Rsass

Rsass

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

First World Day of the poor - Message from Pope Francis

Let us love, not with words but with deeds

1. "Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth" (1 Jn 3:18).  These words of the Apostle John voice an imperative that no Christian may disregard. The seriousness with which the "beloved disciple" hands down Jesus' command to our own day is made even clearer by the contrast between the empty words so frequently on our lips and the concrete deeds against which we are called to measure ourselves.  Love has no alibi.  Whenever we set out to love as Jesus loved, we have to take the Lord as our example; especially when it comes to loving the poor. The Son of God's way of loving is well-known, and John spells it out clearly. It stands on two pillars: God loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:10.19), and he loved us by giving completely of himself, even to laying down his life (cf. 1 Jn 3:16).

            Such love cannot go unanswered. Even though offered unconditionally, asking nothing in return, it so sets hearts on fire that all who experience it are led to love back, despite their limitations and sins. Yet this can only happen if we welcome God's grace, his merciful charity, as fully as possible into our hearts, so that our will and even our emotions are drawn to love both God and neighbour. In this way, the mercy that wells up – as it were – from the heart of the Trinity can shape our lives and bring forth compassion and works of mercy for the benefit of our brothers and sisters in need.

2. "This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him" (Ps 34:6). The Church has always understood the importance of this cry. We possess an outstanding testimony to this in the very first pages of the Acts of the Apostles, where Peter asks that seven men, "full of the Spirit and of wisdom" (6:3), be chosen for the ministry of caring for the poor. This is certainly one of the first signs of the entrance of the Christian community upon the world's stage: the service of the poor. The earliest community realized that being a disciple of Jesus meant demonstrating fraternity and solidarity, in obedience to the Master's proclamation that the poor are blessed and heirs to the Kingdom of heaven (cf. Mt 5:3).

            "They sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need" (Acts 2:45).  In these words, we see clearly expressed the lively concern of the first Christians.  The evangelist Luke, who more than any other speaks of mercy, does not exaggerate when he describes the practice of sharing in the early community. On the contrary, his words are addressed to believers in every generation, and thus also to us, in order to sustain our own witness and to encourage our care for those most in need. The same message is conveyed with similar conviction by the Apostle James. In his Letter, he spares no words: "Listen, my beloved brethren. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?  But you have dishonoured the poor man.  Is it not the rich who oppress you, and drag you into court? ... What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works?  Can his faith save him?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled", without giving them the things needed for the body; what does it profit?  So faith by itself, if it has not works, is dead' (2:5-6.14-17).

3. Yet there have been times when Christians have not fully heeded this appeal, and have assumed a worldly way of thinking. Yet the Holy Spirit has not failed to call them to keep their gaze fixed on what is essential. He has raised up men and women who, in a variety of ways, have devoted their lives to the service of the poor. Over these two thousand years, how many pages of history have been written by Christians who, in utter simplicity and humility, and with generous and creative charity, have served their poorest brothers and sisters!

            The most outstanding example is that of Francis of Assisi, followed by many other holy men and women over the centuries. He was not satisfied to embrace lepers and give them alms, but chose to go to Gubbio to stay with them. He saw this meeting as the turning point of his conversion: "When I was in my sins, it seemed a thing too bitter to look on lepers, and the Lord himself led me among them and I showed them mercy. And when I left them, what had seemed bitter to me was changed into sweetness of mind and body" (Text 1-3: FF 110). This testimony shows the transformative power of charity and the Christian way of life.

            We may think of the poor simply as the beneficiaries of our occasional volunteer work, or of impromptu acts of generosity that appease our conscience. However good and useful such acts may be for making us sensitive to people's needs and the injustices that are often their cause, they ought to lead to a true encounter with the poor and a sharing that becomes a way of life. Our prayer and our journey of discipleship and conversion find the confirmation of their evangelic authenticity in precisely such charity and sharing. This way of life gives rise to joy and peace of soul, because we touch with our own hands the flesh of Christ. If we truly wish to encounter Christ, we have to touch his body in the suffering bodies of the poor, as a response to the sacramental communion bestowed in the Eucharist. The Body of Christ, broken in the sacred liturgy, can be seen, through charity and sharing, in the faces and persons of the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters. Saint John Chrysostom's admonition remains ever timely: "If you want to honour the body of Christ, do not scorn it when it is naked; do not honour the Eucharistic Christ with silk vestments, and then, leaving the church, neglect the other Christ suffering from cold and nakedness" (Hom. in Matthaeum, 50.3: PG 58).

            We are called, then, to draw near to the poor, to encounter them, to meet their gaze, to embrace them and to let them feel the warmth of love that breaks through their solitude. Their outstretched hand is also an invitation to step out of our certainties and comforts, and to acknowledge the value of poverty in itself.

