Current Issue
September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
14 November 2019
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

In this image from 2015, Pope Francis greets an elderly woman as he meets with people in a poor neighborhood in Asuncion, Paraguay. Pastoral care of the poor and those in need has been emphasis of the pontificate of Pope Francis. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Once again this year Pope Francis has opened a walk-in clinic in St. Peter’s Square to provide health care for the poor of Rome. The poor have been a constant theme for Francis’s preaching. In this he echoes Jesus, who not only preached about the poor, but also associated with them. This year 17 November is the World Day of the Poor for the Catholic Church.

The poor, the orphaned, the war torn, those driven from their homes are CNEWA’s constant companions. As we move across CNEWA’s world, cultures, languages, ways of dressing change like a kaleidoscope. Suffering and crushing poverty, however, remain a gray and ugly constant.

While the poor may be pushed to the peripheries of many societies in our world, they are central to both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament alone there are over 150 references to the poor; it appears over 30 times in the New Testament. It is a constant theme of the prophets who thunder against those who oppress the poor or treat them unjustly. The prophet Amos, speaking in God’s name, condemns those who “trample on the needy” and “suppress the poor,” those who “lower the bushel, raise the shekel” and “swindle and tamper with the scales,” i.e. charging more and giving less to poor customers. In response, God states, “Never will I forget a single thing you have done!” (Amos 8:4 ff.) God is angered not only by physical abuse of the poor but also by the economic exploitation of the poor through dishonest and exploitive business practices.

Jesus sees his ministry as intimately related to the poor. In his “inaugural” sermon in Nazareth Jesus describes himself and his ministry in the words of the prophet Isaiah “[God] has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the poor… (and) to set the downtrodden free.” (Luke 4:18; Isaiah 61:1 ff). The first of the Beatitudes is “How blessed the poor in Spirit…” (Matt 5:3; note that Luke 6:20 has simply “how blessed the poor.”) Luke is disturbingly harsh in his contrast between the poor and the powerful. In the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:16-31), the only reason Abraham gives for the rich man to be in hell is that he was rich: “…remember, my son, that during your life good things came your way, just as bad things…to Lazarus. Now he is being comforted here while you are in torment.” (16:25) This is a very disturbing position but one we simply cannot ignore. Luke is quite clear: to ignore the poor—to say nothing of oppressing and exploiting them—is something we do at great spiritual risk.

It is interesting that care for the poor is central to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Each realizes the seductive pull of wealth and power. Each realizes that it is easy to take one’s wealth as a sign not of only of God’s blessing but of God’s approval — and to move from there to a sense of entitlement.

For his part, Pope Francis speaks of “global indifference.” It is a truly frightening concept. It can arise from a sense of helplessness, vis-à-vis the seemingly overwhelming poverty, suffering and injustice in the world. For people experiencing this crippling sense of helplessness, the Gospel offers hope and courage: God is on the side of justice and goodness; grace and love will ultimately be victorious.

However, global indifference can also arise from a sense of entitlement — a sense that overwhelming poverty, suffering and injustice in the world is just not my concern. It is the attitude of: “I have enough to worry about without worrying about people I don’t know and really don’t care about.”

But for people suffering from an sense of entitlement and indifference, the Old and New Testament both offer a stark message: the prophets and Jesus warn us that indifference to the poor can put one’s very salvation in jeopardy (Matt 25:31-46).

The observance of the World Day of the Poor can provide us with a very important opportunity to examine what our attitude is to those for whom Jesus and the prophets were so concerned.

Tags: Pope Francis CNEWA

14 November 2019
Greg Kandra

Iraqi demonstrators carry a wounded man during ongoing anti-government protests in Baghdad on 14 November 2019. (photo: CNS/Alaa al-Marjani, Reuters)

Protests have erupted across Iraq, sparking turmoil and uncertainty in a country already suffering from the aftershocks of ISIS. And the toll of the injured and dead keeps rising.

Time magazine reports:

Iraqi protesters draped in their country’s flag have been taking part in demonstrations since 1 October that have left at least 319 people dead and at least 8,000 injured according to the U.N.

