The Pope and the Falklands poster

Pope Falklands[Austen Ivereigh] From some of today’s headlines about Pope Francis yesterday being handed a poster calling for dialogue between the UK and Argentina over the Falklands, you would imagine that he was urging a re-invasion of the islands.

The Telegraph is the most mischievous: “Pope Francis poses with ‘Dialogue for Malvinas’ sign” is its headline, although the Buenos Aires Herald — “Pope joins dialogue call for Malvinas” — comes a close second.

“Posing” means wanting to be seen with it. Far more accurate is Bloomberg, which said he was “tricked to pose” with the sign. The BBC and the Guardian say only that he was photographed holding the sign, with the Guardian adding that it was “unclear” if the Pope was making an “intentional statement”.

But of course, he wasn’t making a statement at all. He was handed a small poster — a quite normal occurrence at a General Audience, when popes are constantly handed things — and was totally unaware of what was written on it. “The Holy Father did not even realize he had this object in his hands,” the Holy See  Press Office made clear to Bloomberg. “He has discovered this just after seeing the photograph”.

The campaigners who gave the Pope the poster say that’s not true. Gustavo Hoyo, its leader, told Clarín that he explained to Francis what it was about before he gave it to him. But that still doesn’t imply endorsement. The Pope usually takes whatever he is given, because to refuse what people want to give him sends another kind of message.

The Holy See refuses to be drawn into the dispute over the islands, a policy Pope Francis entirely supports — despite the efforts of some to align him with Argentina’s claim.

If ever that changed, he would hardly use a poster in a crowd to alter his policy.

Posted in Uncategorized

Anscombe Bioethics Centre publishes resources on assisted suicide

The front page of The Sun telling the story of Bob Cole, 68, who will commit suicide at the Dignitas euthanasia clinic in Switzerland.

As the UK Parliament again prepares to debate an assisted suicide law, media stories are thick with claims and counter-claims about the effect of such a law — based on experience in those countries where it is legal.

The problem is that when campaigners appeal to evidence, they often do so selectively or in broad terms, and it is not always easy to check their sources. This is a debate where emotion and hyperbole are commonplace.

Just what are the lessons from other countries? The Anscombe Bioethics Centre has produced a guide to the evidence on assisted suicide and euthanasia that links directly to official data from the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and the states of Oregon and Washington.

David Albert Jones

David Albert Jonesregon and Washington.  It also includes links to the UK parliamentary reports and to empirical research published in journals.

The Guide — on the web here, or as a PDF here — will help people assess the potential impact of proposed legislation such as the Assisted Dying (No. 2) Bill sponsored by Rob Marris MP which is due to be debated on 11 September 2015. The Bill would “enable competent adults who are terminally ill to choose to be provided with medically supervised assistance to end their own life”.

Anscombe’s director, Professor David Albert Jones, shows that legalizing physician assisted suicide would not address the needs of the dying but would threaten people with disabilities and those who are suicidal. Permitting healthcare professionals to ‘encourage or assist’ suicide would undermine key principles of law, medical ethics and palliative care.

The Centre has also produced a handy two-page briefing, ‘Eight Reasons not to legalize Physician Assisted Suicide’ (PDF here).

Posted in assisted suicide

Lord Carey’s backing for assisted suicide perverts both the law and the Gospel

Lord Carey

Lord Carey, one of the signatories of Saturday’s letter in the Telegraph

[Austen Ivereigh] The letter from religious figures in favour of assisted suicide in Saturday’s Telegraph  —  among them the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey — presents a curious theological argument. “There is nothing sacred about suffering, nothing holy about agony, and individuals should not be obliged to endure it”, say the signatories, who add that helping terminally ill people to commit suicide should be viewed simply as enabling them to “gracefully hand back” their lives to God.

The first curiosity is their perception that religious bodies in the UK overwhelmingly oppose assisted suicide because they believe God wants people to suffer. Who says this? Not the Catholic or Anglican Churches, that’s for sure; they have constantly pointed out the need for more and more effective palliative care and hospice beds, precisely in order to not just relieve physical pain, but also provide loving care and support to those in their final journey. This is not something that the churches have merely talked about, but put into action: the network of hospices across the UK are the fruit of great energy and resources dedicated to the proposition that “last days are not lost days” (as Dame Cicely Saunders used to put it).

Indeed, the bishops’ point has consistently been that an assisted suicide would rapidly dissolve any support for this idea, by introducing the notion that a life which includes pain and suffering is less worthy of being lived, and of being protected.

The second curiosity is the attempt to create a theological justification for assisted suicide in defiance of the long-settled teachings of the Christian tradition (as well as other faiths). As the Catholic bishops of England and Wales put it,

the lack of health or the fact of one’s disability are never valid reasons for exclusion or, and what is worse, the elimination of persons. The gravest deprivation experienced by the aged is not the weakening of one’s physical body, or the disability that may result from this. Rather, it is the abandonment, exclusion and deprivation of love.

Lord Carey et al are offering a theological fig leaf for the usual argument in favour of assisted suicide, one that rests on an ethic of autonomy: that individuals should be allowed to decide on such personal matters for themselves, and control the time of their death; that these decisions should be respected by the law; and (which is not often stated directly) that doctors should be asked to enable this. Hence next month’s bill sponsored by Labour MP Rob Marris, which would allow people thought to have no more than six months to live who have a “settled intention” to end their life, to be given a lethal dose of drugs on the authority of two doctors.

