Archive for November, 2008

Interview With Stephen Ray

SAN FRANCISCO, California, SEPT. 19, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Following in the footsteps of St. Paul of Tarsus, one realizes what a manly man he was, according to the director of a documentary on the Apostle to the Gentiles.

Stephen Ray and his crew traveled through six countries to film “Paul: Contending for the Faith,” from the 10-part video series “Footprints of God,”, produced by Ignatius Press. 

“Paul was no weakling,” Ray told ZENIT in this interview, in which he discusses the making of his documentary, and how to better get to know the Apostle to the Gentiles during the Year of St. Paul. 

Q: You are the narrator of a DVD on the life of St. Paul, visiting the places where he lived. What do you hope people will take away from it?

Ray: The night our plane landed in Damascus, Syria, to begin work, the first bomb of the war fell on Baghdad. That got an exciting project off to an exciting start.

We traveled through six countries to film this documentary and covered all the major locations associated with St. Paul.

Why do all this? Because we have a target audience we want to reach and I don’t think they just want another “talking head.” The Catholic faith is real, exciting, full of adventure and, most of all, rooted in real history. 

Our target audience is the Catholic family — which includes educated adults, young people, children, college age — and even Protestants in many cases. We try to reach a wide audience. From the letters and emails I receive, I think we have exceeded our expectations.

I want my viewers to be rooted in the historical truth and theology of the Catholic Church. I don’t want to see Catholic kids leaving the Church. I want them to stay and love the rich history and truth of our Church.

Bottom line: I started this project to help Catholic kids stay Catholic especially when they hit college age. I also wanted adults to learn their faith and also for Protestants to have a fun and informative explanation of why we Catholics believe what we do.

I also know it is being used by troops in Iraq, girls’ schools in Australia, seminaries, schools, and Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, and Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, CCD, classes, and parish Bible studies across the country and in countries around the world.

Q: As a former evangelical Protestant, how important was St. Paul to you? Did his importance change when you became a Catholic?

Ray: We used to joke around — somewhat seriously — that Peter was the Catholic apostle and Paul was the Protestant apostle. We felt Paul was a “lone ranger,” so to speak, and set out to establish his own churches, emphasizing a message of salvation by “faith alone.”

We thought Catholics had institutionalized Christianity and ignored the true way of salvation. My hero had been Martin Luther who had supposedly “rediscovered the truth” and Protestants had the teachings of Paul to thank for it. 

I was wrong back in those days, of course, not only that Paul was the Protestant apostle, but also about what he taught. Paul was certainly not a Protestant, but richly faithful to the Catholic idea of the Church, and the Church in turn has been richly faithful to Paul’s teaching. 

Paul was exciting and important to me back then, but far more so today. I liken my Protestant days to living in a house with one wall filled with windows. Light came in and I could see.

But when I entered the Catholic Church it was like the other three walls blew out and light was now pouring in from all four sides. The writings of Paul took on a whole new and deeper aspect.

I had to start reading Paul again with the context in place, and I discovered Paul’s life and theology was far richer than I had ever imagined. And then to walk in his sandals through the original sites … what can I say!

Q: People often speak of a specific kind of theology related to apostles or saints. What do you think are St. Paul’s unique contributions to theology? 

Ray: When I give talks about Paul or the New Testament, I like to start by holding up an ancient flint knife. I tell people that in a certain sense, the whole New Testament is about this knife. After I get the shocked reaction, I explain.

The God of Israel had required circumcision that marked the Jewish people — no pun intended — for centuries. But God wanted Jews and Gentiles to be in one flock, in one Church.

How does he accomplish this? Answering that question was at the heart of Paul’s life and writings. The Gentiles could now become children of God too, not by circumcision and slavish obedience to the Mosaic law and ceremonies — but by faith in Christ and all that went along with that, like repentance, baptism, good works and more.

Though Peter brought the first Gentile convert into the Church, to a great degree it was Paul who really broke down the barriers and took the good news to the Gentile nations and he did so without the flint knife.

Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles, and as a Gentile myself, Paul is significant beyond measure. For me, this is the main significance of the Apostle sent to the uncircumcised.

Q: In your time in the Middle East and Turkey filming the DVD series, were there elements about St. Paul’s life that struck you in a new way once you were in the actual places?

Ray: Masculinity has suffered in our modern age. When I traveled along the roads and seas of St. Paul, I realized what a manly man he was.

Paul was no weakling as he traveled the estimated 6,000 miles recorded in Acts. It was surely much more than that during his whole lifetime.

Life was tough back then — no Nike hiking shoes or Hilton Hotels. Paul was rough and tough and manly. I found, by the way, that Jesus was too!

One can easily get the vision of Paul the theologian sitting around with scholars, writing and discussing. But the reality is that Paul wrote while in prison, by candlelight, and usually while deprived of many creaturely comforts. He was a tough man and suffered much for Jesus Christ.

I say, “If you wanted to know how much Paul suffered for Jesus Christ, all you had to do was ask him to take off his shirt!”

He had been whipped, flogged, beaten, stoned and left for dead, shipwrecked, snake-bitten and much more. His body was a mass of scar tissue.

