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twitter_pontifexIn one of his short stories—“The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether”—Edgar Allen Poe wrote, “Believe nothing you hear and only one half that you see.”
 
This statement, which has been altered in various ways and attributed to writers other than Poe, is nonetheless good advice if it means that one should not casually accept things for which there is no evidence.
 
If anything, this caution applies more than ever in this age of “Photoshopped” images, digital animation, and posts that litter social-media sites.
 
I saw an example the other day when a member of my high school class posted on Facebook an image of Pope Francis accompanied by the following statement, attributed to him:
 
“It is not necessary to believe in God to be a good person. In a way, the traditional notion of God is outdated. One can be spiritual but not religious. It is not necessary to go to church and give money — for many, nature can be a church. Some of the best people in history do not believe in God, while some of the worst deeds were done in His name.”
 
“Oh,’’ gushed another classmate, who now lives in the Midwest, “I love this man. He’s talking about me.”
 
I don’t know if she meant that she’s an atheist—which I doubt, that she doesn’t go to church, or that she finds God in nature.
 
Regardless of what she meant, she was responding to a statement that Pope Francis did not make and, for the most part, would not make.
 
The graphic, which has been circulating in the digital world for some time, is one example of a problem that has accompanied this papacy almost from the first day—a compulsion on the part of some to hear the pope as fulfilling their wishful thinking.
 
To be sure, Pope Francis has given us a fresh perspective on topics such as atheism.
 
He has spoken of our obligation to respect the intellectual integrity of people, including atheists, who don’t agree with us. He has also reiterated—perhaps in plainer language than we are used to—the Church’s consistent teaching that, as Father Thomas Rosica has repeated it, “those who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ and his Church but sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, try to do his will as it is known through the dictates of conscience can attain eternal salvation.”
 
The pope has not, however, issued a license for us to adopt the spirituality we find most convenient and comfortable, even if that means no spirituality at all.
 
And anyone who has read what this pope has written or listened to what he has said knows that he would not dismiss so lightly the value of worshipping God in the assembly of the Church.
 
On the contrary, he has stressed the importance of the Church as the Body of Christ as the source from which the “new evangelization” will flow out into the community and to the outskirts of society.
 
In the past, the teachings of the popes have been somewhat inaccessible, both because of the formality of their language and the means of their distribution.
 
But the homilies, speeches, and documents of Pope Francis are not difficult to understand and not difficult to find.
 
In this “information age,” we can easily read them or read about them in responsible publications.
 
If we want to know what Pope Francis teaches, we should not rely on Facebook to tell us.
 

—Facebook launched on February 4, 2004


 
This post first appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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Benedict_XV

Cardinal Giacomo della Chiesa was crowned
Pope Benedict XV on September 6, 1914
.


It hasn’t gotten much attention, but we are now in the centennial of the reign of Pope Benedict XV.
 
I myself wouldn’t have noticed this except for an article in the Jesuit magazine “America.”
 
Benedict, the former Cardinal Giacomo della Chiesa, was pope from September 1914 until he died of pneumonia in January 1923.
 
That means that he was pope during the whole of World War I, which he characterized as “the suicide of civilized Europe”—an apt description of a conflict that cost 16 million lives.
 
When Pope Benedict XVI chose his papal name, he did so to honor both St. Benedict and Benedict XV—the latter because of his efforts to promote peace and his attention to the human crises brought on by both the war in Europe and the Russian revolution.
 
Although he was a career diplomat, Benedict XV was not in a good position to influence either side in the so-called “war to end all war.”
 
The Vatican’s international status had been seriously damaged in the previous century when Italy seized the Papal States and Pope Pius IX in 1870 declared himself a prisoner of King Victor Emmanuel. Benedict XV was the first pope to begin nudging the Vatican out of that isolation.
 
Benedict’s appeals to both sides to forswear violence reached passionate levels.
 
“The abounding wealth,” he wrote to the belligerents in 1915, “with which God the Creator has enriched the lands that are subject to you, allow you to go on with the struggle; but at what cost? Let the thousands of young lives quenched every day on the fields of battle make answer: answer, the ruins of so many towns and villages, of so many monuments raised by the piety and genius of your ancestors. And the bitter tears shed in the secrecy of home, or at the foot of altars where suppliants beseech; do not these also repeat that the price of the long drawn-out struggle is great, too great?’’
 
But neither side in the war, which was the culmination of a decades-old power struggle among the European nations, was interested in overtures from a voice that had no army and few diplomatic ties to back it up.
 