Rabbi Jonathan Romain is another of the signatories

Rabbi Jonathan Romain is another of the signatories

In this view, the state should not play any coercive role in personal “choices”; thus the libertarian conservative magazine The Economist, which recently expressed indignation that “although most Western governments no longer try to dictate how consenting adults have sex, the state still stands in the way of their choices about death.” Thus, too, The Sun, which gave huge publicity to the man it called “Brave Bob” who ended his life in the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland.

At the heart of all these well-rehearsed arguments is the desire — as Charles Moore points out — for control. It is not the  suffering per se that leads people to seek assisted suicide, but the horror of helplessness. An assisted suicide is the angry riposte of those who cannot face not being in control.

The handful of Anglican bishops and liberal rabbis behind the Telegraph letter try to stand this up theologically, but fail miserably. “We value life as a precious gift of God,” they say, “but also uphold the right of individuals who are approaching their last few months to gracefully hand back that gift if they feel the quality of their life is about to deteriorate beyond the point at which they want to continue.”

The businessman Jeffrey Spector with his wife and daughters. They urged him not to go to Dignitas. He said it was in their 'best interests'.

The businessman Jeffrey Spector with his wife and daughters. They urged him not to go to Dignitas. He said it was in their ‘best interests’.

Hand back their lives to God? Nothing could be further from the minds of the middle-class businessmen and professors who make their way to Dignitas. Jeffrey Spector, who recently arranged his suicide there in a blaze of publicity, defied his family by insisting on the move because “I felt the illness had crossed the red line and I was getting worse …. Rather than go late I am jumping the gun”. Spector, said his family later, “did not want to live a life in which he was paralysed and reliant on his family to care for him.”

Neither Spector, nor “Brave Bob”, nor any of the other middle-class control freaks calling for assisted suicide ever make any mention of God, let alone “handing back” their lives to anyone.  Handing back and handing over is what we do when we renounce control, accept our powerlessness and (if we believe in God) trust God to take us in hand. What the assisted suicide advocates do is the opposite. It is to avoid “handing over” at all that they are arranging their own exits.

But the real scandal of the clergymen’s position is their perversion of the Gospel. As Thomas Chacko points out at Quadrapheme, in response to the autonomy argument:

If I told my friends that I wanted to die, I don’t think that they would be showing their respect for me if they then helped me kill myself. Life throws a lot of misery at us, not all of which we can bear alone. If I ever get to the stage of being unable to face it any more, I hope my friends will treat my happiness as worth fighting for even if I seem convinced of the worthlessness of my life, and even if it takes more than six months (or more than six years) for me to change my mind. If instead they encouraged me to commit suicide by telling me how much they supported my decision, I don’t think that that would show how much they respected my autonomy (though they might say that to themselves, to allay suspicions that I had simply become too difficult for them to deal with any more).

The Church’s mandate has always been understood, in Christian theology, as doing what Chacko hopes his friends would do: assisting people to endure the existential and physical suffering that is a part of dying, relieving it wherever medically possible, and where it is not possible, to offer hope and comfort, a space of reassurance which allows people to come to terms with their true condition. Dying is a renunciation.

In Lord Carey’s bizarre new theological dispensation, vicars would in future be dispatched to accompany the Jeffrey Spectors of this world to Switzerland, whispering soothingly in their ears that they are “gracefully handing back to God” as they down the fatal elixir.

The suicidal man in Telford was goaded by the crowd to jump (He did).

The suicidal man in Telford was goaded by the crowd to jump (He did).

Or consider the police in Telford earlier this year, who were hoping to charge the members of a crowd that urged a suicidal man to jump to his death. They obviously haven’t heard of Lord Carey’s dispensation, in which presumably the crowd would be joined by a vicar yelling: “Go on! Gracefully hand back your life to God!”

Either you urge suicide, or you urge against it. That is the choice that faces everyone who ever encounters a suicidal person. It is also the choice that the law must make. This has never been an argument about the meaning of death, or the right of individuals. It has been about what position the law should take. If it decides in favour of individual autonomy, it is urging suicide by accepting its premise — that some lives just aren’t worth living. Whether it is an individual reaching that conclusion about himself or about another makes no difference. To endorse it is to accept the idea.

The law has always shared the Christian assumption that life is a gift of God, not something we are in control of. That is the basis not just of a civilized society, but the meaning of love. Love is only possible because our God-given lives mean we are infinitely worthy, whatever our state in life; once we — with the help of the state and the medical profession — declare that this or that life is without value and can be ended, we start down the road that leads in only one direction — to the death camps and the gulags.

Assisting a suicide is a corruption of compassion and a perversion of mercy. A state that endorses it renounces the law’s duty to uphold the sacred value of life. A Christian clergyman that endorses it renounces the very heart of the Gospel itself.

 

Posted in assisted suicide

Pope Francis: divorced & remarried are ‘by no means excommunicated’ and must be welcomed

Pope Francis at today's General Audience

Pope Francis at today’s General Audience

[Austen Ivereigh] In his first General Audience for a month, Pope Francis today stressed the importance of including and welcoming Catholics who have divorced and entered a second union, making clear that they are “by no means excommunicated”.

Although such second unions “are contrary to the Sacrament of marriage”, he said that the Church “seeks the good and salvation of all her children”, adding that it was urgent “to foster a true welcome for these families in our communities”, not least because such situations “especially affect children”.

“If then we look at these new bonds also with the eyes of small children … with the eyes of children, we see again the urgency to grow in our communities a real welcoming towards people that live in such situations,” Francis said in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall.

In remarks added to the official text of his catechesis (see CNS), he asked: “How can we recommend to these parents to do all [they can] to educate their children in the Christian life, giving them the example of a sure and practiced faith, if we put them at a distance from the life of the community, as if they might have been excommunicated?” the Pope asked.

