Archive | Holy See Mission to the UN- Seminar May 2007 RSS feed for this section

Holy See Mission Seminar Day 6- Caritas Christi Urget Nos

18 Aug
My joy is God
the Threefold
Holy One.
My joy
is His truth
that inspires me.
My joy
is His will
calling me.
My joy
is His word
leading me on.
My joy
is His peace
that gives me rest.
-Mother Julia Verhaeghe, foundress of the Spiritual Family The Work (from
This poem highlights another important focus of the Path to Peace- Holy See Mission Seminar that I attended between May 20 and 25, 2007. Joy is a simple word whose meaning, I believe, is often lost amid our worldly cares, desires, and ambitions. This year’s Holy See Mission Seminar was all about joy, inasmuch as it was about God’s call to us to love each other and therefore to uphold the common good and to strive for social justice and for peace in the world.
In the last five articles on the seminar, I have mentioned many of the people and groups that conveyed a sense of joy throughout the event. However, I have yet to express my thanks to so many others, from the other fifty-two retreatants from the U.S., Canada, and Germany, who were so wonderful to be around and to converse with, to those who cooked breakfast every morning at the Cardinal Spellman Retreat Center, to Brother James, a Passionist who welcomed us with kindness to his order’s retreat center in Riverdale. Chris Valka, a Basilian seminarian, helped to organize the week’s activities, while Fr. Vittorio Guerrera, a diocesan priest from Hartford and the personal Secretary to Archbishop Celestino Migliore at the Path to Peace Foundation, presided over Mass on the fifth day and was a friendly presence over all six days. I could then include the Holy See Mission intern Theresa Klein, and last but not least, Sisters Monika Mader of the Netherlands and Mirjam Hugens of Austria, who belong to the Order started in Belgium in 1938 called the Spiritual Family the Work (in Latin, Familia Spiritualis Opus, hence the Order’s abbreviation, FSO), whose foundress’ poem I found especially suitable to begin this post.

This list of people to whom I owe much gratitude is not exhaustive, and there are likely several names that I have not included here. Nonetheless, those whom I met during that week in May were all united in a singular cause under Christ, who, as I reflected on the formal reception on the evening of May 24, entreats us to love one another as He loves us.

This love of Christ impels us. At one point during the reception, we were asked to share our thoughts about the Holy See Mission Seminar. Prior to taking my turn, I had been listening to Msgr. Leo Cushley, Second Councillor of the Holy See Mission. During the discussion, Msgr. Cushley poignantly quoted from St. Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians: “Caritas (enim) Christi urget nos…” (“The love of Christ urges us on…”)”…æstimantes hoc, quoniam si unus pro omnibus mortuus est, ergo omnes mortui sunt: et pro omnibus mortuus est Christus: ut, et qui vivunt, jam non sibi vivant, sed ei qui pro ipsis mortuus est et resurrexit.” (“…for we are convinced that One has died for all; therefore all have died. And He died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died and was raised for them.”) (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

By His death and resurrection, Christ draws us beyond ourselves and therefore ever closer to Himself. In serving other people, we necessarily overlook ourselves, yet we become more human than if we were to remain merely self-interested. To that effect, Jean Vanier, son of former Governor General of Canada Georges Vanier and founder of l’Arche, an international association of homes for the intellectually disabled that is named after Noah’s ark (cf. Genesis 6:14), wrote:
“Is this not the life undertaking of us all…to become human? It can be a long and painful process. It involves a growth to freedom, an opening up of our hearts to others, no longer hiding behind masks or behind walls of fear and prejudice. It means discovering our common humanity…(This) discovery is a journey from loneliness to a love that transforms, a love that grows in and through belonging, a belonging that can include as well as exclude. The discovery of our common humanity liberates us from self-centered compulsions and inner hurts; it is the discovery that ultimately finds its fulfillment in forgiveness and in loving those who are our enemies. It is the process of truly becoming human.” (Vanier, “Becoming Human”, Toronto: Anansi Press, 1998, pp. 1, 5.)
In just six days at the Holy See Mission, the Christ-centered humanism of which Jean Vanier wrote was abundant. In becoming one like us in all but sin, Our Lord showed us how to become fully human like Him. Complete humanization entails self-sacrifice. To give of ourselves, we must occasionally strive to work beyond what is comfortable and routine. Our labours should be accompanied with joy and our hardships borne with patience. The Mass readings for Friday, May 25 revealed that our belonging to and unity with God in Heaven will far exceed any difficulties that are encountered in our life of temporary exile on earth.
Mass on the final day of the seminar was celebrated by Archbishop Celestino Migliore at the Cardinal Spellman Retreat Center. The first reading, from Acts 25:13-21, centered on Paul, who had been arrested in the Temple and had faced several tribunals and judges, including “the chief priests and elders of the Jews”, before being imprisoned by the Roman Governor Felix. (Acts 25:15, cf. Acts 24:24-27 and 25:14) This passage from Acts and the chapters preceding it highlight many important details about St. Paul and about the time in which he lived and preached. Paul, a Jew from Tarsus, had been handed over to Felix after several failed attempts by Jewish authorities to have him condemned to death for teaching according to the Way of Jesus. (cf. Acts 24:14) Felix, who himself was married to a Jew, Drusilla, had detained Paul for two years before being succeeded by Porcius Festus. Although the Romans were reputably brutal, Paul was treated reasonably well during his imprisonment in Caesarea, having been granted access to friends who would take “care of his needs”. (Acts 24:23-24, cf. v. 27)
Chapter 25 of the Book of Acts states that Festus was only three days into his reign as Governor when he was almost immediately thrust into the controversy surrounding Paul. (cf. Acts 25:1) Porcius Festus traveled to Jerusalem to discuss the charges that the religious leaders wished to levy against Paul, but although the chief priests and elders were planning to have Paul sent to Jerusalem where he could be ambushed and killed (cf. Acts 25:3), they could not produce enough evidence against him to convince the new Governor. Festus was likely exasperated with the Jewish elites who were unable to charge Paul with any crime, but could only argue that he had disagreed with them on some points of Jewish teaching, and that Paul had taught that Jesus, who had been declared to be dead, was alive. (cf. Acts 25:19)


The Roman Governor had little knowledge and even less jurisdiction over matters of the Jewish faith, so Festus reported Paul’s case to King Agrippa, son of Herod Agrippa I. The king, who was a minor political voice in first-century Palestine along with his sister Bernice, requested to have Paul brought before him anyway. Paul, though, was also a master of both religious and of secular law. He had competently defended himself through a series of trials before both Jewish and Roman judges. Notably, he endured his ordeal “cheerfully”. (Acts 24:10)


To add a further complication, Paul was entitled to rights both as a Jew and as a Roman citizen. Thus he appealed to be tried by Caesar as a Roman. In the first century as well as now, citizenship is important. In reference to my earlier quotation of Jean Vanier, human beings essentially feel a sense of belonging. Each person is acquainted with groups of other people; for example we assemble along cultural (including linguistic or religious) lines, we identify with particular groups of friends, and we belong to a specific country.


This last instance can be called citizenship in the strict sense. Large differences exist among the world’s nations and their inhabitants, but as we are all united in our humanity we have much in common. Both the diversity and the similarities of the world’s people are widely demonstrated at the UN, where nations and persons with varied interests come to work together. The Holy See, of course, contributes to this spirit of interdependence and peace as a greatly respected diplomatic force. As she preaches through her social doctrine and shows through the actions of the Holy See Mission to the UN, the Church must mirror the unity to which all are called under God. The Lord wishes for all people to be citizens of His Kingdom. As much as humankind is diverse, we will be fit for Heaven when we work as one, having “fought the good fight, finished the race, (and) kept the faith” as St. Paul did. (2 Timothy 4:7)


The theme of citizenship was also captured in the Psalm reading for May 25. All people are under God’s power. (cf. Psalm 103:19) We “do not forget the gifts of God” (Psalm 103:2), and we bless the Lord in unison, as we remember His love and forgiveness that extends universally. (cf. Psalm 103:11-12) The angels and saints in Heaven join us in praise of God. The faithful who have gone before us to be part of the Communion of Saints share directly in God’s strength because they are attentive and obedient to the Almighty. (cf. Psalm 103:20) We pray, therefore, for their intercession so that we may also follow the way to citizenship in Heaven.


Along the path to life everlasting, struggle surely awaits us. St. Peter, whom Jesus hand-picked from among the Apostles to be the first leader of the Church, eventually learned to accept the Cross which comes along with loving service in Christ. Throughout the seminar, with the exception of the last day, the Gospel readings heard during Mass were taken sequentially from John 17, Jesus’ high-priestly prayer for His followers. However, the Gospel reading for the last day in New York was of St. John’s portrayal of the final conversation between Jesus and Peter.


John’s Gospel says that this dialogue happened following breakfast. Since I am not a morning person, I empathize somewhat with St. Peter who may well have been only half awake when Jesus asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Even though he was unprepared for the question, Peter answered astutely, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you”, to which Jesus responded, “Feed my lambs.” (John 21:15) Jesus asked Peter a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”, and, after Peter again affirmed his love for Our Lord, Jesus commanded him, “Tend my sheep.”


Despite Peter’s repeated profession of his love for the Son of God, Jesus knew that his journey toward complete and selfless love was far from complete. In the first two instances where Jesus asked Peter whether he loved Him, the Greek translation of the verb “to love” is given as “αγαπας” (“agapas”, the present tense of “agape”, suggesting unconditional love). Subsequently, Jesus asked Peter a third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter, upset because he had been questioned yet again, replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” (John 21:17) The third time Jesus questions Peter, the Greek word changes from “αγαπας” to “φιλεις” (“phileis”, meaning love as between friends).


Thus, Jesus knows that we, like Peter, are usually willing to accept Him as a friend. But Jesus expects us to grow in love to where we love without condition. We must therefore love each other as God loves us. Jesus asks us to work for and with each other. In doing so, we give ourselves to Him as He gave Himself for us on the Cross. We are reminded in the exchange between Jesus and Peter to patiently endure the trials that accompany our Christian journey:


“Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (John 21:18 )


Lord, you are with us in our joys and in our sorrows. Help us to be stewards of Your wonderful creation. Help us also to love each other. You sustain the work of the Holy See Mission to the UN. May we, Your Church, follow its example of service and of justice. We lift up our hearts to You. Take them, and unite us to Yourself, so that when You come again we may see Your glory face to face. We pray in song:


Lord, You have my heart,
And I will search for Yours;
Jesus take my life and lead me on.

Lord, You have my heart,
And I will search for Yours;
Let me be to You a sacrifice.

And I will praise You, Lord.
And I will sing of love come down.
And as You show Your face,
We’ll see Your glory here.

-Martin Smith

Jesus take my life and lead me on. You are my joy, my all in all. Caritas Christi urget nos. Amen.







Holy See Mission Seminar Day 5- Je dors mais mon coeur veille

3 Aug

Canticle of the Sun, St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226):

Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord,
All praise is Yours, all glory, honor and blessings.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong;
no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.