Many of the protesters wear face masks and helmets in the hope that this will protect them from security forces’ use of live bullets, tear gas, stun grenades and sound bombs to disperse the crowds of mostly young protesters. But many have been injured and hundreds of families are left searching for their injured loved ones in hospitals. Activists and physicians have been killed or kidnapped while giving aid to the demonstrators in Baghdad, Iraq’s capital.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have marched over the past six weeks and the protests have spread across the country. Dr Renad Mansour, a Middle East and North Africa Research Fellow at London-based think tank Chatham House describes the protests as “one of the largest grassroots political mobilizations.” Many Iraqis are frustrated that they are without clean water and electricity, despite the country having large oil reserves. Angered by the lack of jobs and basic public services, many protesters say corruption is to blame; money is being placed in the hands of the few, rather than the many, according to Mansour. Violence quickly became part of the equation, as protesters were met with lethal force by security forces.

Read more.

Tags: Iraq

14 November 2019
Greg Kandra

Lebanon is facing a serious financial crisis, as banks remain on strike over safety fears.
(video: Al Jazeera/YouTube)

Lebanon bank staff union to remain on strike (Reuters) Lebanon’s bank staff union called on Thursday for employees to stay on strike until it receives details of a security plan, especially on how to deal with customers. The union called for the strike over safety fears, as protests against political leaders sweep Lebanon and depositors demand access to their money after banks imposed new curbs…

Photos: Life in Iraqi Kurdistan (The Washington Post) President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria last month has brought fresh attention to the ethnic group known as the Kurds. For many years, the Kurds have been U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State. Trump’s move led to a bipartisan backlash and renewed interest in the Kurds, who also live in Turkey, Iraq and Iran. But who are they?...

Israel, Islamic Jihad agree on ceasefire (The Jerusalem Post) Israel and Islamic Jihad appear to have reach a ceasefire understanding that went into effect at 5.30 a.m, the IDF announced on Thursday morning. An Israeli official said that a restoration of calm could only be measured by the facts on the ground, clarifying that no concessions has been made to the Islamic Jihad. The operative policy remains in place, “we will harm those who harm us,” the official said…

India to set law on women entering temples ( India’s Supreme Court will set law on women entering places of worship after it was asked to review a 2018 decision to lift a ban on women entering a Hindu temple in Kerala. The court said Thursday that it will appoint a seven-judge bench to working on the case…

U.S. struggles to keep allies in fight against ISIS in Syria (The New York Times) At a high-level State Department meeting scheduled for Thursday, diplomats from 35 nations and international organizations will be asked to stick with the campaign to eradicate the extremist group even after its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed in an American raid last month. But confusion over the Trump administration’s policy in northeast Syria has discouraged allies, according to several diplomats, who said it has fomented doubt that whatever agreements are struck could be reversed by the president…

Tags: India Lebanon Israel Turkey ISIS

13 November 2019
Catholic News Service

Six members of the Carmelite order have joined the Gospel Journey Campaign that started in January 2018 in India. Pictured are Sisters Ginsa Rose, Princy Maria, Ann Ligy, Therese, Little Therese and Treasa Margret. (photo: CNS/Philip Mathew, Global Sisters Report)

Meeting with two Catholic nuns who were on a journey to spread the Gospel proved a turning point in the life of Mohan Kumar, a Hindu man in southern India’s Kerala state.

Sisters Little Therese and Treasa Margret of the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel had gone to the 45-year-old alcoholic’s house as part of their Gospel Journey Campaign for spreading Jesus’ message and values to people of different faiths.

A week later, the nuns received a call from Kumar’s wife that her husband had stopped drinking and was acting more loving and kind to the family.

“We thanked God for the miraculous change in Kumar’s life and told the wife that we will continue to pray for her family,” Little Therese, 52, told Global Sisters Report.

For nearly two years, the Carmelite sisters have been on this journey of what they say is “radiating Gospel values on foot as Jesus did.” They walk with few possessions, expecting to live among people struggling with worldly and spiritual needs, in the pattern of Christ and his disciples.

Until May, the sisters, who go only by one or two given names, will be walking in the northeastern-most Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. From there they will go to the western Indian state of Maharashtra and one day hope to visit Mideastern and Asian nations.

The two nuns launched the campaign in Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese in early 2018 and visited Kumar, his wife and their two children at their home.