As Pius XII would do during World War II, Benedict strictly maintained neutrality, which had the ironic result of alienating both camps.
 
But Benedict persisted not only in arguing against the war itself and urging the parties to solve their differences through peaceful means but also in agitating for humane treatment of prisoners and release of interned civilians.
 
He succeeded in some of these humanitarian efforts, including an initiative in partnership with Switzerland to arrange for the exchange and treatment of seriously ill prisoners and detainees.
 
The pope also campaigned to raise money, including some of his personal funds, to assist civilians, including children, who were left destitute by the conflict.
 
When the war had played itself out, Benedict was concerned that the Allies would be vindictive, but his ambition for the Holy See to participate in the peace conference was rebuffed.
 
“Nations do not die,” he wrote. “Humbled and oppressed, they chafe under the yoke imposed on them … passing down from generation to generation a mournful heritage of hatred and revenge.’’
 
The onerous Treaty of Versailles and the subsequent rise of Adolf Hitler proved him right.
 
Benedict was a small man, slight of stature—so much so that when he was archbishop of Bologna he was known as “il piccolito,” “the little one.”
 
But in difficult circumstances a hundred years ago, he was a large man indeed as he took the only rational and moral position amid one of the worst catastrophes in human history.
 
This post also appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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Gracious, loving Creator God,
how awesome, lovely, and manifold are the works of your creation.
 
In wisdom you have made them all:
from the tiniest ant to the huge whales of the sea,
from the all-seeing hawk to the slow-moving caterpillar.
Yet into this incredible variety you have formed a grammar of creation,
so that each created entity has its own role, its own relationship,
and its own value within the whole.
 
Help us Creator God, to recognize the many ways in which you speak to us
so that we may come to cherish and respect more deeply
our own relationships with you and the earth that you have created.
Amen.
 
—from Creation at the Crossroads

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On August 26, 1978, Albino Luciani was elected Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, choosing the name John Paul I.
 
John_Paul_II was caught off guard by the election of Pope Francis and, like most people, I had to learn who Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio was.
 
When he had been in office for only a few weeks, it occurred to me that Pope Francis had a precursor: Albino Luciani—Pope John Paul I, who held the office for only 34 days.
 
When I referred to him in a homily, 37 years after his death, two parishioners asked me if I hadn’t meant John Paul II.
 
One of the sobriquets applied to John Paul I was “il sorriso di Dio”—the smile of God. He exuded earthy warmth, and in that respect he was very much like Francis.
 
John Paul I also paved the way for Francis by simplifying the trappings surrounding the papacy: He did away with the coronation and the triple tiara, opting for an inaugural Mass and a bishop’s miter.
 
John Paul discontinued the use of the royal “we” in his formal addresses, referring to himself as “I,” and he used homely images as examples—a man whose collar was dirty because he hadn’t washed his neck or a porter sleeping on a pile of baggage in a train station.
 
John Paul had many interests in common with Francis, and some of what John Paul said and wrote before and while he was pope could have been the words of Francis.
 
Here’s an example from before John Paul’s election: “The frantic race for creature comforts, the exaggerated, made use of unnecessary things, has compromised the indispensible things: pure air and pure water, inner peace.’’
 
Here’s another from a papal audience: “We are the objects of undying love on the part of God. We know: he has always his eyes open on us, even when it seems to be dark. He is our father; even more he is our mother. He does not want to hurt us, he wants only to do good to us. …”
 
Because of this pattern, I wasn’t surprised that in “The Name of God is Mercy,” a book which consists of a long interview with Pope Francis, he quoted John Paul I four times—twice on the subject of humility and twice on the subject of mercy, favorite topics of Pope Francis.
 
Francis once said in an interview that he could best be described as “Jorge Bergoglio, a sinner.” And he quotes Luciani saying that he believed he had been appointed bishop of Vittorio Veneto, Italy, because God prefers that some things be written not in bronze or marble but in dust, so that, if the writing remained, it would be clear that the merit belonged to God and not to the dust, by which Luciani meant himself.
 
Francis, who proclaimed this Jubilee of Mercy, repeatedly alludes to the inexhaustible patience of God, who never tires of forgiving those who repent.
He quotes John Paul I commenting on the father of the prodigal son as an image of God:
 
“He waits. Always. And it is never too late. That’s what he’s like, that’s how he is … he’s a father … who comes running to us, embraces us, and kisses us tenderly.’’
 
Francis has spoken of the Church as a “field hospital” whose purpose is not to reprimand but to heal.
 
