Tag Archives: Pope Francis

Native peoples and the church

In the US and Canada, today is the feast of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), In Perú and other parts of South America, and among the Franciscans, today is the feast of Saint Francisco Solano ((1549–1610).

Kateri, Lily of the Mohawks, was the daughter of a Mohawk pagan chief and an Algonquin Christian, who after becoming a Catholic left her village in what is now Auriesville, NY, and went to live in a Catholic village near Montreal, Canada. There she lived out her short life. She had hoped to found a convent, but was not permitted. Having made a public vow of chastity, she died young. She is a sign of the openness of the native peoples to Christ and the Church – but she also suffered from the misunderstanding of her native peoples who could not comprehend her refusal to marry and from the Church that was not open to her desire to further religious life among the native peoples.

Fray Francisco, after several years of positions of authority in his Franciscan order in his native Spain, went to South America and spent about twenty years among the peoples of Perú and Tucuman (in parts of Argentina and Paraguay). There he approached the native peoples with respect, often announcing his arrival playing his violin. He was transferred to Lima where he found disfavor among his superiors for his strong words against corruption and injustice.

These two very different saints remind me of the importance of a Church that is missionary but which respects the peoples and their cultures and recognizes the dignity of all people.

In the history of the Church there are many examples of a colonialism at the heart of some missionary activity which resulted in massacres of native peoples and destruction of native cultures. There is also the witness of people like the Dominican bishop Fray Bartolomé de las Casas who spoke out strongly against colonialism and slavery and other efforts to undermine the dignity of the native peoples.

And so today it is beneficial to meditate on the words of Pope Francis in 2015, speaking in Bolivia at the World Meeting of Popular Movements:

I say this to you with regret: many grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God. My predecessors acknowledged this, CELAM has said it, and I too wish to say it. Like Saint John Paul II, I ask that the Church “kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters”. I would also say, and here I wish to be quite clear, as was Saint John Paul II: I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the Church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so- called conquest of America.
I also ask everyone, believers and nonbelievers alike, to think of those many bishops, priests and laity who preached and continue to preach the Good News of Jesus with courage and meekness, respectfully and pacifically; who left behind them impressive works of human promotion and of love, often standing alongside the native peoples or accompanying their popular movements even to the point of martyrdom. The Church, her sons and daughters, are part of the identity of the peoples of Latin America. An identity which here, as in other countries, some powers are committed to erasing, at times because our faith is revolutionary, because our faith challenges the tyranny of mammon.

Misers and thieves

St. Basil the Great, Father of the Church, defender of the faith, was also an outspoken defender of the poor.

He was a bishop of compassion and solidarity with the poor. In a time of famine he opened a soup kitchen and served meals to the hungry. He founded a hospital for the sick poor.

But he was deeply disturbed by the inequality he saw around him and called for redistribution of wealth and of the goods of the earth.

“What is a miser? One who is not content with what is needful. What is a thief? One who takes what belongs to others. Why do you not consider yourself a miser and a thief when you claim as your own what you received in trust? If one who takes the clothing off another is called a thief, why give any other name to one who can clothe the naked and refuses to do so?

“The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry. The garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of the one who is naked. The shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot. The money you keep locked away is the money of the poor. The acts of charity you do not perform are so many injustices you commit.”

Pope Francis has often reflected the challenge of Saint Basil as when he wrote in Evangelli Gaudium; The Joy of the Gospel, ¶ 202:

As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems. Inequality is the root of social ills.

How will we live out this challenge this year in our personal lives and in the life of our nations?

Different types of missionaries

Today is the feast of St. Francis Xavier, the sixteenth century Jesuit priest who is one of the patrons of missionaries, who died on December 2, 1552 on a deserted island off the coast of China.

But these first three days of December offer us visions of three different types of missionaries.

On December 1, 1916, Blessed Brother Charles de Foucauld was killed by rebels in Tamanrasset which is in what is now southern Algeria. He had sought to live among the poor as Jesus in Nazareth, hidden and poor – and so found himself living among Muslims in Africa.

For him to be a missionary was to be a witness by being present.

“The whole of our existence, the whole of our lives should cry the Gospel from the rooftops  .  .  . not by our words but by our lives.”

Blessed Charles teaches us the importance of being present with our poor sisters and brothers:

We must infinitely respect the least of our brothers … let us mingle with them. Let us be one of them to the extent that God wishes… and treat them fraternally in order to have the honor and joy of being accepted as one of them.

On December 2, 1980, four US women missionaries were killed in El Salvador. Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clark and Ita Ford, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, and lay missionary Jean Donovan offer us the vision of missionaries who accompany the poor in situations of violence and oppression.

Not only were they present, living among the poor, they were also responding to their needs, accompanying those who were being displaced inside the country, largely because of the repression by government and death squad forces.