4. Let us never forget that, for Christ's disciples, poverty is above all a call to follow Jesus in his own poverty. It means walking behind him and beside him, a journey that leads to the beatitude of the Kingdom of heaven (cf. Mt 5:3; Lk 6:20).  Poverty means having a humble heart that accepts our creaturely limitations and sinfulness and thus enables us to overcome the temptation to feel omnipotent and immortal. Poverty is an interior attitude that avoids looking upon money, career and luxury as our goal in life and the condition for our happiness. Poverty instead creates the conditions for freely shouldering our personal and social responsibilities, despite our limitations, with trust in God's closeness and the support of his grace. Poverty, understood in this way, is the yardstick that allows us to judge how best to use material goods and to build relationships that are neither selfish nor possessive (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 25-45).

            Let us, then, take as our example Saint Francis and his witness of authentic poverty.  Precisely because he kept his gaze fixed on Christ, Francis was able to see and serve him in the poor. If we want to help change history and promote real development, we need to hear the cry of the poor and commit ourselves to ending their marginalization. At the same time, I ask the poor in our cities and our communities not to lose the sense of evangelical poverty that is part of their daily life.

5. We know how hard it is for our contemporary world to see poverty clearly for what it is. Yet in myriad ways poverty challenges us daily, in faces marked by suffering, marginalization, oppression, violence, torture and imprisonment, war, deprivation of freedom and dignity, ignorance and illiteracy, medical emergencies and shortage of work, trafficking and slavery, exile, extreme poverty and forced migration. Poverty has the face of women, men and children exploited by base interests, crushed by the machinations of power and money. What a bitter and endless list we would have to compile were we to add the poverty born of social injustice, moral degeneration, the greed of a chosen few, and generalized indifference!

            Tragically, in our own time, even as ostentatious wealth accumulates in the hands of the privileged few, often in connection with illegal activities and the appalling exploitation of human dignity, there is a scandalous growth of poverty in broad sectors of society throughout our world. Faced with this scenario, we cannot remain passive, much less resigned. There is a poverty that stifles the spirit of initiative of so many young people by keeping them from finding work. There is a poverty that dulls the sense of personal responsibility and leaves others to do the work while we go looking for favours. There is a poverty that poisons the wells of participation and allows little room for professionalism; in this way it demeans the merit of those who do work and are productive. To all these forms of poverty we must respond with a new vision of life and society.

            All the poor – as Blessed Paul VI loved to say – belong to the Church by "evangelical right" (Address at the Opening of the Second Session of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, 29 September 1963), and require of us a fundamental option on their behalf. Blessed, therefore, are the open hands that embrace the poor and help them: they are hands that bring hope. Blessed are the hands that reach beyond every barrier of culture, religion and nationality, and pour the balm of consolation over the wounds of humanity. Blessed are the open hands that ask nothing in exchange, with no "ifs" or "buts" or "maybes": they are hands that call down God's blessing upon their brothers and sisters.

6. At the conclusion of the Jubilee of Mercy, I wanted to offer the Church a World Day of the Poor, so that throughout the world Christian communities can become an ever greater sign of Christ's charity for the least and those most in need. To the World Days instituted by my Predecessors, which are already a tradition in the life of our communities, I wish to add this one, which adds to them an exquisitely evangelical fullness, that is, Jesus' preferential love for the poor.

            I invite the whole Church, and men and women of good will everywhere, to turn their gaze on this day to all those who stretch out their hands and plead for our help and solidarity.  They are our brothers and sisters, created and loved by the one Heavenly Father. This Day is meant, above all, to encourage believers to react against a culture of discard and waste, and to embrace the culture of encounter. At the same time, everyone, independent of religious affiliation, is invited to openness and sharing with the poor through concrete signs of solidarity and fraternity. God created the heavens and the earth for all; yet sadly some have erected barriers, walls and fences, betraying the original gift meant for all humanity, with none excluded.

7. It is my wish that, in the week preceding the World Day of the Poor, which falls this year on 19 November, the Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Christian communities will make every effort to create moments of encounter and friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance. They can invite the poor and volunteers to take part together in the Eucharist on this Sunday, in such a way that there be an even more authentic celebration of the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King, on the following Sunday. The kingship of Christ is most evident on Golgotha, when the Innocent One, nailed to the cross, poor, naked and stripped of everything, incarnates and reveals the fullness of God's love. Jesus' complete abandonment to the Father expresses his utter poverty and reveals the power of the Love that awakens him to new life on the day of the Resurrection.

            This Sunday, if there are poor people where we live who seek protection and assistance, let us draw close to them: it will be a favourable moment to encounter the God we seek.  Following the teaching of Scripture (cf. Gen 18:3-5; Heb 13:2), let us welcome them as honoured guests at our table; they can be teachers who help us live the faith more consistently.  With their trust and readiness to receive help, they show us in a quiet and often joyful way, how essential it is to live simply and to abandon ourselves to God's providence.

8. At the heart of all the many concrete initiatives carried out on this day should always be prayer. Let us not forget that the Our Father is the prayer of the poor. Our asking for bread expresses our entrustment to God for our basic needs in life.  Everything that Jesus taught us in this prayer expresses and brings together the cry of all who suffer from life's uncertainties and the lack of what they need. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he answered in the words with which the poor speak to our one Father, in whom all acknowledge themselves as brothers and sisters. The Our Father is a prayer said in the plural: the bread for which we ask is "ours", and that entails sharing, participation and joint responsibility. In this prayer, all of us recognize our need to overcome every form of selfishness, in order to enter into the joy of mutual acceptance.

