Monday, July 7, 2014

DON'T BLAME THE CHILDREN AT THE BORDER

I was embarrassed for us as Americans to watch throngs of angry and venomous people yelling and screaming at the three buses bringing women and children who had arrived at our southern border to a safe haven in Murrieta, CA.

The jeers and taunts were the kind normally hurled at those convicted of heinous crimes, such as homicide and assault.  But not at innocent children, and some frightened mothers.

Over many months approximately 52,000 unaccompanied children and youth have reached the border with Mexico.  Most came from the three most difficult countries in our hemisphere:  Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.  Desperate parents paid large sums of money to get "coyotes" to bring their children from Central America, through Mexico, and to the USA border.  In these countries the only future for the children would be gangs, lack of work, meager education, no health care, and constant fear.  Any parent would want better for their children.

Sadly, these children have become political pawns in the unending national debate over immigrants and immigration reform.  The unwillingness of Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation is a scandal creating waves of emotional and physical devastation across the country, and especially, at the southern border.  New levels of fear and fright have afflicted our immigrant brothers and sisters.

We desperately need the national debate on our broken immigration system, and the inadequate laws and regulations now on the books.  But don't put helpless children in the middle of it, and don't blame the children for the larger mess.

We must accept these children with the compassion of disciples of Jesus Christ, and we must offer them whatever assistance we can.  Many are seriously ill after having traveled long distances over weeks deprived of adequate food and drink.  We need to accept them as they are, help them restore their health, and treat them with respect as human beings--as helpless children.

Then, we can look at their legal status to determine what would be in their best interests:  uniting some with parents in this country, treating some as victims seeking political asylum, and possibly returning some back to their countries of origin.

Today Pope Francis marked the first anniversary of his trip to the island of Lampedusa in southern Italy to speak out in favor of desperate immigrants trying to reach Europe:  "I encourage the Christian communities and all people of good will to continue to reach out and lend a helping hand to all those who are in need, without counting the cost, without fear, with tenderness and understanding.  At the same time, I hope that the competent institutions .... might be most courageous and generous in refugee relief."

Great advice for all of us as disciples of Jesus and as Americans.

POPE FRANCIS TO VICTIMS OF CLERICAL SEXUAL ABUSE

[On Monday, July 7, 2014 Pope Francis celebrated Mass with six victims of clergy sexual abuse.  His homily follows:]
         
The scene where Peter sees Jesus emerge after a terrible interrogation…  Peter whose eyes meet the gaze of Jesus and weeps…  This scene comes to my mind as I look at you, and think of so many men and women, boys and girls.  I feel the gaze of Jesus and I ask for the grace to weep, the grace for the Church to weep and make reparation for her sons and daughters who betrayed their mission, who abused innocent persons.  Today, I am very grateful to you for having travelled so far to come here.

            For some time now I have felt in my heart deep pain and suffering.   So much time hidden, camouflaged with a complicity that cannot be explained until someone realized that Jesus was looking and others the same… and they set about to sustain that gaze.

And those few who began to weep have touched our conscience for this crime and grave sin.  This is what causes me distress and pain at the fact that some priests and bishops, by sexually abusing minors, violated their innocence and their own priestly vocation.  It is something more than despicable actions.  It is like a sacrilegious cult, because these boys and girls had been entrusted to the priestly charism in order to be brought to God. And those people sacrificed them to the idol of their own concupiscence.  They profane the very image of God in whose likeness we were created.  Childhood, as we all know, young hearts, so open and trusting, have their own way of understanding the mysteries of God’s love and are eager to grow in the faith.  Today the heart of the Church looks into the eyes of Jesus in these boys and girls and wants to weep; she asks the grace to weep before the execrable acts of abuse which have left life long scars.

           I know that these wounds are a source of deep and often unrelenting emotional and spiritual pain, and even despair.  Many of those who have suffered in this way have also sought relief in the path of addiction.  Others have experienced difficulties in significant relationships, with parents, spouses and children.  Suffering in families has been especially grave, since the damage provoked by abuse affects these vital family relationships.