“These persons are by no means excommunicated! They are not excommunicated!” he repeated, adding: “And they absolutely must not be treated as if they were. They should always be made part of the Church.”

Today’s catechesis is part of a series of teachings on the family at the Pope’s weekday audiences in the lead-up to the Synod on the family in October, in which the Church’s attitudes and behavior towards the remarried — who often assume they are not welcome any more in parishes, because they are unable to receive the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist — are a subject of intense debate.

Although there will be no change in the Church’s commitment to indissolubility of marriage, which is reflected in the rules over receiving the sacraments, Pope Francis is keen for the synod to come up with ways of overcoming the cycle of exclusion. Some synod delegates will favor allowing some couples to be readmitted under strict conditions, while others will resist any attempts that they believe will weaken the witness to indissolubility.

Pope Francis said today he wanted to consider “how to care for those who, after the irreversible failure of the matrimonial bond, have undertaken a new union.”

Bishops at previous synods have often pointed out the way in which the transmission of faith through the family is becoming far harder because of the numbers of parents separating and remarrying. Not only do they drift away from the Church, but their children do too, thus reversing the natural cycle of evangelization, in which faith is passed down through the generations.

Francis noted how, under his predecessors, the Church has been keen to find ways of offering pastoral care to the divorced and civilly remarried.

In his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio St. John Paul II saw an “obligation, ‘for love of the truth,’ to exercise a ‘careful discernment of situations,'”, Pope Francis said, between “one who has endured a separation and one who provoked it.” Similarly, Pope Benedict XVI also studied the question,  “calling for an attentive discernment and wise pastoral accompaniment, knowing that no ‘simple recipes’ exist.”

As the studies and discernment continue, Pope Francis said, it is essential that Catholic priests “openly and coherently demonstrate the willingness of the community to welcome and encourage” divorced and remarried couples and their families to participate in church life, so that they “may live and grow always more in their belonging to Christ and to the Church with prayer, with listening to the Word of God, with attending the liturgy, with the Christian education of their children, with charity and service to the poor, with a commitment to justice and peace.”

Quoting from his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), the Pope noted “The Church is called to always be the open house of the Father.”

He added: “No closed doors! No closed doors!”

Posted in marriage, Pope Francis, Synod2014, Synod2015

Cardinal Pell backs Laudato Si’ (but you may not guess it from the headlines)

Cardinal Pell (CNS)

Cardinal Pell (CNS)

[Austen Ivereigh] Because financial reports are not, generally, newsworthy, it was inevitable that Cardinal George Pell’s brief remarks on Pope Francis’s ecology encyclical last week in an interview on Vatican finances should have dominated headlines, many of which are claiming that he has “attacked” Laudato Si’.

The interview (behind a paywall) with the Financial Times, ‘Reformer tries to bring light to closed world of Vatican finance’ was a profile of the 74-year Australian cardinal’s efforts to overhaul a tradition of closely-guarded autonomy in Roman dicasteries, opening them to international standards of transparency.

Cardinal Pell speaks about the progress made in another interview with John Allen at Crux, on the occasion of the release of the first ever audited statement of Vatican accounts based on recognised International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) last Thursday (see press release here.)

The statement shows the Vatican still running a deficit of 25.6m euros, though smaller than in 2013, and making progress towards far greater accountability and transparency, although with some way still to go. Cardinal Pell makes clear in both the FT and Allen interviews that his aim is to make the Vatican profitable through spending squeezes and sweating the Vatican assets, while implementing International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS), something that normally takes three to five years. “Our model is the Swiss government, which puts out an extremely comprehensive annual financial report”, Danny Casey, Pell’s chief of staff, tells Crux.

In both interviews, Pell acknowledges pushback from some Vatican departments, while claiming that there is far more cooperation because of the involvement of the Secretariat of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

vatican_finances_openerBut what has created the headlines were his remarks in the FT about Laudato Si’. The FT describes Cardinal Pell as “distancing himself” from Pope Francis’s groundbreaking encyclical by making clear that “the Church has no particular expertise in science . . . the church has got no mandate from the Lord to pronounce on scientific matters. We believe in the autonomy of science.”

But the FT also quotes him as saying that the encyclical has many interesting elements and beautiful parts, that it was “very well received” and “beautifully set out our obligations to future generations and our obligations to the environment”.

This is hardly criticism of the encyclical. Cardinal Pell merely expresses caution about the idea of canonizing a scientific opinion. The cardinal has in the past expressed scepticism about the scientific evidence of climate change, and is doing so again.

But it is quite absurd to claim that these remarks constitute some kind of challenge to Pope Francis, as Damian Thompson attempts to do so in a Spectator blog.

Vatican-financesSounding curiously like a liberal Catholic praising a dissident theologian in favour of female ordination under Pope St John Paul II, Thompson claims that Pope Francis has attempted to impose the scientific consensus of climate change as a kind of dogmatic truth, demanding that “errant faithful should fall into line”. Later he tries again, asserting that Francis has sought to incorporate “a temporary scientific consensus and a grandiose political project into the teaching of the Church.” Having set up this absurd premise, he then tries to portray Cardinal Pell as  bravely stepping out of line in a conscience-driven protest.

But of course Laudato Si’ makes no attempt whatsoever to confuse the Magisterium of the Church with the science of climate change. It simply acknowledges the consensus, while citing its own observation of destruction to the planet — an observation underlined by reports from bishops in poor countries.