And he quotes Luciani, repeating a metaphor used by St. Francis de Sales: “If you have a little donkey and along the road it falls onto the cobblestones, what should you do? You certainly don’t go there with a stick to beat it, poor little thing. It’s already unfortunate enough. You must take it by the halter and say, ‘Up, let’s take to the road again. … and we will pay more attention next time.’ ”
 
In his eulogy for John Paul I, Carlo Cardinal Confalonieri described the pope as a comet who briefly lit up the Church.
 
But the evidence all these years later is that John Paul’s light was more enduring than that and still illuminates the Church through the ministry of our present Holy Father.
 
This post first appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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Name_of_God_Is_MercyDuring his training as a Jesuit in 1960s Argentina, Pope Francis taught literature. He also was a friend of the great Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges.
 
So it’s no surprise that his recent book, The Name of God Is Mercy, is an inspiring look at what he calls “the first attribute of God.”
 
It also happens to be a great beach read for the summer
months ahead.
 
The short book (151 pages) reads like a conversation, because that’s exactly what it is—a collection of interviews with a Vatican news correspondent.
 
In its review, The New York Times wrote, “The pope has an easy conversational style that moves effortlessly between folksy sayings and erudite allusions, between common-sense logic and impassioned philosophical insights. He is given to memorable metaphors—such as urging priests to go out in the world and be “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.’”
 
The Name of God Is Mercy shows why this “Pope of Mercy” views the Church as a family. “It is the first school of mercy,” he says, “because it is there that we have been loved and learned to love, have been forgiven and learned to forgive.”
 
Our prayer today:
 

Heavenly Father, mercy is your name.
Grant that we always find ways
to recognize and receive the love you have for us.

 
Peter W. Yaremko, a former journalist, is the owner of Executive Media, Inc. and is a specialist in executive communications. He attends St. Peter the Apostle Church in Provincetown, Massachusetts and blogs at peterwyaremko.com/paradise_diaries.

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Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi—a great day for all Franciscans around the world. Today is also the feast day of our pope – who has chosen to call himself Francis after this holy and simple man of God.
 
Recently we have been challenged by Pope Francis’ encyclical letter, “Laudato Si’,” which he opens with a quote from St. Francis’ famous Canticle of the Creatures. I think it would be fair to say this is truly a “Franciscan” encyclical! Pope Francis begins, “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, St. Francis reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us: “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs”(No. 1).
 
Pope Francis calls all of us, especially those committed to the Franciscan tradition, to take seriously St. Francis’ profound theological beliefs about seeing God embedded in a spectacularly interconnected world—God as the source of each and every creature, no matter how small.
We read: “(St. Francis’) response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection…Such a conviction cannot be written off as naïve romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behavior” (No. 11).
 
RENEW International, in conjunction with GreenFaith and the Catholic Climate Covenant, is producing Creation at the Crossroads, a small-group, faith-sharing resource that examines the encyclical through the lens of prayer and Scripture. This resource will bring people of faith a conversion of spirit that will lead to greater action to care for our common home and all who inhabit it.
 
We know that we can make a difference, opening the eyes of Catholics and other people of faith to the significance of this timely issue. While people of faith know the importance of caring for human life, they do not always grasp that caring for all of creation is an integral component of that mission. Our people and our planet are inextricably linked. We cannot truly help one while contributing to the destruction of the other.
 
Pope Francis encourages us to follow the example of Francis of Assisi whose own experience of conversion and appreciation of our connection to the environment helped him embrace all God’s creation.
 
“I ask all Christians,” the pope writes, “to recognize and to live fully this dimension of their conversion. May the power and the light of the grace we have received also be evident in our relationship to other creatures and to the world around us. In this way, we will help nurture that sublime fraternity with all creation which Saint Francis of Assisi so radiantly embodied” (No. 221).
 
Sr. Maureen P. Colleary, FSP is a member of RENEW’s Pastoral Services Team and is a Franciscan Sister of Peace.

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world_meeting_of_familisAs the time for Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States approaches, excitement is building for Catholics around the country. However, not all of us can travel to Washington, New York, or Philadelphia to join in the events scheduled there. So how do we participate in this historic visit from our own homes and parishes? Here are five ways that you can become a part of Pope Francis’ visit no matter where you are.
 
1. The Francis Effect
One of the reasons this visit is so exciting is the profound effect Pope Francis has had on the Church and the world in the short time since his election. His voice has resonated around the globe, with Catholics and non-Catholics alike, as he calls us to truly live the Gospel. There is a recent documentary, “The Francis Effect,’’ on that very topic. Arrange a viewing of the film as a family or a parish. Engage in a discussion about how to answer the pope’s call as an individual or a group.
 