We praise You, Lord, for all Your creatures,
especially for Brother Sun,
who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor,
of You Most High, he bears your likeness.

We praise You, Lord, for Sister Moon and the stars,
in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.

We praise You, Lord, for Brothers Wind and Air,
fair and stormy, all weather’s moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.

We praise You, Lord, for Sister Water,
so useful, humble, precious and pure.

We praise You, Lord, for Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night.
He is beautiful, playful, robust, and strong.

We praise You, Lord, for Sister Earth,
who sustains us
with her fruits, colored flowers, and herbs.

We praise You, Lord, for those who pardon,
for love of You bear sickness and trial.
Blessed are those who endure in peace,
by You Most High, they will be crowned.

We praise You, Lord, for Sister Death,
from whom no-one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in their sins!
Blessed are those that She finds doing Your Will.
No second death can do them harm.

We praise and bless You, Lord, and give You thanks,
and serve You in all humility.

The fourth day of the Holy See Mission Seminar in New York City opened with Mass at Holy Family, the Parish of the United Nations, which was followed by a panel discussion led by the ambassadors of Austria, Senegal, and Honduras at the UN itself. Subsequently, talks were given by retired Canadian Senator Douglas Roche and by a representative of Covenant House, which assists homeless youth in Manhattan. The many activities of Wednesday, May 23 gave the seminar’s attendees much food for thought. The day ended with the Circle Line Cruise at sunset. This was a great opportunity to discuss and to reflect on the topics of the seminar to that point, while appreciating the beauty of New York.

The seminar had begun with a welcome message from the Papal Nuncio to the UN, Archbishop Celestino Migliore. After a Monday afternoon tour of New York, we arrived at the Cardinal Spellman Retreat Centre in Riverdale, a magnificent and serene place run by the Passionists, situated away from the bustle of the city. The initial lectures focused on the history and purpose of the Holy See and its presence at the UN as a Permanent Observer. Later talks, including those of Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput on religious tolerance, Br. David Carroll on Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East, Dr. Daniel Sulmasy on HIV/AIDS, the World Youth Alliance and Sisters of Life on youth and pro-life causes, and Sen. Roche on disarmament and environmental issues, showed how the Catholic Church is deeply involved in so many areas associated with upholding human dignity. The challenges inherent in several different aspects of service toward each other and toward God were also made clear by the aforementioned talks.

Monday, May 21 ended with a group reflection session led by Fr. Bob Meyer. That discussion further reinforced the relational nature of humankind. People need to work together for the world’s betterment. Love of neighbour and love of God involve relationships. This love is the solution to the troubles of the world.

We draw upon the saints as exemplars of love. Those in Heaven rest from their earthly labour, having given their all to God in gratitude for all that God has created for us. St. Francis of Assisi prayed and lived gratefully. Nature and all beings that surrounded him were as brothers and sisters. St. Francis accepted death, not only as inevitability, but as a cherished moment in the bond between himself and the Creator. On his deathbed, St. Francis wrote one of the earliest examples of Italian literature. His Canticle of the Sun is also our prayer of grateful praise to God.

After the Circle Line Cruise and the dinner that followed, we returned to the retreat house. The day had been busy, so most of us retired for the night soon after arriving back in Riverdale. Prior to falling asleep, I read for a short time from the Autobiographical Manuscripts of Ste. Thérèse de Lisieux, who was born in Alençon, France, on January 2, 1873. I was elated to have received the near-original French-language Oeuvres Complètes (Complete Works) of Ste. Thérèse from France just before my departure for New York, after twice having read a heavily edited English translation of “The Story of a Soul”* between March and May.

In her autobiography, Ste. Thérèse recounts her lengthy wait to enter the Carmelite convent in Lisieux at the age of 15 in 1888. Due to her age, she had been politely refused entry by the Lisieux Carmel’s superior, Msgr. Jean-Baptiste Delatroëtte. Thérèse met the same opposition from the Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux, Msgr. Flavien Hugonin, though Msgr. Hugonin had offered to speak to Msgr. Delatroëtte. Undeterred, little Thérèse Martin took her cause all the way to Rome while on a pilgrimage organized by the Dioceses of Coutances and Lisieux to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the priestly ordination of Pope Leo XIII. During the papal audience, although pilgrims had been warned not to speak to Pope Leo, but only to kiss his slipper and ring and to receive a blessing, Thérèse pleaded with the Holy Father:

“Holy Father…in honour of your jubilee, please permit me to enter Carmel at 15!” («Très Saint-Père…en l’honneur de votre jubilé, permettez-moi d’entrer au Carmel à 15 ans!») (Autobiographical Manuscript A, p. 63, front side)

Thérèse had been urged by her free-spirited sister Céline, three-and-a-half years Thérèse’s senior, to speak to the Pope despite the warning of the Vicar General of Bayeux and Lisieux, Fr. Maurice Révérony, not to do so for fear of delaying the papal audience. The Pope looked kindly into Thérese’s eyes and responded, “Well, my child…, do as your superiors tell you.” («Eh bien, mon enfant…, faites ce que les superieurs vous diront.») Thérèse then placed her hands on the aging Pope’s knees and renewed her request: “Oh! Holy Father, if you were to say yes, (the superiors) would consent also!” («Oh! Très Saint Père, si vous disiez oui, tout le monde voudrait bien!… ») Leo XIII replied, in a manner that became indelible in Thérèse’s mind: “You will enter if the Good God wills it.” («Vous entrerez si le Bon Dieu le veut.») Afterward, the papal guards carried Thérèse away. (All references and quotations in this paragraph are from Ms. A, p. 63, front side. Translations are mine.)

God willed indeed for Thérèse to enter Carmel. Eventually, four of the five surviving Martin sisters would be together in the same Carmelite monastery: Marie (Sr. Marie du Sacré-Coeur, 1860-1940), Pauline (Mère Agnès de Jésus, 1861-1951), Céline (Sr. Geneviève de Ste. Thérèse, 1869-1959), and Thérèse (Sr. Thérèse de l’Enfant-Jésus et de la Sainte-Face).** But Thérèse had to wait until after Lent (April 9, 1888 ) to be admitted to the Lisieux Carmel, according to a letter from Bishop Hugonin to the Carmelite Prioress, Mother Marie de Gonzague. That letter had been sent on December 28, 1887, but Thérèse, who went with her father Louis to the mailbox daily, only to return empty-handed, did not receive news until a few days later.

Following midnight Mass on Christmas Day, 1887, Céline sensed that her younger sister was despairing for lack of information as to her appeal to enter Carmel. Céline found a model ship and placed it in a basin in Thérèse’s bedroom. On the body of the ship, Céline inscribed a verse from the Song of Solomon (5:2): “I slept but my heart was awake” («Je dors mais mon coeur veille»). Céline also wrote on the ship’s sail, “Abandon!” (cf. Ms. A, p. 68, reverse side).

The biblical verse on the ship and the single word on the sail became emblematic of Thérèse’s long wait to enter Carmel, and of her whole life. This was the last sentence of her autobiography that I read on May 23 before falling asleep, unable to read further owing to fatigue and to the profundity of the text. I continue to reflect on this passage almost daily. It certainly developed for me into a theme of the entire Holy See Mission seminar.

Ste. Thérèse de Lisieux, who was taken by God into her Celestial Home at 24 years of age on September 30, 1897, after a lengthy and painful struggle with tuberculosis, always possessed a wakeful and pure heart. She provides us with an excellent model to follow. The French verb in the passage from the Song of Solomon, «veiller», suggests not only mere wakefulness but vigilance from the heart. Ste. Thérèse joins with all the saints in keeping vigil over us, as we watch over each other and protect and nurture God’s creation while waiting joyfully for Christ to come again.

(Thursday, May 24, 2007) After breakfast at the Cardinal Spellman Retreat Center, we proceeded for the second straight morning to the UN building in Manhattan. Inside, there were several images from a worldwide photography competition. Other displays included information on topics such as human rights, the UN Millennium Goals, the proliferation of weapons, and the history of the UN. The guided tour two days earlier was excellent, though we were able to walk about and to discover even more about the United Nations. Some of the more memorable exhibits at the UN, some of which I have posted in the photo gallery of this blog, were a radiation-damaged statue of St. Agnes recovered from the ruins of Nagasaki, Japan in 1945, a Golden Rule mosaic created by Norman Rockwell, and a series of gifts by countries like Thailand, which contributed a gold sculpture of a Buddhist temple, and China, which gave a ship model to the UN.

The only other activity of Thursday morning was a panel discussion with representatives from Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and from OXFAM. CRS is a religious-based aid organization, whereas OXFAM is more secular and works more closely with government officials, but both organizations share common values.

Seminar attendees were welcomed by the CRS speaker with “God’s blessings of peace and solidarity”. CRS, she said, was founded in 1943 by the U.S. Bishops in response to the devastation of World War II. The organization continues working toward its initial vision of global justice and peace. Its first project was the resettlement of Polish refugees who had fled Soviet Gulags for Iran.

The Rwandan genocide was also a major challenge for CRS, which has been active in Rwanda since its independence in 1962. On April 6, 1994, the Hutu presidents of both Rwanda and Burundi were killed when their airplane was shot down while landing in Kigali. This touched off the brutal four-month slaughter of Rwandans by Rwandans. By July, 1994, 800 000 people, mainly Tutsis and moderate Hutus, were dead. For the previous forty-two years, post-independence ethnic clashes were “often dismissed as ‘bad governance’”. That approach changed with the grotesque loss of human life in Rwanda only thirteen years ago. CRS, which had lost many staff, as well as their family members and friends, responded to the genocide with a further 200 delegates to the ravaged nation. The mission then called for a “renewed focus on Catholic Social Teaching, the common good, and the dignity of the human person”, which must be “revered and upheld”. The CRS speaker also stated that “principles of Catholic Social Teaching influence all peoples of faith”. Indeed, all major faiths share a ‘golden rule’ of human relationships. In the Bible, we read, “Love your neighbour…” (Luke 6:38 ) That love needs to be expressed in a wider social context, said the CRS spokesperson. The aftermath of the recent Pakistan earthquake was an ideal opportunity to show love. In fact, in this time of crisis those assisting the injured, grieving, poor, and displaced observed numerous commonalities between Christianity and Islam.

CRS helps the disadvantaged by practicing two key principles: subsidiarity and a preferential option for the poor, as per Catholic social doctrine. Subsidiarity means involving people at the lowest level possible to improve their standard of living. Therefore, the implication of government leaders tends to be less important than the encouragement of villagers to help in bringing necessities to their localities: food, a safe water supply, health care, for example. CRS also serves as an advocate for fair-trade farming, where producers receive just compensation for their goods in order to provide for themselves and for their families. Improved farming techniques are taught as well. As a result, poor families in developing countries are made less dependent on strenuous, low-wage labour in sweatshops, and are less likely to avail themselves to high-risk activities like prostitution. Advocacy in the developed world should extend to university campuses; young people can also engage themselves in the legislative process, according to the CRS representative, who concluded with a plea to Catholics “to imagine the world as it could be…”

Between the presentations by CRS and by OXFAM, both members of the panel spoke about delays in immigration reform in the U.S. Subsequently, a few quotations from Nelson Mandela were shared. Mandela once said that “our deepest fear isn’t that we are powerless, but that we are powerful beyond measure.” The former South African president also urged people to “learn to make manifest the glory of God within us”, for “we are children of God” who must “let our light shine”.