Laudato Si’ makes a moral and biblical case for caring for the planet, not a scientific one (in which, as Cardinal Pell points out, the Church has no expertise). The prophetic urgency of the encyclical is drawn from the Pope’s own discernment of the impact of the current consumerist model on the poor and on the planet. That impact is supported by the science — a fact which is not just significant in itself, but important when addressing the whole of humanity, not just those who read the Bible and see God filling the universe.

laudato-siCardinal Pell is a climate change sceptic. He has looked at the science, and is not convinced — or rather, he prefers the evidence of a minority of scientists who question the data. Is he in disagreement, implicitly or explicitly, with Laudato Si’? Of course not: the encyclical sets out our obligations to the planet, and Cardinal Pell salutes them. Thompson’s attempt to turn Cardinal Pell into a martyr for free speech collapses at the first furlong.

Is any Catholic free to disagree with the scientific consensus supporting climate change, which is acknowledged in the encyclical? Of course. The encyclical recognizes that consensus; it does not canonize it. What a Catholic cannot do — at least without putting him or herself in disagreement with the authority of papal teaching — is be indifferent to the call for conversion called for by Pope Francis, using climate change skepticism as an excuse. Laudato Si’ is critical of those who use science to justify inaction, not those who disagree with some of the interpretations of the data.

To use an analogy from history, there were many Catholics who in 1891 did not recognize Leo XIII’s shocking diagnosis of the state of the working class, and its exploitation by a small capitalist class. They accused him of communism, just as now Pope Francis’s US critics accuse him of socialism. But in both cases the popes were pointing to a situation of injustice and wrong and calling for it to be put right. Rerum Novarum no more implied a socialist state than does Laudato Si’.

Vat bank cardStill, Cardinal Pell’s substantial concern is that some might say it does. He is worried that Pope Francis’s critiques of the idolatry of the market and of money will be exploited — as, say, Evo Morales did in Bolivia — to support a socialist or interventionist alternative. He tells Crux:

The market is far from perfect … it’s an imperfect instrument. All you have to do is look at debt levels in many countries to see that. By the same token, however, we’ve also seen historically unprecedented levels of prosperity achieved because of the global spread of capitalism and freer markets. Growth in China and India, for instance, is real and wonderful. Also, we shouldn’t take our prosperity in the “First World” for granted. Right now Greece and Portugal may be in trouble, but overall we have a good standard of living, and we shouldn’t forget that.

Cardinal Pell is not disagreeing with the economic diagnosis of Laudato Si’. He is pointing to the fruits of the market, warning against throwing out the baby with the bathwater, and suggesting that Pope Francis’s view of the market has been conditioned by the South American experience of capitalism, and that it’s not the whole story.

Who has the truer view of the market and its effects, and whether Cardinal Pell needed to point that out, is a matter for debate. What is not in doubt is the call of Laudato Si’ to conversion to care for the environment — something the Vatican’s chief money man clearly backs, whatever the spin some have tried to put on his remarks.

 

 

Posted in human ecology, Laudato Si, Uncategorized

From Paraguay Pope Francis charts bold new future for Latin Americans

Children welcoming Pope Francis to Paraguay

Children welcoming Pope Francis to Paraguay

(Austen Ivereigh) Basking in the warmth of Paraguay’s deeply Catholic Guaraní people, Pope Francis has used the final leg of his extraordinary eight-day, three-nation South American visit to show the bond between the Church and poor, proposing the historic Jesuit missions of the region as a model of how an economy and society can work for the good of all.

Francis flew to Paraguay on Friday afternoon, following a moving meeting that morning in a prison in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz (see report in America and CNS). Following joyous scenes of dancing and music at the airport of the Paraguayan capital, Asunción, Pope Francis was received by the country’s president, Horacio Cartes, at the presidential palace.

“Paraguay is known as the heart of America, not only because of her geographic location, but also because of the warmth of her hospitality and the friendliness of her people,” Francis said in his address.

WITH CARTESReferring to Paraguay’s history, he paid tribute to “the many ordinary Paraguayan people, whose names are not written in history books but who have been, and continue to be, the real protagonists in the life of your nation.”

Paraguay, which was more than twice its current size in the early nineteenth century, was laid waste after a devastating war with its neighbours Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay in the mid nineteenth century. As result of the War of the Triple Alliance, the Paraguayan male population was reduced by more than 90 per cent, and the state was all but destroyed. The country survived and was rebuilt as a result above all of the women.

Paraguay-mapFrancis told President Cartes of his “profound admiration [for]the role played by the women of Paraguay in those dramatic historical moments.  As mothers, wives and widows, they shouldered the heaviest burdens; they found a way to move their families and their country forward, instilling in new generations the hope of a better tomorrow.”

There was, however, no mention of the war as genocide, which the Paraguayan ambassador to London told a Catholic Voices meeting a week ago that the government had been hoping for.

Francis went on to give his vision of authentic development:

May all social groups work to ensure that there will never again be children without access to schooling, families without homes, workers without dignified employment, small farmers without land to cultivate, or campesinos forced to leave their lands for an uncertain future.  May there be an end to violence, corruption and drug trafficking.  An economic development which fails to take into account the weakest and underprivileged is not an authentic development.  Economic progress must be measured by the integral dignity of the human person, especially the most vulnerable and helpless.

After the speeches there was a concert that featured a selection of baroque music from the era of the Jesuit missions in Paraguay in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as well as pieces from the The Mission, the Ennio Morricone-scored dramatization of their tragic suppression.

At the Acosta Ñu pediatric home

At the Acosta Ñu pediatric home

Saturday

The following morning, Saturday, Francis visited the Niños de Acosta Ñú pediatric hospital in San Lorenzo, about 19 miles from the capital, home to children with cancer and cardiovascular problems (see address) before celebrating Mass at the national shrine of the Virgin of Caacupé.

