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Catechesis must encounter the disabled with love, archbishop says

Rome, Italy, Oct 21, 2017 / 02:01 am (CNA).- The Church must learn “how to encounter disabled people today, how to allow them to have an encounter with Christ in the silence of their own interior and in the signs that indicate his presence in brothers; how to foster their commitment to witness and to be protagonists in the community as catechists, and therefore believers who transmit the faith, living it and teaching it,” Archbishop Rino Fisichella said Friday.

“God directs his word to everyone, no one excluded,” the archbishop said Oct. 20. “He finds ways in which to speak to the people who derive from the multiformity of his being,” while addressing the misperception that intellectually disabled people cannot understand the Catholic faith.

God communicates through the dynamics of “support, inclusion and integration,” he said, adding that “a person can be blind, but hear; can be deaf, but perceive; can be unable to reflect, but grasp the intimacy of the strength of presence.”

Archbishop Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, offered these remarks in a keynote speech on the opening night of a Vatican-sponsored conference dedicated to catechesis for those with intellectual disabilities.

The conference, titled “Catechesis and Persons with Disabilities: A Necessary Engagement in the Daily Pastoral Life of the Church,” is taking place Oct. 20-22 at the Pontifical Urbanianum University in Rome.

Over 420 people who work in catechesis are registered for the conference, and come from professions and countries all over the world.

In addition to Fisichella, other speakers include Baroness Sheila Hollins of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, and representatives from dioceses around the world, who will present methods for the catechesis of disabled people. Disabled people participating will lead moments of prayer throughout the gathering.

Participants will also have an audience with Pope Francis during the event, demonstrating the Pope's keen interest in the topic.

In his speech, Fisichella said addressing the topic of disability within the Christian community is “urgent” because of the social and cultural stigmas that people with disabilities often face today.

Recounting several examples of situations when people with disabilities have been discriminated against, he noted that in 2015 an elderly parent who was beaten for taking a reserved parking spot when buying medicine for his son, who was having an epileptic emergency.

He also pointed to how in August of this year a disabled teenage girl was raped in the Italian town of Piacenza, and her attacker immediately set free. Another example was how, earlier this month in Naples, seven couples who had made adoption requests refused the offer of a child with Downs Syndrome.

“The bullying and arrogance of the stronger” can always happen to anyone, Fisichella said, but noted that it's also always true “that when this happens to a person who is disabled, and therefore weak and defenseless, then the disdain and the complaint” must be more forceful.  

Fisichella reflected on the way that God relates to man, saying it is the Lord from the beginning who chose to speak and reveal himself to man. Revelation, and the response of faith, begins with “the act of love from which comes God’s decision to reveal himself and the purpose of calling one to share in his own life,” he said.

There are different stages of revelation, he said, noting that each one “is marked by the love of God.”

“It's a love that reaches the heart of every person, meeting them in their interior, where the perception of a presence that gives meaning to life is best expressed,” he said.

Faith, he said, is “a personal act which testifies to having encountered God who made himself known.”

Faith “is never far from love,” Fisichella said, explaining that love itself “generates faith and sustains it with the strength of hope.”

“Love comes from God and returns to God,” he said, and “this completely transforms man, because it renders him capable of relating to himself and others with a love he receives as a gift and which he himself cannot produce.”

Fisichella said that “one can think of catechesis as a desire to stay for a long time in order to grow in knowledge of the Lord Jesus,” adding that the heart of catechesis is “to make the life of the believer a path where through the knowledge of what is believed we enter into the mystery by celebrating it with the prayer of the entire people of God.”

To fully understand this, it's necessary that “it be made easier to understand the impact that catechesis can have on people with disabilities,” he said.

Ultimately, the goal of catechesis is “to make it so that God seizes everyone, whatever state they are in, because the primacy lies with him,” Fisichella said, stressing that God “finds the most adequate means to communicate his life of love and to make the love he invests in a person felt.”

The archbishop pointed to music, song and art, which all bespeak love, he said, allowing those who experience them to understand God in a different way, he said. So “no one is excluded from the Word that God speaks, with which he makes himself known to each one.”

He then spoke of the need to promote the “culture of encounter” that Pope Francis speaks of so often, with a special emphasis on friendship, brotherhood and solidarity.

We must learn to take the initiative on this, the archbishop said, explaining that a true culture of encounter “does not stop at a few hurried moments, and in the form of formalities.”

“Rather, it feels the duty to 'entertain' itself with people, of giving one's own time without the hurry that prevents them from entering into depth (of) the encounter with the richness of experience acquired and with the charisms which are offered to each person, no one excluded, for the growth of the entire community.”