2. Read All About It!
Many people are wondering what the Pope might say when he addresses Congress and the United Nations. One of the best ways to learn about Pope Francis is to read his writings. If you haven’t already, take time to read The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium), Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the New Evangelization, or his encyclical on ecology, On Care for Our Common Home (Laudato Si’). Engage children and teenagers in the excitement by creating a trivia game from what you learn about the papacy and Pope Francis.
 
3. Get Social
Share your excitement about the pope’s visit on social media. The Catholic Extension Society has created “Flat Francis,” a simple cutout figure of the Holy Father, and has started the hashtag #FlatFrancis on Twitter and Instagram. You can download and print the image, then take a photo to share on social media. Whether you use it with your family, your parish, or your school, it is a fun way to show your excitement for the upcoming visit.
 
4. A Family Affair
The Holy Father has arranged his visit to coincide with the World Meeting of Families taking place in Philadelphia. There is a special World Meeting of Families Prayer for the success of the event and for family intentions. There is also a hymn written for the event, “Sound the Bell of Holy Freedom.” Ask your parish music director to teach the hymn to the congregation and include it in the liturgies leading up to the visit and the meeting. You can also check out resources for the World Meeting of Families from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
 
5. Throw a Party
Host a Welcome Day in your diocese or parish, inviting the wider community to learn more about our Church, sharing the joy of the Gospel with all who are interested. When the days of the visit arrive there will be extensive media coverage. The USCCB will be livestreaming coverage of the events as well. Set up a viewing party for your parish. Listen to Pope Francis’ message together and pray that it will not only be heard but taken to heart by faithful around the world.
 
Jennifer Bober is a RENEW Marketing Associate with both non-profit and publishing experience. In addition to her marketing career, she is a professional liturgical musician.

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papal_visitA prophetic and popular pope, the first ever from Latin America, will visit Washington, New York, and Philadelphia September 22-27. Pope Francis has captured the world’s attention through his warm gestures, simplicity, humility, message of mercy, and clear preference for those on the peripheries. He will go to the White House, Congress, and the United Nations, and he will make other important stops that highlight his vision for the Church—“a poor Church for the poor.” He will visit the homeless in Washington, immigrant children in a Catholic school in Harlem, and prisoners in Philadelphia. The Church, Francis proclaims, “has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much to those who are secure and comfortable, but to the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked.”
 
The pope’s visit to the United States matters, and it is up to us to make his vision a reality—creating a Church that is more welcoming, more inclusive, and more merciful. The pope’s mission as the spiritual leader of the global Catholic Church is to set the vision and inspire us to fulfill that vision in our own cultural and religious contexts. He has been articulating a vision that is challenging our Church to reimagine itself in the twenty first century:
 

 
 

Pope_FrancisPope John Paul II visited the White House on October 6, 1979, and I was watching at home, because that was a Saturday.
 
After the arrival and initial courtesies among the group gathered in front of the mansion, President Jimmy Carter gave welcoming remarks on the portico as the pontiff waited his turn.
 
At this point, my telephone rang.
 
“Are you watching this?” said the voice of the publisher I worked for at the time.
 
“If you mean the pope, yes I am,” I answered.
 
“Why is he standing up?” my boss demanded. “Why don’t they have a chair for him? Who plans these things?”
 
The publisher was a thoughtful guy, but he wasn’t a Catholic and probably hadn’t paid much attention to the pope before that season.
 
But once John Paul II set foot on American soil, the publisher could think of little else.
 
The same was true of the co-publisher, also non-Catholic, who only grudgingly addressed business topics while the pope was in the United States.
 
She told me so when I went to her office and tried to get her attention away from the television that I had never seen turned on before that week.
 
“I can’t take my eyes off him,” she said.
 
And who could blame her?
 
John Paul II generated a level of excitement that few if any of us had ever witnessed.
 
The phenomenon was distilled in the opening words of a television documentary broadcast after the pope had returned to Rome.
 
The program began with a view of the pope’s vehicle moving through a vast cheering crowd, and the off-camera voice asked, “Who is this? WHAT is this?”
 
But as breathtaking as John Paul’s visit was, we Americans may be about to witness something that exceeds it—the first visit of Pope Francis.
 
The public response in both intensity and magnitude well could be unprecedented.
 
But the question, as it has been from the beginning of this papacy, will be, “What is this?”—what is this excitement really about?
 
Certainly a lot of it will be about the pope’s “star quality.”
 
He is an attractive figure to people of all ages and backgrounds, and this can both help and hinder him in his mission.
 