Chad Dobson, Government Affairs Director for OXFAM, was next to speak. Like CRS, OXFAM was founded in 1943, with its head office in Geneva. Its initial purpose was to fly food into Macedonia and Greece, which were under a British blockade during World War II. Fifty-one years later, as a result of the aforementioned Rwandan genocide, OXFAM established an office in Washington, D.C. Though it is a secular organization, religious values are important within OXFAM, which was established by academically-minded Quakers. Its ties to the Catholic Church are noteworthy. For example, Chad Dobson spoke of a meeting between himself and an American Catholic bishop, who reminded Dobson of the “moral responsibility” of organizations like OXFAM to “reach out internationally”. At the last OXFAM congress, roughly 20% of delegates were Catholic.

Currently, OXFAM operates out of 13 sites around the world. It’s American head office in Boston operates on a $50 million annual budget. The group seeks even greater global coordination within itself. Its main focus is the reduction of poverty, which Dobson called a “(denial of) the basic rights to which humans are entitled.” To achieve that goal, OXFAM strives to “work on (poverty’s) causes, not just to alleviate its symptoms”. To defeat poverty, more equitable systems of resource distribution need to be reached. Like CRS, OXFAM empathizes with farmers and therefore works to implement fair-trade programs.

OXFAM has an additional advantage: it reputably works with corporations and governments on issues such as fair trade farming and the balancing of intellectual property interests of the pharmaceutical industry, for instance, with more universal access to drugs. Through its interaction with businesses, OXFAM is also better positioned to help in upholding workers’ rights.

Following the CRS and OXFAM panel discussion, intriguing questions were raised on topics ranging from the use of ethanol for fuel and prevention of climate change to the difference between aid and development funding. In response to the latter question, the CRS speaker commended the generosity of Americans following the December 26, 2006 tsunami in south Asia. In such situations, direct aid is appropriate, whereas a process of development must be sustained over a longer period of time.

The last question concerned the resale of cheaper drugs back to the U.S. This so-called “grey market”, said OXFAM’s Dobson, fails to help developing nations or their citizens. This problem highlights deficiencies in the delivery of health care in the U.S. that would be best corrected by adopting a hybrid public-private system seen in most European countries. Furthermore, Chad Dobson reminded the audience that “access to life-saving medicines takes precedence over profits”.

On all issues, the OXFAM and CRS spokespersons showed empathy in particular toward the world’s poor, who lack the necessities most in developed countries take for granted. During Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral afterward, the significance of our witness to all creation was again emphasized. The Lord told St. Paul as He tells us: “Take courage”. (Acts 23:11) A true Christian bears witness to God’s love always and everywhere. We pray then in the words of the Psalmist:

“Lord, my allotted portion and my cup, you have made my destiny secure. I bless the Lord who counsels me; even at night my heart exhorts me. I keep the LORD always before me; with the Lord at my right, I shall never be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, my soul rejoices; my body also dwells secure…” (Psalm 16:5-9)

We rejoice therefore in Our Lord Jesus Christ, who wills for us to remain one with Him at all times. Jesus prayed to Our Father “that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.” (John 17:26)

That love is united to Christ and is ever-vigilant. Jesus told His Apostles to “be alert at all times”. (Luke 21:36) Even in our sleep, then, our hearts may then be taught God’s wisdom. (cf. Psalms 4:8, 90:12)

The saints know the alertness which God asks of us. For example, Ste. Thérèse de Lisieux wrote to her sister Céline on May 8, 1888, a month after entering the Carmelite monastery: “Our desires are the same and our hearts beat together.” («Nos desirs sont les mêmes et nos coeurs battent ensemble.») (Letter 47, from the Complete Works of Thérèse de Lisieux) In another letter to Céline, Thérèse affirmed: “The whole Trinity is keeping watch over us.” («La Trinité toute entière veille sur nous.»)

Likewise, we desire what Christ desires. Human beings have a relationship amongst each other that is unique amongst creatures. May we use our distinctive capability to love each other as God loves us. We ask for the intercession of Ste. Thérèse de Lisieux and of St. Francis of Assisi and of all Your saints.

We pray, as in daily Compline that concludes the Liturgy of the Hours:

Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in His peace. Amen. Alleluia!



*The first complete English translation of “The Story of a Soul”, by a Scottish priest, Msgr. Thomas Nimmo Taylor was published in 1912. “The Story of a Soul”, or, in French, «L’histoire d’une âme», was initially written in three separate manuscripts…In 1895, Thérèse was recalling instances of her childhood and of her early Carmelite days when she was ordered by the Prioress, her sister Pauline, to write these down. Thérèse was given a simple notebook to handwrite “Manuscript A”, which was submitted to the Prioress in January 1896. Between Good Friday and Holy Saturday in April 1896, Thérèse suffered her first hemoptysis (spitting up of blood) that clearly signalled the onset of severe tuberculosis that would claim her life 18 months later. Despite this, she went about her usual work for several months without anyone knowing how sick she was. On the anniversary of her profession, September 8, 1896, the feast day of the Nativity of Mary, Thérèse began her last annual retreat and also started writing the letter to another of her sisters, Marie, also a Carmelite at Lisieux. This letter became “Manuscript B”. In the spring of 1897, the gravity of Thérèse’s illness became more fully known. Thus, Thérèse was ordered to “complete” her memoirs that were begun in Manuscript A, wherin she had included little of her life as a nun. This “Manuscript C”, which was to be used as part of Thérèse’s “circular” (a lengthy obituary sent to several Carmelite convents when a sister dies) was never finished; Thérèse was moved to the infirmary in July 1897. The last pages of the third manuscript, a profound and beautiful treatise on charity, were written in pencil, because Thérèse became too ill to dip a pen into an inkpot.


It wasn’t until the 1950s that “The Story of a Soul” appeared in three distinct manuscripts again. After Thérèse’s death, Pauline (Mother Agnes of Jesus) edited many passages that were considered too intimately familial for publication. Also, Mother Marie de Gonzague had the manuscripts published as if they were all addressed to her, so that publication would be easier. In 1973, 100 years after Thérèse’s birth, the “Centenary Edition” project, whereby the original writings of Thérèse were recovered and printed, was started. It was finished in 1992. That year, the French «Oeuvres Complètes» (“Complete Works”), which I used for much of this post, was published.

** In this post I listed the names and religious names of the four Martin sisters (Thérèse and her siblings) who became Carmelites at Lisieux. One, Léonie, became a Sister of the Visitation, or Visitandine, at Caen, France. Thérèse’s mother, Zélie Martin, née Guerin (23 Dec. 1831- 28 Aug. 1877) and father, Louis Martin (8 August 1823- 29 July 1894), married on 13 July 1858 and had 9 children, 5 of whom survived to adulthood. From oldest to youngest, they were:

Marie (22 Feb. 1860- 19 Jan. 1940)- Carmelite at Lisieux from 1886 (Sr. Marie du Sacré-Coeur — tr. Marie of the Sacred Heart).

Marie-Pauline (7 Sep. 1861- 28 Jul. 1951)- Carmelite at Lisieux from 1882 (Mère Agnès de Jésus — Agnes of Jesus), Prioress 1893-1896, 1902-1908, 1909-1951.

Marie-Léonie (3 Jun. 1863- 16 Jun. 1941)- Visitandine at Caen from 1899 (Sr. Françoise-Thérese).

Marie-Hélène (13 Oct. 1864- 22 Feb. 1870)
Joseph-Louis (20 Sep. 1866- 14 Feb. 1867)
Joseph-Jean-Baptiste (19 Dec. 1867- 24 Aug. 1868 )

Marie-Céline (28 Apr. 1869- 25 Feb. 1959), Carmelite at Lisieux from 1894 (Sr. Geneviève de Ste. Thérèse, then Geneviève de la Sainte-Face in 1916 — Genevieve of St. Theresa, then Genevieve of the Holy Face).

Marie-Mélanie-Thérèse (16 Aug.- 8 Oct., 1870)

Marie-Françoise-Thérèse (2 Jan. 1873- 30 Sep. 1897) Carmelite at Lisieux from 1888 (Sr. Thérèse de l’Enfant-Jésus et de la Sainte Face — Sr. Theresa of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face). Beatified on 29 April 1923 and canonized by Pope Pius XI on 17 May 1925.

The parents, Louis and Zélie, were declared Venerable by Pope John Paul II on 26 March 1994. The attribution of one miracle to them is required for their beatification, and two miracles are needed for canonization. Also, the cause for recognition of the sainthood of the Servant of God Léonie Martin, the only non-Carmelite of the Martin children, has been started.

Ste. Thérèse, and Venerables Louis and Zélie Martin, pray for us…We pray for the beatification and canonization of Léonie Martin, and for the intercession of all members of this wonderful family who watch over us from Heaven. Amen.



Holy See Mission Seminar Day 4- Verbum Caro Factum Est

20 Jul

Verbum caro factum est, et habitavit in nobis.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)

These words are inscribed on either side of the tabernacle at Holy Family Church in Manhattan, the parish of the United Nations. Fr. Bob Meyer presided over Mass there on the fourth day of the Path to Peace Foundation- Holy See Mission Seminar, Wednesday, May 23, 2007. Upon entering Holy Family Church, one is also greeted by a large representation of the risen Christ above the altar, instead of the depiction of the crucified Christ found in most Catholic churches I’ve been in.

The doctrine of the Incarnation- that the second Person of the One Triune God took on human form, becoming one like us in all but sin- is distinctive to Christianity. The Word became flesh and lived, suffered, died, and rose among us, all the while obeying Jewish tradition and respectfully challenging religious leaders, and choosing disciples and Apostles to lead us, His Church. In short, through the Incarnation God became our neighbour. He loves us, having been one of us, therefore, in response to the lawyer’s question about how we are to inherit salvation (cf. Luke 10:25), the Son of God and Son of Man taught the law with authority:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)

Here, Jesus taught without actually answering the question asked of Him; He left the answer up to one who was knowledgeable of his religious tradition. The lawyer gave Jesus “the right answer”. Similarly, Christians who read the Bible somewhat regularly would be able to answer Jesus’ question correctly by rote. But we need to act on our knowledge of this greatest Commandment. Jesus said to the lawyer: “Do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:28 )

Like the lawyer, though, we would likely prefer to question Jesus further, “wanting to justify (ourselves)” instead of putting our faith in action, by asking, “Who is my neighbour?” (Luke 10:29). But Jesus patiently teaches us how to be neighbourly, as He taught the lawyer using the parable of the Good Samaritan. In Jesus’ tale, the priest and the Levite, both capable speakers of the law, are shown to be less charitable than the Samaritan, who would have been disliked by the lawyer, or by the priest or Levite, because of the doctrinal differences between Samaritans and other Jews. However, only the Samaritan has courage enough to bandage and to disinfect the victim of the roadside robbery, who is taken “on (the Samaritan’s) own animal” and placed in the care of an innkeeper. (Luke 10:34, cf. v. 35) This parable is well-known, even in popular discourse, and is easy to remember and to recite. But we risk forgetting the most important part of the story, where Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer responded, as expected, “The one who showed him mercy”, to which Jesus replied, “Go and do likewise.”(Luke 10:37)

There, Jesus said it: Go and be a neighbour; act like the Samaritan, who in his mercy acted as Christ Himself would. Our Lord expects nothing more. Our Incarnate High Priest knows our weaknesses (cf. Hebrews 4:15), yet He gives Himself to us and perseveres with us to the point of our complete self-offering unto Him.