Some have even had to deal with the terrible tragedy of the death of a loved one by suicide.  The deaths of these so beloved children of God weigh upon the heart and my conscience and that of the whole Church.  To these families I express my heartfelt love and sorrow.  Jesus, tortured and interrogated with passionate hatred, is taken to another place and he looks out.  He looks out upon one of his own, the one who denied him, and he makes him weep.  Let us implore this grace together with that of making amends.

            Sins of clerical sexual abuse against minors have a toxic effect on faith and hope in God.  Some of you have held fast to faith, while for others the experience of betrayal and abandonment has led to a weakening of faith in God.  Your presence here speaks of the miracle of hope, which prevails against the deepest darkness.  Surely it is a sign of God’s mercy that today we have this opportunity to encounter one another, to adore God, to look in one another’s eyes and seek the grace of reconciliation.

            Before God and his people I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you.  And I humbly ask forgiveness.
I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves.  This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused and it endangered other minors who were at risk.

            On the other hand, the courage that you and others have shown by speaking up, by telling the truth, was a service of love, since for us it shed light on a terrible darkness in the life of the Church.  There is no place in the Church’s ministry for those who commit these abuses, and I commit myself not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not.  All bishops must carry out their pastoral ministry with the utmost care in order to help foster the protection of minors, and they will be held accountable.

What Jesus says about those who cause scandal applies to all of us: the millstone and the sea (cf. Mt 18:6).

By the same token we will continue to exercise vigilance in priestly formation.  I am counting on the members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, all minors, whatever religion they belong to, they are little flowers which God looks lovingly upon.

I ask this support so as to help me ensure that we develop better policies and procedures in the universal Church for the protection of minors and for the training of church personnel in implementing those policies and procedures.  We need to do everything in our power to ensure that these sins have no place in the Church.

            Dear brothers and sisters, because we are all members of God’s family, we are called to live lives shaped by mercy.  The Lord Jesus, our Savior, is the supreme example of this; though innocent, he took our sins upon himself on the cross.  To be reconciled is the very essence of our shared identity as followers of Jesus Christ.  By turning back to him, accompanied by our most holy Mother, who stood sorrowing at the foot of the cross, let us seek the grace of reconciliation with the entire people of God.  The loving intercession of Our Lady of Tender Mercy is an unfailing source of help in the process of our healing.

            You and all those who were abused by clergy are loved by God.  I pray that the remnants of the darkness which touched you may be healed by the embrace of the Child Jesus and that the harm which was done to you will give way to renewed faith and joy.

            I am grateful for this meeting.  And please pray for me, so that the eyes of my heart will always clearly see the path of merciful love, and that God will grant me the courage to persevere on this path for the good of all children and young people. Jesus comes forth from an unjust trial, from a cruel interrogation and he looks in the eyes of Peter, and Peter weeps. We ask that he look at us and that we allow ourselves to be looked upon and to weep and that he give us the grace to be ashamed, so that, like Peter, forty days later, we can reply: “You know that I love you”; and hear him say: “go back and feed my sheep” – and I would add – “let no wolf enter the sheepfold”. 

(From archive of Vatican Radio)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

PILGRIMAGE: SANTO TORIBIO ROMO

Recently I was privileged to visit the new Santuario de Santo Toribio Romo, one of the 25 Mexican Martyrs killed by soldiers during the persecution of the Church in the mid-1920s.

click to enlarge
Exterior of new Santuario in honor of Santa Toribio Romo
in Mexico
I was privileged to spend three days there at the Santuario, which is located in a small town called Santa Ana de Guadalupe--in the State of Jalisco, and in the Diocese of San Juan de Los Lagos.

The new Santuario draws huge numbers of pilgrims, especially on Saturdays and Sundays.  It is not unusual to have 50,000 people on a Sunday.

St. Toribio's Remains are in a special urn which is located above the main Altar, and is visible both from the Santuario and from a small Chapel behind it.  Pilgrims are welcome to honor him from either vantage point.

