Archive for July, 2007
APARECIDA, Brazil, MAY 21, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Bishop Ricardo Ramírez says the 5th General Conference of the Episcopate of Latin America and the Caribbean is an opportunity to learn many things for the direction of the Church in the United States.
Bishop Ramírez of Las Cruces, New Mexico, spoke to ZENIT about the North American bishops’ participation in the conference, taking place in Aparecida until May 31.
Q: How did the invitation to North American bishops to participate in the Aparecida conference come about?
Bishop Ramírez: I believe the idea to invite them came from Pope John Paul II who took the initiative to unite the entire hemisphere in the American synod, and then in the document “Ecclesia in America” he completed an attempt to unify all the dioceses of the Americas, not only Latin America, but also North America.
For this reason bishops from Canada and the United States are included in this conference. There are four of us from the United States: the president of the bishops’ conference, the president of the Commission for Hispanic Affairs, the president of the Church for Latin America and a person who has worked on the central committee for the general conference.
Q: What is the role of the North American bishops in this conference?
Bishop Ramírez: We are here as observers, to see in what way we can serve, because we cannot impose ourselves.
We are a very large country, very powerful, with a lot of influence, but we must be careful about the way we act at this conference. Without imposing, we would like to offer our experience and knowledge of a country that has a lot of influence worldwide, and certainly in Latin America.
Many good things, as well as bad things, come from the United States. And that is why we are here.
Q: What concerns do you bring with you to this conference?
Bishop Ramírez: Problems of evangelization, pastoral problems, we want to discover norms for the new evangelization which John Paul II spoke of.
I believe that we can learn many things for the direction of our country, even if we are not part of Latin America. The Medellin conference had a great impact on the United States, as did [the one in] Puebla.
I hope that Aparecida has an influence on our pastoral practices in the United States, above all with the Hispanics living there; it can enrich the entire continent.
Q: What is the state of affairs with Hispanics in the United States at the moment?
Bishop Ramírez: The most worrisome aspect is the situation of the illegal immigrants, who live in the shadow of society because they cannot lead normal lives.
Sometimes, for example, they are afraid to go to church for fear of being captured by the border police. They are afraid to be ministers.
When they have the chance to sign up to be catechists, they refuse because they are afraid that the government will find out and they will have to leave. Many are there with their children who were born in the United States: The children are legal citizens but the parents are not. If the parents are exported, what will happen to the children?
Q: Are these Hispanics a powerful presence in the Catholic Church of the United States?
Bishop Ramírez: More and more! In two or three decades the largest group of Catholics in the United States will be made up of Hispanics — more than 50%.
Q: What can Catholic Hispanics, who live in the United States, expect from this conference?
Bishop Ramírez: They can expect support from the bishops of Latin America who will encourage them to stay Catholics, to keep their families united, to maintain the traditions and values which they have received from here, from Latin America.
I believe that words of encouragement from the Latin American bishops for the immigrants would be a very good thing.
By Father John Flynn
ROME, MAY 21, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Brazil, Benedict XVI announced upon arriving in São Paulo on May 9, has a very special place in his heart. The Pope explained that this is due to it being the country with the largest number of Catholics and because of its potential that gives joy and hope for the Church.
During his first trip to the Americas, the Pontiff addressed many important themes in his discourses and homilies. Some of them were directed more toward Brazil, but many of the points raised had implications for the Church as a whole.
Evangelization an urgent task
The need for the Church to be imbued by a missionary attitude was repeatedly mentioned by Benedict XVI. In his brief address upon arriving in Brazil, the Pope commented that the Church has a “deep commitment to the mission of evangelization at the service of the cause of peace and justice” (No. 3).
The Holy Father returned to this theme in his address to some 400 bishops, gathered on May 11 to pray vespers in the Cathedral of São Paulo. God desires all to be saved and to know the truth, he observed. “This, and nothing else, is the purpose of the Church: the salvation of individual souls” (No. 2).