I was also repeatedly amazed at the distances between cities. We read of Paul going from Tarsus to Antioch, or going from Jerusalem to Damascus, to Sinai and back to Syria.

It is one thing to read this, quite another to go over and travel between these locations. They are a long way apart, hundreds of miles in many cases. Yet Paul never flagged in energy or determination or spirit.

I am impressed by his courage and tenacity — and more so after following him around through six countries in blistering heat and often with sand in my teeth!

Through it all, Paul maintained a remarkable balance between brilliance and simplicity, toughness and gentleness, joyful hope and righteous indignation.

He was a godly man who lived the faith to the fullest as an example for us, to practice heroic virtue ourselves in this modern age.

Q: St. Paul’s life offers many examples of humanness, especially human failure. Can you explain some of these and how he offers hope to those struggling to live a moral life?

Ray: Brothels and bathhouses, sin and vice!

Like today, wickedness abounded and confronted Paul every time he entered a city or disembarked from a ship. He was human and, like us, had to resist temptation and turn from sin.

Just because he was an apostle and is now a saint, does not mean that Paul was immune from problems that the rest of us face daily. He was an example of heroic virtue.

He had physical ailments. To prevent the lurking sin of pride, God gave Paul a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him humble. Paul was not immune to pride.

I think the ailment was with his eyes since they had been affected by the blinding light at his conversion and he said to the Galatians, “I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me.”

Q: In the “Year of St. Paul,” what ways can people come to know the real person of Paul? 

Ray: There are a lot of books I have on St. Paul, but most of them are examining his theology. Some of the best books on St. Paul are out of print. I hope the Year of St. Paul brings them back into the light of day and that new books will appear.

There is one good book I really enjoyed reading, though I think it is out of print, titled “Paul the Apostle” by Giuseppe Ricciotti. It follows Paul’s life and ties in the theology at the appropriate places. Another that is in print is “Paul of Tarsus” by Joseph Holzner. 



Selective Abortions Take High Toll of Girls

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, SEPT. 17, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Fears of a demographic crisis are mounting in India, where many years of female feticide have severely skewed the makeup of the population. Ironically, one of the latest warnings came from Ena Singh, a representative of the U.N. Population Fund — itself responsible for promoting abortion. 

Singh told the news agency Reuters, in a report published Aug. 31, that the lack of women could lead to an increase in sexual violence and child abuse. According to the United Nations, an estimated 2,000 unborn girls are illegally aborted every day in India. 

A much higher estimate of the number of missing girls was given earlier, when the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) presented its “State of the World’s Children 2007” report in India. According to article published Dec. 12 by Reuters, UNICEF officials said that 7,000 fewer girls are born in India each day compared with global averages. 

In its Aug. 31 report, Reuters noted that a 2001 census showed regions such as Punjab, Gujarat and Himachal with fewer than 800 girls for every 1,000 boys. According to Singh, the situation is worsening, as sex-selective abortions are spreading to more regions. Statistics show that in 2001, there were 927 girls in India between the ages of 0-6 for every 1,000 boys of the same age, compared with 945 in 1991. 

The Indian government, reported Reuters, admits that some 10 million girls have been killed by their parents — either before or immediately after birth — over the past 20 years. 

An earlier report from Reuters, on Aug. 21, looked at the use of techniques such as ultrasounds and amniocentesis to find out the sex of a fetus, thus facilitating abortion of girls. The use of these techniques for sex selection is illegal, but is nonetheless widely practiced. 

Legislation prohibiting the use of tests to determine the sex of a fetus has been in force since 1996. So far, out of 400 cases lodged with authorities there have been only two convictions, resulting in one fine of 300 rupees ($7) and another fine of 4,000 rupees ($98). 

Fetuses dumped

Further evidence of the enormity of the problem came with the discovery of the bodies of more than 40 female fetuses in a field by the town of Nayagarh, in eastern India, reported the British newspaper the Guardian on July 28. Santish Mishra, a health official, estimated that the fetuses were aborted at about five months of age. 

The article also reported that in June a doctor in New Delhi was arrested after remains of aborted babies were found in a septic tank at his practice. Another case came in February this year, when police found the remains of 15 infants buried in the back yard of a hospital in the central state of Madhya Pradesh. 

Also in February nearly 400 bones from fetuses and newborn babies were discovered in a pit behind a hospital in the city of Bhopal, the Associated Press reported Feb. 18. 

In reaction to this, and other discoveries, the Indian government announced it would establish orphanages to accept unwanted baby girls, according to the Associated Press. The agency quoted a declaration by Renuka Chowdhury, the minister of state for women and child development, who said the government planned to set up a center in each regional district. 

Lucrative business 

The Wall Street Journal examined the problem in a front-page article on April 21. It reported that companies such as General Electric have sold so many ultrasound machines in India that tests are now available even in small towns that don’t have clean drinking water or decent roads. Scans are available for around $8, the equivalent of a week’s wages. 

V. Raja, chief executive of General Electric’s health care division for South Asia, was quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying that the company stresses the machines are not to be used for sex determination. Nonetheless, the article also cited an obstetrician from New Delhi, Puneet Bedi, who accused companies of exploiting the demand for boys by selling the ultrasound machines. 

