Archive for the ‘Evangelization’ Category
Secretary of Justice and Peace Council Comments on Benedict’s Message
By Mercedes De La Torre
ROME, JAN. 10, 2012 (Zenit.org).- On the first day of the new year, in which the World Day of Peace was observed, Bishop Mario Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, commented on the Pope’s message for the Day, titled “Educate Young People in Justice and Peace.”
Bishop Toso pointed out that the Holy Father trusts young people, because they show hope and are able to receive God in the midst of human history.
ZENIT spoke with the Salesian bishop, professor of social philosophy, former rector of the Pontifical Salesian University and Consultor for 20 years of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, about Benedict XVI’s message.
ZENIT: Why does Benedict XVI address young people in particular in this 45th Message for the World Day of Peace?
Bishop Toso: Benedict XVI wished to address this message in particular to young people who today live in a world of incessant transformation, in a world that sociologists describe as “liquid”: new projects are begun and are not solidified, so that youth live in a reality that changes constantly, and even those points that seem to be the most solid also seem to change.
In this context of swift changes and a lack of solid points of reference, Benedict XVI addresses young people, seeing them as a part of the human family that has great resources of hope. In fact, young people, especially in the World Youth Day that was held in Madrid, but also in other events that we have learned about in the media, are showing — also in reference to the fall of regimes and the need to erect democratic institutions — a young, fresh intuition, which helps adults to accept the fundamental values we must invest in and which can constitute the foundation of a more just and peaceful society.
ZENIT: Why does the Pope have confidence in young people as builders of peace?
Bishop Toso: Benedict XVI’s confidence in young people is based above all on two motives: the first is that young people, in face of life and the great responsibilities of the human family, believe in the possibility of a profound transformation, of the renewal of institutions, and their enthusiasm can be the engine for positive change in our societies, even becoming witnesses and leaders, enabling adults to question themselves.
The second reason is that Benedict XVI believes in the capacity of young people to intercept God, to receive Him in the midst of human history as the One who can help humanity to come out of the dark tunnel in which it finds itself. In reality, the dark tunnels that cause despair are different, disallowing even the possibility of a more just world. They are tunnels represented by the food crisis, the financial crisis, the crisis of appropriating essential resources, the ecological crisis and, above all, the anthropological, ethical crisis.
ZENIT: How can young people help to create a more fraternal society?
Bishop Toso: As the Message for the World Day of Peace acknowledges, young people not only have the task to be involved in the educational process, but they have a mission — Benedict XVI states clearly — to stimulate, to be an example to adults and to one another.
Young people especially have a youthful and genuine intuition in regard to great values and they make every effort and commit themselves enthusiastically in the small daily things as well as those that are important: respect for the environment, the fight against corruption and illegality, the implementation of justice, and dignified and respectful treatment of persons in the field of the economy, in the field of finance. With their example, they have the possibility of offering models of what could be the construction of a new society, and new human relations based on the values of fraternity, solidarity and mutual gift — values in which young people are particularly sensitive.
It is often said that today’s young people are the first generation that think that their descendants will live in worse conditions of life. However, I sincerely believe that young people of the age of globalization wish and know that they can contribute to the construction of a better, more united and solidary humanity, the humanity that Jesus Christ inaugurated with his Incarnation.
By Kathleen Naab
ROME, JAN. 13, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The director of the “Church and Sport” section at the Pontifical Council for the Laity admits that the “Tim Tebow phenomenon” has heightened his interest in the NFL playoffs.
Legionary of Christ Father Kevin Lixey works in the Roman Curia helping the Church make a contribution to the world of sport, with the aim of promoting a sports culture suitable to the integral development of the individual.
Those familiar with the NFL — and even those who are not — might have heard of Tebow for more than his unique style as a quarterback. His outward expressions of his Christian faith are being talked about by all sorts of commentators, in the world of American football and beyond. Though certainly not the only athlete to publicly express his faith on the field, Tebow is drawing more attention than usual. We asked Father Lixey what he thinks about that.