Sister Margret, 44, said they have many stories of alcoholics quitting their addictions to return to normal life, bringing joy to their families.

She recalled Kumar’s wife sharing many family problems during their talks. Her main worry was her husband’s heavy drinking, which consumed all his earnings.

“We tried to convince Kumar about the need for quitting drinking and taking care of his family. With the permission of the family, we also prayed in their house,” Sister Margret said.

The two nuns walk through towns and villages to evangelize, share the Gospel and teach Scripture among the most marginalized people of all religions. They include unorganized agricultural workers, low-wage urban laborers, the unemployed and tribal (Dalit) people in what was formerly India’s lowest caste.

They were joined in April 2018 by Carmelite Sisters Ginsa Rose, 51, and Therese, 43, and in January this year by Sisters Princy Maria, 55, and Ann Ligy, 60.

“We walk in pairs and talk to poor and marginalized people,” said Sister Little Therese. They also meet people who hang around in public places or sit in groups at coffee shops and share with them the Gospel and Jesus’ love.

Sister Little Therese said they have not faced any major challenges or obstacles during the campaign, although Hindu extremists opposed to Christianity have become more active in Kerala these days.

“Before we started the campaign, we had decided that, if any challenges or obstacles come our way, we would accept them with joy and go forward with courage,” she said as the other nuns nodded.

The people the nuns visit have only good words for them.

“I felt overwhelmed when the sisters shared the messages from the Bible and gave us a prayer card,” Sanjeev Rajan, 37, an auto-rickshaw driver, told Global Sisters Report.

He said the auto-rickshaw drivers are “very ordinary people” who were moved when the nuns spoke to them and prayed for them and their families.

Sister Little Therese said they follow Jesus’ command to his disciples when he sent them to villages in pairs.

“We carry a bag for keeping some essential things for daily use. We never carry any money or food. We survive with what people give us,” she added.

She said they take a two-day break during the week and spend the time in a nearby convent to pray and meditate and review their work. While traveling, they stay in homes that welcome them and eat what is given to them.

Once they are in a new region, Sister Margret said, they never use public or private transportation to move from one place to another.

“We go everywhere on foot, come rain or shine,” she said, and added, “God has been so gracious and merciful to us. None of us has fallen ill or felt tired of walking.”

Sister Ligy, a former teacher and the oldest of the six nuns, told Global Sisters Report she has a walking problem, “but that hasn’t stopped me from the campaign. I always felt that God is guiding me and giving me strength.”

The nuns make it a point to get the family’s permission before they pray for them.

“Once we visited a Muslim house. The mother insisted that we pray for them since she believes that Allah will listen to the prayers of people with pure hearts,” Sister Therese recalled.

According to their superior general, Sister Sibi, the vision of the campaign is based on the verse from the Gospel of St. Luke, “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

The congregation’s general council and Cardinal George Alencherry, major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, have approved the campaign.

After the campaign completed its first year in January, Cardinal Alencherry hailed the nuns for doing “amazing work.” He told them that more sisters from other congregations also want to join the campaign.

Archbishop George Njaralakatt of Tellicherry said the nuns on the Gospel campaign are role models for others. He said he prayed that more sisters will follow the six original travelers to reach out to people who have never known Jesus or the Gospel.

Tags: India Sisters

13 November 2019
Greg Kandra

Pope Francis greets a person as he leaves his general audience at the Vatican on 13 November 2019. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope denounces violence against Jewish people (CNS) Pope Francis warned that violence against Jewish people, which reached a state of horror during World War II, is on the rise again. During his weekly general audience on 13 November, the pope reflected on the lives of Priscilla and Aquila, a first-century married couple who accompanied St. Paul in his ministry and were among the Jews expelled from Rome by Claudius Caesar…

Soldier kills man in Lebanon protest (AP) A local official for a Lebanese political party was shot dead by soldiers trying to open a road closed by protesters in southern Beirut late Tuesday, the army reported, marking the first death in 27 days of nationwide protests…

Mystery: thousands of birds found dead by India lake (CNN) It’s a mystery that has baffled officials in India. What killed more than 2,000 birds near the country’s largest inland lake? Locals spotted the carcasses on Sunday along the shores of Sambhar Salt Lake in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, Arun Prasad, the state’s Chief Conservator of Forests, told CNN Wednesday...