General Electric sells about 15 different models, from machines costing $100,000 that offer sophisticated color images to basic black-and-white scanners that retail for about $7,500. It has also teamed-up with banks to help doctors finance the purchase of their machines. 

The article cited data on annual ultrasound sales in India from all companies, revealing that it reached $77 million in 2006, up about 10% from the year before. There are more than 30,000 ultrasound clinics registered with the government in India. 

China concerns

China is another country where the sex ratios are grossly unbalanced due to the selective abortion of female fetuses. The government recently announced it would draft new laws to increase the penalties for parents and doctors responsible for killing girls, the BBC reported Aug. 25. 

China’s Family Planning Association admitted that the imbalance has reached the point where in one city there are eight young boys for every five girls, according to the BBC. Among children under 4 in the eastern city of Lianyungang there are 163.5 boys for every 100 girls. In the rest of China 99 cities had gender ratios higher than 125 boys for every 100 girls.

The problem was commented on by Robin Dunbar, professor of evolutionary psychology at Liverpool University, in an article published Sept. 8 in the Scotsman newspaper. He said that current estimates put at around 18 million the excess number of men over women of marriageable age in China. This is forecast to reach 37 million by 2020. 

“Boys without girls are, to be blunt, a menace,” said Dunbar, referring to the social problems it causes. These range from abuse of women, to rape, to increased crime levels. 

Sex-selective abortions are not limited to China and India. Earlier this year the marketing in Britain of a new test that enables parents to determine the sex of an unborn baby as early as the sixth week of pregnancy raised worries. 

A May 5 report by the British Telegraph newspaper said that the “Pink or Blue” test works by testing a drop of a pregnant woman’s blood. According to the company selling it, DNA Worldwide, part of the American group Consumer Genetics, the test is 98% accurate. 

Casual attitude 

“With our casual attitudes to early abortion in the United Kingdom, we feel it is inevitable that abortion numbers will rise,” Julia Millington, of the Prolife Alliance, told the Telegraph.

In Britain, according to the newspaper, the sex of an unborn baby is usually determined during a scan in the 20th week of pregnancy. Some health authorities have stopped telling parents the sex of their child for fear of “wrong-sex” terminations, the article noted. 

The millions of deaths already due to sex-selective abortions, with many more still to come, have gone largely ignored by family planning groups and U.N. agencies. Even though the matter was raised by UNICEF, the launch of its report on the “State of the World’s Children 2007” received little media coverage.

While the UNICEF report, at 160 pages, was dedicated to the theme of the “gender divide” suffered by women and children, a bare 102 words was spent on the issue of feticide and infanticide. Amazingly, even then the problem was minimized, with UNICEF alleging that “there is no conclusive evidence” of the misuse of diagnostic tools to determine the sex of a fetus. The deaths of millions of girls give the lie to such willful distortions. 



Interview With Author Paul Thigpen

SAVANNAH, Georgia, SEPT. 17, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Those who don’t believe in hell are living with a very dangerous kind of wishful thinking, or a comfortable fantasy, says author Paul Thigpen.

In this interview with ZENIT, Thigpen discusses his new book “My Visit to Hell,” published by Creation House.

Thigpen is editor of The Catholic Answer, director of the Stella Maris Center for Faith and Culture, and an award-winning journalist and best-selling author of 34 books.

Q: You have written a novel, “My Visit to Hell,” about just that — a young man’s visit to hell. What prompted this?

Thigpen: The Holy Father recently lamented the fact that so few people in our day ever talk about hell. Maybe this book can contribute in some small way to changing that situation.

Why should people talk more about hell? Many of our contemporaries, including some Catholics, refuse to believe that hell truly exists.

And several surveys show that even among those who believe in the existence of hell, the great majority think they have little or no chance of ending up there.

Nevertheless, in the Gospels Our Lord has warned us solemnly and repeatedly about the terrors of hell. So what we have here is a very dangerous kind of wishful thinking, a comfortable fantasy that needs to be challenged.

We should be thinking about hell, and heaven as well, because our destiny profoundly shapes our identity.

The more we know about our possible destinations, the more we’ll know about who we are, why we’re here, and which way we should be headed.

I certainly don’t enjoy thinking and writing about sin and its tormenting consequences, but given the widespread denial of hell in our day, and the avoidance of any discussion about it, the time seems right for a book such as this.

Q: How has your book been received? Do you think it has appeal to those who do not claim to be Catholic?

Thigpen: Catholic readers often comment that the book has sent them running to the sacrament of confession, and for that I’m grateful.

It’s not intended to condemn people for their sins, but rather to encourage them to flee to God for forgiveness and healing.

As for non-Catholic Christians, I’ve had an enthusiastic response from readers representing a variety of religious backgrounds.

The main themes of the story — the horror of sin, the hope of grace, the dignity and danger of human freedom — lie at the heart of the Gospel that all Christians embrace.

As for atheists, agnostics, and other non-Christians, my hope is that they can identify to some degree with several characters in the book who share their situation.

The main character is in fact an agnostic who must reconsider his position in light of what he encounters on this terrifying journey.

Anecdotal evidence encourages me that the book is stirring readers to think seriously about the matters it touches upon.