“A culture of encounter, then, is to welcome the mystery of the brother in order to understand better the mystery of his own existence,” Fisichella said, adding that this “culture” must also be a place where “the dimension of the Church, a community that lives communion, becomes the criteria of judgement and testimony of our presence in today's world”

Our responsibility, then, “is to transmit the faith in a living way, and not to create obstacles, so that it reaches everyone, above all those who are preferred by the Lord.”

 

Defining our values: What Catholics can take from Bush's speech

New York City, N.Y., Oct 20, 2017 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- In a rare political speech on Thursday, former president George W. Bush had blunt words for America: Remember your identity or lose your freedom.

Bush spoke Oct. 19 at the “Spirit of Liberty: At Home, In The World” event at the Lincoln Center in New York.

Almost nine years removed from the nation’s highest political office, Bush offered a reflection on the current state of the country. At the heart of his reflection was a diagnosis – and a powerful wake up call:

“We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization. Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions – forgetting the image of God we should see in each other.”

Bush’s words ring true in a country still deeply divided one year after a contentious presidential election that polarized families, friends, and neighbors. In a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey, 80 percent of respondents categorized the U.S. as “mainly divided” or “totally divided.”

From birth control to gun control, from questions of undocumented immigrants to NFL players kneeling during the national anthem, America is fractured. And that division has become vitriolic, manifesting itself in insults spewed across comment boxes and hostile clashes in the media.

After exploring a litany of symptoms – from bigotry and nativism to fake news and gang violence – Bush offered his remedy for the polarization plaguing America: “we need to recall and recover our own identity. Americans have a great advantage: To renew our country, we only need to remember our values.”

But in a country so divided, what are our values?

In his address to the United States Congress in September 2015, Pope Francis laid out a set of values that he thinks define America at its best.

“A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as (Abraham) Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to ‘dream’ of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton,” the Pope said.

Catholics have an important role to play in shaping the values that define society. Deus Caritas Est, the first encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI, teaches, “The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society is proper to the lay faithful.”

The U.S. bishops, in their document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, note, “This duty is more critical than ever in today's political environment.” While there may be a temptation for retreat or discouragement, the bishops say, this is actually “a time for renewed engagement.”

In the early Church, Christians stood out from the rest of the Roman Empire. They took care of orphans and widows. They founded hospitals and schools. They cared for the poor. They didn’t work on Sundays. They loved their enemies.

Today, the U.S. Church is called to stand out, too. In a nation torn apart and confused about its own identity, people are exhausted from fighting and weary from talking past one another without ever being heard. People are looking for a better way.

Amid the political and social turmoil, Catholics can offer that better way. They can offer what the bishops describe as “a different kind of political engagement: one shaped by the moral convictions of well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good, and the protection of the weak and the vulnerable.”

And they can do it by engaging with others civilly, by creating the “culture of encounter” that Pope Francis refers to so often.

This lesson is critical for America’s future. Will the next generation be raised in a culture of encounter, or in what Bush describes as a culture of “casual cruelty,” marked with animosity and dehumanization? The former president notes with urgency that “our young people need positive role models” because “bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children.”

George W. Bush is right. America does need to return to her values. But first she needs to figure out what they are. And Catholics can help lay the groundwork for that, by working to create a society where people can dialogue without fear, where they discuss their different views without being attacked or demonized, ultimately a society where people can encounter truth.

As we approach the one-year mark after the most contentious election in recent history, Catholics have an opportunity to show Christian charity in their interactions with others. It’s a small gesture. But it could be the first step in helping people recognize, as the former president put it, “the image of God we should see in each other.”

 

Don't sacrifice justice and family for efficiency, Pope tells business leaders

Vatican City, Oct 20, 2017 / 02:43 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis met Friday with leaders in business and civil society, telling them not to get carried away by wealth and the demands of the global market, but rather to promote justice by eliminating the root causes of inequality.

“We must ask the market not only to be efficient in the production of wealth and in the assurance of sustainable growth, but also to be at the service of integral human development,” the Pope said Oct. 20.

“We cannot sacrifice on the altar of efficiency – the 'golden calf' of our times – fundamental values such as democracy, justice, freedom, the family, and creation,” he said, explaining that instead, “we must seek to 'civilize the market' with a view to an ethic friendly to man and his environment.”

Pope Francis spoke to members of the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences, who are gathered in Rome for an Oct. 19-21 conference on “Changing Relations Among Market, State and Civil Society.”