Francis will have no trouble getting people’s attention in the United States; folks are going to extraordinary lengths to assure themselves an opportunity to get a glimpse of him in the flesh.
 
But some people who profess to “like this pope” may be in love with headlines and sound bites—such things as “Who am I to judge?”—but they may not be absorbing, much less applying to themselves, his exhortations on caring for the poor, extending mercy before judgment, protecting natural resources, curbing reckless consumerism and wasteful lifestyles.
 
What’s more, Pope Francis well understands the contemporary world and no doubt is aware that some if not much of the adulation directed at him is superficial.
 
He knows that alone he cannot make the world more merciful, more prudent, more just.
 
But no doubt he also knows that thoughtful people are listening to him, listening to more than comments reported out of context in the secular media, listening to his challenge to individual men and women to transform the world around them.
 
My guess is that he is banking not on all the millions along his path but on the unknown number who hear and understand his call to bring the Gospel to life, to evangelize the world around them, to evangelize those millions when the cheers have faded away.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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Pope_FrancisWhile I was working as a local reporter, I spent a couple of years covering a city that for decades had hosted big industries—mostly heavy metals and petroleum.
 
This was in the 1960s, when the nation’s great awakening regarding care of the environment had not yet occurred.
 
The industries located in this city emitted all sorts of toxic materials into surface and ground water, into the earth, and
into the atmosphere.
 
Few voices were raised then about examining the nature of these emissions and their effect on ecology, and particularly their effect on human, animal, and vegetable life.
 
One of those voices belonged to a young lawyer who regularly appeared at public meetings to discuss this issue.
 
Far from being taken seriously, he was widely regarded as eccentric and naïve.
 
I was covering a meeting of the city governing body one day when this young man stood up and told the officials that he had recently bought a new car:
 
“I drove the car home from the showroom and parked it in front of my house and, gentlemen, when I went out the next morning, I could write my name in the filth that had accumulated on the hood.”
 
The city attorney, who wasn’t supposed to speak unless he was asked a question, muttered loudly enough for everyone to hear: “Gee, it’s nice to be educated,” and the audience laughed.
 
This vignette represents the state of mind that prevailed in those days when “we”—if I may generalize—did not think about the consequences of what we did in the environment.
 
The young lawyer eventually was vindicated as government and society began to recognize that practices once were taken for granted were damaging air, water, earth, and the health of human beings and other species of life.
 
Industries that once had released substances including sulfur, lead, and mercury into the environment were compelled to adopt controls on their smokestacks and effluent outflows and in general use safer means to dispose of waste.
 
But progress in this field has never caught up with the full dimension of the problem; human activity is still damaging the environment, which is an observable phenomenon, whether or not one wants to blame mankind, wholly or in part, for global warming in particular.
 
Pope Francis made this point in his encyclical, On Care for Our Common Home (Laudato Si’), writing that “our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products.’’
 
This is not still subject to scientific investigation; it’s an observable fact. With respect to the end of the cycle of consumption, it’s an observable fact in American homes and businesses that send as much or more waste to landfills than to recycling centers.
 
Resistance to this and other messages in the encyclical has tended to be expressed on a macro scale, but damage to the air, earth, and water on which we all depend begins with individual human beings.
 
In this regard, Pope Francis cited Patriarch Bartholomew, leader of the world’s Orthodox Christian community, who has “called attention to the need for each of us to repent of the ways we have harmed the planet, for ‘inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage,’ we are called to acknowledge ‘our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation.’ ”
 
In the 1950s I worked in my family’s grocery store where we used a very large cardboard barrel, hidden behind a refrigeration unit, to dispose of all sorts of trash including paper, metal, and plastic.
 
One of my chores, when this barrel was filled to the top, was to drag it around the back of the building and burn everything in it.
 
Being a kid and naturally attracted to fire, I enjoyed this part of my job, particularly when the occasional aerosol can that had been thrown into the barrel would explode with a sharp bang.
 
None of us then thought about the smoke and fumes that spread out from that fire; they were out of sight and out of mind.
 
But I hope that if we were operating that store today we would know better and that we would find a safer, if more complex, means of disposing of that trash.
 
If we did not, given what we now know about ecology, how could we escape moral culpability for the outcomes of our cynicism and carelessness?
 
