west and Orthodox in the east — revere and honor Mary, Mother of the Lord and Mother of the Church. Each tradition can enrich and also act as a corrective to the veneration of Mary among Christians.
3 May 2018
Tags: Catholic Mary
Construction workers lift wet concrete onto the roof of a new development in Kottayam, India. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
CNEWA works in many places where unemployment, long working hours and insufficient wages are endemic. The reasons for these conditions are varied: lack of opportunity, poor or no education, a culture of exploitation. CNEWA supports schools, vocation programs and job training to help people find work that promotes the common good of society and the good of families. This is accomplished by creating a situation in which workers can find dignity in their work and a just wage, which allows them and their families to enjoy the fruits of their work.
Work and human dignity are subjects long at the heart of Catholic social teaching — and they are subjects that gain renewed attention every year around “May Day,” marked on 1 May. On the Catholic liturgical calendar, this is also the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. Both of these observances are relatively recent.
The 19th century — with the technological advantages of the Industrial Revolution, the social disruption of large numbers of people moving to cities to find work and other forces — witnessed the rise of what we call, for lack of a better term, “the workers movement.”
Of course, there had always been workers — often slaves or semi-free serfs — but the conditions of the 19th century provided conditions different from what had been before. Dangerous and oppressive working conditions were common. One need only recall the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York on 25 March 1911. In that fire 146 people — some as young as 14 — died because the employers had locked them in to prevent them taking unpermitted breaks. The Haymarket Riots on 4 May 1886 started as peaceful demonstrations of workers asking for an eight-hour workday. It ended up with several workers and police being killed by bombs and other violence.
Conditions like this prevailed both in the United States and Europe. In response to the Haymarket Riots, a “pan-national” organization of socialist and communist parties in Europe called for a day or remembrance. The first day of May became Labor Day or International Workers Day through most of Europe. Even today 1 May is a holiday in many countries in Europe. (In 1955, Pope Pius XII adopted this date for the feast of St. Joseph the Worker — in part, in response to holidays being observed in communist countries.)
In the United States, a similar movement was taking place. Labor Day, the first Monday in September, was proposed as a holiday in 1882 and became a Federal holiday in 1894. Although neither of these days solved all or even most of the problems workers were enduring, at least it gave the concerns of workers a forum where they could be expressed.
At the same time, labor unions were beginning to evolve in the face of at times extremely violent opposition from management. This inevitably involved the church.
Legal and moral questions were being asked about the relationships and responsibilities that existed between workers and employers. While some religious people looked upon the situation as the way it had always been — and, therefore, part of God’s plan — some in the Catholic Church thought differently.
Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore (1834-1921) was an advocate for justice for American workers. Pope Leo XIII issued an encyclical “Rerum Novarum” (14 September 1891) which was a major stage in the development of Catholic Social teaching regarding the rights of worker and the relationship of mutual responsibility between workers and employers, labor and management. Pope John Paul II brought Catholic sociall teaching further with the encyclical “Laborem Exercens” (14 September 1981 — the 90th anniversary of “Rerum Novarum”). In his encyclical, the pope stressed the importance and dignity of work for human beings. Work, he explained, is part of the human vocation as custodians of Creation. Since work is essential to the well-being of society, workers have a right to just wages. By “just wages/recompense,” the pope is clear that he is not talking about mere subsistence wages that “allow” a family to live — if at all — from pay check to pay check. Workers, he wrote, have the right to share in the benefits of creation, which they are providing through their work and efforts.
Pope Francis last year expressed this idea beautifully.
As Catholic News Agency reported:
According to Christian tradition, [work] is more than a mere doing; it is, above all, a mission,” the pope said.
“We collaborate with the creative work of God when, through our work, we cultivate and preserve creation; we participate, in the Spirit of Jesus, in his redemptive mission, when by our activity we give sustenance to our families and respond to the needs of our neighbor.”
Jesus of Nazareth, who spent most of his life working as a carpenter, “invites us to follow in his footsteps through work,” he continued. This way, in the words of St. Ambrose, “every worker is the hand of Christ who continues to create and to do good.”
CNEWA seeks to give that idea meaning and purpose through our own work in some of the most troubled corners of the world — carrying that mission to others and, we hope, making the Gospel come alive among those we serve.
26 April 2018
Tags: Economic hardships Pope John Paul II Employment
In this 2016 image, an Ethiopian girl fetches water from what remains of a pond during a severe drought in the Afar region of Ethiopia. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
Every year on 22 April, the world observes Earth Day, a moment intended to focus our attention on the plight of the environment and the future of the planet. There are lectures, gatherings and celebrations all over the world. (One acute observer in New York City noted that the Earth Day observance generates an unusually large amount of trash.) Nevertheless, despite all the contradictions involved in the observance of Earth Day, its purpose is extremely important.
Modern humans are facing — or ignoring — a threat to our very existence — to say nothing of our well-being. The overwhelming consensus of modern science is that the earth is warming and that human agency plays an important though not necessarily sole role in this. Ignoring this science because it is a “theory” is simply to misunderstand science. (As a comparison: Scientists are constantly studying gravity. The most omnipresent force in the cosmos, gravity barely exists at subatomic levels and seems not to exist at all in black holes. Some scientists see gravity as not so much a force as the consequence of the curvature of spacetime. However, even though the nature of gravity is open to several theories, no one in their right mind would walk off a tall building because gravity is “only a theory.”) We dismiss or minimize science at our own peril.