As Cardinal Archbishop, Jorge Bergoglio was close to the hundreds of thousands of Paraguayans living in the shanty towns of Buenos Aires, and has a strong personal devotion to the Virgin, celebrating her feast each year. Before the Mass began, the local bishop later told reporters, Francis was so overcome with emotion that the start of the celebration had to be delayed for a few minutes.

During the Mass, which was rich in languages from Paraguay’s 17 different ethnic groups. Pope Francis prayed the Our Father in Guaraní, beginning, “Ore Ru, yvagape reimeva. …”

caacupeIn his homily — a homage to Mary — Francis began with a favorite theme of the Aparecida document: the vital place of shrines and sanctuaries in the faith of the ordinary faithful.

Being here with you makes me feel at home, at the feet of our Mother, the Virgin of Miracles of Caacupé.  In every shrine we, her children, encounter our Mother and are reminded that we are brothers and sisters.  Shrines are places of festival, of encounter, of family.  We come to present our needs.  We come to give thanks, to ask forgiveness and to begin again.  How many baptisms, priestly and religious vocations, engagements and marriages, have been born at the feet of our Mother!  How many tearful farewells!  We come bringing our lives, because here we are at home and it is wonderful to know there is someone waiting for us.

caacupe-basilic

The Shrine of Caacupé, which has now been declared a Basilica

Francis returned to the theme of the women who had saved Paraguay (see Crux), describing them as the “most glorious women of America”.

Here I would like especially to mention you, the women, wives and mothers of Paraguay, who at great cost and sacrifice were able to lift up a country defeated, devastated and laid low by war.  You are keepers of the memory, the lifeblood of those who rebuilt the life, faith and dignity of your people.  Like Mary, you lived through many difficult situations which, in the eyes of the world, would seem to discredit all faith.  Yet, like Mary, inspired and sustained by her example, you continued to believe, even “hoping against all hope” (Rom 4:18).  When all seemed to be falling apart, with Mary you said: “Let us not be afraid, the Lord is with us; he is with our people, with our families; let us do what he tells us”.  Then and now, you found the strength not to let this land lose its bearings.  God bless your perseverance, God bless and encourage your faith, God bless the women of Paraguay, the most glorious women of America.

Argentines

Argentines flocked to Paraguay to see Francis

Hundreds of thousands of the Pope’s fellow Argentines — including Paraguayans who have made Argentina their home, and who knew Cardinal Bergoglio — boosted the crowds at Caacupé, which is only 25 miles from the border with Argentina. Immigration officials have reported the biggest ever cross-frontier crowds in the two countries’ history.

In the afternoon, at a lively meeting with civil society leaders (see The Tablet), Pope Francis gave a significant address to civil society leaders, developing his idea of a “culture of encounter”. Urging passion and honesty and not to be afraid of differences and conflict, he said “true cultures are not closed in on themselves, but called to meet other cultures and to create new realities.”  Without this “essential presupposition”, he said, “it will be very difficult to arrive at dialogue.  If someone thinks that there are persons, cultures, or situations which are second, third or fourth class…  surely things will go badly, because the bare minimum, a recognition of the dignity of the other, is lacking.”

Simon Cazal

Simon Cazal of Somos Gay

Among the teachers, artists, business leaders, communications professionals, indigenous leaders and farmers — Pope Francis said he was impressed by the variety of groups and their commitment to working for the common good — was Simon Cazal, co-founder of the LGBT rights group Somos Gay (see Guardian interview and Crux backgrounder), who said afterwards he was delighted with the Pope’s message of inclusion.

In response to a question, Pope Francis lambasted extortion. “One method which does not give people the freedom to take on their responsibilities in society, is extortion: you need to do this in order to obtain that. Extortion is still corruption. And corruption is the gangrene of a people.”

Francis repeated his message that helping the poor meant getting close to those in need, not using them as a political category. Observing that “a fundamental part of helping the poor involves the way we see them”, Francis said “an ideological approach” sought to instrumentalize the poor in the service of political or personal interests.

To really help them, the first thing is for us to be truly concerned for their persons, valuing them for their goodness.  Valuing them, however, also means being ready to learn from them.  The poor have much to teach us about humanity, goodness and sacrifice.  As Christians, we have an additional reason to love and serve the poor; for in them we see the face and the flesh of Christ, who made himself poor so to enrich us with his poverty (cf. 2 Cor 8:9).

Pope Francis is surrounded by people taking pictures as he arrives for a meeting with representatives of civil society at the San Jose school stadium in Asuncion, Paraguay, Saturday, July 11, 2015. The pontiff is in Paraguay for three days, the last stop of his South American tour. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Pope Francis is surrounded by people taking pictures as he arrives for a meeting with representatives of civil society at the San Jose school stadium in Asuncion, Paraguay, Saturday, July 11, 2015. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

He then turned to his theme of a more human economy, noting that “every country needs economic growth and the creation of wealth, and the extension of these to each citizen, without exclusion” but wealth creation “must always be at the service of the common good, and not only for the benefit of a few.”

Those charged with promoting economic development, he said, should ensure that “it always has a human face”.

Work is a right and it bestows dignity.  Putting bread on the table, putting a roof over the heads of one’s children, giving them health and an education – these are essential for human dignity, and business men and women, politicians, economists, must feel challenged in this regard.  I ask them not to yield to an economic model which is idolatrous, which needs to sacrifice human lives on the altar of money and profit.  In economics, in business and in politics, what counts first and foremost is the human person and the environment in which he or she lives.

reductions mapHe then alluded to the Jesuit missions of Paraguay in seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as offering a model of a socioeconomic organization that met peoples’ core needs.