One reviewer said he plans to make the book a part of his annual readings for Lent. Another reader composed a series of songs about the story.

Some book clubs are choosing it to read and discuss. It’s required reading in at least one college course, and a new scholarly study of contemporary Christian fiction devotes a chapter to it.

Q: Why did you choose the novel as a format, over poetry or simply a theological discourse on the topic?

Thigpen: Dante’s “Inferno,” the 14th-century poem about an imaginary visit to hell from which my account draws heavily, convinced me that a narrative approach to this subject could be quite powerful in ways that a straight theological discourse could not.

This isn’t to say, of course, that Dante’s vision isn’t theologically informed; his portrait of the infernal regions actually embodies the moral theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, as does mine.

Dante’s book was only one in a series of what are known as “tours of hell” that go back to ancient times, all using narrative fiction to paint a chastening portrait of sin and its eternal consequences.

Even Our Lord himself spoke of hell using a parable whose stark imagery awakens in us a sense of dread: see Luke 16:19-31.

Few people today will read lengthy poems of the sort Dante wrote; they prefer novels.

So the contemporary genre of speculative fiction seemed especially appropriate for this subject matter. You might think of it as a book-length parable.

Q: In some ways your novel is like Dante meeting Walker Percy, put in a contemporary setting. Is this partially what you had in mind?

Thigpen: You’re right — or even more precisely, Dante meets Flannery O’Connor, who is one of my literary heroes.

She and I are from the same hometown, Savannah, Georgia, and my mother went to college with her. So I’ve always felt a certain kinship with her and with her vision of the world.

O’Connor masterfully portrays sin in all its revolting ugliness. Yet always she reveals a “moment of grace,” a divine light that shines all the more brightly because the surrounding darkness is so deep.

My intent was similar: to show that even though sin deforms us into something grotesque, God still labors to reconcile and heal us.

Q: In your depiction of hell, you describe layers of it rapidly filling up from sins more readily committed in our cultural climate, for example, abortion, destroying fetuses for scientific or medical research, assisted suicide, striving for bodily perfection. In what ways do you categorize and describe some of these?

Thigpen: What I call the “moral topography” of hell — its structure of descending circles, each one punishing a sin worse than the one above it — I borrowed from Dante, who based it on St. Thomas’ moral teaching.
Below “limbo” lie the circles of “upper hell,” which punish sins of weakness.

Next is “middle hell,” punishing sins of the intellect; and finally “lower hell,” punishing sins of malice, both injury and fraud.

The lower you descend, the more serious the sin and the worse its punishment.

When I considered the sins you’ve noted, I realized that they are simply more contemporary versions of ancient sins already identified and positioned in Dante’s hell.

Like abortion, destruction of embryos for research is murder of a particularly loathsome type — a betrayal of the tiny innocents that God has given us to protect.

So those who are guilty of this sin aren’t punished with other murderers; they end up much farther down, in the lowest circle with some of the fiercest punishments, where traitors are tormented.

Or consider the idolatry of bodily perfection: It’s actually a form of gluttony, a narcissistic addiction to the pleasure of looking physically attractive.

So those who are guilty of this sin are ironically punished alongside the gluttons, whom they detest as undisciplined slobs.

Of particular interest to many contemporary readers, I think, is the circle punishing sins of the intellect.

Those holding to the popular notion that sincerity of belief is all that counts will find plenty here to challenge their assumptions.

Q: You mention in the preface that you were reluctant to write this book given the gravity of the topic. Are there ways in which meditating about hell has changed your own life?

Thigpen: Spending several months thinking deeply about hell, and writing down the fruits of that reflection for others, cultivated in me a healthy fear of the Lord, and “the fear of the Lord is hatred of evil”: Proverbs 8:13.

I came to a new understanding of how repugnant, how despicable, how corrosive sin truly is, with the result that I wanted all the more to avoid it and cling to God instead.

It also made me more deeply grateful for divine grace.

I deserve the everlasting misery of hell because of my sin, but God sent his son to make it possible for me to live with him forever instead in the joy of heaven.

I can never cease to marvel at such a gift!

“The Church Must Feel Concerned Regarding Immigrants”

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 15, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of an address given by Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, at the annual meeting of European national directors for the pastoral care of migrants, held in Sibiu, Romania, from Sept. 3 to 4.

* * *

Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

Annual Meeting of European National Directors for the Pastoral Care of Migrants
(Sibiu, Sept. 3-4, 2007)

Migration, an opportunity for the ecumene

Cardinal Renato Raffaele MARTINO
President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

Recently, a book entitled “Globus. Per una teoria storico-universale dello spazio” (Globus. Toward a historical-universal theory of space), a translation from German, was published in Italy. In this volume, the author, Franz Rosenzweig, makes a rapid but well-studied, original and significant reconstruction of the whole world history. The first part of the publication is entitled “Ecumene,” seen from the point of view of relationships between earthly forces that push toward the unification of the world.

“If millennia were needed for us to acquire theoretical awareness of the spherical form of the earth,” the author affirms, “we cannot be surprised by how slow world history walks toward unity of the globe. Yet, God created only one sky and one earth. Ecumenism is the final goal of humankind’s journey,” a sign of which is migration, indeed an opportunity for the ecumene.