Therefore, there is an urgent need to instruct people in the faith and to celebrate the sacraments. In fact, in explaining why so many have left the Church Benedict XVI argued that: “It seems clear that the principal cause of this problem is to be found in the lack of an evangelization completely centered on Christ and his Church” (No. 3).
In general, he noted, those who are most vulnerable to the activity of the sects or to falling victim to the temptation of secularism and relativism, have been insufficiently evangelized.
The Pope urged the bishops to put into practice a pastoral plan to seek out and welcome back those Catholics who have left the Church, or who know little about Christ.
What must we do to have eternal life?
During his encounter with youth, held at the Pacaembu stadium May 10 in São Paulo, the Pope reflected on the implications of the question the young man made to Jesus when he asked what he should do to have eternal life (cf. Matthew 19:16-22).
We can also understand this interrogatory as meaning: “What must I do so that my life has meaning?” noted the Pontiff (No. 3). “Jesus alone can give us the answer, because he alone can guarantee us eternal life,” he added.
Part of the answer, he continued, is to be open to goodness, and to see God in all that is around us and in all that happens. We also need to keep the commandments, but not just by knowing them, we must keep them and give witness in our own lives to them. This is much more than just obeying external rules, Benedict XVI commented. At the heart of the commandments we find both grace and nature, and by following them we fulfill our potential. We only have one life to live and it is important not to squander this opportunity, he urged.
The Pope also encouraged young people to evangelize, and to invite their friends and those around them to encounter Jesus, so they too can experience his love. He invited youth to demonstrate their faith in their commitment to marriage and the family, and to build a more just society.
In all of this it is important to remain close to Jesus through giving sufficient attention to the interior life: “The life of faith and prayer will lead you along the paths of intimacy with God, helping you to understand the greatness of his plans for every person” (No. 5).
The role of bishops
During his address on May 11 to bishops in the Cathedral of São Paulo, the Pope gave some advice on what he saw as the priorities for those chosen to be pastors of the Church. “Fidelity to the primacy of God and of his will, known and lived in communion with Jesus Christ, is the essential gift that we bishops and priests must offer to our people” (No. 2).
Bishops must also ensure that the work of catechesis is carried out properly. The catechist’s task, the Holy Father explained, is not to merely communicate “faith experiences,” but to be “an authentic herald of revealed truths” (No. 4). This means a faith that is characterized by conversion and discipleship.
Part of this catechesis, he continued, also consists in ensuring the correct implementation of liturgical principles. “For bishops, who are the ‘moderators of the Church’s liturgical life,’ the rediscovery and appreciation of obedience to liturgical norms is a form of witness to the one, universal Church that presides in charity” (No. 4).
Bishops should also avoid any reductive vision of the mission they have been entrusted with, the Pope advised. “It is not enough to look at reality solely from the viewpoint of personal faith; we must work with the Gospel in our hands and anchor ourselves in the authentic heritage of the apostolic Tradition, free from any interpretations motivated by rationalistic ideologies” (No. 5).
The Pope also recommended that the bishops apply the social teaching of the Church in dealing with the economic and social problems of Brazil, and consider issues from the viewpoint of human dignity, which is a vision that rises above the mere interaction of economic forces.
Christ the Savior
On May 13, Benedict XVI gave the inaugural address for the 5th General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, held near the shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida. In his opening his remarks the Pope commented that the continent can count on a rich Christian culture, five centuries after the initial evangelization, but at the same time faces some serious challenges.
One interesting point raised by the Pontiff dealt with the arrival of the Christian faith in the region. This event meant the arrival of Christ, which the people living in those nations had been seeking, but without realizing it, in their local religious traditions. “Christ is the Savior for whom they were silently longing,” the Pope stated (No. 1).
Seen in this perspective, “the proclamation of Jesus and of his Gospel did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Columbian cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture,” he argued.
Turning to the challenges to be considered by the bishops, the Holy Father mentioned globalization. This brings with it benefits, he noted, but at the same time the risk of economic priorities dominating society. Globalization, like other activities, must be guided by ethics, the Pope exhorted.