In their heyday between 1640 and 1720 — before being suppressed by the Spanish Crown jealous of the Jesuits’ independence — there were around 150,000 Guaraní Indians in at least 30 Reductions (villages with farms, based around a central plaza and church) in what is today northern Argentina and Paraguay. Each Reduction was nurtured by just a handful of Jesuits, who not only protected the Indians from Portuguese slave-traders and Spanish colonists, but created prosperous, self-sufficient communities that provoked amazement and admiration in those who visited them.

The Mission

The Mission

Pope Francis said:

Paraguay is rightly known throughout the world for being the place where the Reductions began.  These were among the most significant experiences of evangelization and social organization in history.  There the Gospel was the soul and the life of communities which did not know hunger, unemployment, illiteracy or oppression.  This historical experience shows us that, today too, a more humane society is possible.  Where there is love of people and a willingness to serve them, it is possible to create the conditions necessary for everyone to have access to basic goods, so that no one goes without.

At Banado Norte

At Banado Norte

 

Sunday

This morning (Sunday), Pope Francis visited a riverside slum in Asunción known as Bañado Norte (See AP) where people live in shacks of plywood and corrugated metal in an area notorious for flooding. Francis told the dwellers that he wanted “to see your faces, your children, your elderly, and to hear about your experiences and everything you went through to be here, to have a dignified life and a roof over your heads, to endure the bad weather and the flooding of these last few weeks.”

Pope Francis wrapped up his visit with a huge Mass this morning in the Ñu Guazú field outside Asunción, which was attended by well over a million people.

MAIZE ALTARThe altar was in the shape of the characteristic façades of the Jesuit missions, and included huge images of St Francis of Assisi and St Ignatius of Loyola. Remarkably, it was made out of foodstuffs of the Guaraní people — using 40,000 ears of corn, 200,000 coconuts and 1,000 squash gourds.

Preaching on this morning’s Gospel from Matthew, Pope Francis spoke of evangelization as the capacity to offer hospitality. Noting that Jesus’ instructions to his disciples were above all that they would learn a new hospitality of the heart, he said:

Jesus does not send them out as men of influence, landlords, officials armed with rules and regulations.  Instead, he makes them see that the Christian journey is about changing hearts.  It is about learning to live differently, under a different law, with different rules.  It is about turning from the path of selfishness, conflict, division and superiority, and taking instead the path of life, generosity and love.  It is about passing from a mentality which domineers, stifles and manipulates to a mentality which welcomes, accepts and cares.

These, he said, were “two contrasting mentalities, two ways of approaching our life and our mission.”

NU GUAZU2He said too often Christians thought in terms of converting others with sophisticated strategies or fine arguments, yet Jesus was clear that this was not how to evangelize.

How many times do we see mission in terms of plans and programs.  How many times do we see evangelization as involving any number of strategies, tactics, maneuvers, techniques, as if we could convert people on the basis of our own arguments.  Today the Lord says to us quite clearly: in the mentality of the Gospel, you do not convince people with arguments, strategies or tactics.  You convince them by learning how to welcome them.

Nu GuazuDescribing solitude as an evil destroying peoples’ lives, he said “the real work of the Church” was not to manage works and projects “but to learn how to live in fraternity with others.” God’s Word, he said, “breaks the silence of loneliness”.

One thing is sure: we cannot force anyone to receive us, to welcome us; this is itself part of our poverty and freedom.  But neither can anyone force us not to be welcoming, hospitable in the lives of our people.  No one can tell us us not to accept and embrace the lives of our brothers and sisters, especially those who have lost hope and zest for life.  How good it would be to think of our parishes, communities, chapels, wherever there are Christians, as true centers of encounter between ourselves and God.

And he urged that all Christians “provide a home, like Mary, who did not lord it over the word of God, but rather welcomed that word, bore it in her womb and gave it to others.”

(Two texts follow: the address to civil society leaders, and this morning’s homily.)

July 11, Asunción (Paraguay): Pope Francis’ Meeting with representatives of the civil society at León Condou stadium of San José School

Dear Friends,

I am pleased to be with you, the representatives of civil society, and to share our hopes and dreams for a better future.  I thank Bishop Adalberto Martínez Flores, Secretary of the Paraguay Bishops’ Conference, for his words of welcome in your name.

People line the street where Pope Francis passes in his popemobile as he makes his way to the Leon Condu stadium for an event in Asuncion, Paraguay, Saturday, July 11, 2015. Pope Francis lauded the strength and religious fervor of Paraguayan women on Saturday while visiting the country's most important pilgrimage site, where thousands of his fellow Argentines joined with hundreds of thousands of local faithful to welcome Latin America's first pope. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

People line the street where Pope Francis passes in his popemobile as he makes his way to the Leon Condu stadium for an event in Asuncion, Paraguay, Saturday, July 11, 2015.  (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

Seeing all of you together, each coming from his or her own sector or organization within Paraguayan society, each bringing his or her own joys, concerns, struggles and hopes, makes me grateful to God.  A people unengaged and listless, passively accepting things as they are, is a dead people.  In you, however, I see great vitality and promise.  God always blesses this.  God is always on the side of those who help to uplift and improve the lives of his children.  To be sure, problems and situations of injustice exist.  But seeing you and listening to you helps to renew my hope in the Lord who continues to work in the midst of his people.  You represent many different backgrounds, situations and aspirations; all together, you make up Paraguayan culture.  All of you have a part to play in the pursuit of the common good.  “In the present condition of global society, where injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable” (Laudato Si’, 158), to see you before me is a real gift.

I also want to thank those of you who prepared the questions.  These have enabled me to see above all your commitment to keep working together for the good of the nation.