Today, in fact, migration is one of the most important and most complex challenges of our modern world. Consequently, social transformation, caused by welcoming immigrants, is discussed in public hearings, such that the question of “migration” appears as one of the top issues in the international agenda.

The migration phenomenon is therefore analyzed in relation to development. Migrants’ contribution to the labor market is studied, leading to the conclusion that they are important for world economy. A witness to this is the First Global Forum on Migration and Development, recently held in Brussels, last July 9-11.

In spite of this, however, many governments are adopting more restrictive measures to counter immigration, especially if irregular. Researchers on the migration phenomenon, on their part, are for the opening of frontiers, not simply to solve contingent problems, but to situate the process in a global scenario. Migration has indeed become a structural phenomenon. This does not mean, however, that a vision of a “total” and “indiscriminate” freedom to immigrate is being adopted. It is rather the task of governments to regulate the magnitude and the form of migration flows. They should, however, take common good into consideration, so that immigrants would be worthily welcomed, and the population of the receiving countries would not be put in a condition that would lead them to reject the newcomers. This would have unfavorable consequences both for immigrants and the local population, as well as for relations between peoples. Naturally national common good must be considered in the context of universal common good. This brings us back to that vision of the “ecumene” that I mentioned at the beginning of my talk.

Our task, however, is that of identifying facts and aspects of migration that would help us understand the value of the phenomenon itself. This will enable us to interpret this “sign of the times”[1] from a Christian perspective, and to offer our pastoral service to the world of human mobility in its totality, in its universality. And for you, this is true for Europe.

There has always been solicitude on the part of the Church for migration — we have to take note of this.[2] Involvement in various forms confirms its ability to interpret this rapidly changing reality. Active ecclesial commitment, especially at a pastoral level, naturally includes socio-humanitarian action so that the foreigner would be accepted and integrated in society, through an itinerary leading to authentic communion, where there is due respect for diversity. It is however necessary to remember that rights and duties come together, also for migrants.

Regarding respect for the fundamental rights of the human person, hence also of those who are involved in human mobility, the Church is continuously dedicated to this at various levels and in different areas. Specific initiatives, messages of the Holy Father, action to build awareness among international entities and governments of migrants’ countries of origin, transit and destination, define the Church’s “strategy.” This is based on the central position and “sacredness” of the human person[3], to be upheld particularly when he/she is unprotected or marginalized. This “brings to light certain important theological and pastoral findings that have been acquired. These are: […] the defense of the rights of migrants, both men and women, and their children; [the question of the migrant family]; the ecclesial and missionary dimension of migration; the reappraisal of the apostolate of the laity; the value of cultures in the work of evangelization; the protection and appreciation of minority groups in the Church; the importance of dialogue both inside and outside the Church; and the specific contribution of emigration to world peace” (EMCC No. 27). In all this, we can clearly see a basis for an ecumenical commitment.

Indeed the recent position of the Holy See regarding migration shows that attention is given to the continuous transformation of the phenomenon of human mobility and to the current exigencies of people in contemporary society. This is because it wants “to respond to the new spiritual and pastoral needs of migrants” bearing in mind “the ecumenical aspect of the phenomenon, owing to the presence among migrants of Christians not in full communion with the Catholic Church, and also the interreligious aspect, owing to the increasing number of migrants of other religions, in particular Muslims” (EMCC No. 3)[4]. We cannot ignore the fact that “recent times have witnessed a growing increase in the presence of immigrants of other religions in traditionally Christian countries” (EMCC No. 59). The great diversity of immigrants’ cultural and religious origin poses new challenges and leads toward new goals, putting dialogue at the heart of pastoral care in the world of migration. After all, it certainly is part of the mission of the Church.

The instruction “Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi” carefully proposes programs that are appropriate for the various phases in the life of the migrant. It distinguishes “between assistance in a general sense (a first, short-term welcome), true welcome in the full sense (longer-term projects) and integration (an aim to be pursued constantly over a long period and in the true sense of the word)” (No. 42). In this case, it is important to give a sensible direction to an issue of great significance. I am referring to the difficult concept of integration, and its even more difficult application, keeping in mind also its ecumenical and interreligious aspects, particularly in societies hosting migrants. This concept is being seriously analyzed. We refuse to see it as a process of assimilation, but stress the aspect of cultural meeting and legitimate exchange. We are practically insisting on a concept of intercultural societies, meaning those that are capable of interacting and producing mutual enrichment, going beyond multiculturalism, that can be contented with a mere juxtaposition of cultures[5].

This gradual itinerary — as I was saying — provides, first of all, for “assistance or ‘first welcome’” (EMCC No. 43), but this is not enough to express the authentic vocation to Christian agape, also because it might be confused with philanthropy.

As a result, our instruction offers a wider horizon, providing for “acts of welcome in its full sense, which aim at the progressive integration and self-sufficiency of the immigrant” (ibid.). Here, too, we cannot fail to consider the ecumenical and interreligious dimensions.