He also spoke of progress made towards democracy in the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. There are, however, still some regimes that follow ideologies that do not correspond to the Christian vision of man and society.
We must, the Pontiff enjoined, avoid the error of considering material goods as the only reality in our lives. This is the mistake made in the last century by both the Marxist and capitalist systems. “Only those who recognize God know reality and are able to respond to it adequately and in a truly human manner,” he commented (No. 3).
Part of his address laid out what the Pope saw as priorities for the renewal of the Church. In this respect he mentioned the family, the role of priests and religious, and the mission entrusted to the laity.
In his words Benedict XVI observed that the region has been referred to as the continent of hope. He also augured that it could become the continent of love. An aspiration no doubt seconded by many.
Interview With Director of British Evangelization Agency
LONDON, MAY 20, 2007 (Zenit.org ).- A new report on church attendance in the United Kingdom suggests that many Britons have no connection with organized religion, and that the majority of those who identify themselves as Christian never go to Church.
The Christian relief and development agency Tearfund released the report “Churchgoing in the U.K.” in April, which revealed that more than half of those polled claim to be Christians.
Monsignor Keith Barltrop, director of the Catholic Agency to Support Evangelization (CASE) of the bishops’ conference of England and Wales, tells ZENIT in this interview that the key to successful evangelization in the modern world is renewing a sense of confidence among Catholics in their faith.
Q: How did the decision by the bishops of England and Wales to establish CASE three years ago herald a change in the way the Church engages with evangelization?
Monsignor Barltrop: First of all, the decision to establish CASE heralded a recognition by the bishops that there was already a certain amount happening at grass roots level in England and Wales regarding evangelization, but it needed more official support and coordination if the challenges of 21st century Britain were to be met.
When the archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, asked me to help in setting up CASE, he told me that we needed to look at such new ecclesial movements and distil the secrets of their success into the mainstream of parish life, so that evangelization would no longer be a foreign, or even an embarrassing, concept to Catholics, but something they felt happy to engage in.
The bishops were thus trying to root in English and Welsh soil the understanding that Pope John Paul II gave the universal church — that the time has come for a new evangelization. By that he meant that secularization had made such inroads into what were once Christian societies that the Church needed a new ardor and new methods in evangelization.
Q: What are the biggest obstacles to evangelization in Europe today?
Monsignor Barltrop: The biggest obstacles are sheer ignorance or “forgetting” of the Gospel, and the fact that many people who think they know what Christianity means actually have a distorted and woefully incomplete picture.
The “forgetfulness” of Christianity — summed up in the well-known saying that “God is missing but not missed” — is a phenomenon with a complex origin. In the 20th century the twin disasters of Communism and Fascism led people to become profoundly disillusioned with all attempts to explain and save the world. People have now become consumers of spirituality and religion, as they are of material products, and Catholic truth itself can become one more lifestyle option among others.
This problem is compounded by the way values of Christian origin — such as justice, equality and human rights — have become detached from their Christian roots and are now even being turned against the Church, so that the very proclamation of the truth is seen as somehow oppressive and destructive of human freedom and happiness. In such a world it becomes difficult to avoid the impression that evangelization is about clever manipulation of the truth or, even worse, associated with that fundamentalism which the modern world both fears and is, paradoxically, responsible for.
Q: Why is it often difficult to engage Catholics with the need to support evangelization?
Monsignor Barltrop: In Britain, one of the main factors is that evangelization is associated with a certain kind of Protestantism, or with related images such as people preaching aggressively on street corners and “televangelists” looking for money.
By making known a variety of Catholic methods of evangelization, and especially by associating it with the Eucharist and Eucharistic adoration, CASE tries to get across the message that there is a Catholic way of evangelizing.
There is also the problem that evangelization is seen as the preserve of specialists, but we want Catholics to see that it is fundamentally about living and sharing their faith in everyday life, with the people they meet at home, in the office or in their neighborhood.
This means Catholics need to recover a sense of confidence in their faith, and to see it as something coherent — nothing less than the splendor which radiates meaning to every corner of the universe. Where there has been poor catechesis, liturgical deformation or a false understanding of ecumenism or interfaith work, Catholics lose the sense that the Gospel is a marvelous treasure that all need to hear.