The importance of taking responsibility for our planet and its future (and ours) was the opportunity for an extraordinary exercise in ecumenical cooperation — which speaks, I believe, to part of CNEWA’s mission of encouraging understanding and fostering dialogue. On 24 May 2015, Pope Francis published the encyclical “Laudato Si’ ” (the opening words of the “Canticle of Creation” of St. Francis of Assisi). The opening of the encyclical repeatedly mentions Bartholomew, the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, and the concerns which he and Pope Francis share concerning the health of the planet and its future. A Greek Orthodox theologian was part of the committee that helped Francis write the encyclical. The pope and patriarch have agreed to work together on this issue so that both Catholic and Orthodox can witness to its importance.
Francis lists the different forces which are threatening the planet. He mentions “Pollution, waste and a throwaway culture.” Although not mentioned by Francis, a good though terrifying example of this would be the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (aka Pacific Trash Vortex) which contains trash and plastics in various stages of decomposition. Conservative estimates see the vortex at 270,000 square miles — or roughly the size of Texas. Other measurements see it as large as Russia. This is environmental degradation on a massive scale but one which remains for all practical purposes “invisible” to most people. Francis and Bartholomew wish to change that.
Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew make it very clear that this is not an issue merely for scientists or “tree huggers.” It is a moral challenge facing Christians everywhere. In the sixth chapter of “Laudato Si’ ” Francis develops the theme of “ecological education and spirituality.” He calls for a conversion of heart and action. A conversion from how we think of — or ignore — our environment, a conversion of how we use, consume and dispose of the goods of our world. Again and again in the encyclical Francis calls for an “integral ecology.” By this he means that responsibility for the environment is not something we do now and then, much less something we do only once a year on Earth Day. Rather, who we are as Christians and how we live our day to day lives must reflect our concern for the creation which has been entrusted to us by God.
We at CNEWA are often painfully aware of how people are impacted by the environment. Many of those we serve find their lives devastated by natural disasters and weather. For several years, for example, the monsoons in Ethiopia either never came or carried much less water than usual. The ensuing drought brought suffering, misery and, in some cases, death to those who had to live through it. Pollution and overfishing has threatened the livelihoods of many in south India whose lives depend on fishing. Environmentally-induced sicknesses affect the young and vulnerable in many places of the world where we work.
Earth Day and “Laudato Si’ ” are reminders — or, if necessary, wake up calls — that we as believers have a moral responsibility to remember that greed has never been a virtue, that the unjust hording of wealth and resources has never been moral that we are called by God to take care of our planet.
19 April 2018
Tags: Catholic Environment Pollution
Members of the St. Paul Prison Chaplaincy of the Archeparchy of Addis Ababa, a lay organization that ministers to prisoners, travel to a facility outside of the Ethiopian capital. (photo: Don Duncan)
Last week our blog dealt with the “formation” of the clergy and members of religious orders and communities. This week we are going to look at the formation of the laity.
We focus on the subject of formation in the current edition of ONE, with stories throwing a spotlight on priests and religious sisters. But we also tell the stories of the laity.
First, we need to ask: who are they?
Vatican II defines the laity as those who are not clergy or religious (“Lumen Gentium,” par. 51). Last week, we noted that CNEWA does not directly engage in the formation of the clergy; rather CNEWA helps those who do the formation by providing them with the necessary resources to accomplish their task. It is the same with formation of the laity. CNEWA does not itself maintain any programs of lay formation. Nevertheless, wherever CNEWA is present, it supports such programs.
The Second Vatican Council attempted to make the church and its mission more effective in the modern world. Three documents published at Vatican II are extremely important for understanding the role of lay people in the church: “Lumen Gentium,” or the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (21 November 1964); “Gaudium et spes,” or the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (7 December 1965); and “Apostolicam actuositatem,” or the Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People (18 November 1965). If, in the past, Councils had dealt primarily with questions/problems of dogma — with great emphasis placed on the Magisterium or teaching office of the church and those who carry it out — viz., the clergy — Vatican II took a different approach. Vatican II spent little or no time dealing with dogmatic or theological controversies. Rather, it looked at the church as it was (in 1965) and asked how it could be more effective in its mission — how it could use its resources better for the Kingdom of God.
Key among those resources, of course, is the laity — the ordinary people in the pews to make up the greatest part of the Body of Christ.
In a sense, Vatican II “rediscovered” the laity. While lay people were all too often defined by what they were not — not clergy, not religious — Vatican II sees lay people as those “incorporated into Christ … and [who] in their own way share in the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ and … carry on the mission of the whole Christian people in the church and in the world” (“Lumen Gentium,” par. 31). The role of the laity is: “to make the church present and fruitful in those places and circumstances where it is only through them [the laity] that she [the church] can become the salt of the earth” (par. 33).
The laity form a crucial and indeed indispensable part of the church’s mission. It is at this point that the formation of the laity is recognized as central to the life of the church. If people are crushed by dehumanizing poverty, by lack of education, oppression, war and debilitating yet curable diseases, there is no way they can carry out the mission entrusted to them by Christ. It is very hard for the sick, the poor and uneducated to be the leaders the church needs.
The first step of the formation of the laity, therefore, is to help them achieve a standard of living which promotes their human dignity as members of the Body of Christ. Working with local churches, CNEWA supports programs that help people recover their dignity and their futures. Wherever we work, CNEWA supports programs that promote the health, education and dignity of those whom we serve. Programs, for example, which teach people — especially women — a trade allow these people to rise above subsistence living and to begin to influence a wider world: their family, their village, their church. It helps empower them to go out spread the Gospel and change the world.
However, raising people’s standard of living and educating them for work is only a part of what the formation of the laity means.
Vatican II sees the life of lay person in the world as a life of witness and service. As people are trained, for example, to run small businesses, they need also be trained to behave as witnesses to the Gospel in the world in which they live and work. Perhaps the most important part of the formation of the laity is teaching them that their role in life is not merely to earn a living and support their family but to witness to Christ and transform the world in which they live and work into the Kingdom of God.