In his Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees this year, Benedict XVI stated that the Church, through its various institutions and associations, “has opened centers where migrants are listened to, houses where they are welcomed, offices for services offered to persons and families, with other initiatives set up to respond to the growing needs in this field”.[6]

Also through these services in the context of human mobility, the Church offers its assistance to everyone, without distinction of religion or nationality, respecting everyone’s inalienable dignity as a human person, created in the image of God and redeemed by the blood of Christ.

In assisting migrants, therefore, it is possible to deepen ecumenical dialogue since contact with those among them who belong to other Churches or ecclesial communities gives “new possibilities of living ecumenical fraternity in practical day-to-day life and of achieving greater reciprocal understanding between Churches and ecclesial communities, something far from facile irenicism or proselytism” (EMCC No. 56). In fact, when migrants arrive in a place with a Catholic majority, the first meeting point should be hospitality and solidarity, within the context of “an authentic culture of welcome (cf. EEu 101 and 103) capable of accepting the truly human values of the immigrants over and above any difficulties caused by living together with persons who are different (cf. EEu 85, 112 and PaG 65)” (EMCC No. 39).

Therefore “the entire Church in the host country must feel concerned and engaged regarding immigrants. This means that local Churches must rethink pastoral care, programming it [ … appropriately for] today’s new multicultural and plurireligious context. With the help of social and pastoral workers, the local population should be made aware of the complex problems of migration and the need to oppose baseless suspicions and offensive prejudices against foreigners” (EMCC No. 41).

However, ecumenical dialogue does not stop there. It could also take the form of a specifically ecumenical cooperation, whereby resources are pooled and a common Christian witness is given (cf. Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, No. 162). Indeed the different Churches and ecclesial communities are particularly intent on welcoming and accompanying all migrants, in the pastoral sense, especially when alongside the flow of regular migrants, there are irregular migrants who are a cause for concern and are usually and unjustly blamed for crimes. Also, there are unscrupulous evildoers, who speculate on the tragic situation of people and promote the trafficking of human beings. Their presence increases xenophobia and at times provokes manifestations of racism (cf. EMCC nos. 29 e 41). All this can make the ecumenical commitment in favor of migrants more difficult.

The Church is called upon to open a dialogue with everyone, but this “dialogue should be conducted and implemented in the conviction that the Church is the ordinary means of salvation and that she alone possesses the fullness of the means of salvation” (EMCC 59). At the same time, migrants of other religions “should be helped insofar as possible to preserve a transcendent view of life” (ibid.).

There are surely some values in common between the Christian faith and other beliefs, but it is necessary to take into consideration the fact that “beside these points of agreement there are, however, also divergences, some of which have to do with legitimate acquisitions of modern life and thought” (EMCC No. 66). On the part of the migrant, therefore, the first step to take toward the host society is to respect the laws and the values on which that society is founded, including religious ones. If this is not done, then integration would just be an empty word.

The Church is also called to live fully its own identity, without renouncing to give witness to its own faith, also in view of respectfully proclaiming it (cf. EMCC No. 9). Thus, dialogue with others “requires Catholic communities receiving immigrants to appreciate their own identity even more, prove their loyalty to Christ, know the contents of the faith well, rediscover their missionary calling and thus commit themselves to bear witness for Jesus the Lord and his gospel. This is the necessary prerequisite for the correct attitude of sincere dialogue, open and respectful of all but at the same time neither naïve nor ill-equipped” (EMCC No. 60).[7]

Finally, it is necessary to take into account the important principle of reciprocity[8], “understood not merely as an attitude for making claims but as a relationship based on mutual respect and on justice in juridical and religious matters. Reciprocity is also an attitude of heart and spirit that enables us to live together everywhere with equal rights and duties. Healthy reciprocity will urge each one to become an ‘advocate’ for the rights of minorities when his or her own religious community is in the majority. In this respect we should also recall the numerous Christian migrants in lands where the majority of the population is not Christian and where the right to religious freedom is severely restricted or repressed” (EMCC No. 64).

It remains true, however, that solidarity, cooperation, international interdependence and the equitable distribution of the goods of the earth show the need to operate also in ecumenical communion, or rather, with a vision of “ecumene” in the broad sense of the term. This has to be done in depth and forcefully, especially in the areas where migration flows originate, so that the inequalities that induce people, individually or collectively, to leave their own natural and cultural environment would be overcome (cf. EMCC nos. 4; 8-9; 39-43). On its part, the Church will not stop encouraging everyone, but particularly the members of Christian communities, to be authentically available and open to others, including migrants, as it affirms that “notwithstanding the repeated failures of human projects, noble as they may have been, Christians, roused by the phenomenon of mobility, [should] become aware of their call to be always and repeatedly a sign of fraternity and communion in the world, by respecting differences and practicing solidarity, in their ethics of meeting others” (EMCC No. 102).

To conclude, we have to acknowledge that migration is a process in constant evolution. It will continue to be present in the development of societies and will bring us more and more into an intercultural world, where legitimate diversity will be lived also in the context of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.

— — —

[1] Cf. Benedict XVI, Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2006: http://www.vaticaNo.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/migration/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_200510 18_world-migrants-day_eNo.html; A. Marchetto, “Le migrazioni: segno dei tempi”, in Pontificio Consiglio della Pastorale per i Migranti e gli Itineranti (ed.), La sollecitudine della Chiesa verso i migranti, (Quaderni Universitari, Comments to the First Part of Erga Migrantes Caritas Christ — henceforth EMCC), Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City 2005, pp. 28-40.