Q: A report released recently by Tearfund on church attendance in the United Kingdom found that, while 53% of adults still claim to be Christian, only 15% attend church at least once a month. How do you explain this discrepancy?
Monsignor Barltrop: I think that by claiming to be Christian, people are saying they want to be associated with Christian values such as kindness, fairness and compassion. Obviously that is an inadequate understanding of Christian identity, which is actually based on faith in Christ leading to a personal relationship with him which can only be real if it is rooted in active membership of his body, the Church.
However, it does constitute a reminder to the Church that there is more good will and openness to the Christian faith in our society than we might think. It is up to us to find creative ways of engaging with whatever spiritual quest such people are on, however inadequate we judge its basis to be.
Q: How can the Church re-engage people with the Gospel who may never have encountered it?
Monsignor Barltrop: Through a change of mentality where we see ourselves as having something of immense value to offer everyone in our society, and through more imaginative methods.
As an example, I have just come back from a “Christian Spirituality Fair” in one of our Anglican cathedrals, at which I joined the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in blessing animals — and people — and in explaining the cross of San Damiano which spoke to St. Francis. We joined Christians of other denominations in reaching out to passers-by, yet were very clear about our Catholic faith and way of life. We have to believe fully in what Pope Paul VI called “the divine power of the message the Church proclaims,” and look for creative ways to bring it to non-Christians.
Q: In the three years since the launch of CASE, what have been its main achievements? Is the model of CASE in England and Wales one that could and should be used elsewhere?
Monsignor Barltrop: One of our main achievements has been setting up two Web sites, one for Catholics (www.caseresources.org.uk), and one to interest non-Catholics in the faith (www.life4seekers.co.uk) — with a third Web site for young teenagers on the way. Through these sites we have been able to identify or create opportunities to get the good news into the public square. For example, this year on Valentine’s Day we promoted St. Raphael as our “heavenly helper” in finding a suitable life partner, and this attracted a huge number of hits and interest from the secular and Catholic media.
We have held many training days in dioceses, published many resources — both printed and online — and have produced a Directory of Evangelization Resources for Catholics in England and Wales, listing all the groups, movements and training opportunities available. It runs to 168 pages, which is encouraging in itself.
Whether we are a model that should be used elsewhere is hard to say. Setting up an agency is a pragmatic approach which fits well with British culture since an agency implies doing something practical. Other countries may already have a lot of evangelization going on and need a more theologically based approach.
New evangelization is for the whole Church but the approach varies from culture to culture. One thing is constant, though, as Pope John Paul II wrote: “Those who have come into genuine contact with Christ cannot keep him for themselves, they must proclaim him” (“Novo Millennio Ineunte,” 40).
By Father John Flynn
ROME, MAY 20, 2007 (Zenit.org).- A couple of new publications in the United States shed light on the long-standing debate over media violence and children. In April the Federal Trade Commission published the latest in a series of reports on the issue.
Titled: “Marketing Violent Entertainment to Children,” it provides an overview of the exposure of children and adolescents through music, films and video games to content normally reserved for an adult audience.
There has been progress, the report observes, with more limits on ads for movies and video games. Nevertheless, the Commission notes that with regard to video games advertisements for the M-rated games still reach large numbers of children and young teens. The M rating (mature) designates that the games are suitable for an audience of 17 years of age and above.
The report cited concerns by critics, who argue that children have too easy access to M-rated games. For example, a 2005 survey by the National Institute on Media and the Family found that 70% of children in grades 4 through 12 reported playing M-rated games.
The second publication is a book, published earlier this year, titled: “Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents.” (Oxford University Press, USA). The book is the result of a joint effort by three psychologists: Craig A. Anderson; Douglas A. Gentile; and Katherine E. Buckley.