9. I ask my brother Bishops, and all priests and deacons who by their vocation have the mission of supporting the poor, together with all consecrated persons and all associations, movements and volunteers everywhere, to help make this World Day of the Poor a tradition that concretely contributes to evangelization in today's world.

            This new World Day, therefore, should become a powerful appeal to our consciences as believers, allowing us to grow in the conviction that sharing with the poor enables us to understand the deepest truth of the Gospel. The poor are not a problem: they are a resource from which to draw as we strive to accept and practise in our lives the essence of the Gospel.

From the Vatican, 13 June 2017

Memorial of Saint Anthony of Padua

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Pope Francis postponed his visit to South Sudan

The Vatican has postponed a trip by Pope Francis to war-torn South
Sudan planned for later this year, which the pope had hoped to
undertake together with Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Justin
Welby.

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke told journalists that while the trip is
still being considered it is "not for this year." Burke did not say
when the trip, which had been tentatively planned for October, might
now take place.

Postponement of the visit comes after Italian media reports that
Francis was forced to cancel his plans due to security concerns. Il
Messaggero, Rome's daily newspaper, reported May 29 that the pope made
the decision reluctantly "after the information coming to his desk
left him with few alternatives."

South Sudan is the world's newest country, forming after it gained
independence from Sudan in 2011. A political struggle broke out in the
country in 2013, leading to a civil war in which an estimated 300,000
people have died and some 3 million have been displaced.

Francis had hoped to make a visit to the country in a push for peace,
much like his earlier visit to the Central African Republic in 2015. A
trip with Archbishop Justin would have been the first time the leaders
of the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches had traveled in such a way
together.


Don't miss our podcast, NCR In Conversation! Catch a new episode each Friday.

Vatican officials had been in South Sudan earlier this month to assess
the possibility of a papal visit.

Services available in South Sudan at the moment are minimal. The
arrivals section at the Juba airport, where Francis would likely have
to land, is currently a small outdoor area with wooden planks covering
muddy soil.

An official with knowledge of the preparations for the possible visit
said Francis had been presented with the possibility of making a short
several hour trip to the country as a stop-over while visiting another
nearby nation.

The source also said the pope balked when he was told that given the
security concerns it would not be possible for him to leave the Juba
airport, believing that if he made a visit only to the airport it
would present a bad symbol to the country.

It is unclear what other African country or countries Francis might
have been considering visiting. Before heading to the Central African
Republic in 2015, the pope made stops in Kenya and Uganda. Ethiopia's
Catholic community has also invited the pope to visit.

Francis had a private meeting with South Sudan President Salva Kiir
during his Uganda visit two years ago. The two leaders spoke for 15
minutes in an encounter arranged by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

The only papal trip abroad currently confirmed by the Vatican for the
rest of 2017 is a visit to Colombia set for Sept. 6-11. There is also
discussion of a possible visit to India and Bangladesh, which is
currently unconfirmed.

https://www.ncronline.org/news/vatican/vatican-postpones-pope-s-trip-south-sudan

Thursday, 11 May 2017

A precious gift to the People of God

My dear brothers and sisters, may this message find you well.

As all of you know by now, we are once again experiencing a time of particular tension in our beautiful country South Sudan; let us not be caught by negative feeling, let us raise up our spirit and once again let us shake the heavens with our prayers.

As we all agreed during the General Assembly I simply remind you and strongly recommend that in each and all our communities prayer for peace and reconciliation and nonviolent solutions shall be celebrated every month. Let’s not pass a single day in which we do not intercede for our brothers and sisters of South Sudan “for through you we beat down our foes, in your name we trampled our aggressors. For it was not in my bow I trusted nor yet was I saved by my sword: it was you who saved us […] All day long our boast was in God and we praised your name without ceasing” (psalm 44).
As religious we are called to “stay with him” and to be sent into the world.

Let us contemplate God to better and more deeply understand this country; let us pray for our enemies, and for the ones who persecute us and our brothers and sisters.






Let us begin this love in our own communities because even if a small match cannot illumine a whole forest, yet it can bright the countenance of our brother and sister living with us.







We all share the responsibility of being at the heart of the Church:
In effect, the consecrated life is at the very heart of the Church as a decisive element for her mission, since it "manifests the inner nature of the Christian calling" and the striving of the whole Church as Bride towards union with her one Spouse. […] the consecrated life has not only proved a help and support for the Church in the past, but is also a precious and necessary gift for the present and future of the People of God, since it is an intimate part of her life, her holiness and her mission. (Vita Consecrata n°3)

This is the trust that God has on each and all of us. Let us not be trapped into worldly allures; we are rooted into our own orders, congregations or institutions in virtue of our profession and rule of life each one of us has been called to follow. God wants our happiness and our well-being and there is nothing in this world able to stop this desire of God.