[2] Pius XII’s prophetic intuition regarding the pastoral care of migrants is present in the Apostolic Constitution Exsul Familia (AAS XLIV [1952] 649-704), considered the magna carta of the Church’s teaching on migration. Paul VI, in continuity with and as an application of the teaching of the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, later issued the “motu proprio” Pastoralis migratorum cura (AAS LXI [1969] 601-603), promulgating the Instruction of the Congregation for Bishops De Pastorali migratorum cura (AAS LXI [1969] 614-643). In 1978, the Pontifical Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migration and Tourism published a Circular Letter addressed to the Episcopal Conferences, entitled Church and Human Mobility (AAS LXX [1978] 357-378): see EMCC nos. 19-33 and Pontificio Consiglio della Pastorale per i Migranti e gli Itineranti (ed.), La sollecitudine della Chiesa verso i migranti, op. cit. Cf. also A. Marchetto, “Chiesa conciliare e pastorale di accoglienza”: People on the Move XXXVIII (102, 2006), pp. 131-145.

[3] See the Pontifical Message for the World Day of Peace 2007, “The human person, the heart of peace”: http://www.vaticaNo.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/peace/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20061208_xl-world-day-peace_en.html.

[4] In 2004, the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People published the Instruction Erga migrantes caritas Christi: AAS XCVI (2004), 762-822 (see also People on the Move XXXVI, 95, 2004, and website: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/migrants/documents/rc_pc_ migrants_doc_20040514_erga-migrantes-caritas-christi_eNo.html). Cf. comments on this Instruction by highly competent authors in People on the Move XXXVII (98, 2005), pp. 23-125, particularly on ecumenism and interreligious dialogue: pp. 45-63.

[5] Issues related to this important chapter of the pastoral care of human mobility were studied more in-depth and then published in Pontificio Consiglio della Pastorale per i Migranti e gli Itineranti (ed.), Migranti e pastorale d’accoglienza (Quaderni Universitari, Comments to the Second Part of EMCC), Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City 2006.

[6] Benedict XVI, Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2007: http://www.vaticaNo.va/ holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/peace/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20061208_xl-world-day-peace_en.html.

[7] Cf. Proceedings of the XVII Plenary Session of our Pontifical Council, held from May 15 to 17, 2006, on the theme “Migration and Itinerancy from and toward Islamic majority countries”: People on the Move XXXVIII (101 Suppl., 2006). Specifically regarding interreligious dialogue, see pp. 187-224. Particularly important is No. 11 of the conclusions and recommendations: “It was also deemed vital to distinguish between what the receiving societies can and cannot tolerate in Islamic culture, what can be respected or shared with regard to followers of other religions (see EMCC 65 and 66), and to have the possibility of giving indications in this regard also to policymakers, toward a proper formulation of civil legislation, with due respect for each one’s competence”: ibid., p. 74.

[8] Also Benedict XVI mentioned this in his address to the participants in the aforementioned XVII Plenary Session: loc. cit., p. 5.



“The Most Difficult Moment Was in Cairo”

ROME, SEPT. 16, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Though Cardinal Renato Martino wanted to be a missionary, his poor health prohibited him from following that dream. Instead, he joined the Holy See’s diplomatic service and in this way, he says, fulfilled his great desire to evangelize.

Cardinal Martino is now the president of two pontifical councils: the Pontifical Councils of Justice and Peace, and the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Travelers. This summer he celebrated the golden anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, a vocation with which he says he is “still enchanted.”

In this interview with ZENIT, the 74-year-old prelate reflects on some of the milestones of his ministry.

Q: Your Eminence, how did you discern your vocation?

Cardinal Martino: I come from a family marked by faith and Catholic tradition, with a wonderful mother, who was also an artist. The holy card marking my 50th anniversary to the priesthood, with the Virgin and Child, was painted by her. [I had] a strict father and four brothers and sisters. A large family, totaling 56 people at Christmas gatherings; I have 13 nephews and nieces and 26 great-nephews and nieces.

Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be a missionary. I was fascinated by the Jesuit missionary preachers who came to Naples, to our parish.

Unfortunately, the dream very soon vanished, because I was too frail and the doctors told me clearly that my constitution would not endure in missionary lands.

My desire to carry the Gospel to the world took on another path. Through a number of circumstances, I frequented the Vatican Diplomatic Academy, the oldest in the world and, since 1962, I have worked with the nunciatures of Nicaragua, Philippines, Lebanon, Canada and Brazil.

Between 1970 and 1975, I was in charge of the section for international organizations in the Secretariat of State. Subsequently, on Sept. 14, 1980, the Pope at that time, John Paul II, sent me as pro-nuncio to Thailand, as apostolic delegate, to attend to the relations with Singapore, Malaysia, Laos and Brunei.