They also noted that the poor can evangelize us. As Sister Ita Ford wrote:

“Am I willing to suffer with the people here, the suffering of the powerless, the feeling impotent. Can I say to my neighbors — I have no solutions to the situation, I don’t know the answers, but I will walk with you, be with you. Can I let myself be evangelized by this opportunity? Can I look at and accept my own poorness and learn from other poor ones?”

They accompanied the poor in their powerlessness and shared the fate of so many poor in El Salvador, a violent death at the hands of government forces.

St. Francis Xavier offers another vision of mission.

In some ways he appears to be the traditional missionary, in his ten years in India and the Far East.

He baptized thousands in India – and complained that students in the universities in Europe were thinking more of themselves than of the thousands who needed to hear the Gospel message and to be baptized.

But there is more to Francis Xavier than this.

In India he served the poor, visiting prisoners, slaves, lepers and people at the margins. He lived as a poor man.

But he was aware of the exploitation and violence wrought by Portuguese colonial rule in India and wrote back to the King of Portugal calling on him to correct the rampant injustices. He was a missionary who was not afraid to advocate for the poor.

But, though he identified with the poor and spent most of his time in India with the poor, he realized that, like St. Paul, he needed to be “all things to all people” (1 Corinthians 9: 22). So, when he went to Japan and saw that the rulers looked down on him with his poor clothing, he put on fancier clothes and brought gifts – opening up Japan to the message of the Gospel. He was a pioneer in inculturation.

And so, Charles de Foucauld teaches the missionary the importance of being really present among the poor. The US women religious martyrs teach the call to accompany people in the midst of poverty and violence and to be open to learn from the poor. St. Francis Xavier teaches the importance of being an advocate of the poor in the face of injustice and of being willing to make changes in the face of different cultures.

These missionary witnesses can help us who are missionaries in a foreign land to examine our ministry. (They also can help all Christians who seek to be missionaries, witnesses of the Gospel, wherever they may be.)

Yesterday, December 2, 2015, Pope Francis took up the call to mission and also provided food for thought.

He first challenged young people to think of becoming missionaries and recalled an 81 year old Italian woman religious he met in Bangui in the Central American Republic. She had left Italy when she was in her early twenties and had devoted all her life to Africa.

Pope Francis’ message reflects the challenge of mission in the twenty-first century, echoing the witness of Charles de Foucauld, Francis Xavier, Maura Clark, Ira Ford, Jean Donovan, and Dorothy Kazel.

But I address young people: think what you are doing with your life. Think of this sister and so many like her, who have given their life, and so many have died there. Missionary work is not to engage in proselytism: this sister said to me that Muslim women go to them because they know that the sisters are good nurses and that they look after one well, and they do not engage in catechesis to convert them! They give witness then, they catechize anyone who so wishes. But witness: this is the great heroic missionary work of the Church. To proclaim Jesus Christ with one’s life!  I turn to young people: think of what you want to do with your life. It is the moment to think and to ask the Lord to make you hear His will. However, please don’t exclude this possibility of becoming a missionary, to bring love, humanity and faith to other countries. Do not engage in proselytism: no. Those who seek something else do so. The faith is preached first with witness and then with the word, slowly.

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For more on the missionaries mentioned here, you can find short biographies in Robert Ellsberg’s All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time.

The misery and the beauty

On November 30, 1943, a Dutch Jewish woman died in Auschwitz – one of millions killed by the Nazis for being Jewish or “different” in other ways.

Many years later, the diary of Etty Hillesum came to light.

One passage that struck me reveals her depth – able and willing to see beauty even when surrounded by misery, suffering, and the horrors of evil.

It all comes down to the same thing: life is beautiful, and I believe in God. And I want to be there right in the thick of what people call horror and still be able to say: life is beautiful. Yes, I lie here in a corner, parched and dizzy and feverish and unable to do a thing. Yet I am also with the jasmine and the piece of sky beyond my window. There is room for everything in a single life: for a miserable end and for belief in God.

Advent is a time of waiting in the midst of darkness. It is a time to contemplate the misery of the world, the people who live in misery (which is often a term indicating extreme poverty). It is a time to not turn away from the suffering but to face it – with faith and with hope.

In the midst of the Nazi Holocaust, Etty Hllesum could call upon her belief in God to sustain her. She nurtured this belief by prayer. As she wrote on May 18, 1942:

The threat grows ever greater, and terror increases from day to day. I draw prayer round me like a dark protective wall, withdraw inside it as one might into a convent cell and then step outside again, calmer and stronger and more collected again. I can imagine times to come when I shall stay on my knees for days on end waiting until the protective walls are strong enough to prevent my going to pieces altogether, my being lost and utterly devastated.

We live in dark times but God is a protecting wall – but not a wall that keeps us isolated from the evil and the pain of others, but a wall that sustains us to see and respond in love to the evil around us.

I think today also of Pope Francis who went to a war-zone, the Central African Republic, and even visited a mosque in an area surrounded by “Christian” militia – not afraid to confront evil.

Would that I had such faith and courage.