Love and faithfulness meet together;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.

Faithfulness springs forth from the earth,
and righteousness looks down from heaven.

The Lord will indeed give what is good,
and our land will yield its harvest.

Righteousness goes before him

and prepares the way for his steps





Fr. Federico

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Interesting article on NONVIOLENCE

An appeal to the Catholic Church
to re-commit to the centrality of Gospel nonviolence

As Christians committed to a more just and peaceful world we are called to take a clear stand for creative and active nonviolence and against all forms of violence. With this conviction, and in recognition of the Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis, people from many countries gathered at the Nonviolence and Just Peace Conference sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and Pax Christi International on April 11-13, 2016 in Rome.

Our assembly, people of God from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Oceania included lay people, theologians, members of religious congregations, priests, and bishops. Many of us live in communities experiencing violence and oppression. All of us are practitioners of justice and peace. We are grateful for the message to our conference from Pope Francis: "your thoughts on revitalizing the tools of nonviolence, and of active nonviolence in particular, will be a needed and positive contribution".

Looking at our world today

We live in a time of tremendous suffering, widespread trauma and fear linked to militarization, economic injustice, climate change, and a myriad of other specific forms of violence. In this context of normalized and systemic violence, those of us who stand in the Christian tradition are called to recognize the centrality of active nonviolence to the vision and message of Jesus; to the life and practice of the Catholic Church; and to our long- term vocation of healing and reconciling both people and the planet.

We rejoice in the rich concrete experiences of people engaged in work for peace around the world, many of whose stories we heard during this conference. Participants shared their experiences of courageous negotiations with armed actors in Uganda and Colombia; working to protect the Article 9, the peace clause in the Japanese Constitution; accompaniment in Palestine; and countrywide peace education in the Philippines. They illuminate the creativity and power of nonviolent practices in many different situations of potential or actual violent conflict. Recent academic research, in fact, has confirmed that nonviolent resistance strategies are twice as effective as violent ones.

The time has come for our Church to be a living witness and to invest far greater human and financial resources in promoting a spirituality and practice of active nonviolence and in forming and training our Catholic communities in effective nonviolent practices. In all of this, Jesus is our inspiration and model.

Jesus and nonviolence

In his own times, rife with structural violence, Jesus proclaimed a new, nonviolent order rooted in the unconditional love of God. Jesus called his disciples to love their enemies (Matthew 5: 44), which includes respecting the image of God in all persons; to offer no violent resistance to one who does evil (Matthew 5: 39); to become peacemakers; to forgive and repent; and to be abundantly merciful (Matthew 5-7). Jesus embodied nonviolence by actively resisting systemic dehumanization, as when he defied the Sabbath laws to heal the man with the withered hand (Mark 3: 1-6); when he confronted the powerful at the Temple and purified it (John 2: 13- 22); when he peacefully but determinedly challenged the men accusing a woman of adultery (John 8: 1-11); when on the night before he died he asked Peter to put down his sword (Matthew 26: 52).

Neither passive nor weak, Jesus' nonviolence was the power of love in action. In vision and deed, he is the revelation and embodiment of the Nonviolent God, a truth especially illuminated in the Cross and Resurrection. He calls us to develop the virtue of nonviolent peacemaking.

Clearly, the Word of God, the witness of Jesus, should never be used to justify violence, injustice or war. We confess that the people of God have betrayed this central message of the Gospel many times, participating in wars, persecution, oppression, exploitation, and discrimination.

We believe that there is no "just war". Too often the "just war theory" has been used to endorse rather than prevent or limit war. Suggesting that a "just war" is possible also undermines the moral imperative to develop tools and capacities for nonviolent transformation of conflict.

We need a new framework that is consistent with Gospel nonviolence. A different path is clearly unfolding in recent Catholic social teaching. Pope John XXIII wrote that war is not a suitable way to restore rights; Pope Paul VI linked peace and development, and told the UN "no more war"; Pope John Paul II said that "war belongs to the tragic past, to history"; Pope Benedict XVI said that "loving the enemy is the nucleus of the Christian revolution"; and Pope Francis said "the true strength of the Christian is the power of truth and love, which leads to the renunciation of all violence. Faith and violence are incompatible". He has also urged the "abolition of war".

We propose that the Catholic Church develop and consider shifting to a Just Peace approach based on Gospel nonviolence. A Just Peace approach offers a vision and an ethic to build peace as well as to prevent, defuse, and to heal the damage of violent conflict. This ethic includes a commitment to human dignity and thriving relationships, with specific criteria, virtues, and practices to guide our actions. We recognize that peace requires justice and justice requires peacemaking.