1. In the first question, I was pleased to hear a young person express concern that society be a place of fraternity, justice, peace and dignity for everyone.  Youth is a time of high ideals.  It is important that you, the young, realize that genuine happiness comes from working to make a more fraternal world!  It comes from realizing that happiness and pleasure are not synonymous.  Happiness is demanding, it requires commitment and effort.  You are too important to be satisfied with living life under a kind of anasthesia!  Paraguay has a large population of young people and this is a great source of enrichment for the nation.  So I think that the first thing to do is to make sure that all that energy, that light, does not grow dim in your hearts, and to resist the growing mentality which considers it useless and absurd to aspire to things that demand effort.  Be committed to something, be committed to someone.  Don’t be afraid to take a risk.  Don’t be afraid to give the best of yourselves!

But don’t do this alone.  Try to talk about these things among yourselves, profit from the lives, the stories and the wisdom of your elders, of your grandparents.  “Waste” lots of time listening to all the good things they have to teach you.  They are the guardians of that spiritual legacy of faith and values which define a people and illumine its path.  Find comfort, too, in the power of prayer, in Jesus.  Keep praying to to him daily.  He will not disappoint you.  Jesus, in the memory of your people, is the secret to keeping a joyful heart in your quest for fraternity, justice, peace and dignity for everyone.

I liked the poem of Carlos Miguel Giménez which Bishop Martínez quoted.  I think it sums up very nicely what I have been trying to say, “[I dream of] a paradise free of war between brothers and sisters, rich in men and women healthy in heart and soul… and a God who blesses its dawn”.  Yes, God is the guarantee of the dignity of man.

2. The second question spoke about dialogue as a means to advance the project of a fully inclusive nation.  Dialogue, we know, is not easy.  There are many difficulties to be overcome, and sometimes it seems as if our efforts only make things even harder.  Dialogue must be built on something.  It presupposes and demands a culture of encounter.  An encounter which acknowledges that diversity is not only good, it is necessary.  So we cannot start off by thinking that the other person is wrong.  The common good is sought by starting from our differences, constantly leaving room for new alternatives.  In other words, look for something new.  Don’t just take “your own slice of the cake”, but discuss, think, and discover together a better solution for everybody.

Many times this culture of encounter can involve conflict.  This is logical and even desirable.  It is not something we should be afraid of or ignore.  Rather, we are called to resolve it.  This means that we have to “face conflict head on, to resolve it and to make it a link in the chain of a new process” (Evangelii Gaudium 227), because “unity is greater than conflict” (ibid., 228).  A unity which does not cancel differences, but experiences them in communion through solidarity and understanding.  By trying to understand the thinking of others, their experiences, their hopes, we will be able to see more clearly our shared aspirations.  This is the basis of encounter: all of us are brothers and sisters, children of the same heavenly Father, and each of us, with our respective cultures, languages and traditions, has much to contribute to the community.  True cultures are not closed in on themselves, but called to meet other cultures and to create new realities.  Without this essential presupposition, without this basis of fraternity, it will be very difficult to arrive at dialogue.  If someone thinks that there are persons, cultures, or situations which are second, third or fourth class…  surely things will go badly, because the bare minimum, a recognition of the dignity of the other, is lacking.

3. All this can serve as a way of approaching the concern expressed in the third question.  How do we hear the cry of the poor in order to build a more inclusive society?  A fundamental part of helping the poor involves the way we see them.  An ideological approach is useless: it ends up using the poor in the service of other political or personal interests (Evangelii Gaudium, 199).  To really help them, the first thing is for us to be truly concerned for their persons, valuing them for their goodness.  Valuing them, however, also means being ready to learn from them.  The poor have much to teach us about humanity, goodness and sacrifice.  As Christians, we have an additional reason to love and serve the poor; for in them we see the face and the flesh of Christ, who made himself poor so to enrich us with his poverty (cf. 2 Cor 8:9).

Certainly every country needs economic growth and the creation of wealth, and the extension of these to each citizen, without exclusion.  But the creation of this wealth must always be at the service of the common good, and not only for the benefit of a few.  On this point we must be clear.  For “the worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose” (Evangelii Gaudium, 55).  Those charged with promoting economic development have the responsibility of ensuring that it always has a human face.  They have in their hands the possibility of providing employment for many persons and in this way of giving hope to many families.  Work is a right and it bestows dignity.  Putting bread on the table, putting a roof over the heads of one’s children, giving them health and an education – these are essential for human dignity, and business men and women, politicians, economists, must feel challenged in this regard.  I ask them not to yield to an economic model which is idolatrous, which needs to sacrifice human lives on the altar of money and profit.  In economics, in business and in politics, what counts first and foremost is the human person and the environment in which he or she lives.

Paraguay is rightly known throughout the world for being the place where the Reductions began.  These were among the most significant experiences of evangelization and social organization in history.  There the Gospel was the soul and the life of communities which did not know hunger, unemployment, illiteracy or oppression.  This historical experience shows us that, today too, a more humane society is possible.  Where there is love of people and a willingness to serve them, it is possible to create the conditions necessary for everyone to have access to basic goods, so that no one goes without.

Dear friends, it is a great pleasure to see the number and variety of associations sharing in the creation of an ever more prosperous Paraguay.  I see you as a great symphony, each one with his or her own specificity and richness, yet all working together towards a harmonious end.  That is what counts.

Love your country, your fellow citizens, and, above all, love the poor.  In this way, you will bear witness before the world that another model of development is possible.  I am convinced that you possess the greatest strength of all: your humanity, your faith, your love.

I ask Our Lady of Caacupé, our Mother, to watch over you and protect you, and to encourage you in all your efforts.  God bless you.