Ethiopian bishops lead prayers for peace (Vatican News) The annual peace prayers are an annual event promoted by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Ethiopia to pray for peace, for the deceased, their families and all those affected in the conflicts that have taken place in Ethiopia…

Inside the world’s biggest Yazidi temple in Armenia (Al Jazeera) Armenia may be best known for its medieval-era monasteries, crumbling hilltop churches that feature in postcards and travel posters. But as of this fall, the small, landlocked nation of three million has a new religious landmark: the world’s largest Yazidi temple — Quba Mere Diwane…

Tags: India Armenia Jews Persecution Ethiopia’s Catholic Church

12 November 2019
Greg Kandra

An Armenian Catholic priest, the Rev. Hovsep Bedoyan, was killed Monday in northeast Syria. His father was also slain. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack. (photo: Vatican Media)

Armenian Catholic priest and his father shot dead in Syria (Vatican News) Gunmen shot dead an Armenian Catholic priest and his father as they were traveling in a car in northeastern Syria. The attack was claimed by the so-called Islamic State group (ISIS). The Rev. Hovsep Bedoyan, the head of the Armenian Catholic community in the the Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli near the border with Turkey, and his father, Abraham Bedoyan, were heading to the province of Deir Al-Zor when they came under attack on Monday 11 November. The two men were reportedly due to oversee the restoration of a church in Deir Al-Zor…

Iraqi cardinal calls for prayer and fasting (Vatican News) The head of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq has called for three days of fasting and prayer for peace in the country. Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako, the Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, has invited “all sons and daughters of the Chaldean church to fast and pray from 11 to 13 November. The cardinal’s plea used strong imagery of “weapons of fasting and prayer to call for an end to the chaos and violence that are bloodying the country…”

Lebanon banks close over safety fears (Reuters) Lebanon’s banks and schools were shut on Tuesday in a new wave of disruption amid urgent political efforts to form a new government to steer the country out of its worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war…

Testing times for Ethiopia’s Nobel laureate (Andalou Agency) Even the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, he is facing daunting challenges to maintain peace at home and also to continue bonhomie with neighboring Eritrea. The Norwegian Nobel Committee on 11October, conferred the award on Abiy, citing his “decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighboring Eritrea.” Analysts in Ethiopia believe that of late, bonhomie with Eritrea has slowed down…

Tags: Syria Iraq Ethiopia Armenian Catholic Church

8 November 2019
Dennis Sadowski, Catholic News Service

Muslims and Christians listen to a presentation on 7 November 2019, during “The Sultan and the Saint: The Spiritual Journey of Transformative Encounter” conference at The Catholic University of America in Washington. (photo: CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

Eight centuries ago, St. Francis of Assisi took a risk when he crossed the battlefield between Crusader and Muslim forces near Damietta, Egypt, desiring to meet Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil and preach his faith in Jesus Christ.

At the time, 1219, Christian forces were in the midst of the Fifth Crusade, which was eventually repelled by the sultan’s superior army near the town that was a center of trade and commerce on the Nile River where it flows into the Mediterranean Sea.

The future saint readily put his life on the line so he could witness his faith to the famed Muslim sultan, and in doing so both men came away with a new respect for the faith of the other, the Rev. Michael Calabria told a conference on that encounter with “the other” on 7 November at The Catholic University of America in Washington.

Early retellings of the meeting describe al-Kamil as willingly listening to St. Francis as he preached and being a gracious host, said Father Calabria, director of the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies at St. Bonaventure University in New York.

The future saint witnessed peacefully and his subsequent writings reveal the meeting had a profound impact on his life, the priest told participants in the event titled “The Sultan and the Saint: The Spiritual Journey of Transformative Encounter.”

Other accounts of the meeting written years later by Franciscans and others describe a more “disputant” St. Francis, attempting to convert al-Kamil to Catholicism, he said, even though there is no evidence of such a strong stance by the saint.

While the sultan did not relinquish his Islamic faith, he asked his Italian visitor to pray for him so that he would follow God more closely, Father Calabria said.