I was deeply moved praying before the Remains of Santo Toribio, and reflected upon the various murals depicting his life, ministry, and murder during the Mexican persecution.  He was ordained at age 22, and suffered martyrdom at age 27.

He is revered in this hemisphere as the Patron of Migrants.  Although during his life-time he was not involved with helping migrants and immigrants, nonetheless, after his death he was seen by many people along the border to Mexico assisting migrants who had run out of food and water.  One of the murals portrays that ministry.
Santo Toribio continues to be invoked constantly in our own time by todays' migrants, immigrants, and refugees.

In a nearby small town the Remains of San Pedro Esqueda are buried, and a new Chapel has been built over the site.  The soldiers had attempted to tie him to a large mesquite tree and burn him alive, but the tree would not catch fire.  Then, they shot him.

There is great devotion to Our Lady of San Juan de Los Lagos, and I visited her Basilica in that city.  There is a magnificent wooden image above the main Altar, and I was able to celebrate Mass there.  Various photos will show the interior of the Basilica.

Near Leon, Guanajuato, there is a large bronze statue of Cristo Rey on top of a high mountain overlooking Leon and that vast valley.  It is the largest bronze statue in the world, and truly inspiring to all.

click to enlarge
plaza in front of Santuario; future Bell Tower location
 
interior view of Santuario
chapel where Remains of Romo are preserved
mural showing the murder of Romo by soldiers


close-up of urn with Romo Remains
 
mural of Romo assisting immigrants along the border after his death
burial place of Fr. Pedro Esqueda, another Mexican martyr

Our Lady of San Juan de Los Lagos Basilica--Mass

Mass in the Basilica


Image of Our Lady above Altar

Image of Our Lady above Altar


celebrating Mass in the Basilica


Bronze Statue of Cristo Rey overlooking Leon, Guanajuato




 

Monday, June 16, 2014

IMMIGRANT CHILDREN AT OUR BORDER

For at least three years, the number of unaccompanied minors trying to cross the border into the United States has increased dramatically.

But why?

Some contend that the policies of the current Administration are sending a "message" throughout Mexico and Central America that minors coming to this country on their own can be given a special asylum or sent to relatives living in this country.

But that's not what is driving this new surge of unaccompanied minors.  These minors are fleeing horrific conditions in their countries of origin--especially El Salvador and Honduras.  These minors are not coming because they want to leave their homes.  Rather, they are leaving because of two very real problems facing them:  incredible threats against their lives, and hopeless living and working conditions.

These young people tell us clearly that the reach of gangs and the drug cartels has reached deeply into their countries, and that they are faced with incredible decisions:  either join a gang and get shot by a rival gang, or refuse to join a gang and get shot by that gang; or do nothing, and get swept up into the quagmire of the drug cartels.  No hope, no future.  This is what is propelling the departure of these minors across Central America towards the United States.  Sheer desperation.

These problems are not of our making, and their home countries have the primary responsibility for their safety, education, and employment.  However, the political and economic chaos in these countries means that none of these possibilities is available to them.

They feel they have nothing to lose, and set out on a perilous journey in which death and injury are so real.  They pay exorbitant fees to "coyotes" to escort them to the USA.  But most of the time, the coyotes dump them along the way, pocket thousands of dollars, and leave the minors at the mercy of many criminal elements.

Our government needs to prod the Central America countries to take primary responsibility for their citizens, especially the youth, and to find ways for them to remain home, get an education, and find gainful employment.  Sadly, the corruption and instability of these countries makes it virtually impossible for any change in the near future.

So, these children and youth set out on perilous journeys seeking a new life and a new future.

Is this "our problem"?  In the strict sense, no.  But we are a country which offers opportunity for the poor and the deprived, so we should not be surprised that they are coming to us.

The best response would be for our country to pass a comprehensive immigration reform package which will  bring some new order to our antiquated and chaotic immigration system.  Because we have so many jobs available in the low-skill and low-income categories, we have become a magnet for such desperate young people.  Especially since other Americans will not take these jobs, regardless of the salary.