Living Gospel Nonviolence and Just Peace

In that spirit we commit ourselves to furthering Catholic understanding and practice of active nonviolence on the road to just peace. As would-be disciples of Jesus, challenged and inspired by stories of hope and courage in these days, we call on the Church we love to:

  • continue developing Catholic social teaching on nonviolence. In particular, we call on Pope Francis to share with the world an encyclical on nonviolence and Just Peace;

  • integrate Gospel nonviolence explicitly into the life, including the sacramental life, and work of the Church through dioceses, parishes, agencies, schools, universities, seminaries, religious orders, voluntary associations, and others;

  • promote nonviolent practices and strategies (e.g., nonviolent resistance, restorative justice, trauma healing, unarmed civilian protection, conflict transformation, and peacebuilding strategies);

  • initiate a global conversation on nonviolence within the Church, with people of other faiths, and with the larger world to respond to the monumental crises of our time with the vision and strategies of nonviolence and Just Peace;

  • no longer use or teach "just war theory"; continue advocating for the abolition of war and nuclear weapons;

  • lift up the prophetic voice of the church to challenge unjust world powers and to support and defend those

    nonviolent activists whose work for peace and justice put their lives at risk.

    In every age, the Holy Spirit graces the Church with the wisdom to respond to the challenges of its time. In response to what is a global epidemic of violence, which Pope Francis has labeled a "world war in installments", we are being called to invoke, pray over, teach and take decisive action. With our communities and organizations, we look forward to continue collaborating with the Holy See and the global Church to advance Gospel nonviolence.

Pax Christi International, Rue du Progr├Ęs, 323, 1030 Brussels, Belgium. Phone: ++32 (0)2 502.55.50

www.paxchristi.net www.nonviolencejustp 

Monday, 1 May 2017

Pope says: "Religious Leader MUST unmask violence and hatred"

Pope at Al-Azhar; religious leaders must 'unmask' violence and hatred

Pope Francis and Sheik Al-Tayeb at the International Peace Conference in Al-Azhar University on Friday - RV