In setting the scene for such an unlikely meeting, Lev Weitz, associate professor of history and director of Islamic world studies at The Catholic University of America, described how St. Francis would not have been much of an anomaly to al-Kamil, an educated man who appreciated cultural exchanges.

Damietta was not a city isolated from the world. As a major port, merchants from Africa, Asia and Europe -- the Italian city-states in particular -- passed through continuously, Weitz said. That means Latin-rite Catholics from Europe would hardly be an unusual site among the majority Muslim population.

Beyond trade, the eastern Mediterranean region experienced widespread intellectual and cultural exchanges in the 11th through 13th centuries and al-Kamil’s court likely would have encountered people of various backgrounds, Weitz explained. Throughout the region, even worship sites were shared by members of both religions, he added.

So when Francis crossed the battlefield and was taken to al-Kamil by his troops, it was an opportunity for both men to learn from each other.

Undertaking such an encounter, it’s unlikely St. Francis could have predicted his visit “would have been so inspirational to the people of today,” said Imam Mohamed Bashar Arafat, president of the Civilizations Exchange and Cooperation Foundation, in Columbia, Maryland.

“To me St. Francis’ mission was a sacred mission for every Muslim, every Christian, every human being, religious or nonreligious. It is a story of reaching out to the other for the sake of peace, reconciliation and harmony,” Arafat told the conference.

St. Francis’ example is an invitation to people today to leave their “comfort zone and accept the challenges” presented in life, to move beyond hatred and violence to achieve peace, he said.

Likewise, the custos of the Holy Land, Franciscan Rev. Francesco Patton, told the conference St. Francis’ meeting with the sultan was “so important and significant for him and for us that in his writings after 1220 we find everywhere echoes and traces of the journey.”

He pointed to how Francis reminds the faithful that “(we are) not to make quarrels or disputes, to be subjects and subject to every human creature for the love of God, confessing to be Christians.”

In addition, he said, “we must be at the service of all for the love of God and it is essential to have a very clear Christian identity.”

With such practices in mind, the Custody of the Holy Land that Father Patton oversees, continues ongoing collaboration through schools in which thousands of Christian and Muslim children are enrolled, cooperative programs for peace and service to migrants and refugees. Father Patton said such endeavors keep alive the memory of the historic encounter of cultures.

“The meeting at Damietta reminds us of how barren both the use of violence and how illusory is victory obtained by force, how fragile is any peace obtained with the defeat of the enemy,” the custos said.

Pope Francis has repeatedly recalled the meeting himself. The dialogue that emerged between a poor Christian and a Muslim leader can serve as an example of the fraternity of humanity, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the United States, told participants.

St. Francis went across the war zone in an attempt to encounter the other, he said, and Pope Francis invites the faithful to encounter others unlike them in the same spirit.

“We know the history, but we have a tendency to forget about that,” he said.

“Francis came not as an ideologue, but as a missionary with a message of peace,” he added. “He did not try to force the sultan to believe, rather his approach was to propose Jesus. The church must recognize that the faith can only be proposed. It can never be imposed.”

Similarly, Archbishop Pierre continued, Pope Francis has emulated the saint in stressing the fraternity of the human family throughout his papacy in the documents he has promulgated and the interreligious outreach he has undertaken.

In particular, Pope Francis’ meeting with Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar, in the United Arab Emirates in February was noteworthy for the declaration both men signed to promote human fraternity and respect, he said.

“He sees human fraternity as a path for peace and mutual understanding in our world, a true force for good.”

Watch a video about the conference below.

Tags: Muslim Interfaith

8 November 2019
Greg Kandra

A woman reacts during an anti-government protest in Beirut on 5 November 2019. Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese are hitting the streets across the country to demand an end to rampant corruption and poor public services. (photo: CNS/Andres Martinez Casares, Reuters)

Protestors: Lebanon is ‘a beautiful idea’ in need of a reboot (Reuters) From a narrow angle, Beirut looks a picture of elegance and success, its French boutiques, luxury hotels and imported cars blending into Mediterranean skies. Widen the lens, as three weeks of popular anti-government protests have sought to do, and the view that emerges is of a nation struggling against extreme inequality, failing basic services, high unemployment and hardened frustration…