The numbers of unaccompanied minors is a sad commentary on the sending countries.  But as a nation of immigrants, we are compelled to find a way to reunite these minors with parents living in this country.

Sadly, our country's response has been with platitudes and inaction.  We are now reaping the harvest of this inaction.

Jesus told us very clearly:  "I was a stranger, and you welcomed me."  May that continue to be our call and challenge.

Friday, June 6, 2014

FURTHER IMMIGRATION STEPS

It was good news for some 500,000 young immigrants when Homeland Security announced that they were extending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals [DACA] for another two years.  When DACA was implemented in 2012 it was our collective hope that Congress would pass a comprehensive immigration reform law that would negate the need for any further extensions since these young people would be included in the comprehensive approach.

Sadly, the House in Washington still refuses to bring to the floor for vote the U.S. Senate passed Bill.  That Bill would obviate the need for any further piecemeal immigration reform efforts.

These young people were brought to our country by others as small children.  They did not decide and plan to come here on their own.  These youth are attending our schools, and they are getting an education in order to become legal members of our society, get jobs, pay taxes, and support the economic growth of our nation.  DACA has given them permits in order to work, and it would have been tragic to allow those permits to terminate--throwing these youth back into the shadows without any legal protections.

It is imperative that the House take up and pass the Senate Bill as soon as possible.  What is ironic is that there are enough votes in the House to pass the Senate Bill--votes from both Republicans and Democrats.  But Speaker Boehner will not bring the Bill to the floor because he does not have a majority of his Republican members willing to vote for the Bill.

That refusal to bring the Bill to the House floor for a vote is a moral and ethical outrage.  Some 11 million people are being denied the opportunity to start down a difficult, earned path leading to legal status.  They remain in the shadows of our society, most working low-skill and low-pay jobs in order to provide for their families.

I urge Speaker Boehner to end his delay, and to schedule the Senate Bill for a vote in the House as quickly as possible.

Monday, April 28, 2014

CANONIZATION: SPIRITUAL and PASTORAL EXPERIENCE

What was so amazing about the Canonization of Popes Saint John XXIII and John Paul II was the complete absence of any triumphalism.  The entire Liturgy was a prayerful experience for all who were gathered as disciples of Jesus.

Pope Francis set the tone immediately by allowing the Liturgy to convey the depth of the moment.  Nothing was added to focus upon the person of the two new saints; rather, we were all invited to enter deeply into their love for God, their devotion to Jesus Christ, and their untiring efforts to bring Jesus to the world in new and fresh ways.

Even though hundreds of thousands of people were gathered near and far to St. Peter's, not once did I hear the refrain, "Viva il Papa."  And why?  Because this celebration was about their incredible discipleship with Jesus and their carrying on the tradition of Peter and his successors down through the ages.

Their sanctity was shown to be within the grasp of every single one of us--not for a few chosen ones with lofty titles and positions in the Church.  Pope Francis made it clear that as the Sunday Gospel pointed out so well, each of us is invited to see and touch the wounds of Jesus--his wounded and risen Body serving as the entry point for our own spiritual journey.  And that invitation from our Risen Jesus is for each one of us--what a grace, what a gift!

I was struck by the large numbers of young people present all over Rome for this important milestone in the history of the Church.  All came because of their own yearning to draw closer to Jesus, to allow Jesus to impact their own lives, and to follow the great virtues of two astounding disciples and shepherds of Jesus.

Never before were two Popes canonized at the same time; and never before were two living Popes present at that Liturgy of Canonization.  I doubt that anyone in the future will ever witness what unfolded yesterday in the Piazza of St. Peter's.

May each one of us draw closer to our Risen Savior, Jesus, and be inspired to live out the heroic discipleship that Pope St. John XXIII and Pope St. John Paul II exemplified.  It's notable that both Popes were led into significant suffering--following the example of Jesus.  What a great witness for us!  So many of us suffer from illness, abandonment, hardships, personal and family tragedies, and various reversals.  The "good news" is that bearing those with faith and constancy brings us ever more deeply into the life of Jesus!