What makes for peace

If this day you only knew what makes for peace
—but now it is hidden from your eyes.
Luke 19: 42

Jesus cries even today,
because we have preferred the ways of war,
the way of hate, the way of being enemies.
Pope Francis, 19 November 2015 

As war fever mounts, it might be useful to consider these words from an essay of the Trappist monk Thomas Merton from “The Root of War Is Fear.”

The essay can be found in New Seeds of Contemplation. But when it was first published in The Catholic Worker, it included the following words in an introduction which are not found in the original book.

What are we to do? The duty of the Christian in this crisis is to strive with all his power and intelligence, with his faith, his hope in Christ, and love for God and man, to do the one task which God has imposed upon us in the world today. That task is to work for the total abolition of war. There can be no question that unless war is abolished the world will remain constantly in a state of madness and desperation in which, because of the immense destructive power of modern weapons, the danger of catastrophe will be imminent and probable at every moment everywhere. Unless we set ourselves immediately to this task, both as individuals and in our political and religious groups, we tend by our very passivity and fatalism to cooperate with the destructive forces that are leading inexorably to war. It is a problem of terrifying complexity and magnitude, for which the Church itself is not fully able to see clear and decisive solutions. Yet she must lead the way on the road to the nonviolent settlement of difficulties and toward the gradual abolition of war as the way of settling international or civil disputes. Christians must become active in every possible way, mobilizing all their resources for the fight against war.

First of all there is much to be learned. Peace is to be preached, nonviolence is to be explained as a practical method, and not left to be mocked as an outlet for crackpots who want to make a show of themselves. Prayer and sacrifice must be used as the most effective spiritual weapons in the war against war, and like all weapons, they must be used with deliberate aim: not just with a vague aspiration for peace and security, but against violence and war. This implies that we are also willing to sacrifice and restrain our own instinct for violence and aggressiveness in our relations with other people. We may never succeed in this campaign but whether we succeed or not, the duty is evident.

At the end of the essay Merton reflects on what we should be praying for when we pray for peace.

So instead of loving what you think is peace, love other men and love God above all. And instead of hating the people you think are warmakers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed— but hate these things in yourself, not in another.

So today in the wake of violence let us pray for peace, for our conversion to the way of the Christ of peace, for the abolition of war.

DSC00070

From the church “Dominus flevit” in Jerusalem

 

Exploring

Today is Columbus Day – a day when many celebrate a man who got lost and thought he was in India. His “discovery” led to the death of millions of peoples in the “Americas” and to the beginning of an exploitation of the resources of an entire hemisphere.

But I wonder if the problem is that he “explored” and “exploited” to fill up an emptiness in the soul – not just his but the soul of an empire.

These thoughts led me to remember what Thomas Merton wrote in The Wisdom of the Desert:

“What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it all the rest are not only useless but disastrous.
“Proof: the great travelers and colonizers of the Renaissance were, for the most part, men who perhaps were capable of the things they did precisely because they were alienated from themselves. In subjugating primitive worlds, they only imposed on them, with the force of cannons, their own confusion and their own alienation.”

But this is not just something characteristic of the explorers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Pope Francis, in his encyclical Laudato Si’ also points to the emptiness of our hearts as a factor in the consumerist culture:

The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume. It becomes almost impossible to accept the limits imposed by reality.

And so today is a day not to celebrate explorers but to explore in the depths of our hearts where God calls us to love and to embrace the Other, not to conquer or consume.

Will the poor forgive me?

Pope Francis in his trip to the United States has given us an example of God’s love for and identification with the poor and the marginalized – visiting places where the poor are fed and where the marginalized are put into prison.

He often speaks of the culture of encounter. We are not only called to be on the side of the poor, we are called to be with them in person – in the manner in which we can do this, meeting them as persons.

It is easy to love the poor as a group and to advocate for them. It is not so easy to be with them. It can be threatening – we don’t know what to expect.

But to accompany the poor means that we let ourselves be challenged by the poor, to learn from them, and to be with them without a sense of superiority.

Otherwise our charity becomes a way of proving ourselves superior to the poor or to those who do not “help” the poor as we do.

How ought we to practice charity? With gratitude, with love, with respect, with openness to the other.

But this is not easy.

As Dostoevsky wrote, “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing, compared to love in dreams.

St. Vincent Depaul, who died on September 27, 1660, and whose feast is celebrated today, once wrote, in a similar vein:

You will find out that Charity is a heavy burden to carry, heavier than the kettle of soup and the full basket. But you will keep your gentleness and your smile. It is not enough to give soup and bread. This the rich can do. You are the servant of the poor, always smiling and good-humored. They are your masters, terribly sensitive and exacting master you will see. And the uglier and the dirtier they will be, the more unjust and insulting, the more love you must give them. It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them.

Will the poor forgive me as I live here? Will they recognize their dignity and their capacities in my presence? Will they recognize how they are truly children of God and my sisters and brothers? Will they forgive me?