RENEW International is working with the Catholic Climate Covenant and Greenfaith to produce a small-group resource on Pope Francis’ encyclical for parishes, college campuses, and religious communities. For more information, visit www.renewintl.org/renewearth
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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Archbishop_Thomas_WenskiWe live in interesting times – this month (June) Pope Francis issues his first social encyclical, Laudato Sii, dealing with ecological questions; and, the US Supreme Court will hand down its decision on same sex marriage. At any rate, both of these happenings will give us Catholics both the opportunity, and, to be sure, the duty to engage the world and witness to our teachings, to our vision of the human person, of our place and our dignity in the world which we recognized as both fallen and redeemed.
 
This “vision” enshrined in the Church’s moral teachings embraces what we could call both a natural and a human ecology, or what has also been referred to as “integral ecology”.
 
All that touches on human flourishing involves ethics and morality. “Creation care” or commitment to stewardship of the world’s resources is therefore an ethical choice. It recognizes that the earth, in the words of Pope Benedict, is “not simply our property, which we can exploit according to our interests and desires…It is, instead, a gift of the Creator who designed its intrinsic order and, in this way, provided the instructions for us to consult.” There is today broad consensus among scientists that climate change presents real threat to human flourishing on this planet. The Church cannot be indifferent. Because we believe in the Creator, the Church “has a responsibility with creation and has to fulfill this responsibility in public”.
 
Given that today greater numbers of people are more keenly aware of the need to protect the natural environment, these words concerning a natural ecology are generally welcomed. However, it is much more difficult today for people to connect the dots and see that there is a linkage between a natural ecology and a human ecology.
 
As human beings, we do not “create” ourselves; rather we are created – as the Book of Genesis says, “in the image and likeness of God”. The nature of the human being is to be a man or a woman. This order of creation also must be respected and protected if human beings are to flourish. To accept our creatureliness does not contradict our freedom but it is a precondition for its true exercise.
 
An integral ecology demands that rain forests be protected – because of what they do potentially and actually for the flourishing of the human species on this earth. Likewise, marriage, understood for millennia as a union of one man and one woman, ought to be respected and protected. Marriage always has been primarily about the raising of children (who seem to be hardwired to be best raised by a father and a mother who are married to each other). It is certainly legitimate then to favor such traditional marriages – in law and custom -as a way of investing in the future of society by providing for the human flourishing of upcoming generations.
 
Just as we favor laws that limit the danger of pollutants damaging our sensitive ecosystems, should we not be concerned about the “toxic waste” of pornography and its effects on the human ecology of the young?
 
Today, some hold for a radical autonomy by which truth is determined not by the nature of things but by one’s own individual will. Such thinking has brought about the degradation of our physical environment; and, it now threatens our social environment as well. In the face of increasing relativism and individualism in the wider culture, we have too often forgotten that marriage (and the family built on marriage) reflects the truth of our human nature as social beings. Our human nature – like Mother Nature itself – is a “gift of the Creator who designed its intrinsic order, and in this way provided the instructions for us to consult…” As Pope Francis said in Manila this past January citing a popular adage, “God always forgives, we sometimes forgive, but when nature – creation – is mistreated, she never forgives.”
 
Minimizing our “carbon footprint”, implementing sustainable farming techniques, protecting the O-zone layer, working to reduce waste and pollution are part of “Creation care” – and in attending to these things, we exercise our stewardship over the earth; but at the same time, defending marriage, promoting the family, protecting the young, are also part of the “Creation care” necessary for human flourishing on planet Earth.
 
Archbishop Thomas Wenski is the Archbishop of Miami.

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“Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope.” —Pope Francis, The Face of Mercy
 
Year of MercyPope Francis has done it again—he has found an innovative way to touch people’s hearts by calling a special jubilee named the Holy Year of Mercy. It will begin on December 8, 2015, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and close on November 20, 2016, the feast of Christ the King. In The Face of Mercy, the pope explains that on December 8 he will open the special holy door of St. Peter’s Basilica to mark the beginning of the jubilee. He is also asking every diocese to identify a similar Door of Mercy at a cathedral or other special church to be opened during the year. In this way, the year of mercy is not only for those who make a pilgrimage to Rome but for all people. Francis hopes that in the symbolic act of opening the door it “will become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instills hope.”
 
A door can be a powerful image—when it is wide open it invites and welcomes us to freely enter; if it is slightly ajar we think twice before we carefully peer in and see if it is okay to enter. When the door is closed we knock and sometimes begin to pound on it, hoping someone on the other side will hear us. However, when the door is bolted shut we don’t even bother to knock—we just walk away. Over these last twenty or so years many people have walked away from the Church because they have felt shut out. In some cases they got tired of sneaking in, pushing through, or knocking until their knuckles bled, seeking mercy for themselves or a loved one. The pope writes, “The temptation…to focus exclusively on justice made us forget that this is only the first, albeit necessary and indispensable step. The time has come for the Church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more.”
 