U.S. envoy says not enough was done to avert Turkish attack on Syria (The New York Times) The top American diplomat on the ground in northern Syria has criticized the Trump administration for not trying harder to prevent Turkey’s military offensive there last month — and said Turkish-backed militia fighters committed ”war crimes and ethnic cleansing…”

Pope urges opportunities for prisoners to reform (Vatican News) Pope Francis is urging for a change in the outlook and approach in treating prisoners who, he said, must be offered equal opportunities for reform, development and reintegration. He made the remark to the participants in the international conference on the theme, “Integral Human Development and Catholic Prison Pastoral Care.” The 7-8 November meeting was organized by the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development…

Vatican opens clinic for poor (Vatican News) The Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization releases a press statement ahead of the 3rdWorld Day of the Poor, marked on 17 November. The statement says there will be a temporary walk-in-clinic in St. Peter’s Square, just as there was last year. The clinic aims to offer medical attention to those most in need, offering free medical examinations to the poor…

France reopens contested Jewish tomb in East Jerusalem (AP) French authorities reopened one of Jerusalem’s most magnificent ancient tombs to the public for the first time in over a decade, despite a dispute over access to the archaeological-cum-holy site in the city’s volatile eastern half…

Tags: Pope Francis Lebanon Jerusalem Vatican

7 November 2019
Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

Pope Francis meets with members of the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat of the Society of Jesus in the Vatican's Clementine Hall on 7 November 2019.
(photo: CNS/Vatican Media)

At a time when “situations of injustice and human pain” seem to be growing around the globe, Christians are called to “accompany the victims, to see in their faces the face of our crucified Lord,” Pope Francis said.

The pope spoke about the Gospel call to work for justice on 7 November when he met with about 200 people, Jesuits and their collaborators, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Jesuits’ Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat.

Listing examples of places where Catholics are called to work for justice and for the safeguarding of creation, Pope Francis spoke about “a Third World War being fought in pieces,” human trafficking, the growing “expressions of xenophobia and the selfish search for national interests,” and the inequality between and within nations, which seem to be “growing without finding a remedy.”

Then there is the fact that “never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last 200 years,” he said, and that environmental destruction impacts the world’s poorest people most of all.

From the beginning, St. Ignatius of Loyola intended the Society of Jesus to defend and spread the faith and to help the poor, Pope Francis said. In establishing the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat 50 years ago, the Rev. Pedro Arrupe, then superior general, “intended to strengthen it.”

Father Arrupe’s “contact with human pain,” the pope said, convinced him that God was close to those who suffer and was calling all Jesuits to incorporate the quest for justice and peace into their ministries.

For Father Arrupe and for Catholics today, attention to society’s “discarded ones” and the struggle against the “throwaway culture” must be born of prayer and fortified by it, Pope Francis said. “Father Pedro always believed that the service of faith and the promotion of justice could not be separated: they were radically united. For him, all the ministries of the society had to respond, at the same time, to the challenge of proclaiming the faith and promoting justice. What until then had been a commission for some Jesuits should become everyone’s concern.”

Pope Francis said that when contemplating Jesus’ birth, St. Ignatius encouraged people to imagine that they were there as a lowly servant, helping the Holy Family in the poverty of the stable.

“This active contemplation of God, of God excluded, helps us discover the beauty of every marginalized person,” the pope said. “In the poor, you have found a privileged place of encounter with Christ. That is a precious gift in the life of the follower of Jesus: to receive the gift of meeting him among the victims and the impoverished.”

Pope Francis encouraged the Jesuits and their collaborators to continue to see Jesus in the poor and to listen to them humbly and serve them any way they can.

“Our broken and divided world needs to build bridges,” he said, so that people can “discover in the least ones the beautiful face of a brother or sister in whom we recognize ourselves, and whose presence, even without words, demands our care and our solidarity.”

While individual care for the poor is essential, a Christian cannot overlook structural “social evils” that create suffering and keep people poor, he said. “Hence the importance of the slow work of transforming structures through participation in public dialogue where decisions are made.”

“Our world is in need of transformations that protect life that is threatened and defend the weakest,” he said. The task is enormous and can cause people to despair.

But, the pope said, the poor themselves can show the way. They often are the ones who continue to trust and hope and organize to improve their lives and that of their neighbors.