The readings during Mass on the fourth day of the Holy See Mission Seminar further reinforced how we are to be neighbours to one another, following God’s own example. The first reading, from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles verses 28 to 38, began where the first reading from the previous day left off. (cf. Acts 20:17-27) Paul had assembled some elders from Ephesus. He taught these leaders one last time, realizing that the Ephesians would likely never see him again. (cf. Acts 20:25, 38 ). St. Paul spoke of the “Church of God that He obtained with the blood of His own Son.” (Acts 20:28 ) Thus, our omnipotent and always-present God sent Jesus in human form to redeem us by His death on the Cross. The same God empowered Paul to proclaim “the message of His Grace”, while the Holy Spirit chooses “overseers” to act in the stead of Christ and of the first Apostles. (Acts 20: 28, 32)

Those who proclaim God’s message, laypersons and clergy alike, must be aware of distortions of the truth. False teaching often comes from outside the Church, but has also come from within. Therefore, St. Paul cautioned us to “be alert” against “savage wolves (that) will come in among (us), not sparing the flock.” (Acts 20:29, 31) He also reminded us of Jesus’ words that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Paul lived what he preached, as Christ had before him, regarding material goods as less important than our actions borne out of love such as aiding the weak. (cf. Acts 33-35).

As St. Paul was leaving the Ephesian elders, he knelt among them and prayed. (cf. Acts 20:36). This is also consistent with the actions of Jesus Christ, as portrayed in the day’s Gospel reading from St. John. Prior to His Passion, Our Lord prayed for His disciples, that they might live in unity with one another, as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are perfectly one. Jesus also prayed that His disciples might be protected by God, that they might be joyful, that they might be consecrated to the truth, and that they might be spared from Satan. (cf. John 17:11-19)

In the same way God prays for us and among us, we call upon Him as in the Psalms. (cf. Psalm 68:28-29) God showed His might and strength by covering Himself in human flesh, thus we respond with praise, again following the words of the Psalmist:

“Sing to God, O kingdoms of earth; sing praises to the Lord. O rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens; listen, He sends out His voice, His mighty voice. Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel, and whose power is in the skies. Awesome is God in His sanctuary, the God of Israel; He gives power and strength to His people.” (Psalm 68:32-35)

Our praise, though, must be more than simple words; God, I emphasize, calls us to act. The theme of neighbourly action was again at the fore during the first session of May 23, when the seminar attendees were assembled before the ambassadors to the UN from Austria, Honduras, and Senegal. The Austrian ambassador spoke first, beginning with a reflection on the fact that national delegates are seated alphabetically in the General Assembly. Thus, Austria is between Australia and Azerbaijan. For the Austrian representative, this underlines the importance of the question posed by the lawyer in the parable of the Good Samaritan: “Who is my neighbour?” At the UN, links are forged between people and nations that, though very diverse, frequently end up sitting next to each other and participating in the achievement of a common goal to build a better world.

Unfortunately, terrorism, especially as illustrated on September 11, 2001, has in some cases delayed initiatives toward co-operation that the UN strives for. At the UN itself, security is heightened, while international trade and mobility are sadly though often necessarily restricted.

Austria’s UN ambassador commendably mentioned the role of the Catholic faith in his country’s approach to issues of global interest, stating also the European nation’s “great admiration for Holy See diplomacy”. 90% of Austrians consider themselves Catholic. The ambassador himself comes from Tyrol, which he dubbed “the Holy Land of Austria”. Important contributions by Austria toward the UN include the June 28, 2006 introduction of the resolution that made Montenegro the 192nd member of the organization. Austria herself is a recent addition, obtaining UN membership in December, 1995. Before then, she had spent forty years as a neutral power “actively engaged in the United Nations.” In addition, Austria is currently supplying the largest contingent of UN troops in the Golan Heights, and 60 000 Austrian troops in total are under the blue beret. Austria is also one of 27 members of the European Union, which contributes 38% of the UN budget and more than half of its development funds.

At the UN, “all believe in something better”, according to the Austrian ambassador. Despite negative press, the UN is held in high esteem. Poorer countries in Africa and in Latin America especially benefit from its existence. Thus, international commitment to the UN is “critical”, in the Honduran ambassador’s words. Such solidarity begins with the young, who were encouraged by the Senegalese ambassador to “believe in the United Nations”. Though all three ambassadors agreed that reforms are needed in areas ranging from the relationship between the Security Council and the General Assembly to better human rights protection and regulation of aid distribution, they expressed hope, particularly since the UN is under a new Secretary General, the South Korean Ban Ki-Moon.

Senegal is a model for co-operation among persons of different religions, as highlighted by that country’s ambassador. Though officially a secular state, 90% of Senegalese are Muslims, and 8% are Christian, with most Christians belonging to the Catholic Church. In Senegal, religion has never been divisive: its first president, Sangor, was a Muslim whose wife was a devout Catholic. The brother of the late Archbishop of Dakar, His Eminence Hyacinthe Cardinal Thiandoum (1921-2004), is the Imam of his village. Senegal, which achieved independence on September 28, 1960, has experienced democracy for longer than many European countries, and extends its example of inter-ethnic peace beyond its borders, acting as an important negotiator and peacemaker in African conflicts such as in Darfur, through which Senegalese Hajj pilgrims must pass annually on their way to Mecca.

As in Senegal, religion plays an important role in Honduras, whose population is 90% Catholic. The ambassador speaking in the panel was the only Honduran citizen to have received a prestigious honour from the Vatican (I unfortunately was unable to note correctly the name of the Order to which he belongs). Honduras also acts as a key regional mediator, since much of Central America was plagued by civil war not long ago. Grievances related to these conflicts continue to be prosecuted, for example, at the International Criminal Court at The Hague. In Honduras, poverty is a persistent problem, but the country’s presence is welcome among other nations in Latin America and in the Caribbean, where 32 countries are “working together”, often “under UN oversight”.

Following the panel discussion, several noteworthy questions were asked of one or more of the three ambassadors. Everything from regional issues including how a peaceful, democratic, and religiously diverse nation like Senegal might provide an example to other African countries that are less free, to whether the Honduran ambassador thought his fellow countryman and a speaker of ten languages, Andrés Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga, would make a good pope, was on the agenda.

Back at the Holy See Mission, the afternoon began with a stimulating talk by a retired Canadian Senator, Douglas Roche of Edmonton. Before the lecture, I was identified to Sen. Roche as a student of the University of Alberta and as a fellow Edmontonian, the only one among fifty-three people registered for the seminar. Sen. Roche greeted me as I was finishing lunch, and then we conversed for a short time about Edmonton, about Canadian politics, and about our experiences in the university setting. The Senator had been a professor in political science at the U of A, and is active in the community. I remember him speaking during the 2006 outdoor Way of the Cross through downtown Edmonton on the steps of a Baptist church that serves meals to the homeless about the alleviation of poverty in our inner city. Senator Roche, a Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament from 1972-1984, is a recipient of the Order of Canada. He also served as a Special Advisor on disarmament and security, for which he was awarded a Papal Medal by Pope John Paul II in 1995, and then honored with membership in the Order of St. Gregory the Great as a Knight Commander in 1998. (cf. Wikipedia, article on “Douglas Roche”)

Sen. Douglas Roche, who was appointed to the Canadian Upper House on September 17, 1998, began by discussing “the impression of a world beset by greed, corruption, (and) evil…” conveyed by much of the media. While such a characterization of world affairs is “not without reason”, Sen. Roche invited particularly youth to contribute to a “feeling of hope and strength” and therefore to build human security. The Senator considered the proliferation of armaments and environmental degradation to be two of the largest affronts to human dignity. He quoted from President Dwight D. Eisenhower that weapons “signify a theft from those who hunger and are not fed…those who are cold and not clothed.”
Rightful human relationships “(toward) one another and…the planet” involve more than a “personal morality”. Both human diversity and universality, perhaps paradoxically, involve exercising a “global conscience”, as per the lecture’s title and that of Roche’s newest book, based on “moral commonality”. By showing consecutive Google Earth images of Edmonton and then of Baghdad, Sen. Roche challenged us to regard all humans as worthy of the same rights. He asked: “Shouldn’t people in Edmonton and Baghdad enjoy the same rights we claim?” While peace abounds in developed nations, those in war-torn, poverty-stricken, or corruption-ridden countries face threats of being harmed or killed by the lack of food, water, shelter, and by armed hostilities. Other striking figures were cited. For example, according to the National Priorities Project in Chicago, the daily cost of the Iraq war would fund over 60 000 teaching jobs in the U.S., while for the $200 million yearly expenditure on nuclear arms, full health care could be funded for all Americans.

Swedish diplomat Hans Blix once called the number of nuclear weapons in the world- 27 000- “alarmingly high”, whereas Kofi Annan described the world as “sleepwalking toward disaster.” Senator Roche is faithfully dedicated to nuclear disarmament. However, Sen. Roche admitted, citing the example of Sierra Leone, that small arms present as great a problem as nuclear weaponry. In total, annual global spending on development is $78 billion U.S., whereas $1.035 trillion U.S. are spent on weapons per year. To promote development, peace, literacy, and sustainability, three elements are crucial, said Sen. Roche: participation, especially with advanced electronic technology available, understanding, and communication.

