St Petronille's Group

Show Hospitality to Strangers: A Reflection on Peace Day 2016








by Matt Walker, Peace Day 2016 Participant

The mass migration of men, women, and children flowing into Europe from North Africa and the Middle East has quickly become a global issue.  The numbers are staggering.  Host nations are struggling to deal with the influx of people from divergent cultures.  Pope Francis has acknowledged that “[t]he presence of migrants and refugees seriously challenges the various societies which accept them.”

It is heartbreaking to watch the seemingly endless line of men, women, and children making the arduous trek into Europe, often with nothing but the clothes on their backs and the few items they could grab in the minutes before leaving their homeland.  It is also difficult for most of us here in the States to relate, even in a small way, to the difficulties these refugees and migrants are facing.  Americans are far removed from the plight of these refugees both physically and spiritually.  How can we, who have been blessed with so much, identify and empathize with our brothers and sisters who have so little and face such dire straits?

I wanted to know more about the plight of refugees and migrants.  Fortunately, I learned that the Justice and Peace Ministry of the Joliet Diocese was hosting Peace Day 2016 which focused on the issues surrounding the refugee crisis, and how we as Catholics can better understand and empathize with the struggles these refugees are facing.

I listened to Deacon Greg Kandra of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association talk about helping persecuted Christians in Iraq.  I heard from Congolese refugees who were forced to live in UN refugee camps, all the while praying that they would be allowed to re-settle in the United States.  I watched videos of Catholic Relief Services providing food, clothing, shelter, and medical care to the refugees en route to Europe.  I was provided a small glimpse of what it might be like to be a refugee through a simulation devised by Exodus World Service, which showed me just how quickly life can change for the worse when you live in a country that is politically unstable.

It was heartening to hear that among refugees en route to Europe, the words “Catholic Relief Services” are synonymous with help.  Although these desperate men, women, and children may not know what those words mean, they do know that where they see the words “Catholic Relief Services” or the initials “CRS”, help is available to them, regardless of their religious background.  This brought to mind the words of St. Francis of Assisi, who called upon the brothers of his order to “preach by their deeds.”

Peace Day 2016 drove home the fact that issues surrounding refugees and migrants are more challenging than any 30 second news story can convey.  The United States has been blessed with almost boundless material wealth and resources.  With great wealth comes great responsibility.  As a Catholic and an American, I feel that each and every believer is called to do what he or she can to ease the burden these families are facing.  This is the foundation of the gospel.  To do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

The scriptures teach us “[r]eligion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”  The Church has been provided an opportunity to prove our devotion to God by assisting these refugees in their hour of need.  As I was writing this blog post, our Holy Father Pope Francis visited the Greek island of Lesbos.  When he left, he took 12 refugees with him to Italy.  These families have described the experience of being taken to Italy as

“dreamlike”.  One refugee named Hasan proclaimed “[t]he pope is an amazing, amazing person, an incredible person. Every religious person should be like the pope.”  Another refugee named Osama said “Peace has no religion.  If you think about it, we’re all human.”

Pope Francis was asked whether his taking in 12 refugees was insignificant in light of the scope of the crisis.  Pope Francis replied with the words of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta:  “It’s a drop in the ocean, but after this drop, the ocean won’t be the same.  I’ll respond the same way. It’s a little gesture. But all of us, men and women, must make these little gestures in order to extend a hand to those in need.”

That is the same spirit I felt on Peace Day.  We are all called to help. If every Catholic in the world were to perform a small act of charity in assisting the refugees and migrants, imagine how many of these families would be blessed to know that they are loved and cared for by the body of Christ.  That is what the Church is, after all.  We are the body of Christ, and the world is always watching to see whether or not we live up to our obligation.

Laudato Si – A First Take

laudato si

by Thomas L. Garlitz

Laudato Si  is not your parents’ environmentalism. Pope Francis’ message is so much more than Reduce. Re-use. Recycle. It could perhaps best be described as Repent. Reconcile. Resurrect. He calls us to repent from greed and consumerism. We are to “replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, to move away from what I want to what God’s world needs.” LS 9.  To reconcile with God, with our neighbor, and with all of creation, Pope Francis counsels that “the best way to put men and women in their place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is once again to put forward the figure of a Father, who creates and who alone owns the world. Otherwise, human beings will always try to impose their own laws and interest on reality.  LS 75.   And we are called to live with a view toward Resurrection, that is, to understand that even as we anticipate the resurrection of our own bodies as part of the salvation story, Creation, too, longs for this renewal. All of God’s creation, humankind, plants, animals, the earth, indeed the entire universe will share together in the renewal made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Romans 8:19-22. LS 83. We, therefore, must care for and protect that which we will continue with into eternity, even as we care for our own bodies.

Laudato Si is powerfully Pro-Life and specifically anti-abortion.  Pope Francis presents the seamless garment like no other encyclical and explicitly calls for protection of the unborn. He makes it clear that you cannot say you care for the environment, or any issue of justice, if you do not care for the unborn. “It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted. This compromises the very meaning of our struggle for the sake of the environment.” LS 91. Again he writes, “When we fail to acknowledge as part of the reality of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself. Everything is connected.” LS 117.

Laudato Si is nothing new. First and foremost, Pope Francis grounds the document in the Sacred Scriptures. Building upon that foundation, he references the social teaching of the Church from Pope Leo XIII to Pope Benedict. He draws most heavily from St. John Paul II. He quotes the writings of saints such as Francis, John of the Cross, and Teresa the Little Flower. He also extensively quotes from national bishops’ conferences from around the world, especially those from the southern hemisphere. The message here is clear. Climate change and environmental destruction is the reality for nations across the globe, and the Church is fulfilling her prophetic role in addressing the crisis. Further, this crisis most immediately impacts the poor, as the Church of the South holds a great percentage of the world’s impoverished.  In Laudato Si, Pope Francis is not undertaking a new or novel responsibility, but rather is bringing together in a timely way the voice of the Church throughout the ages and echoing the cries of the poor as represented through their bishops today.  Pope Francis thus presents an authoritative message to which the Church must take heed. LS15

Laudato Si is a document that should be read in its entirety by every Catholic. Avoid the temptation to simply read articles and commentaries by others about the document, or to only listen to what the pundits have to say. It is not a difficult document to read. One need not have a deep background in theology or philosophy as is the tendency of some (most) encyclicals. Pope Francis writes as the practiced, life-long pastor he is, distilling complex concepts into thoughts and principles easily understood by the person in the pew.  When you read it, you will find an urgent message, overwhelming in its implications.  But you will also find a message of hope, if we only but act, now.