Calling for respectful interreligious dialogue, Pope Francis said the only alternative to a culture of civilized encounter is "the incivility of conflict". Recalling the visit of St Francis to the Sultan in Egypt eight centuries ago, he called for dialogue based on sincerity and the courage to accept differences.
Speaking of the covenant which God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai, the Pope said that religion cannot simply be relegated to the private sphere but, at the same time, religion must not be confused with the political sphere or tempted by worldly powers that seek to exploit it.
Faith and violence are incompatible
At the heart of the law given to Moses, the Pope continued, is the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill'. Violence, he stressed, "is the negation of every authentic religious expression" and religious leaders are called to "unmask" violence and selfishness masquerading as sanctity. Together, he insisted, "Let us affirm the incompatibility of violence and faith, belief and hatred", upholding instead "the sacredness of every human life".
Weapons 'feed the cancer of war'
Echoing the words of Sheik Al-Tayeb, Pope Francis also reiterated his appeal for an end to the arms trade, saying that if weapons are produced and sold, "soon or later they will be used". Only by bringing to light "the murky manoeuvrings  that feed the cancer of war can its real causes be prevented", he said.
Peacemakers, not populism
Finally the Pope stressed the importance of working to eliminate poverty and to combat the current rise of populism that does not promote stability and peace. Every unilateral action that does not promote constructive and shared solutions, he warned, is "a gift to the proponents of radicalism and violence". What our world needs, he said, is peacemakers, not fomenters of conflict; firefighters, not arsonists; preachers of reconciliation, not instigators of destruction".
Please find below the full address of Pope Francis at the International Conference for Peace in Cairo's Al-Azhar Conference Centre
As-salamu alaykum!    Peace be with you!
I consider it a great gift to be able to begin my Visit to Egypt here, and to address you in the context of this International Peace Conference.  I thank the Grand Imam for having planned and organized this Conference, and for kindly inviting me to take part.  I would like to offer you a few thoughts, drawing on the glorious history of this land, which over the ages has appeared to the world as a land of civilizations and a land of covenants.
A land of civilizations 
From ancient times, the culture that arose along the banks of the Nile was synonymous with civilization.  Egypt lifted the lamp of knowledge, giving birth to an inestimable cultural heritage, made up of wisdom and ingenuity, mathematical and astronomical discoveries, and remarkable forms of architecture and figurative art.  The quest for knowledge and the value placed on education were the result of conscious decisions on the part of the ancient inhabitants of this land, and were to bear much fruit for the future.  Similar decisions are needed for our own future, decisions of peace and for peace, for there will be no peace without the proper education of coming generations.  Nor can young people today be properly educated unless the training they receive corresponds to the nature of man as an open and relational being.
Education indeed becomes wisdom for life if it is capable of "drawing out" of men and women the very best of themselves, in contact with the One who transcends them and with the world around them, fostering a sense of identity that is open and not self-enclosed.  Wisdom seeks the other, overcoming temptations to rigidity and closed-mindedness; it is open and in motion, at once humble and inquisitive; it is able to value the past and set it in dialogue with the present, while employing a suitable hermeneutics.  Wisdom prepares a future in which people do not attempt to push their own agenda but rather to include others as an integral part of themselves.  Wisdom tirelessly seeks, even now, to identify opportunities for encounter and sharing; from the past, it learns that evil only gives rise to more evil, and violence to more violence, in a spiral that ends by imprisoning everyone.  Wisdom, in rejecting the dishonesty and the abuse of power, is centred on human dignity, a dignity which is precious in God's eyes, and on an ethics worthy of man, one that is unafraid of others and fearlessly employs those means of knowledge bestowed on us by the Creator. 
Precisely in the field of dialogue, particularly interreligious dialogue, we are constantly called to walk together, in the conviction that the future also depends on the encounter of religions and cultures.  In this regard, the work of the Mixed Committee for Dialogue between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Committee of Al-Azhar for Dialogue offers us a concrete and encouraging example.  Three basic areas, if properly linked to one another, can assist in this dialogue: the duty to respect one's own identity and that of others, the courage to accept differences, and sincerity of intentions.
The duty to respect one's own identity and that of others, because true dialogue cannot be built on ambiguity or a willingness to sacrifice some good for the sake of pleasing others.  The courage to accept differences, because those who are different, either culturally or religiously, should not be seen or treated as enemies, but rather welcomed as fellow-travellers, in the genuine conviction that the good of each resides in the good of all.  Sincerity of intentions, because dialogue, as an authentic expression of our humanity, is not a strategy for achieving specific goals, but rather a path to truth, one that deserves to be undertaken patiently, in order to transform competition into cooperation.
An education in respectful openness and sincere dialogue with others, recognizing their rights and basic freedoms, particularly religious freedom, represents the best way to build the future together, to be builders of civility.  For the only alternative to the civility of encounter is the incivility of conflict.  To counter effectively the barbarity of those who foment hatred and violence, we need to accompany young people, helping them on the path to maturity and teaching them to respond to the incendiary logic of evil by patiently working for the growth of goodness.  In this way, young people, like well-planted trees, can be firmly rooted in the soil of history, and, growing heavenward in one another's company, can daily turn the polluted air of hatred into the oxygen of fraternity.
In facing this great cultural challenge, one that is both urgent and exciting, we, Christians, Muslims and all believers, are called to offer our specific contribution: "We live under the sun of the one merciful God…  Thus, in a true sense, we can call one another brothers and sisters… since without God the life of man would be like the heavens without the sun".   May the sun of a renewed fraternity in the name of God rise in this sun-drenched land, to be the dawn of a civilization of peace and encounter.  May Saint Francis of Assisi, who eight centuries ago came to Egypt and met Sultan Malik al Kamil, intercede for this intention.
A land of covenants 
In Egypt, not only did the sun of wisdom rise, but also the variegated light of the religions shone in this land.  Here, down the centuries, differences of religion constituted "a form of mutual enrichment in the service of the one national community".   Different faiths met and a variety of cultures blended without being confused, while acknowledging the importance of working together for the common good.  Such "covenants" are urgently needed today.  Here I would take as a symbol the "Mount of the Covenant" which rises up in this land.  Sinai reminds us above all that authentic covenants on earth cannot ignore heaven, that human beings cannot attempt to encounter one another in peace by eliminating God from the horizon, nor can they climb the mountain to appropriate God for themselves (cf. Ex 19:12).
This is a timely reminder in the face of a dangerous paradox of the present moment.  On the one hand, religion tends to be relegated to the private sphere, as if it were not an essential dimension of the human person and society.  At the same time, the religious and political spheres are confused and not properly distinguished.  Religion risks being absorbed into the administration of temporal affairs and tempted by the allure of worldly powers that in fact exploit it.  Our world has seen the globalization of many useful technical instruments, but also a globalization of indifference and negligence, and it moves at a frenetic pace that is difficult to sustain.  As a result, there is renewed interest in the great questions about the meaning of life.  These are the questions that the religions bring to the fore, reminding us of our origins and ultimate calling.  We are not meant to spend all our energies on the uncertain and shifting affairs of this world, but to journey towards the Absolute that is our goal.  For all these reasons, especially today, religion is not a problem but a part of the solution: against the temptation to settle into a banal and uninspired life, where everything begins and ends here below, religion reminds us of the need to lift our hearts to the Most High in order to learn how to build the city of man.
To return to the image of Mount Sinai, I would like to mention the commandments that were promulgated there, even before they were sculpted on tablets of stone.   At the centre of this "decalogue", there resounds, addressed to each individual and to people of all ages, the commandment: "Thou shalt not kill" (Ex 20:13).  God, the lover of life, never ceases to love man, and so he exhorts us to reject the way of violence as the necessary condition for every earthly "covenant".  Above all and especially in our day, the religions are called to respect this imperative, since, for all our need of the Absolute, it is essential that we reject any "absolutizing" that would justify violence.  For violence is the negation of every authentic religious expression.
As religious leaders, we are called, therefore, to unmask the violence that masquerades as purported sanctity and is based more on the "absolutizing" of selfishness than on authentic openness to the Absolute.  We have an obligation to denounce violations of human dignity and human rights, to expose attempts to justify every form of hatred in the name of religion, and to condemn these attempts as idolatrous caricatures of God: Holy is his name, he is the God of peace, God salaam.   Peace alone, therefore, is holy and no act of violence can be perpetrated in the name of God, for it would profane his Name.
            Together, in the land where heaven and earth meet, this land of covenants between peoples and believers, let us say once more a firm and clear "No!" to every form of violence, vengeance and hatred carried out in the name of religion or in the name of God.  Together let us affirm the incompatibility of violence and faith, belief and hatred.  Together let us declare the sacredness of every human life against every form of violence, whether physical, social, educational or psychological.  Unless it is born of a sincere heart and authentic love towards the Merciful God, faith is no more than a conventional or social construct that does not liberate man, but crushes him.  Let us say together: the more we grow in the love of God, the more we grow in the love of our neighbour. 
            Religion, however, is not meant only to unmask evil; it has an intrinsic vocation to promote peace, today perhaps more than ever.   Without giving in to forms of facile syncretism,  our task is that of praying for one another, imploring from God the gift of peace, encountering one another, engaging in dialogue and promoting harmony in the spirit of cooperation and friendship.  For our part, as Christians, "we cannot truly pray to God the Father of all if we treat any people as other than brothers and sisters, for all are created in God's image".   Moreover, we know that, engaged in a constant battle against the evil that threatens a world which is no longer "a place of genuine fraternity", God assures all those who trust in his love that "the way of love lies open to men and that the effort to establish universal brotherhood is not vain".   Rather, that effort is essential: it is of little or no use to raise our voices and run about to find weapons for our protection: what is needed today are peacemakers, not fomenters of conflict; firefighters and not arsonists; preachers of reconciliation and not instigators of destruction.
            It is disconcerting to note that, as the concrete realities of people's lives are increasingly ignored in favour of obscure machinations, demagogic forms of populism are on the rise.  These certainly do not help to consolidate peace and stability: no incitement to violence will guarantee peace, and every unilateral action that does not promote constructive and shared processes is in reality a gift to the proponents of radicalism and violence.
            In order to prevent conflicts and build peace, it is essential that we spare no effort in eliminating situations of poverty and exploitation where extremism more easily takes root, and in blocking the flow of money and weapons destined to those who provoke violence.  Even more radically, an end must be put to the proliferation of arms; if they are produced and sold, sooner or later they will be used.  Only by bringing into the light of day the murky manoeuvrings that feed the cancer of war can its real causes be prevented.  National leaders, institutions and the media are obliged to undertake this urgent and grave task.  So too are all of us who play a leading role in culture; each in his or her own area, we are charged by God, by history and by the future to initiate processes of peace, seeking to lay a solid basis for agreements between peoples and states.  It is my hope that this noble and beloved land of Egypt, with God's help, may continue to respond to the calling it has received to be a land of civilization and covenant, and thus to contribute to the development of processes of peace for its beloved people and for the entire region of the Middle East.
    As-salamu alaykum!  Peace be with you!