[As a convenience, a previous blog posting gives the entire Homily delivered by Pope Francis at the Canonization]

Sunday, April 27, 2014

POPE FRANCIS: 'POPES OF 20th CENTURY' WITNESS, TEACH OF GOD'S MERCY


[Below is the homily given by Pope Francis at the Mass in which Pope St. John XXIII and Pope St. John Paul II were declared Saints of the Church]



"At the heart of this Sunday, which concludes the Octave of Easter and which John Paul II wished to dedicate to Divine Mercy, are the glorious wounds of the risen Jesus.

He had already shown those wounds when he first appeared to the Apostles on the very evening of that day following the Sabbath, the day of the resurrection. But, as we heard, Thomas was not there that evening, and when the others told him that they had seen the Lord, he replied that unless he himself saw and touched those wounds, he would not believe. 

A week later, Jesus appeared once more to the disciples gathered in the Upper Room, and Thomas was present; Jesus turned to him and told him to touch his wounds. Whereupon that man, so straightforward and accustomed to testing everything personally, knelt before Jesus with the words: “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28).

The wounds of Jesus are a scandal, a stumbling block for faith, yet they are also the test of faith. That is why on the body of the risen Christ the wounds never pass away: they remain, for those wounds are the enduring sign of God’s love for us. They are essential for believing in God. Not for believing that God exists, but for believing that God is love, mercy and faithfulness. Saint Peter, quoting Isaiah, writes to Christians: “by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet 2:24, cf. Is 53:5).

Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II were not afraid to look upon the wounds of Jesus, to touch his torn hands and his pierced side. They were not ashamed of the flesh of Christ, they were not scandalized by him, by his cross; they did not despise the flesh of their brother (cf. Is 58:7), because they saw Jesus in every person who suffers and struggles. These were two men of courage, filled with the parrousia of the Holy Spirit, and they bore witness before the Church and the world to God’s goodness and mercy.

They were priests, bishops and popes of the twentieth century. 

They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful; faith was more powerful – faith in Jesus Christ the Redeemer of man and the Lord of history; the mercy of God, shown by those five wounds, was more powerful; and more powerful too was the closeness of Mary our Mother.

In these two men, who looked upon the wounds of Christ and bore witness to his mercy, there dwelt a living hope and an indescribable and glorious joy (1 Pet 1:3,8). The hope and the joy which the risen Christ bestows on his disciples, the hope and the joy which nothing and no one can take from them. The hope and joy of Easter, forged in the crucible of self-denial, self-emptying, utter identification with sinners, even to the point of disgust at the bitterness of that chalice. Such were the hope and the joy which these two holy popes had received as a gift from the risen Lord and which they in turn bestowed in abundance upon the People of God, meriting our eternal gratitude.

This hope and this joy were palpable in the earliest community of believers, in Jerusalem, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. 2:42-47), as we heard in the second reading. It was a community which lived the heart of the Gospel, love and mercy, in simplicity and fraternity.

This is also the image of the Church which the Second Vatican Council set before us. John XXIII and John Paul II cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the Church in keeping with her pristine features, those features which the saints have given her throughout the centuries. Let us not forget that it is the saints who give direction and growth to the Church. In convening the Council, John XXIII showed an exquisite openness to the Holy Spirit. He let himself be led and he was for the Church a pastor, a servant-leader, led by the Spirit. This was his great service to the Church; he was the pope of openness to the Spirit.

In his own service to the People of God, John Paul II was the pope of the family. He himself once said that he wanted to be remembered as the pope of the family. I am particularly happy to point this out as we are in the process of journeying with families towards the Synod on the family. It is surely a journey which, from his place in heaven, he guides and sustains.

May these two new saints and shepherds of God’s people intercede for the Church, so that during this two-year journey toward the Synod she may be open to the Holy Spirit in pastoral service to the family. May both of them teach us not to be scandalized by the wounds of Christ and to enter ever more deeply into the mystery of divine mercy, which always hopes and always forgives, because it always loves."

[Second Sunday of Easter, April 27, 2014]