The book starts by noting the difficulty, from a scientific point of view, in establishing a relationship of direct causality between exposure to violent video games and violent behavior. Over the years researchers have carried out many studies on the more general question of media violence. The overwhelming conclusion of what is now a substantial body of evidence is that exposure to violence through the media does indeed increase aggression.
Research in the area of video games is, however, more limited. To remedy this deficit in the evidence the bulk of the book presents the results of three new studies on video games.
As a preliminary the authors observe that children and adolescents are spending an increasing amount of time playing video games. Recent surveys show school-age children devoting about 7 hours a week playing video games. Generally, boys spend more time playing video games, with one 2004 survey of students showing 5 hours a week for girls and 13 hours for boys.
Not only do children and teens spend considerable amounts of time playing video games, but they do so with little parental oversight. Over 50% of students in one study said their parents never checked the ratings for video games before giving the go-ahead for their purchase or rental.
In the first of the three new studies that form the core of the book the authors explain that they tested 161 9-to 12-year-olds, and 354 college students. Each was randomly assigned to play a violent or non-violent game. Subsequently, participants played another game in which they were asked to set punishment levels to be delivered to another person.
The results demonstrated that those who had played the violent video games punished opponents more severely than those who had played the non-violent games. In addition, the research revealed that the interactive nature of video games results in a stronger relationship with violent behavior, compared to non-interactive media such as television or movies.
A result that surprised the researchers was that there was no apparent difference between the children and college students. This is in contrast with the view held by many that children are more vulnerable to media violence, and indicates college students are just as much affected.
On a positive note, based on information from those surveyed, it turned out that what happens at home influences behavior. Children whose parents set more limits on media usage were less aggressive.
The second study consisted in a survey of 189 high school students. The results showed a positive relationship between those who played a greater number of violent video games and possessing more hostile personalities.
The survey took into account factors that could influence the results, such as the amount of time spent playing games, the normal differences that exist in attitudes between males and females. Even after taking these and other elements into consideration the researchers concluded that playing violent video games was a significant predicator of aggressive behavior.
The study also found that the more time students spent on the combination of video games and watching television, the poorer were their academic results.
The final study examined 430 third, fourth and fifth graders, at two times during a school year. The student’s peers and teachers were also questioned, in order to obtain more information about the level of aggressiveness of the group studied.
More aggressive, less sociable
By examining the group over a period of time, on average there was a gap of 5 months between the measurements, the researchers were able to conclude that children who played a greater number of violent video games early in the school year had changed later on, and came to see the world as a more hostile place. They also became more aggressive and less inclined to socialize with their peers.
The results showed no apparent differences between boys and girls. In fact, the researchers concluded that no one is truly immune from the effects of media violence.
As in the first study the factor of controls put in place by parents had an important influence on children. If at home there are controls on both the amount of time spent playing video games and the content of them, then children suffer a lesser degree of ill-effects.
Proceeding to a general evaluation of the relationship between media violence and its effects on children and adolescents the authors conclude that the impact of the media is far from trivial. Given this, and considering that almost all children play video games, if society were to reduce the exposure of this group to violence through games there would be a significant social impact for the better.
In spite of evidence showing the harmful effects of media violence the authors admit that so far attempts to put any legal restrictions on children’s access to violent video games have had little success.
An alternative approach is to increase efforts at public education, so that parents are more aware of the risks their children run with video games. The authors also recommend that parents discuss with their children the question of violence, pointing out the inappropriateness of aggressive behavior in resolving personal problems.
Improving the ratings system for games, and putting more explicit warnings on the games themselves could also help, the authors point out. In addition, community action to pressure retailers not to sell violent games to children can be effective.
On May 20 the Church celebrated World Communications Day. Benedict XVI’s message for the event was titled: “Children and the Media: A Challenge for Education.” The problem of violence in the media was one of the questions dealt with by the Pope.
“Any trend to produce programs and products — including animated films and video games — which in the name of entertainment exalt violence and portray anti-social behavior or the trivialization of human sexuality is a perversion, all the more repulsive when these programs are directed at children and adolescents,” the Pontiff declared. (No. 3) Strong words, but well-grounded, as the latest research amply demonstrates.