The pope reminds us that Jesus is the compassion and mercy of God and that those who have experienced God’s infinite mercy are called to show mercy to others. Each one of us who has been marked by the forgiving and saving love of God is to practice mercy—we are to ask God to transform our hearts into open doors of mercy by which people experience in us consolation, pardon, and hope.
 
In his letter on mercy Francis reveals his “burning desire” that during the jubilee year we reflect on Jesus’ call to his followers, especially in the Gospel of Matthew, to act on their faith through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Francis exhorts us: “We cannot escape the Lord’s words to us, and they will serve as the criteria upon which we will be judged: whether we have fed the hungry and given drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger and clothed the naked, or spent time with those in prison.”
 
May we enter the open and merciful heart of our God and experience his unconditional love and forgiveness and, in turn, may we become a door of mercy for others.
 

For the full text of Pope Francis’ Proclamation of the Holy Year, click here.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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In September, Deirdre Malacrea, my RENEW colleague, and I attended the three-day international meeting in Vatican City on Pope Francis’ exhortation on the new evangelization, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). We joined 1,500 pastoral workers from 60 countries. The highlight of the conference was the talk by Pope Francis. After a morning session, we went out to lunch and had to return to the hall through security in anticipation of the pope’s appearance. The security lines were a mass of people. Typical Americans, Deirdre and I began to discuss how we could better organize the crowd, but we quickly abandoned that discussion and joined in the mad push. I lost Deirdre in the crush of the people, and entering the hall I lost hope for a decent seat. That is until I heard Deirdre calling to me. Using her American ingenuity and tough-minded Jersey attitude she landed us seats in the fourth row. When the pope entered the hall the atmosphere was electric, and I found myself lifted from my seat by the enthusiasm of the crowd. Instead of shouting “Derek Jeter” I joined the masses chanting “Papa Francesco.”
 
Pope Francis quieted the crowd with his humble presence, and his immediate and everyday language was compelling. He cautioned us against “clericalism”—looking down on the people we serve—and being too caught up in the institution, status, and rules of the Church. Instead he called us to preach and bear witness to the mercy of God. He reminded us of one of his favorite images of the church, a “field hospital” where all people who are suffering and wounded are welcome to come for healing, and he exhorted us to foster a church that is proximate and open and gives priority to the weak and poor. His concluding remarks were words of hope and encouragement—go about the work of evangelization with “patience and perseverance.”
 
I encourage you to read and reflect on The Joy of the Gospel. In this exhortation, Pope Francis encourages all Christians to embark on a new chapter of evangelization. He outlines a new vision for the Church, and he calls each local community to implement this vision according to its own culture and circumstance. This is exactly what we at RENEW are focused on as we develop our new pastoral process, Be My Witness: Formation for the New Evangelization.
 
In the words of Pope Francis: “Go forth, then, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ… I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting, and dirty because it has been out on the streets than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security… More than a fear from going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of being shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying us: “Give them something to eat” (Mark 6:37)” (Evangelii Gaudium, 49).
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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PopePaulVIA long-time collaborator with RENEW International keeps the following tagline on her e-mail messages:
“Peace and all good for everyone—no exceptions.”
 
It’s a sentiment that would have sat well with Pope Paul VI, who is to be beatified by Pope Francis on October 19.
 
Beatification is a step toward recognition as a saint.
 
In a way, Pope Paul occupies an unenviable place among the popes in the past five decades.
 
He succeeded the big-hearted, jovial Pope John XXIII, and he was succeeded by the charismatic John Paul I and John Paul II.
 
Pope Paul, by contrast, appeared studious and reserved and did not generate the transcendent kind of popular excitement that has surrounded other pontiffs—including Pope Francis.
 
But this quiet man arguably had a greater impact on the Church than all but a handful of those who have occupied the Chair of Peter; some would argue that Paul had the greatest impact of all.
 
When Pope John XXIII died in 1963, the Second Vatican Council, which he had convoked, automatically adjourned. Pope Paul, as expected, reconvened it and directed the implementation of its decisions, which ultimately renewed areas including the liturgy, the eucharistic fast, and the religious lives of priests.
 
The pope asked the council fathers, as a top priority, to produce a clear statement of how the Catholic Church sees itself, and that resulted in the most influential document issued by the council, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, often referred to by its Latin title, Lumen Gentium.
 
That document reiterated that the Catholic Church is “the sole Church of Christ,” but immediately added that “many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible confines.’’
 