ZENIT: Do you see Tim Tebow’s public expression of faith as a positive or negative phenomenon? Certainly it is drawing a lot of attention to Christ, in one form or another …
Father Lixey: The hype over Tim Tebow is certainly an interesting phenomenon in an ever more secularized world. I consider it something very positive. Even at the college level, while quarterback for the Florida Gators during the 2009 Bowl Championship Series title contest, Tebow wrote “John 3:16” on his eye black. The Palm Beach Post reported that 92million people Googled the verse following the game … impressive!
But, it is not the mere public expression of faith — as Tebow drops a
knee to give thanks after a touchdown, or prays with other players who include teammates and opponents after the game — that is attracting people; it is his entire person.
I had the chance to speak with the offensive coordinator who coached Tim at the Florida Gators. He said he was a very unique player who was spiritually on another stratosphere with respect to the rest of the team. Yet, Tim was respected by his teammates because he was genuine. And this is the point I would like to touch on. As one reporter noted (Chuck Klosterman, Dec. 6, 2011): “This, I think, is what makes Tebow so maddening to those who hate him: He refuses to say anything that would validate the suspicion that he’s fake (or naïve or self-righteous or dumb).”
While Tebow certainly sticks out for these external manifestations of his faith, not to mention his unorthodox playing style as an NFL quarterback, his personal background is also not typical for an NFL quarterback. It is a real “Cinderella” story — although those who have to tackle Tim would not consider him a Cinderella.
First of all, Tim Tebow was born in the Philippines to American parents who were serving as Baptist missionaries, as his father is a pastor. His mother, while pregnant, suffered a life-threatening infection and was advised to have an abortion but she decided not to, and both Tim and his mother survived a difficult pregnancy. Another unique aspect is that Tim, like his four older siblings, was home-schooled. Thanks to legislation that was passed in Florida in 1996, home-schooled students were allowed to compete in local high school sporting events.
ZENIT: OK, but does prayer really have a place in football? Surely God doesn’t care about who wins the Super Bowl — or does he?
Father Lixey: Judging from his public statements, Tebow is one of the few and most prominent religious athletes to recognize that God does not care about the score of football games. Tebow considers his missionary and philanthropic work much more important than football, but at the same time, possible, because of it. We all too often equate prayer with only asking good things from God, where prayer is only used “to obtain something” i.e., victory, health, or a miracle. The Catechism reminds us that prayer is also “the raising of one’s mind and heart to God” and that we “we must remember God more often that we draw breath.”
Certainly there are moments and places more conducive to prayer, but there is no reason that all religious manifestations be entirely banned from the public square. These external manifestations of one’s beliefs are impressive precisely because they are public. Just as Christians once fell to their knees at the sound of the Angelus bell to remember the Incarnation, or just as the cab driver makes the point of getting out of his car to bow down toward Mecca in prayer, I see no reason why a professional football player cannot offer a prayer of thanksgiving or point to heaven instead of doing a lewd victory dance in the end zone.
Nonetheless, these external manifestations can make some people feel uneasy and it is not certain how long this will be “allowed” in the NFL. The Danish Football Federation complained to FIFA for permitting members of the Brazilian national to gather together in prayer after their victory of the 2009 Confederations Cup. FIFA’s president responded by warning that any religious manifestation would not be permitted in the 2010 World Cup.
ZENIT: Along those lines, the Tebow “phenomenon” comes at a time when the U.S. bishops are particularly concerned about religious freedom. Is reaction to Tebow’s public expression of faith a sign that their concern is warranted? Or misplaced? Or is religious freedom on the playing field one thing, and in the public square something else?
Father Lixey: Pope Benedict XVI is also particularly concerned about religious freedom and touched upon this point Monday in his address to members of the diplomatic corps, noting: “In many countries Christians are deprived of fundamental rights and sidelined from public life; in other countries they endure violent attacks against their churches and their homes.”
Obviously the Holy Father was not speaking about the FIFA decision to sideline religion. But it does raise the question: “What is the public square today?” Is it literally that quaint square in front of a town hall somewhere in New England, where perhaps it is no longer permissible to display a Nativity scene? Or is it the Internet, a person’s desk at work, or the professional football stadium?