In his speech, the Pope spoke on the need to develop “new models of cooperation” among the market, the state, and civil society that more accurately respond to the challenges of our time.

Pointing to two primary causes which he said “nourish the exclusion of the existential peripheries,” Francis said the sharp levels of inequality today are caused in large part by the exploitation of the planet and the lack of opportunity for dignified work.

The first cause, he said, “is the endemic and systemic increase of inequalities and of the exploitation of the planet, which is greater than the increase in income and wealth.”

Both inequality and exploitation depend, aside from individual behaviors, on the economic rules “that a society decides to give themselves,” he said, and pointed to energy production, the labor market, the banking system, the welfare system, the tax system, and the school sector as examples.

The more these are projected, the more they have consequences “on the way in which income and wealth are divided among those who have competed to produce them,” he said. “If the aim of profit prevails, democracy tends to become a plutocracy in which inequalities and the exploitation of the planet grow.”

Neither of these phenomena are inevitable or a historic constant, he said, asserting that “there are periods in which, in some countries, inequalities diminish and the environment is better protected.”

Turning to what he said is another key cause of exclusion, the Pope focused on work “unworthy of the human person.”

“Yesteryear, in the age of Rerum novarum, 'just wages for workers' were demanded. Today, beyond this sacrosanct exigency, we also ask ourselves why it has not yet been possible to translate into practice what is written in the Constitution Gaudium et spes: 'The entire process of productive work, therefore, must be adapted to the needs of the person and to his way of life'.”

To this can be added, he said, respect for creation, referring to his 2015 encyclical Laudato si'.

In creating new opportunities for work “open and enterprising people, people of fraternal relations, of research and investment in the development of clean energy to resolve the challenges of climate change” are needed, he said, adding that this is concretely possible today.

He said it's also necessary “to get rid of the pressures of public and private lobbyists that defend sectoral interests,” and stressed the need to “overcome forms of spiritual laziness.”

“It is necessary for political action to be placed truly at the service of the human person, of the common good and of respect for nature.”

The explained that the challenge to meet “is to strive with courage to go beyond the prevailing model of social order prevalent today, transforming it from within,” such that the market will serve integral human development, as well as the production of wealth.

He also addressed “the rethinking of the figure and the role of the nation-state in a new context which is that of globalization, which has profoundly modified the previous international order,” the Pope said, explaining that the state “cannot understand itself as the sole and exclusive holder of the common good by not allowing intermediate bodies of society to express, in freedom, their full potential.”

To do this, he added, “would be a violation of the principle of subsidiarity which, combined with solidarity, is a cornerstone of the Church’s social doctrine.”

The role of society, then, can be summed up with an image used by French poet Charles Peguy, who described the virtue of hope as the “younger sister” in the middle of the other theological virtues: faith and charity.

“Hope then moves, taking them by the hand and pulling them forward. This is how the position of civil society seems to me: 'pulling' the state and the market forward so that they can rethink their reason for being and how they operate.”

Catholic leaders lament assassination of Maltese journalist

Valletta, Malta, Oct 20, 2017 / 11:29 am (CNA).- Both Pope Francis and the bishop of the local Church have expressed their sorrow over the death of Daphne Caruana Galizia, an investigative journalist who died in a car bomb attack on Monday.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta condemned her murder, saying Oct. 16 that “The loss of this brave journalist fills us with sadness and with determination to continue defending democracy until the very end.”

“This is not a time to wage war between us or to blame one another. As a people we must wake up, defend the dignity of each one of us, and stop the verbal attacks on each other. We must defend the great value of democracy by moving from words to actions.”

“I pray for the soul of this victim and her family, and I extend my solidarity to all journalists. I encourage them to defend the truth, to be afraid of no one and to be servants of the people and of democracy,” Archbishop Scicluna concluded.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, sent the archbishop a telegram Oct. 20 on behalf of Pope Francis.

It said the Pope is praying for Caruana Galizia's “eternal rest, and asks you kindly to convey his condolences to her family. The Holy Father also assures you of his spiritual closeness to the Maltese people at this difficult moment, and implores God’s blessings upon the nation.”

Caruana Galizia, 53, was killed when the rental car she was driving exploded shortly after she left her home in Bidnija, 9 miles northwest of Valletta, the Maltese capital. She was known for her investigations into corruption among the island nation's politicians, of both the ruling and the opposition parties.

Earlier this year she claimed that prime minister Joseph Muscat was linked to the Panama Papers scandal – that he and his wife had used offshore bank accounts to hide payments from the Azerbaijani ruling family.

Her claims triggered early elections, which Muscat's Labour Party nevertheless won.