In 1986, I was appointed permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York and, in that capacity, I took part in the major international conferences promoted by the United Nations during the 90s, particularly in New York, 1990, at the World Summit for Children; in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1992, at the Conference on Environment and Development; in Barbados, 1994, at the Conference on Small Island Developing States and, that same year, in Cairo, at the Conference on Population and Development.

In Beijing, China, 1995, at the World Conference on Women; in Istanbul, Turkey, 1996, at the Conference on Human Settlements; in Rome, 1998, at the Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court; in New York, 2000, at the Millennium Summit;

In Monterrey, Mexico, 2003, at the International Conference on Financing for Development. Also, in Madrid, Spain, at the World Assembly on Aging, and, that same year, in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the Conference on Sustainable Development.

Q: You have had to face many difficult situations, including frequent disagreements with United Nations offices and delegations that, particularly in the 90s, were especially critical of the Holy See, above all with regard to demographic policies, abortion, contraception … Could you comment on this experience?

Cardinal Martino: The most difficult moment was in 1994, in Cairo, during the Conference on Population and Development. President Bill Clinton’s administration, together with a greater part of the developed countries, were determined to get the conference to recognize abortion as an international right.

Some nongovernmental organizations even requested that the Vatican delegation be expelled from the United Nations. But with the Lord’s help and thanks to the support, on that occasion, of Latin American and Islamic-majority countries, we succeeded in rejecting the attempt to approve abortion as a contraceptive method.

As head of the Vatican delegation, I managed to obtain the support of 43 delegations and to ensure that paragraph 8.25 of the final document adopted by the conference should declare that “on no account may abortion be invoked as a family planning method.”

This regulation remains in force to this day, despite frequent and continuous attempts to eliminate it. So far, voluntary interruption of pregnancy, which, unfortunately, is still a dramatic phenomenon these days, has never been approved by any United Nations body.

Q: What mission to you look back upon with most satisfaction?

Cardinal Martino: From May 15 to 21 this year, at the express request and in representation of the Holy Father Benedict XVI, I visited Ivory Coast, a country torn by a long period of strife and bloodshed.

During my stay, I celebrated the Eucharist in several cities and parochial communities; I met with the bishops and highest authorities in the country. Particularly, I attended a meeting with the President, Laurent Gbagbo, who appointed as his prime minister former rebel chief, Guillaume Soro, a brilliant 34-year-old Catholic.

In order to give consistency and solidity to the peace agreements, I invited both of them to the solemn Mass I celebrated in St. Paul’s Cathedral, in Abidjan, on May 20.

The cathedral was crowded with faithful, together with the bishops and civil authorities. I encouraged the people of Ivory Coast to continue along the way of peace and to promote national reconciliation and the participation of all the country’s living forces, without any form of political, religious, cultural or ethnic exclusion.

When the time came to exchange a gesture of peace, I invited the president of the republic and the prime minister to come up to the altar to receive my peace gesture. After that, I invited them to exchange peace with each other: They hugged each other, assuring that this would last — a great gesture of reconciliation, before the applause of several thousand people.

All this was transmitted live by the national television channel. I instructed them never to forget that day, should difficulties arise in the future, because this was a historical gesture, a commitment of peace and concord sealed in the cathedral, before God. To all the people of Ivory Coast, to the numerous innocent victims, to the groups of those displaced, to those wounded, and to so many others, I expressed the spiritual closeness of the Holy Father and, in his name, I offered some financial help toward the primary needs of those in most dire hardship.

This was the most effective way of presenting the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, and its practical application.

I have also been thanked for this meeting and for the reinforcement of the peace process by the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, who I had met before he took on that position, because he represented South Korea before the United Nations during the same period as my stay in New York, where I attended to a group of South Korean Catholics.

For 18 years, I administrated confirmation to members of this group. I saw Ban Ki-moon in Rome, when the promotion of his candidature had not yet begun, and I told him I was sure of his election. He looked at me in surprise, incredulously. I assured him: We’ll talk about it after your election. I’m sure you will do a lot of good.

Q: On Oct. 1, 2002, John Paul II called you to Rome, to take over the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, but as head of this dicastery, you continued your travels throughout the world …

Cardinal Martino: Taking on the direction of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and, since March 11, 2006, also that of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Travelers, allows me to sustain and prolong the task of evangelization which I wished to carry out from the days of my youth.

The publication and diffusion of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church was a stimulating task. As I noted in the introduction to the volume, “transforming social realities with the power of the Gospel, to which witness is borne by women and men faithful to Jesus Christ, has always been a challenge and it remains so today at the beginning of the third millennium of the Christian era.”

I am fully aware that the announcement of Jesus Christ is not easily swallowed in the world today, but precisely because of that, the people of our time are in need, more than ever, of faith that saves, of hope that enlightens, and of charity that loves.

These are the reasons that move the Church to intervene with its teachings in the social field, in order to help and accompany Catholics in serving the common good.

Q: Is there something that you would like to accomplish but which you have been unable to?

Cardinal Martino: I have no regrets. I am still enchanted with the priesthood. I thank the Lord every day for the grace of the priesthood. I have celebrated more than 19,000 masses, and each one of them has been a real gift to me, because, even if my role had only been that of celebrating the Eucharist alone or for a small community, I would, however, be grateful to the Lord for having had the opportunity to serve him.