While Senator Douglas Roche’s views were convincing on the disarmament front, many including myself thought his presentation on climate change and environmental preservation to be less so. He also stated, much to the dismay of some, that a global conception of truth must “transcend religion”. This was problematic for those to whom the Catholic Church, founded by Jesus Christ, has unique access to His truth among religious institutions through apostolic succession. In fairness, Sen. Roche seemed to relay throughout his discussion that moral living wasn’t tied exclusively to one faith or denomination, though that was unclear. Also, one of the Senator’s main sources on the environment was former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore’s book, “The Inconvenient Truth”. This book and its author are frequently cited, on good grounds, for hypocrisy. While Gore and like-minded alarmists preach moderation of resource consumption, many of them travel in private aircraft and inefficient large automobiles, or own, heat, and power sprawling mansions. Aside from that, though, Sen. Roche drew an important parallel between care for the environment and the alleviation of poverty, hunger, and ultimately war over disappearing non-renewable resources. He closed his talk by telling us to “have confidence” in ourselves, that we are expected to use our intellectual capabilities in the world’s favour…

Covenant House, which serves underprivileged youth under 20 in Manhattan, was the next stop after Senator Roche’s lecture. There, goals include helping the young and often homeless to acquire job skills, including an education, followed by proper housing. In fact, 70% of those aided by Covenant House graduate from high school. Adolescents are placed with employers that provide a fair wage, flexibility, and often scholarships. Covenant House also provides for pregnant women and their children, both before and after birth. It is able to house nearly four times the population that the next largest institution can take in. As a result, crime and drug abuse are reduced as the homeless population declines. Within the last 20 years, said a Covenant House staff member, the number of homeless in New York has been halved, while current New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg had once promised to cut a further two-thirds from that figure by 2009. Due to these initiatives, Covenant House serves fewer people than it did two decades ago. As it is largely reliant on private funds, such contributions are essential. It provides desperate young persons with a home, with a structure to their lives. As such, respect and obedience are taught to those who suffer on the streets and that many would simply ignore. College students can also help the homeless, for example, by participating in clothing or food drives, or by working toward better care for the mentally ill. Thus we can better assist “the cream of the crop that no one else wants to deal with”.

After the completion of the day’s busy schedule, we were treated to the Circle Line Cruise around Manhattan, followed by dinner out- Italian fare in a raucous venue that nonetheless provided us the opportunity to converse about the seminar to that point or just to unwind. I was asked many questions about my views concerning the talks by Senator Roche and by Archbishop Charles Chaput the previous day. The two lectures were the ideological bookends among the seminar’s presentations; attendees who sided with one of those speakers were often troubled by the other’s standpoint.

The sun set as the Circle Line Cruise offered us several beautiful views of New York City. Another day’s journey was coming to its end, while I hoped for the beginning of another invigorating and spiritually and intellectually fulfilling day. I realized that our tomorrows are never certain. We embark on our ship, whether this is the Circle Line Cruise or, in the case of St. Paul, the vessel that takes us away from Ephesus, figuratively speaking. After teaching and praying with the Ephesian elders, Paul was greeted by kisses, embraces, and weeping from grieving disciples, who feared the prospect of never again seeing the Apostle’s face. (cf. Acts 20:37-38 ) Imagine, then, the devastation felt by the Twelve upon Jesus’ horrible death. The women who visited the tomb on the third day were equally distressed, yet they were the first to audaciously greet a new beginning:

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” (Luke 24:5)

As the sun sets, surely it will rise again. At both its rising and its setting, it casts a beam out onto the water along which our ship sails along the way to Heaven. (cf. Ste. Thérèse de Lisieux, Autobiographical Manuscript A, p. 22 front side; translation from French is mine) Our journey to the Heavenly shore is a joyful mystery, guided by Christ our Incarnate Lord.

Jesus, you became human like us. In so doing, you even more closely became our neighbour. Guide us toward our home beside You, O Lord. We pray for the strength to encourage each other along the same path. Verbum caro factum est, et habitavit in nobis. Amen.


Holy See Mission Seminar Day 3- Sharing Our Story

13 Jul

Since its foundation more than 2000 years ago, the Catholic Church has been the world’s foremost institution regarding social justice and the advancement of the common good, which is more than an idea or a lifestyle, but a necessary human response to the love of God. History has seen this loving reply modeled for us by countless saints, and we are driven to follow suit. Today, this role of the Holy See extends to more people than ever, particularly through her Permanent Observer status at the United Nations.

To conclude the Reflections session led by Fr. Bob Meyer of the Holy See Mission on the second day of the seminar, we were asked how we might go about “building a better world”, as per the official title of the gathering. Several suggestions were offered, from sponsoring children in developing nations to participating in a “reverse” collection during Mass, whereby instead of placing money into the basket, one draws from the basket a slip of paper on which is written an item to donate to help those less fortunate. Other students had been involved in organizations that assist single mothers, or that raise awareness against domestic violence, or that send nursing students abroad to improve neonatal health and to increase the safety of childbearing and childbirth. Another attendee remarked on the sculpture of a firearm found outside the UN buildings. The gun’s muzzle is twisted into a knot symbolizing how the destruction wrought by small arms can be turned into beauty and peace. The sculptor hails from notoriously violence-ridden Colombia, where there is hope even amid the darkness of armed conflict.

These are but a few ways that young people are living the message of our faith. In the Eucharist, we receive the consecrated Host that is unleavened. As Fr. Meyer said, “we must be the leaven”; we must “tell the story”. Our story is that of the love and goodness that are our hallmarks as the body of Christ. Thus, we are one body that is sent out into the world to be both “ever-active and ever-present” representatives of Our Lord. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Sec. 1577)

(Tuesday, May 22, 2007) As I write this, I’m reminded of the David Haas hymn, “The Song of the Body of Christ”. This is our song that is active and vibrant and unites us. We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come…” It is particularly up to young Catholics to build this Kingdom of God on earth. Our song, the sharing of our story, begins by greeting each other in Christ, as said by the first speaker of the third day of the Holy See Mission seminar, Capuchin Franciscan Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver. His Grace opened his talk on religious tolerance with the following reflection: that we are all “a creative moment in the imagination of God”… “If God loves you, I love you”. God created us out of love, though none of His creation was obligatory. By being a faithful reflection of God’s love toward others, we undertake a pro-creative mission. Then our will and God’s will, and the Kingdom of Heaven and that of earth, become one.

God created us for this purpose of charity, which entails putting an end to childish ways (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12) and living as adult stewards of the world. Much of our society worships the idols of individualism and of profit. However, these masters to which many are enslaved are “childish fiction” according to Archbishop Chaput. We ought to outgrow these impediments, to become adults. Archbishop Chaput continued thus: “Adulthood brings power…Power brings responsibility.”

Few understood the necessity of an adult response to the gifts of faith and of love as well as St. Edith Stein, who was born into a Jewish family in Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland) on October 12, 1891, Yom Kippur. Her father, Auguste Courant, died before Edith’s second birthday, leaving her mother, Siegried Stein, to raise their seven children. Edith Stein was renowned for her intellect from a young age. She began her studies in philosophy at the University of Breslau, and moved prior to the outbreak of World War I to Göttingen to study under Edmund Husserl. By 1916, Edith Stein held a doctorate in philosophy. She continued to work under Husserl as an assistant, relocating again to the University of Freiburg, but during this time Edith Stein’s faith waned notwithstanding her academic prowess. While on vacation in Göttingen in 1921, though, she pulled the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila off a friend’s bookshelf. She spent the entire night that followed reading St. Teresa’s “Libro de Vida” (Book of Life). The next morning, she exclaimed to a companion, “This is the truth!”

Edith Stein was baptized on January 1, 1922. Shortly thereafter, her direct association with Edmund Husserl ended, yet she became an even more celebrated author, lecturer, and philosopher by the end of the 1920s. Still, Edith Stein longed for a life of prayer and self-sacrifice, a deeper relationship with God afforded by the Discalced Carmelites and exemplified by that Order’s foundress whose autobiography had been Edith Stein’s little spark of truth some years earlier.

Despite her wishes to become a Carmelite, Edith Stein’s spiritual director recommended that she continue to write and to lecture in a university setting. However, she and other persons of Jewish descent were banned from teaching in Germany by a series of anti-Semitic laws passed by the Nazi regime in 1933. In the same year, Edith Stein entered the Carmel of Cologne-Lindenthal, taking the religious name Teresia Benedicta ac Cruce (Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross). She quickly became a force against Nazi horrors, eventually writing to Pope Pius XI:

“For years the leaders of National Socialism have been preaching hatred of the Jews. But the responsibility must fall, after all, on those who brought them to this point and it also falls on those who keep silent in the face of such happenings…Everything that happened and continues to happen on a daily basis originates with a government that calls itself ‘Christian.’ For weeks not only Jews but also thousands of faithful Catholics in Germany, and, I believe, all over the world, have been waiting and hoping for the Church of Christ to raise its voice to put a stop to this abuse of Christ’s name.”

The Catholic Church did indeed make herself heard. She fought against repeated Nazi violations of the July 20, 1933 Concordat signed between Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli and Franz von Papen of the Holy See and German President Paul von Hindenburg. The Nazis had never intended to abide by the Concordat, especially sections related to the protection of the religious freedom of Catholics as well as those of other denominations or faiths. The Holy See, well aware of National Socialist intentions, published over forty denunciations of Third Reich policies between 1933 and 1937, culminating in the release of the Encyclical “Mit Brennender Sorge” (“With Burning Anxiety”) on Palm Sunday, March 14, 1937. This document, originally written in German instead of the more common Latin to have a more direct impact on the German people, was read from every pulpit in that country, provoking an irate response from Adolf Hitler on May 1. Besides condemning the frequent Nazi breaches of the Reichskonkordat, “Mit Brennender Sorge” appealed to German Catholics in danger of “(yielding) to the threats and enticements of the enemies of Christ and His Church.” (Sec. 40) In addition, a dying Pope Pius XI penned these words: “Our wholehearted paternal sympathy goes out to those who must pay so dearly for their loyalty to Christ and the Church; but directly the highest interests are at stake, with the alternative of spiritual loss, there is but one alternative left, that of heroism.” (Sec. 21)

The Catholic Church had no shortage of heroes willing to take up the Cross at that time. Cardinal Pacelli, who became Pope Pius XII in 1939, was one such hero. He is credited by Israeli diplomat Pinchas Lapide with saving the lives of over 700 000 Jews during World War II, accounting for about 3 of every 10 Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. (cf. Rabbi David G. Dalin, “Pius XII and the Jews”, in the Weekly Standard, 26 February, 2001, cf. also H.W. Crocker III, Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church, a 2000-Year History, p. 403) St. Edith Stein was another hero, to Jews and Christians alike. She was taken forcibly from the Carmel in Echt in the Netherlands, where she had been sent to live out of Hitler’s genocidal reach, and she died in a gas chamber at Auschwitz along with her sister Rosa on August 9, 1942. Edith Stein was beatified on May 1, 1987, and canonized on October 11, 1998 by Pope John Paul II. She had written her last book, “The Science of the Cross”, in 1938. This Science, a profound knowledge of God’s love, is best summed up as follows: “(One) can only learn the science of the Cross by feeling the Cross in one’s own person.” In 1939, she said, “I asked the Lord to accept my life and my death.”

The Lord has accepted into Heaven those like Pope Pius XII and St. Edith Stein, who acted on what they believed, “even at the expense of (their) reputation or of life itself”, in the words of Archbishop Charles Chaput. Speaking of religious tolerance, His Grace described secularism as a form of intolerance, calling it “a designer experience…cheap pop-culture bigotry” that lacks the binding character of religion. The word “religion”, in fact, comes from the Latin “religare”, meaning “to bind”. This nature of religious life is feared by modern ideologies that set out to absolutize moral relativism. On the contrary, Archbishop Chaput said that since religion shapes our beliefs about “the human person”, it “has social and political consequences”.