I think many are impressed with Tim Tebow’s courage in professing his faith for he certainly is mocked for it. When he received flack for doing a pro-life ad with “Focus on the Family” that ran during the 2010 Superbowl, he said: “I know some people won’t agree with it, but I think they can at least respect that I stand up for what I believe in.” This is all Tim is asking. Whether it is standing up, or taking a knee, for what he believes in, many people do respect this, that he stands up for what he believes. Yet, others become infuriated as they consider Tebow guilty of breaching the line that all are supposed to respect, namely, that which separates the secular from the religious, the holy from the profane, the sacred from the everyday.
ZENIT: As Catholics, what can we learn from this situation — from Tebow himself, perhaps, and from the reactions he’s causing?
Father Lixey: Blessed John Paul II once reminded a group of top professional soccer players: “The eyes of sports fans throughout the world are fixed on you. Be conscious of your responsibility! It is not only the champion in the stadium but also the whole person who should become a model for millions of young people, who need ‘leaders,’ not ‘idols.’ They need men who can convey to them the zest for challenge, a sense of discipline, the courage to be honest and the joy of unselfishness.”
I believe Tim Tebow is trying to live up to these words of John Paul II and his example can prompt other athletes to be “leaders” and not idols, being a model on and off the field, especially of the corporal works of mercy. As Tim shares in his own words: “When I was a student at the University of Florida, I found great joy in taking time to encourage children suffering from cancer in hospitals or visiting a prison or juvenile detention center, or doing mission work with my family at Uncle Dick’s Orphanage in the Philippines. … Football is so popular (that) it enables an athlete like me to establish a platform for doing good deeds … to take this experience to an even greater level of outreach and influence. … After my professional career, I plan on giving my life full time to this outreach.”
That’s not a bad role model for the youth. … It’s not a bad example for us to follow either.
BLUEFIELDS, Nicaragua, FEB. 28, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Nicaragua is a country that has been ravaged by civil war, dictatorships and natural disasters. Today it is one of the poorest countries in the Western world.
The 62-year-old prelate is a native of East Chicago, Indiana, and he recently spoke of the life of the Church in Nicaragua with the television program “Where God Weeps” of the Catholic Radio and Television Network (CRTN) in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need.
The transcription of the interview will appear in two parts. Part 2 will appear Monday.
Q: Bishop can you tell us, how did a Polish-American ended up in Bluefields, Nicaragua?
Bishop Zywiec: My grandparents were the ones who came over from Poland about 100 years ago. I was interested in becoming a priest and I was attracted to the Capuchins. They seem to be a very happy group.
I went to the seminary and I heard stories about the missions in Nicaragua, and so I volunteered. My superiors responded, “We need you there.” I was ordained in June 1974, and in January 1975 I was in Nicaragua.
Q: What was your first impression when you arrived?
Bishop Zywiec: When I arrived I was a little surprised. I came with a classmate of mine. We came driving down in a jeep that was a donation. We were bringing it down to Nicaragua and I thought we’d get a kind of heroes’ welcome.
But the thing is, about a week before we came there was a kidnapping and the president imposed Marshall Law and a curfew in the country. We didn’t know that. So, we arrived at about 9 p.m. We are crossing the border right before it closed.
The other Capuchins said: “What! You’re coming in at this time? Don’t you know that there is curfew? Some half-crazy soldier could have shot you and left you for dead on the side of the road.”
So it was a realization of the violent reality there, and that was our first impression.
Q: Have you ever been threatened or felt threatened at all during your time in Nicaragua?
Bishop Zywiec: Well, one time when I was working in the jungle. When I first arrived they sent “the older missionaries to the towns, the younger ones to the jungle.”
That was also at the time the Sandinistas, the organization rebelling against the government; they were hiding there [in the jungle], and I heard there were bombings over there and I was kind of afraid.
I said to myself, “My mom and dad are paying taxes to help the U.S. government, and the U.S. government is helping the Nicaraguan government, and they are dropping bombs on this area here, against the guerrillas.”
Well I never saw any of these bombs, but it made me a little afraid. But God is good, and I am here right now.