Muscat has condemned Caruana Galizia's murder, saying there was absolutely “no justification” for “this barbaric attack on a person and on the freedom of expression in our country.”

Caruana Galizia's sons have called on Muscat to resign, and to replace Malta's police commissioner and attorney general.

The journalist had reportedly told police two weeks ago she had received threats.

Australian state's lower house passes assisted suicide bill

Melbourne, Australia, Oct 20, 2017 / 10:31 am (CNA).- A bill to legalize assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia was passed by Victoria's Legislative Assembly on Friday after 26 hours of debate.

The bill will now advance to the upper house of the Australian state's parliament, the Legislative Council, where it is expected to pass. If it is signed into law, Victoria would become Australia's first state to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia.

The bill passed in the Legislative Assembly in a 47-37 vote Oct. 20. Hundreds of amendments were proposed, but none were accepted.

Critics of the bill worry it abandons the vulnerable, among other problems.

The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill is based on similar laws in the U.S. It allows adults who are terminally ill, expected to die within 12 months, and mentally competent to ask their doctor to prescribe a drug that will end their lives, the U.K.-based news site Politics Home reports. Physicians would be allowed to administer a lethal injection only when the patient is physically incapable of doing so.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, of the Australian Labor Party, had introduced the bill.

Victoria's coroner told the members of parliament that one terminally ill Victorian was taking their own life every week because of intolerable pain.

Critics of the bill questioned a lack of detail about what lethal drugs will be used. They said there is not a requirement for a psychological assessment to determine whether the patient suffers depression, the U.K. newspaper The Guardian reports. They also cited the risk that the elderly will be coerced into committing suicide.

Backers of the bill said it would only affect a small number of people who suffer terminal illnesses. They objected that palliative care cannot deal with all pain. They also claim the bill has among the most stringent safeguards in the world.

Paul Keating, who was Prime Minister of Australia from 1991 to 1996 and a member of the Australian Labor Party, lamented the bill's advancement, calling it a “truly sad moment for the whole country.”

“What this means is that the civic guidance provided by the state, in our second largest state, is voided when it comes to the protection of our most valuable asset,” Keating said in a statement. “To do or to cause to abrogate the core human instinct to survive and live, for the spirit to hang on against physical deprivations, is to turn one’s back on the compulsion built into the hundreds of thousands of years of our evolution.”

Keating also wrote that “Under Victorian law there will be people whose lives we honour and those we believe are better off dead.”

Bishop Peter Stasiuk of the Ukrainian Eparchy of Saints Peter and Paul of Melbourne said support of euthanasia and assisted suicide is “motivated by a false sense of compassion.” He wrote in an Oct. 12 pastoral letter that “Endorsing suicide as a solution to pain or suffering sends the wrong message, especially to the young. Suicide is a tragedy for the person who takes their own life, but it also seriously affects their family and community. It would be morally corrupt to legally endorse any form of suicide.”

And the Roman Catholic bishops in Victoria wrote a similar pastoral letter Oct. 9, noting that Victoria has “abolished the death penalty because we learnt that in spite of our best efforts, our justice system could never guarantee that an innocent person would not be killed by mistake or by false evidence. Our health system, like our justice system, is not perfect. Mistakes happen. To introduce this law presuming everyone will be safe is naïve. We need to consider the safety of those whose ability to speak for themselves is limited by fear, disability, illness or old age.”

In July Catholics, including Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, and leaders from several Christian denominations joined together to sign a letter protesting the proposal, charging that euthanasia and assisted suicide “represent the abandonment of those who are in greatest need of our care and support.”

In April, the local Catholic bishops said the proposal was based on “misplaced compassion.”

“Euthanasia and assisted suicide are the opposite of care and represent the abandonment of the sick and the suffering, of older and dying persons,” they said in a pastoral letter. They also invoked the commandment “You Shall Not Kill” and cited the situation in countries like Holland where there are pressures on the elderly to commit suicide.

The effort to legalize assisted suicide in Victoria has been debated for more than a year. In June 2016, a parliamentary committee recommended legalizing voluntary euthanasia.

At the time, some physicians criticized the move. They charged that some lawmakers had naïve expectations and overestimated the speed and painlessness of a euthanasia death.

They warned that the legalization risked diminishing palliative care, which they said was already underused and underfunded.

A proposal similar to the Victorian bill will be debated in New South Wales in November. Last year, the national parliament defeated a euthanasia bill, as did the parliament of Tasmania in 2013.

Australia's Northern Territory legalized assisted suicide in 1995, but the national parliament overturned the law two years later.