Our works matter: St. James reminds us that “faith without works is dead”. (James 2:20) Furthermore, Jesus commands us to “make disciples of all nations”. (Matthew 28:19) We believe in the supremacy and Godhead of Our Lord Jesus Christ, “the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) Yet our relationship toward persons of like or different creeds goes beyond mere tolerance. We do not “tolerate” other religions, as in bearing with them unwillingly. We Catholics must bear witness to all, while still recognizing truth and beauty inherent in other faiths. In so doing, tolerance of evil is to be regarded as failure. Mere tolerance, I add, is bearing false witness against our neighbour. We need to be true witnesses of God’s love, not a “caricature of (Catholicism)” that drives people away from religion. Our mission has “apostolic authority from Jesus Christ”, thus it must spread to where religion is not, or to where Christ’s missionaries and followers are persecuted, for example to North Korea and China. In Europe and North America, where there is more freedom but also more cynicism and increasing attempts to remove religion from public life, the work of the Christian soldier is challenging in a different sense. We who are “sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit” in the Sacrament of Confirmation are invited to live God’s Science of Love, shown on the Cross. This, said Archbishop Chaput, is our time; it is no more and no less extreme a time as when the saints lived. There is therefore no shortage of heroes for today and for always. There are among us those who “prepare the Way to Jesus with every breath we take”. (cf. Matthew 3:3)

Following the inspirational talk by Archbishop Chaput, the Holy See Mission’s Brother David Carroll spoke about Israel, Palestine, and Lebanon. He began with a short history of Israel and the Middle East, from Egyptian control circa 3000 B.C. to the current era of the nation state. Brother Carroll then shared the perspective of one living in Israel: “Everyone I’ve talked to hates one another”. With that assertion the quotation’s author realized that he was standing on the road to Nazareth. Precisely because of the discord created by human evil, “God came to this part of the world and walked its roads…”

Israel is roughly the size of New Jersey, whereas the West Bank and Gaza Strip are collectively about the size of Delaware, though much more densely populated. Jordan, the size of Indiana, has a growing Christian population that now makes up approximately 3% of Jordanians. This small region is a cradle of strife, yet it is a potential source of hope. Optimism is hard to find, though, in a region seemingly fractured by the principle of nations and their inhabitants being “foes forever”. But this current situation does not need to persist.

Political instability in part fuels the “foes forever” mentality in Israel, where according to Br. Carroll the approval rating of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been as low as 9%. Also, little leadership exists to counter the enmity between Fatah and Hamas. The latter group was founded as a social service organization by Sheikh Yassim, associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza, in 1987. While Hamas’ political wing took power in the Palestinian parliament in January, 2006, its military wing remains dangerous. The group’s charter calls for the destruction of Israel and for Palestinian statehood. Thus many nations reasonably regard Hamas as a terrorist organization. Hamas quickly became a political rival to Yassir Arafat who, as leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization that includes Fatah, was unable to provide essential services to the Palestinian people. Arafat also carried a reputation among some as a violent extremist himself. However, he found a common enemy in Hamas, along with Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres of Israel. The co-operation, particularly between Arafat and Rabin, nearly led to peace in the Oslo Accord in 1993 and again at Camp David in 2000, but nonetheless confidence has faded as intermittent violence has resumed, both between Israel and Palestine and between Fatah and Hamas.

Moves have been made toward more lasting peace, including the appointment of former Democratic Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell to head the Sharm el-Sheikh International Fact-Finding Committee in 2000. Mitchell authored that committee’s report, which was presented to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell on May 4, 2001. The 12-page report called for the cessation of violence between Israel and Palestine, a resumption of negotiations, and a building of confidence based on the assurance that both Israel and Palestine would condemn incitement and terrorism against each other. Mitchell, a veteran of the Iran-Contra affair who also spent more than two years in Northern Ireland, brought knowledge that peace depended on the people. He once said, “Conflicts are created and sustained by human beings. They can be ended by human beings.” Mitchell contended that conflict resolution, in Nothern Ireland as in Israel, depended upon speaking directly to the individuals involved, who were often both the problem and the solution, no matter “how dreadful those people (were)”, in Br. Carroll’s terms. This approach minimized the use of mass media for peace negotiations. In Northern Ireland, peace was brokered on Good Friday, 1998, by Mitchell between Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble and Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams. Without Sen. Mitchell’s direct presence, these two may have remained bitter enemies.

Brother David Carroll called the Middle East crisis a “scandal to Christians”, who must be active in halting violence. He stated that the term “fratricide” is used to describe a missile destroying another missile, whereas if a weapon destroys an unintended human target, the latter is called “collateral damage”. Br. Carroll urged an end to the intentional ending of human life, which must rather be protected from conception to natural death. Human will can overcome a “foes forever” outlook, said Br. Carroll, who concluded his talk with a prayer asking that violence might be overcome in the Holy Land as in Northern Ireland.

As in the Middle East and in Northern Ireland, Christian charity also has contributed toward progress in preventing and treating HIV/AIDS, and in compassionately caring for those afflicted. This was the focus of the presentation by Franciscan Daniel Sulmasy, MD, Chair of the Bioethics Commission at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan, who saw in himself a call similar to that of St. Francis of Assisi, who according to legend embraced a leper who then took on the figure of Christ in a vision. Dr. Sulmasy introduced his topic from a historical standpoint. In June, 1981, the first cases of AIDS-associated pneumonia caused by the fungus Pneumocystis carinii were discovered, followed by observations of an epidemic form of malignant tumours, Kaposi’s sarcoma. By 1982, HIV was seen in children. Three years later, the FDA approved the first antibody test for HIV, followed by approval of the first antiretroviral drug, azidothymidine (AZT), which reduced mother-to-child transmission during childbirth from 28% to 7% when used. Within the last decade, combination drug therapies have become available, as have more efficient tests for viral load- how much of the virus one is carrying.

Technological progress has been superb, turning a “sub-acute lethal disease into a chronic disease” (Sulmasy), but the drugs have important side effects over time and are expensive. There are currently 50 million cases of HIV/AIDS in the world, evenly distributed among both genders, with 95% of these in developing countries, including 6% of those aged 16-49 in sub-Saharan Africa. In some countries the last figure approaches 30%. The response is multi-faceted. Firstly, the focus ought to be on prevention and on education. The prevention of sexual transmission depends on combating prostitution and drug abuse and trafficking which often go hand-in-hand with reducing poverty. A safe blood supply must be made more widely accessible, and improvements in nutrition and in water sanitation are keys to increasing the effectiveness of antiretroviral therapies. The prevention of the spread of prominent killers like tuberculosis and malaria needs to be pursued. Also, the availability of multi-drug therapies such as HAART (Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy), which currently cost as much as $10 000 US per person annually, cannot be inhibited by the quest for excess profits. Corruption and misuse of aid funds in the worst-affected nations present a problem.

Despite the staggering and sad numbers, though, there has been significant progress against HIV/AIDS, especially where education has influenced poverty levels and lifestyles. For example, a national abstinence chastity-based “ABC” program, which still allows for use of condoms as a distant last resort, has reduced the HIV infection rate in Uganda from 21% in 1991 to just 6% in 2000. As for condoms, they are 80% effective in stopping transmission if used properly, but only 42% effective as a primary treatment and prevention method for HIV. Such barrier methods present a false sense of security, leading to an increase in sexual activity and in the number of partners, thus producing a net increase in HIV prevalence. The role of the Catholic Church on HIV/AIDS, generally much-maligned in western media, has been instrumental. Today, about 25% of people with AIDS worldwide are treated in Catholic-run hospitals.

The final talk of the day was provided by the World Youth Alliance (WYA), an internationally-based NGO created by and for people between 16 and 30 years old, along with the Sisters of Life. Both groups strive to make “intrinsic and inviolable” human dignity “the focal point of policy”. This comes with recognition that powerful segments of our society promote views that are inconsistent with even the majority of youth, such as sexual “rights”, the denial of parental influence, and the furthering of abortion, also misconstrued as a human right.

The WYA speaker lauded the Holy See as “the greatest negotiator at the UN”, which respects “the freedom of other countries” while frequently challenging their positions. Furthermore, the Holy See is independent of economic and nationalistic interests, which adds to the convincing nature of its arguments. The Church stands as a defender of the truth at the UN.

She includes people devoted to Christ like Sr. Agnes of the Sisters of Life, who told the true story of Mimi, Tito, and Claire, from Greenwich, Connecticut. During a routine ultrasound 18 weeks into her pregnancy, Mimi was alerted to a defect in her unborn child. Part of the fetus’ brain was growing outside the scull. Doctors unsuccessfully but unrelentingly pressured Mimi into aborting her child, increasing in their condescension toward Mimi on one occasion when her husband, Tito, was not present. Mimi and Tito prayed just as fervently that their child might be healed and be born healthy. The miracle, Claire, was delivered by caesarian section. Mimi, Tito, and Claire, a “marvel of God’s power in the world”, are a testament to the correctness of the words of Vatican II, paraphrased by Sr. Agnes: “Man can only find himself through a complete giving of himself.” Thus, our response to God is our “vocation of love”, and the Church emulates Christ as “the guardian of the truth and the protector of man’s freedom.” We Catholics have come to tell our story- to “make (ourselves) little in order to connect with one single soul.”

Lord, we are the Body of Christ. You have sent us to tell our story, in the same way You sent the Apostle Paul, who left the Ephesian elders for the last time with his testimony “to the good news of (Your) grace” (Acts 20:24). You prayed, dear Jesus, that we might come to know You intimately, as You know the Father. (cf. John 17:3, 12) You love us and sustain us. May You make Your story ours, and help us to proclaim it responsibly, fearlessly, and joyfully. Amen.


Holy See Mission Seminar Day 2- Master, it is Good to Be Here

26 Jun

The opening lecture of the Holy See Mission seminar focused on the role of the Church in building the common good throughout the world. As I mentioned in my previous post, the “common good” is an ambiguous term. The defense of this common good involves the protection of basic human rights. As such, the Holy See has maintained formal ties to the United Nations since attaining Permanent Observer status. It is the oldest diplomatic unit in the world. In seeing the whole human person as both sacred and social, the Holy See Mission to the UN focuses on issues related to policy and lawmaking, to social life, and to the family and to marriage. The Church especially upholds the dignity of the most vulnerable people, including the poor, refugees, women, children, and workers.The Holy See’s relatively small delegation to the UN works with diligence and with charity in many areas. Its Permanent Observer Mission is a light to Catholics everywhere as we strive for justice, albeit on a much smaller and usually more localized scale. The Holy Spirit perpetually guides our efforts, even as we have but a limited understanding of our role in promoting the common good.