12 July, Asunción (Paraguay): Homily at Ñu Guazú field 

“The Lord will shower down blessings, and our land will yield its increase”.  These are the words of the Psalm.  We are invited to celebrate this mysterious communion between God and his People, between God and us.  The rain is a sign of his presence, in the earth tilled by our hands.  It reminds us that our communion with God always brings forth fruit, always gives life.  This confidence is born of faith, from knowing that we depend on grace, which will always transform and nourish our land.

It is a confidence which is learned, which is taught.  A confidence nurtured within a community, in the life of a family.  A confidence which radiates from the faces of all those people who encourage us to follow Jesus, to be disciples of the One who can never deceive.  A disciple knows that he or she is called to have this confidence; we feel Jesus’s invitation to be his friend, to share his lot, his very life.  “No longer do I call you servants… but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you”.  The disciples are those who learn how to dwell in the confidence born of friendship.

The Gospel speaks to us of this kind of discipleship.  It shows us the identity card of the Christian.  Our calling card, our credentials.

Jesus calls his disciples and sends them out, giving them clear and precise instructions.  He challenges them to take on a whole range of attitudes and ways of acting.  Sometimes these can strike us as exaggerated or even absurd.  It would be easier to interpret these attitudes symbolically or “spiritually”.  But Jesus is quite precise, very clear.  He doesn’t tell them simply to do whatever they think they can.

Let us think about some of these attitudes: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money…”  “When you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place”.  All this might seem quite unrealistic.

We could concentrate on the words, “bread”, “money”, “bag”, “staff”, “sandals” and “tunic”.  And this would be fine.  But it strikes me that one key word can easily pass unnoticed.  It is a word at the heart of Christian spirituality, of our experience of discipleship: “welcome”.  Jesus as the good master, the good teacher, sends them out to be welcomed, to experience hospitality.  He says to them: “Where you enter a house, stay there”.  He sends them out to learn one of the hallmarks of the community of believers.  We might say that a Christian is someone who has learned to welcome others, to show hospitality.

Jesus does not send them out as men of influence, landlords, officials armed with rules and regulations.  Instead, he makes them see that the Christian journey is about changing hearts.  It is about learning to live differently, under a different law, with different rules.  It is about turning from the path of selfishness, conflict, division and superiority, and taking instead the path of life, generosity and love.  It is about passing from a mentality which domineers, stifles and manipulates to a mentality which welcomes, accepts and cares

These are two contrasting mentalities, two ways of approaching our life and our mission.

How many times do we see mission in terms of plans and programs.  How many times do we see evangelization as involving any number of strategies, tactics, maneuvers, techniques, as if we could convert people on the basis of our own arguments.  Today the Lord says to us quite clearly: in the mentality of the Gospel, you do not convince people with arguments, strategies or tactics.  You convince them by learning how to welcome them.

The Church is a mother with an open heart.  She knows how to welcome and accept, especially those in need of greater care, those in greater difficulty.  The Church is the home of hospitality.  How much good we can do, if only we try to speak the language of hospitality, of welcome!  How much pain can be soothed, how much despair can be allayed in a place where we feel at home!  Welcoming the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner (Mt 25:34-37), the leper and the paralytic.  Welcoming those who do not think as we do, who do not have faith or who have lost it.  Welcoming the persecuted, the unemployed.  Welcoming the different cultures, of which our earth is so richly blessed.  Welcoming sinners.

So often we forget that there is an evil underlying our sins.  There is a bitter root which causes damage, great damage, and silently destroys so many lives.  There is an evil which, bit by bit, finds a place in our hearts and eats away at our life: it is isolation.  Isolation which can have many roots, many causes.  How much it destroys our life and how much harm it does us.  It makes us turn our back on others, God, the community.  It makes us closed in on ourselves.  That is why the real work of the Church, our mother, is not mainly to manage works and projects, but to learn how to live in fraternity with others.  A welcome-filled fraternity is the best witness that God is our Father, for “by this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35).

In this way, Jesus teaches us a new way of thinking.  He opens before us a horizon brimming with life, beauty, truth and fulfillment.

God never closes off horizons; he is never unconcerned about the lives and sufferings of his children.  God never allows himself to be outdone in generosity.  So he sends us his Son, he gives him to us, he hands him over, he shares him… so that we can learn the way of fraternity, of self-giving.  He opens up a new horizon; he is the new and definitive Word which sheds light on so many situations of exclusion, disintegration, loneliness and isolation.  He is the Word which breaks the silence of loneliness.

And when we are weary or worn down by our efforts to evangelize, it is good to remember that the life which Jesus holds out to us responds to the deepest needs of people.  “We were created for what the Gospel offers us: friendship with Jesus and love of our brothers and sisters” (Evangelii Gaudium, 265).

One thing is sure: we cannot force anyone to receive us, to welcome us; this is itself part of our poverty and freedom.  But neither can anyone force us not to be welcoming, hospitable in the lives of our people.  No one can tell us us not to accept and embrace the lives of our brothers and sisters, especially those who have lost hope and zest for life.  How good it would be to think of our parishes, communities, chapels, wherever there are Christians, as true centers of encounter between ourselves and God.

The Church is a mother, like Mary.  In her, we have a model.  We too must provide a home, like Mary, who did not lord it over the word of God, but rather welcomed that word, bore it in her womb and gave it to others.

We too must provide a home, like the earth, which does not choke the seed, but receives it, nourishes it and makes it grow.

That is how we want to be Christians, that is how we want to live the faith on this Paraguayan soil, like Mary, accepting and welcoming God’s life in our brothers and sisters, in confidence and with the certainty that “the Lord will shower down blessings, and our land will yield its increase”.

[ends]

Posted in Pope Francis, South America