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Active Nonviolence - Letter from RSASS Annual meeting

ACTIVE NONVIOLENCE: A WAY TO BUILD LASTING PEACE IN SOUTH SUDAN

 

A message of Nonviolence from Consecrated Life to our Religious communities, the Churches and the People of South Sudan, to our Friends and Supporters and all People of Good Will

 

We, members of the Religious Superiors' Association of South Sudan (RSASS), who came together for a workshop on Consecrated Life and the RSASS Annual General Assembly 2017 at the Good Shepherd Peace Centre, in Kit (Juba), from 24th - 29th April 2017, have reflected on active nonviolence and on Pope Francis' letter 'Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace' in the hope to contribute with a positive response to the challenges of South Sudan today. Faithful to our call by God and to the Charism of our Congregations, we wish to send out this message of nonviolence at the conclusion of our meeting to our brothers and sisters in our Religious communities, to the Churches and the people of South Sudan, to our friends and supporters and all people of good will.

 

LOOKING AT SOUTH SUDAN TODAY

"It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard".

(Acts of the Apostles 4:20)

 

We have heard from our brothers and sisters some shocking and disturbing news. The country is immerged in violence and in a deep economic crisis. There have been so many killings, raping, burning of houses and looting. Innocent people, including children, have been brutally killed. The rights and dignity of people have been grossly violated. Hundreds of thousands are internally displaced or refugees. Famine is a sad reality and the economic crisis increases hunger. Hatred, bitterness and divisions have also increased. People feel traumatised and helpless. We are concerned that often church personnel have been harassed, intimidated, detained, and some have been killed. This civil war that keeps on revolving is evil and has claimed the lives of too many brothers and sisters and inflicted endless suffering on our people. What have we done to our humanness and the sacredness of life?