Even with only partial knowledge of God’s great commission that He gives to us, we can say as St. Peter did at the Transfiguration: “Master, it is good for us to be here”. (Luke 9:33) This passage, which most accurately summed up my thoughts as the second day of the seminar began, is inscribed above the altar of the Church of Our Saviour on Park Avenue, where Mass was held on the morning of Monday, May 21, 2007. Our Saviour is situated in one of the most affluent areas of Manhattan, yet despite the prosperity of this part of New York City, homeless people could be seen on the street near the church. As was noted during the reflections at the end of the day by Fr. Bob Meyer of the Holy See Mission, an expert on legal affairs and on pro-life causes, the plight of the homeless amid such wealth serves as another of “God’s reminders” to which we are impelled to respond with Christ-like compassion modeled for us by the Saints.

Those who have gone before us to Heaven are icons of Christ, as I remember one priest saying after a philosophy lecture I was attending. The Catholic Church believes icons to be written, not only drawn or painted, by the artist. In an even deeper sense, God has written us into existence, in His own image. (cf. Genesis 1:27) We, as God’s icons, are therefore destined to return to Him. As I stated in my previous article, our quest for sainthood begins with a change in mindset our in our decision-making process. Sainthood, though, is much more than an ideal or a lifestyle; we are called to be God’s word in action every day in order to unite ourselves fully with the Word of God. This was the message of the Homily delivered by Monsignor Leo Cushley of the Holy See Mission at Our Saviour. During his Homily, Msgr. Cushley pointed to the icons behind him, which were designed by Ken Jan Woo, a Chinese-born muralist who had recently been baptized by the pastor of the Church of Our Saviour, Fr. George Rutler. The most amazing of these icons, which is centered above the altar, is that of Christ Pantokrator (from Greek for “Almighty” or “Ruler of all”), a 28-foot-tall enlargement of a sixth-century Byzantine representation of Our Lord. This image is one of the oldest known icons of Jesus Christ. The breathtaking Pantokrator icon is surrounded by several smaller icons of Saints, seven of which were written by Woo. The most recent addition is an icon of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

As we gathered for Mass, I found the church’s grandeur humbling. A verse from the Book of Proverbs urges those that are very small to come to God, who is Wisdom. (cf. Proverbs 9:4) We are all like small children before the Almighty. We are like the child resting in the arms of Mother Teresa, as shown in the icon of her. Fittingly, then, at the Church of Our Saviour I felt like the smallest icon where I stood, along with fifty-two other living icons created in God’s likeness, who were being called out into the world to love and to serve the Almighty. One day, I can only imagine myself, the little unworthy icon, standing before the Judge of the living and of the dead, hoping that, by the grace and mercy of God, I may enter into life everlasting. More immediately, we ought to pray as one community of faith for the salvation of all souls entrusted to Our Divine Ruler.

We also pray for those who are given the gift of teaching and preaching God’s message in word and in deed. Also, may those who hear the Good News be faithful to it and not be distracted from its Source that we are asked to follow. In the first reading heard on May 21 (cf. Acts 19:1-8 ), St. Paul warned about such distractions from the Word of God. St. Paul had traveled to Ephesus, where many people were found to be followers of John the Baptist. Thus, John the Baptist’s Ephesian disciples hadn’t heard of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul proceeded to teach the Ephesians and to baptize them, and “the Holy Spirit came upon them”, conferring upon some Ephesians the gifts of prophecy and of speaking in tongues. (Acts 19:6) St. Paul argued persuasively in favour of “the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8 ), but some persisted in “(speaking) evil of the Way before the congregation”. (Acts 19:9) Those who refused to believe were confused as the gifts of the Spirit were made manifest at Ephesus. They couldn’t see a “still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31) beyond the gifts of tongues and prophesy. This confusion, as well as St. Paul’s teaching against the worship of the goddess Artemis, led to a riot in Ephesus (cf. Acts 19:21-41). When order was restored by the town clerk, Paul was able to sail to Macedonia. Almost 1900 years after St. Paul’s time, on August 26, 1910, Skopje, Macedonia would become the birthplace of Mother Teresa (Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu), one of the greatest servants of God the Church has ever known.

This Blessed “saint of the gutters” showed the face of the Lord, the “Father of orphans and the protector of widows”, to the most downtrodden. Mother Teresa, who opened her soul so that it became God’s “holy habitation”, gave “the desolate a home to live in”. (Psalm 68:5-6) She is an example of one who spoke plainly of the Father’s love, serving Christ faithfully. (cf. John 16:29) When we, the disciples of Christ, are “scattered, each one to his home”, (John 16:32) we are still united in our love for the least of our brothers and sisters. (cf. Matthew 25:40) We must therefore make of our souls an abode for Christ. Through us, Christ’s hands and feet on earth, Our Saviour goes out to conquer the world. Thus we need not fear the persecution or hardships of this world. The Father is with us, so that we may live in peace. (cf. John 16:33)

Msgr. Barney Auza, a native of the Philippines, delivered the opening lecture of Day 2 of the seminar. The talk featured a superb historical overview of the Holy See and of its Permanent Observer Mission to the UN. When one thinks of the Catholic Church, one often immediately speaks of the Pope, the Church’s Supreme Leader. The Pope is the Catholic Church’s top executive, judicial, and legislative power, as well as being her foremost spiritual authority, an apostolic successor to St. Peter. (cf. Matthew 16:18-19) The governing body that surrounds the Pope is referred to as the Roman Curia. Confusion arises over the title of the temporal government of the Church. It is frequently, though mistakenly, referred to as “the Vatican”. In fact, the Vatican City State, in the middle of Rome, is a relatively new entity. It was created by the Lateran Treaty of 1929*, signed between the Italian King Victor Emanuel III and Head of State Benito Mussolini, and, on behalf of Pope Pius XI, “His Eminence Lord Cardinal Pietro Gasparri”, with the Papal Secretary of State, His Eminence Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, as a key negotiator. (cf. Intro) The Lateran Treaty guaranteed “sovereignty of the Holy See in international matters” and within the boundaries of Vatican City. (Art. 2, cf. Art. 3) Italy also was bound to recognize Roman Catholicism as the official state religion, as per the Italian Constitution of March 4, 1848. (cf. Art. 1) In exchange, the Treaty subjected the citizens of the Holy See to Italian laws when such legislation was not overridden by that of the Holy See. (cf. Art. 9)

The Lateran Treaty put an end to a period called “The Roman Question”, which began with the Congress of Vienna of 1815. That agreement, which sealed the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte, left Italy, then a series of disconnected states, in political and economic disarray. Pope Pius IX, whose policies included cautious acceptance of liberalism, where it upheld principles of objective moral truth, of natural law, and of social justice, was elected in 1846. Soon thereafter, Charles Albert, King of Sardinia, led a war against Austria to sustain his own monarchy. He was aided by a Genoese lawyer, Giuseppe Mazzini. In the process, Pope Pius IX was imprisoned at Gaeta for refusing to join in the fighting, and Papal Minister Count Rossi was assassinated. St. Peter’s Basilica and other important churches at the Vatican were pillaged and desecrated. The French counter-offensive of Louis Napoleon, the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte and the eventual Emperor Napoleon III, capitalized on pan-European anger over the Pope’s captivity. Mazzini and Garibladi were easily defeated. The Pope returned amid great joy to Rome in 1850. Order, at least on the surface, was maintained for a decade, while the Italian nationalistic movement became progressively anti-Catholic. The freemason Count Camillo de Cavour then united the many broken states of Italy around Sardinia, while also taking over the Papal States between 1860 and 1870. The French, preoccupied with the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, left the Papal States open to de Cavour’s onslaught. Pope Pius IX thus voluntarily made himself a prisoner of the Vatican Palace, which was surrounded by Italian territory. It would remain so until 1929.

Pius XI, the “Pope of the Conciliation”, guaranteed mutual recognition of the sovereignty of Italy and of the Holy See, in the aforementioned Lateran Treaty. The paranoid Mussolini was left unafraid of a potential overthrow orchestrated by the Holy See, whereas the Holy See’s property, citizens, and diplomatic rights were protected within the Vatican City State. The autonomy of the Holy See was instrumental in its response to later abuses perpetrated by the Fascist regimes of Mussolini and of Hitler, and to its organization of safe havens for those persecuted, particularly in Nazi Germany and in Vichy France.

The Lateran Treaty explicitly mentions the title of the temporal arm of the Church as the Holy See, which dates from the granting of legal status to Christianity by the Roman Empire. After World War II, the Holy See took an active role in examining the creation of the United Nations. It gained Permanent Observer Status at UNESCO in 1952, and at the UN in 1964. Its first formal delegation to the UN oversaw the regulation and control of nuclear energy at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) beginning in 1957.

The UN today includes 173 member states, of the 193 recognized countries in the world. The newest UN member is Montenegro, which joined in February, 2007. Since Switzerland’s entry in 2002, the Holy See remains the only nation with Permanent Observer status. Some, though, question whether the Holy See ought to be a part of the UN. As a non-member, the Holy See cannot vote in the General Assembly, though it may present declarations and participate in various debates and committees. The Holy See also opposes any move by the General Assembly that advocates easier access to abortion or to artificial contraception, for example. But the Holy See counters that it never imposes its moral views on the majority of nations; it only proposes a better way, to paraphrase Pope John Paul II.

Other matters, some of which are largely obscured by hot-button moral issues that are nonetheless important, concern the Holy See, including the abolition of torture, nuclear disarmament, and the eradication of anti-personnel mines, of small arms, and of the use of child soldiers. The Holy See functions pivotally as a member of the Convention on Persons with Disabilities. HIV/AIDS, which is best countered by access to food and to water, education, monogamy within marriage or abstinence without, and proper access to antiretroviral drugs, presents a worsening crisis, particularly in Africa. This continent is already beset by many of the problems already cited, as well as governmental corruption, the use of child labour, and civil wars…Speaking of war, the Catechism of the Catholic Church provides for limited conditions under which war is justified (cf. Section 2309). However, avoidance of war should always be sought. While acknowledging the occurrence of war, armed conflict can be avoided by focusing on its economic, political, and social root causes, especially poverty and underdevelopment.

In February, 1942, Franklin D. Roosevelt envisioned a United Nations that would not only prevent and prosecute war, but that would be a movement for peace. The UN has had many successes, namely the Declaration on Human Rights and the Declaration on the Rights of the Child. It attempts to abide by the rule of law and by democratic principles. Over its existence, the number of democracies has risen significantly. Despite this, the UN’s shortcomings and slowness have been well documented. For example, the ineffective Commission for Human Rights was replaced by the equally dysfunctional Human Rights Council in 2006. Much to the chagrin of those including former U.S. ambassador to the UN John Bolton and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, this Council’s declarations tend to be watered down, while states that are large-scale human rights abusers are admitted to critical councils.

Even accounting for its deficiencies, the world is much better with than without the UN. On a daily basis, the Holy See Mission in New York carries out its far-reaching, Christ-centered vision. It is often, according to Msgr. Leo Cushley, a discreet diplomatic force as opposed to a noisy advocate. In the style of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the Church must continue to defend social doctrine that is founded on human dignity. This is done by and for “human beings, one person at a time”.