Q: What was the most difficult thing that you had to overcome or adapt to in your new life in Nicaragua?
Bishop Zywiec: I arrived in 1975, and this was right after the Second Vatican Council. When I went through the seminary — studying theology — I felt pretty good, you know, because we had new theology, something about pastoral counseling. I felt I was up-to-date compared to these old missionaries.
But then the government army came and took some of the people prisoners and tortured them. Some “disappeared,” or we found out later they were killed. Over a two-year period of time we found that there were 300 people who were missing because of the government.
Q: You never dreamt to you would confront this.
Bishop Zywiec: No, we never talked about this in theology class! We talked about pastoral counseling, and youth apostolates and so forth, and this was a crisis. The only thing I was able to do is just take the information and pass it to the bishop — Bishop Schlaefer — and I felt very supported by him.
Q: In the Bluefields Vicariate there is what is called the “Mosquito Coast.” Where did this name come from?
Bishop Zywiec: The Eastern part of Nicaragua, which is in the Bluefields’ Vicariate, was never conquered by the Spanish, and so the Miskito Indians who lived there were autonomous.
And they also were able to, you might say, have an empire that went all the way from the Caribbean Coast of Panama through Costa Rica along Nicaragua into Honduras. So they were powerful back then, in the 1700s.
Q: Vicariate Apostolic of Bluefields is an area of 22,825 Square Miles. It’s enormous! What does a typical pastoral visit look like for you in your travels to the villagers — in seeking out your parishioners?
Bishop Zywiec: Usually what I tell the people is that I like four things: I like time to hear confessions. Then I celebrate Mass and then a confirmation or some other sacrament is requested, such as a baptism or a marriage.
And then I like to have a meeting with the church board: It gives me more of a chance for dialogue.
Then I say: “I’d like something to eat.” Generally, you know, when the bishop comes — since there is no electricity — lots of times they’ll kill a cow or a pig because there is no refrigeration. So there is food for everybody, and everybody eats!
Q: Vicariate Apostolic of Bluefields is almost half of all of Nicaragua. You are 25 priests. Are you not a bit overwhelmed?
Bishop Zywiec: Yes, that’s a problem. We have roughly 1,000 chapels and 14 parishes. A small parish would have one priest with about 30 chapels to take care of. There is a priest from north of Milwaukee; he is in his late 70s and he visits over 100 chapels.
Every Sunday in the chapels, we’ll have a celebration of the Word, so those who lead these celebrations are called “Delegates of the Word.” Usually we’ll have two of them in each chapel so in case one gets sick or one can’t make it, we always have a back up.
Then we have a catechist for baptism, a catechist for first Communion and confession, catechist for confirmation, and catechist for marriage.
We have training courses usually once a year for these different catechists. Some parishes will have courses for musicians. And then there are movements — we call them retreat movements — and it’s a way of helping the faith grow, you know, preparing leaders. So we depend a lot on the laity.
Q: How many missionaries are you? You mentioned that you have a number of missionaries that are getting older. Where is the new generation of priests coming from? Are there vocations coming from Nicaragua?
Bishop Zywiec: The priests that we can count on would be the priests who come from the Vicariate of Bluefields; there are missionaries and there are people who help, but our native diocesan priest are the ones we are able to count on more, and we find that a lot of our vocations come from families that are leaders in the community.
For example, where there is a married deacon, or a Delegate of the Word, there is this Christian commitment and that’s fertile ground for vocations, not just to the priesthood but also to the religious life. For example, in one town of about 10,000, in the past 20 years, 15 girls have gone to the convent. I think that’s a beautiful thing to see something like that.
Q: What expressions of popular faith or devotions are there in the vicariate?
Bishop Zywiec: We have lots of processions. In my experience in the United States processions are usually held inside, but in Nicaragua it’s a warmer climate and the people are use to having processions outside, such as during Holy Week.
For Holy Week in some of the towns they have processions for the Way of the Cross, and for the Easter Vigil there is the blessing of the Pascal candle outside and then the procession into the church.
For our patronal feasts as well we have a procession with the statue of the patron saint going through town, singing songs, praying the rosary. This is a normal, normal part of church life. We just pray it doesn’t rain too much.