A Catholic social apostolate should try to solve problems, Pope Francis said, but, above all, it should encourage hope and promote “processes that help people and communities to grow, that lead them to be aware of their rights, to use their abilities and to create their own future.”

Tags: Pope Francis Poor/Poverty

7 November 2019
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

Prisoners discuss scripture as part of a Bible study group at Shano Prison in Ethiopia.
(photo: CNEWA/Don Duncan)

The first three chapters of the Book of Genesis describe the creation of the universe and the disobedience and ultimate expulsion of the first man and woman from the Garden of Eden.

Then, in chapter 4, the first thing human beings do after leaving the Garden is kill — Cain murdering his brother Abel.

It seems that violence and killing are the curse and constant companion of humanity. Every social unit from the family to the empire has had to deal with violence. In many places where CNEWA works, especially most recently in the Middle East, the violence is numbing and seems never to stop. Throughout history, humans have tried to contain violence through punishment—simply put, with more violence.

To say that using violence to prevent further violence has not been successful should be obvious.

Over the centuries, philosophers and theologians have struggled with the notion of justice. By the 21st century one finds three notions of justice: retributive justice, which focuses on punishment; distributive justice, which focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders; and, most recently, restorative justice. Beginning on 17 November, the UN observes International Restorative Justice Week, to focus the world’s attention on this vital and increasingly important concept.

The notion of restorative justice brings together the offender and the victim with the goal of “sharing the experience of what happened, to discuss who was harmed by the crime and how, and to create a consensus for what the offender can do to repair the harm from the offense.” Relatively new to modern systems of justice, restorative justice — whether called by that name or not — has been practiced in many ancient, traditional societies. It has been noted that in some Native American communities in the U.S. and Canada and the Maoris in New Zealand, the response of the communities after a crime is to attempt to restore the societal balance in a community that has been destroyed by violence.

The method of restorative justice in the modern world was most clearly seen in the Truth and Reconciliation Committees which met after the dismantling of the racist apartheid system of government in South Africa.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was influential in this. He was convinced that there had been great violence and injustice against South African people of color for decades. He was also aware that the perpetrators needed to face the victims and understand the pain and suffering that the system caused. Most importantly, as a proponent of restorative justice, Archbishop Tutu knew that mere retribution or punishment, regardless how understandable or justified, would not heal the deep wounds and divisions in South African society.

The practice and theory of restorative justice is being studied and applied in some places in the world. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, based on “the potential benefits of using restorative justice with respect to criminal justice systems,” in 2018 encouraged member nations to consider applying it in local situations.

It is important to note that restorative justice does not minimalize the gravity of the crime or the injustice and suffering in inflicts on its victims. What it does is makes the injustice and suffering personal to both the offender and the victim. It is a process whose goal is to get the offender to recognize the enormity of the crime committed and to recognize the humanity of the victims of the crime and to help victims overcome a sense of powerlessness.

Several popes have spoken about the importance of restorative justice. Pope Benedict XVI in Munus Africæ, the Apostolic Exhortation (19 November 2011) promulgated after the Synod on Africa, wrote of restorative justice. Last year Pope Francis in his address to the 19th Congress of the International Criminal Law Association in Buenos Aires also stressed the importance of this concept.

One of the few signs of hope in the violence-torn Middle East has been the emergence at different times and in different places of the notion of musaliha, “reconciliation.” Although it is difficult to determine exactly when and from whom this emerged, one finds references to it from Franciscans first in Damascus and then in Aleppo. Although it has hardly reached the level of a “movement,” religious leaders in Lebanon have also spoken about the importance of musaliha, which can be seen as an attempt at restorative justice.

Last year in the pages of CNEWA’s magazine, ONE, we reported on efforts by the church in Ethiopia to practice restorative justice, and bring hope and possibility to those behind bars through education, skills training and counseling. As one of the chaplains put it, ”In the heart of each prisoner we come into contact with, we are building love, a love for God and a love for his church.”

In a world of not only unabated violence but also of increasingly available means of mass destruction, the problem of justice is extremely important. However, unless the cycle of violence is broken, there may be retribution but a truly just society still appears an unattainable goal.

Restorative justice may provide a new approach to the problem of violence, a problem which has resisted solution since Cain and Abel.

Tags: Ethiopia Middle East

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