Going forward, each of us is to be an exemplar of truth, justice, and charity, perhaps starting at a small, local level. One might donate food, clothing, or money to the service of the less fortunate. Following the example of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first U.S. native to be canonized (by Pope Paul VI on September 14, 1975), one might work to ensure proper treatment of immigrants, including prompt processing of applications for legal status and for access to employment with just wages. Many university students, who live the vocation made possible in part by St. Thomas Aquinas, also struggle to maintain basic necessities on top of paying for tuition fees and for textbooks. Sponsorship of families and especially children abroad is another option. The mission of the Holy See and of all Christians is clear, as per the words of His Holiness Pope Paul VI in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope- 1965):

“The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds.”

Lord, though we are scattered throughout the world, we are one body, united in Christ. We are one in our humanity. United in our joys, hopes, griefs, and anxieties, may we be the salt of the earth that never loses its taste. May we be the light of the world that never fades, so that all may give glory to Our Father in Heaven. (cf. Matthew 5:13-16) We pray that we may exclaim together: “Master, it is good to be here.” Amen.

Saints Elizabeth Ann Seton and Thomas Aquinas, the Apostles Peter and Paul, Pope Pius XII, and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us…





*For the full text of the Lateran Treaty of 1929, see

Holy See Mission Seminar Day 1- the Moral Element

12 Jun

While I was filling out the application to attend the seminar on Catholic Social Teaching in New York, I realized how little I knew about the United Nations or about the Church’s influence within such a large worldwide organization. Even so, it was a great privilege to have attended this symposium from May 20 to 25, which was officially entitled “Catholic College Students and the Common Good; Building a Better World”. This gathering of over 50 students was organized by the Path to Peace Foundation of the Holy See Permanent Observer Mission to the UN. Therefore, the prayer at the end of my last article, which was intended both as a reflection on the controversy narratives in the Gospel of Luke and as an introduction to my account of the seminar, concluded with the passage from the Canticle of Zechariah that asks God “to guide our feet in the path of peace”. (Luke 1:79)

Many of my thoughts also centered on the lives of the Saints, particularly young figures who lived Christ’s mission. I began with a discussion on Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, the “Man of the Beatitudes”. His biography, written by his sister Luciana, is organized into chapters that show how Pier Giorgio exemplified each of Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven, for in the same way they prosecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:3-11)

The Beatitudes are clearly exhortations toward action, yet many people find them difficult to understand, let alone to live out. For example, what does it mean for a person of even average means in a developed nation to be poor in spirit or meek? Surely we aren’t meant to mourn constantly. Hunger and thirst for righteousness and purity of heart seem to be abstract terms. Mercy is a hard concept, especially when we legitimately feel wronged. One would prefer not to be persecuted for one’s beliefs (as such, countries have enacted provisions for tolerance of a wide range of convictions). How is one to be a peacemaker, especially when one’s nation is at war or is under armed attack?

I have heard more than one priest refer to the “Be-attitudes”- attitudes that are essential for being a Christian. In a pluralistic environment such as the UN, living a Catholic Christian life often appears difficult. One cannot explicitly mention God, Jesus, or the Bible, or defer to the Pope’s authority at every turn and in every document issued. If Catholics were to do so, people of other faiths or of no professed religion likely wouldn’t be inclined to listen. Yet the Church must appeal to a universal law- a common good.

This doesn’t mean that Catholics need to abandon or to dilute their faith in the international community. Instead, the Church must demonstrate that the common good is at the very root of her teachings and especially of those of her founder, Our Lord Jesus Christ. This common good is based on love that has sustained the Church since the beginning. We must love not only other Catholics according to Jesus’ commandment (cf. Mark 12:29-31), but our love must seek the good of all people, our neighbours throughout the world.

Another ambiguous term has been added here without an adequate definition- the “common good”. Without knowing fully what it is, members of the Church still strive to work for this ideal in a setting like the UN. The social teaching of the Catholic Church has developed over the Church’s history. It was maintained during a period of frequent persecutions of early Christians who had no political clout. The Council of Nicaea in 325 then established the Holy See as a diplomatic unit that today has ties to 171 countries. In 1891, Pope Leo XIII published Rerum Novarum, which clarified Catholic social teaching in the face of the opposing evils of Marxism and of uncontrolled capitalism at the expense of the right to the basic necessities of life. This groundbreaking Encyclical letter has been referred to in many of the Church’s social documents since then, namely Quadragesimo Anno (Forty Years- 1931), Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth- 1963), Gaudium et Spes and Dignitatis Humanae (Joy and Hope and On Human Dignity- both in 1965), Centissimus Annus (One Hundredth Year since Rerum Novarum- 1991), and Deus Caritas Est (God is Love- 2005), to name a few…Furthermore, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church was published in 2004.

(Sunday, May 20, 2007)…The seminar in New York began with lunch at the Holy See Mission, where we were welcomed by the Papal Nuncio to the United Nations, Archbishop Celestino Migliore. His Grace is originally from Cuneo, Italy. His given name, as he said in his welcome, means “from heaven”, while his surname means “the best”. After lunch, we were treated to a bus tour of New York before we arrived at the Passionist Retreat Centre on the east bank of the Hudson River. The peaceful retreat house was a welcome temporary departure from the bustle of New York City, which truly never sleeps.

Mass, the ideal start to the seminar, followed shortly thereafter at the retreat centre, with Archbishop Migliore presiding. I was chosen to read the second reading for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, from the Book of Revelation (22:12-14, 16-17, 20). I felt greatly honoured, especially since I enjoy reading at Mass and because this time I was to read before a Papal Nuncio, one who is indeed a gift to the world, one of the best from Heaven. The reading, one of my favourite passages but one that I find difficult to capture its full significance, begins with the verse:

“Behold, I am coming soon. I bring with me the recompense I will give to each according to his deeds.” (Revelation 22:12)

These words convey a necessary urgency to our deeds. Jesus will return soon to judge the living and the dead. Our good works are essential and are expected of us. Therefore no one ought to boast about their own righteousness. (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:29) Rather, we must humbly endeavour to do more good than what we have already accomplished. All our goodness comes from God, “the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13), who expects us to use His gifts selflessly.

As the reading continues, Jesus is referred to by the messianic titles “root and offspring of David” and “bright morning star”. (Revelation 22:16) I am reminded here of St. Matthew’s Nativity account, where the magi are guided by a star to the stable where the Child Jesus lay. The star in the Gospel can be taken to mean a literal star, it could be a symbol of Jesus Himself, or the star could be a reference to us, who are asked to be Christ’s “light of the world”. (Matthew 5:14)

Both God and the Church- the Spirit and the Bride- unite in beckoning the one who thirsts to come forward. (cf. Revelation 22:17) All people thirst for love and justice, as did Jesus when he asked the Samaritan woman for a drink. (cf. John 4:1-42) The Lord says, “Come”, and the hearer responds, “Come”. (Revelation 22:17) The hearer approaches the source, until the Spirit and the Bride become one as God intended… “Amen! Come Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)

The first reading from Sunday, May 20 was perhaps an even more fitting introduction to our visit to the Holy See Mission. In the passage from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear of St. Stephen, who is traditionally regarded as the first martyr. St. Stephen, “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:55) professes his faith in Jesus Christ before the religious authorities, who condemn him to death by stoning for what is perceived as blasphemy. As Stephen is dying, his words closely resemble those of Our Saviour on the Cross: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”…“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:59-60, cf. Luke 23:46, 23:34)

The story of St. Stephen was the focus of much of Archbishop Migliore’s Homily afterward. There will be people who, upon hearing the Gospel message, will become enraged and will look to persecute those who live and preach the truth. Others will stand by silently holding the coats of those who directly perpetrate evil, (cf. Acts 7:58 ) yet some among us will have the strength of St. Stephen, whose silence in death spoke as loudly in favour of goodness and love as did the words of wisdom spoken through him by the Spirit while he was living. (cf. Acts 6:10)

Tertullian (c. 155-230) wrote that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church”. Not long after the stoning of St. Stephen, the Book of Acts tells of the conversion of Saul (cf. Acts 9:1-19), who would also go on to give his life for Christ who gave His life for us. Indeed, the willingness of the early martyrs to love so deeply as to die for their faith amazed even their persecutors. These followers of Christ unto Calvary were ideal witnesses to God’s love, so that many more came to believe in the One sent by the Father (cf. John 17:21). Such devotion is still strong today. In fact, the twentieth century is sometimes referred to as the “century of martyrs” (cf. H.W. Crocker, Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church, a 2000-Year History) because more Christians were killed for their faith than in any previous century, owing in part to the rise of fascist and communist regimes where failure to worship the state meant endangering one’s own life.

While martyrdom is not the call of many Christians, some are still called to be taken where we do not wish to go. (cf. John 21:18 ) All of us, though, are called to serve others in smaller ways in order to make Christ known to all by sharing His love (cf. John 17:26). Usually, one does not need to be literally martyred, but as St. Francis of Assisi said, we must “preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.” This is best achieved through daily acts of kindness that are carried out joyfully.

Seeing Christ in our brothers and sisters, especially those most in need, we become more aware of opportunities for justice. Decisions ought to be based firstly on what is best for our neighbour. The common good and love of God and of neighbour are the basis of Catholic social teaching. The observance of the Church’s social teaching requires a change in our mindset and decision-making process. According to the introductory presentation by Luke Swanepoel of the Holy See Mission, we are often limited by our decision-making “tool box”: we decide based on gut reactions that involve self-interest and little reason, or on empirical data derived from observations designed to test a hypothesis. Our decisions can also be founded upon past events, or upon national or familial interests. However, this tool box lacks a moral element that is fundamental to Christian living.

Catholic social teaching, which is summarized in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, provides this moral element of decision-making. Firstly, one must respect the rights to life and to dignity of the whole human person, who is by nature both “sacred and social” in Swanepoel’s words, from conception to natural death. Therefore, the Holy See supports initiatives to protect the unborn and to promote peace. Its Permanent Observer Mission to the UN provides an ideal forum for the maintenance of widespread diplomatic relations with other countries.

The defense of human rights also entails many responsibilities. The basic moral test is how we protect the world’s most vulnerable persons. These especially include the elderly and disabled, children, refugees, and women. The Holy See Mission also strives to be a voice for workers, in the tradition of Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Workers. I found one quotation used by Luke Swanepoel to be most pertinent to the topic of workers’ dignity: “The economy (must serve) people, not people the economy”. Solidarity is at the root of human rights protection.

A unified human family can transcend ethnic boundaries, and even the most oppressive ideologies. This was shown most effectively by Pope John Paul’s stance toward the communist regime in his native Poland. The late Pontiff was thus quoted by Swanepoel: “If you want peace, work for justice”. In Poland and elsewhere, humans have overcome great obstacles to fundamental dignity by working together.

The Church also focuses on care for all of God’s creation. Humankind has been given the gift of “dominion…over every living thing that moves upon the earth”. (Genesis 1:28 ). Environmental stewardship is thus another facet of moral Christian living.

Lord, may we live the Beatitudes, always working toward the common good. We pray for the strength to uphold the rights and dignity of every person. May you also guide us toward the most responsible use of resources that you created for us in your infinite goodness. Amen.