Q: Other than the size of the territory, what would you say is the greatest challenge to evangelizing the Miskito people?
Bishop Zywiec: Although the territory is big, it is perhaps not so much a problem of size, but of transportation and communication. I think in that whole area, we have about 100 kilometers (62 miles) of paved road and the rest is gravel road. It rains a lot, and lots of times there are places where you get stuck.
Another thing is that of the 1,000 chapels, 100 are Miskito-speaking; the rest are Spanish-speaking. They are mainly farmers — subsistence farmers — involved in dairy farming or cattle farming.
Perhaps one of our main concerns is that people are not only able to receive the sacraments — to be baptized — but also that they learn their faith and what it means in their daily lives to live a deeper evangelization. I believe too, vocational promotion is an important thing for us so that we have available priests for the future.
And human promotion is an important thing in the form of schools, in the form of our health programs so that people not just hear the Word of God, but are able to live a human life and be able to be involved in the national life, and not be, you might say, forgotten — to be able to participate and participate conscientiously.
* * *
This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for “Where God Weeps,” a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
Interview With Archbishop of Accra
ACCRA, Ghana, APRIL 11, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The Catholic Church in Ghana is now just over 125 years old, and it is making the transition from being a missionary Church to one that is truly Ghanaian, with local languages being used for the Bible and worship.
Though this process is well under way, there are still many challenges to overcome.
In this interview given to the television program “Where God Weeps” of the Catholic Radio and Television Network (CRTN) in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Gabriel Palmer-Buckle, the archbishop of Accra, Ghana, considers the progress and the work still to be done.
Q: Your Excellency, the refrain of the missionaries was: “That Africa must be evangelized by Africans.” How much is this the reality now in Ghana?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: In fact it was Pope Paul VI who sometime in 1969, I think, at the foundation of what we call the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of African and Madagascar, said: “You must have an African Christianity.”
Q: And is this happening in Ghana?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Very much so, very, very much so. We have now 19 dioceses in Ghana, and all the bishops are Ghanaian. In fact there are dioceses in Ghana that have had a fourth generation Ghanaian bishop. The last foreign bishop I think left the shores of Ghana in the early 70s.
Q: What was the importance of these early missionaries for the Church in Ghana?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: We have to thank God for them. You know they began in 1880, the SMA Fathers — the Society of the Missionaries of Africa were the first ones to come to the south, Elmina near Cape Coast, the shores and they started the evangelization gradually along the coast and northward.
Q: With great physical suffering … I mean for these Europeans to come to Ghana must have been…?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Actually Ghana in those days was called the graveyard of the white man because many died of malaria within six or eight weeks of their arrival there. But we must thank God for the persistence, perseverance. … The missionaries kept coming. The men came, the women, the Lady of Apostles, that’s the female congregation of the SMA, they also came in 1882, I think, and they accompanied them, gradually to evangelize the south. In the north they had the SMA, who descended at that time from Ouagadougou, in Upper Volta, now Burkina Faso, and they settled in 1906 in Navrongo and they started the evangelization of the northern part also gradually descending into and meeting in the middle belt of the country. Today if you look at the statistics of Ghana, there must be I think roughly about 1,400 priests, and of these 1,400 about 1,000 are Ghanaian, are indigenous.
Q: So it’s a good foundation?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Very much so, we have about 800 sisters, religious, of whom I think half or more are also indigenous, they are Ghanaian. We have about 600 religious brothers more than half are also Ghanaian.
Q: So there is great hope for the local church?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Well, very great hope, in fact many more challenges because the people … the country has a population of about 22 million. The Catholic population is a little bit below 20% of the overall population. The Protestants — the Anglicans, Methodist, Presbyterians, the Baptist and the rest — they are about 18% also, a little bit more than the Catholic population. The Muslims are about 16%. The Pentecostals are even more now. They got in only somewhere in 1929…
Q: But they are growing fast?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Very fast they are about 24% of the population. So Ghana can boast of 68% of the population being Christians.