This statement struck a chord that has continued to this day, the attempt at a rapprochement between the Catholic Church and other Christian communities in which the Catholic Church acknowledges and publicly regrets its own historic role in bringing about the separation.
 
A particularly dramatic step in this process occurred in 1964 when Pope Paul and the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras I met in Jerusalem and set the stage for Catholic and Orthodox churches to mutually rescind the excommunications of the Great Schism of 1054.
 
The council also produced, and Paul VI promulgated, Nostra Aetate, the groundbreaking Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions.
 
This document began by reflecting on the unity of the human race and went on to acknowledge the search for truth in other religious faiths.
 
The document specifically expressed the Church’s “esteem” for Muslims who revere Jesus as a prophet, honor his mother, and “value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving, and fasting.”
 
And—in, perhaps, its most sensitive passage—Nostra Aetate declared the spiritual bond that ties the Church to the Jewish people, affirmed that God’s covenant with the Jews is enduring, and repudiated any attempt to demonize Jewish people because of the passion of Jesus or discriminate against them in any way.
 
Pope Paul chose his papal name because of the missionary career of St. Paul, who carried the Gospel far and wide—to the outskirts, as Pope Francis likes to say.
 
Pope Paul, through the council and through his own missionary travels, opened wide the Church’s arms to welcome in a spirit of fraternity communities and individuals, including atheists, from whom it had long been estranged—“no exceptions.”
 
It is especially fitting then that Pope Francis, the new prophet of missionary discipleship, will be the one to declare Pope Paul “blessed.”
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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Peres_Abbas_Francis“Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare. It calls for the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict: yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities; yes to respect for agreements and no to acts of provocation; yes to sincerity and no to duplicity. All of this takes courage, it takes strength and tenacity.” These were the words of Pope Francis as he gave his address for the Invocation of Peace on Sunday. The gathering was held in the Vatican Gardens and involved Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whom Pope Francis had invited during his trip to the Middle East last month. The Orthodox Christian leader Patriarch Bartholomew I, was also in attendance.
 
Reflecting on these words, I think of a friend who personifies them. My friend was a Muslim student at a Catholic College, so saying that she was a minority was an understatement. At one point, she told me, she accounted for twenty percent of the college’s Muslim students; additionally, out of this population she was one of the few practicing Muslims. Despite all of this, she chose to deeply immerse herself in unfamiliar territory by taking time to attend the Mass on campus, making friends with the priests, and taking Catholic theology courses. Her actions have caused me to reflect on my own ability to face what I perceive as unknown or intimidating – a stranger, a new environment, or a non-Catholic place of worship – with courage and a resolve to risk my own sense of comfort in order to perhaps bring about new connections.
 
When I think of this kind of courage I also think of the late Bishop Joseph McFadden of the Diocese of Harrisburg — my hometown diocese — who chose to attend and speak alone at a PA Nonbelievers meeting he had been invited to. His courage was to talk of our faith and yet also to listen, even if that meant going into an uncomfortable situation.
 
It has often been said that religious differences are the causes of many wars. Yet we know that typically the violence between different religious or cultural groups is a complex situation that is the result of multiple sociological, economic, or political factors. When religion is brought into the mix, it is often used as an ultimate stamp of justification for one party’s violent actions against another. The danger is not necessarily in the religion itself but in people in power who manipulate religion into a device for destructive purposes. This creates a situation in which the enemy is dehumanized due to its dissociation with the “right” religion.
 
Jesus’ action in reaching out to gentiles, on the other hand, is something we can imitate just as Pope Francis has done: by reaching out to those of different faiths and those of no faith, whether in dialogue or in prayer. In this way, we can give life to the principle that the religious “other” is really not a stranger but a fellow human being — perhaps even a future friend! In this way, lines drawn according to religious difference will fail before they can ever become established, and our fellow humans will not become “them” or “they” but “we” and “us.” Granted, we should also recognize, given the situation, that peace will not necessarily occur simply or without sacrifice, but that small steps performed today are the ones that increasingly ensure violence never escalates.
 
As Pope Francis has also just demonstrated, even if all these steps fail there is still prayer. Besides praying for peaceful results to conflict we also in this way ensure that our peacemaking starts with our Holy Father. So let us pray in the words of St. Francis:
 

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
where there is injury, pardon,
where there is discord, harmony,
where there is error, truth,
where there is doubt, faith,
where there is despair, hope,
where there is darkness, light,
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

 
A question to consider: How can I be a peacemaker in my office, neighborhood, or religious community?

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