 

Despite all this, we have seen signs of life and hope. There are many good people in South Sudan who, together with many others, are giving a positive response and making a difference in this challenging situation. We have also heard from our brothers and sisters about the insistence, persistence and resilience of the people of South Sudan, that the Church is continuously praying and fasting for peace and reconciliation, has issued messages and pastoral letters to denounce violence and encourage people, got actively involved in the peace talks and is providing shelter, food, education and health care for many people. We have heard also that Church personnel have become a presence of solidarity, peace and hope among communities in war-affected areas, protection of civilians sites (POCs) and refugee camps, that South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) has invited his Holiness Pope Francis to visit South Sudan this year. We have testified that the Religious Superiors' Association of South Sudan (RSASS) has opened the 'Good Shepherd Peace Centre' in Kit to offer trauma healing and peacebuilding programmes and other human and spiritual formation and is fully operating in a peaceful environment.

 

We cannot forget our dear Sister Veronika Rackova of the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit (SSpS). She was one of our members and a doctor who was gunned down by soldiers while driving an ambulance on the night of 16th May 2016 in Yei. Her mission was to save lives and her 'sacrifice' an action of active nonviolence. She did not die in vain. We offer our solidarity to her community and Congregation and at the same time we demand that justice may be done.

 

JESUS AND ACTIVE NONVIOLENCE

"For Christ is our peace, he who has made the two peoples one, destroying in his own flesh the wall – the hatred – which separated us (...) He destroyed hatred and reconciled us both to God through the cross".

(Ephesians 2:14-16)

  

We have looked at the Word of God and at the Teaching of the Church. Both shed light and hope on South Sudan. We have seen that nonviolence is at the heart of the Gospel and that Jesus of Nazareth himself lived in violent times, but his message offers a radically positive approach. Jesus Christ has come into the world to save it from sin and death, to fight against violence and to destroy it with the nonviolence of his Kingdom. On the way of the cross, his painful journey to Calvary, Jesus Christ, a nonviolent person, carried on himself the violence of the enemy for the sake of many. He died on the cross because of the kind of life he lived, a life of nonviolence and inclusive compassion. He died because of the options he made.  

 

Jesus challenged the unjust and violent legal system and the political and religious establishments of his time, the institutions and structures that produced social exclusion and inflicted much suffering on people. He challenged violence and those who profited from it. He was willing to risk suffering. The only weapon Jesus used was love and compassion. He resisted with all his might the temptation to be drawn into violence and retaliation. We have understood in our reflections and prayers that Jesus Christ is not calling to passivity, but rather to a creative nonviolent response and calls us to cultivate a virtue of nonviolent peacemaking. Indeed, Jesus Christ is our Redeemer and Lord, and our model of peacemaker.  

 

His Holiness Pope Francis has issued a message on 1st January 2017 for the celebration of the fiftieth World Day of Peace under the title 'Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace'. We have been encouraged by his message. Pope Francis reminds us that "to be true followers of Jesus today also includes embracing his teaching about nonviolence, (...) as a person's way of being, the attitude of one who is so convinced of God's love and power that he or she is not afraid to tackle evil with the weapons of love and truth alone" (Pope Francis' message for the fiftieth World Day of Peace, 1 January 2017).

 

We became aware that the Church has been involved in nonviolent peacebuilding strategies in many countries and Pope Francis teaches us that "to act in this way means to choose solidarity as a way of making history and building friendship in society. Active nonviolence is a way of showing that unity is truly more powerful and more fruitful than conflict" (Pope Francis' message for the fiftieth World Day of Peace, 1 January 2017). We have understood, however, that nonviolence entails self-sacrifice and are convinced that active nonviolence is a good way to build a just and lasting peace in South Sudan. So, we reaffirm our commitment to make all effort to build peace through active and creative nonviolence.   

 

PROMOTING ACTIVE NONVIOLENCE

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful and the peacemakers, those who are pure in heart, and those who hunger and thirst for justice".

(Matthew 5:3-10)

 

The Gospel and Pope Francis invite us to "dedicate ourselves prayerfully and actively to banishing violence from our hearts, words and deeds, and to becoming nonviolent people and to building nonviolent communities that care for our common home" (Pope Francis' message for the fiftieth World Day of Peace, 1 January 2017).

 

IN RESPONSE,

 
-          We offer our prayers and solidarity to the victims of violence in South Sudan.
-          We want to take a clear stand for creative and active nonviolence and against all forms of violence and threats to life and human dignity.  
-          We have made an Action Plan to raise active nonviolence awareness through civic education, media/radio, workshops for mixed groups, games and sports, women groups/desks and the strengthening of family unity.
-          We are committed to promote active nonviolence through the celebrations of the Eucharist, unity in diversity and other prayers.
-          We encourage our Religious brothers and sisters in our communities to make all effort to build peace through active and creative nonviolence.
-          We invite our religious leaders to lift up the vision of nonviolence in their preaching and teaching ministry.
-          We urge our political leaders to end the war in South Sudan, to respect human rights and to promote a culture of peace and active nonviolence.
-          We continue our prayers that justice, reconciliation and lasting peace may prevail in South Sudan.
 

Given in Kit (Juba), South Sudan, on 28th April 2017

 

The participants of the workshop on Consecrated Life and the RSASS Annual General Assembly 2017

Religious Superiors' Association of South Sudan (RSASS)