Q: The Ghanaian people have a deep love for the Word of God. In fact it is stated or reputed that if somebody comes to the market place and starts preaching, those in the market will stop and listen because it’s the Word of God. Where does this love for the Word of God come from?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Not only do they preach the Word of God, you’ll find it even on vehicles, written on vehicles Exodus 14:14 or Mathew 7:7: “Ask and you shall receive” and people know the Scriptures quite well. I would have to say that we must give credit to the Protestant churches and particularly to the Pentecostals for heightening the love of the Word of God, the Scriptures, the Bible, but I must also say that we’ve been working together in an ecumenical setting. For instance: Last year Ghana celebrated its 50th anniversary as an independent country, and one of the projects of the Christian Council and the Ghana bishops’ conference was to distribute a million Bibles to young people who are in the junior high schools. We’ve already distributed about 250,000 – not [just] the Catholic Church, [but] the whole Christian family and we are still distributing further because our people love to read the Scriptures. They love to go to the Bible.
Q: Ghana is not only Christian, but there are still a lot of traditional religions in Ghana. What would be the different expression of traditional religion still existing in Ghana today?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: From our last census which took place in the year 2000 only about 8% of the population still belong steadfastly to the traditional religion.
Q: Would this be animist? What kind of religions would we be talking about?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Well, the word “animism” is no more being used very much because animism means believing in spirits. We believe in the Holy Spirit, but we are not animist are we? But what is the difference is that they believe that the forest has a spirit, the waters have spirits, the rocks have spirits, you know all of creation has spirit and they are still living in those things and what we admire them for is their respect for creation, their respect for the ecology which, unfortunately we Christians can blame ourselves for watering it down. So it is one of the things that we are now taking up: the protection of creation, the conservation of the environment which we have taken from them, and we are heightening it and there is a good resonance with the traditional religion it seems.
Another thing that we have to give credit to them for is that they have maintained our traditional governance: most of our chieftaincy rites rituals, which are embedded in their religious culture, and they’ve kept them going. They have also kept the family together, the sort of respect in the family between father, mother, parents, and children; they have maintained quite a lot of it and we are beginning to see that Christianity, at a point in time, emphasized more the individuals’ salvation as against the communitarian, community, social perspective of the history of salvation. We are taking that also from them and heightening it you know.
Q: Becoming a Christian sometimes means abandoning some one or more of these traditional aspects. Where and how is the Church trying to find a balance in this regard?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: We’d have to admit that from about 1880 to about Vatican II the mentality was that everything traditional was pagan, was very demonic, and was not good. Thanks to Vatican II, the Church has allowed us to appreciate the values in our culture. We are now beginning to realize that there is a lot of similarity, for instance, the rites of our people. I come from Accra; they have a rite for outdooring of a child when the child is born. They outdoor the child on the eighth day…
Q: What is that?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: That means giving a name. They bring the child out to the public. They give it a name, and the name is normally the name of one or the other ancestor who had lived a good life so it is believed that the ancestor then protects the child. The child becomes a property no more of his or her parents alone but of the entire clan, and the clan takes its responsibility toward the child. This is a beautiful rite. In fact I had to do my doctoral thesis on that to show its similarity to baptism, through which a person is born anew into the family of God and then is given a name, which identifies him or her with Christianity.
Q: Baptism is integrated into this traditional ritual?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: In many places what they do is they have the traditional ritual very early in the morning because it must happen before sunrise and then they have the baptism in the afternoon on Saturday.
Q: There are some elements of traditional religion that the Church has to redress like polygamy and issues like this. How does the Church work with the local and the traditional cultures to try and address these kinds of problems?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Not only for polygamy, we also have very violent widowhood rites and other rites that we are now trying to deal with for example…
Q: What would be some of these examples?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: When a woman’s husband died, she was maltreated, and she was subjected sometimes to some form of cruelty in some cases she was driven out of the house…
Q: Because they thought that somehow she was responsible for the death of her husband or?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: In some cases ignorantly it was so thought, in other cases it was some sort of a shock therapy for her to get over the pain of having lost her husband. There are very positive aspects and negative aspects — because of human wickedness sometimes the negatives have overshadowed the positive, but I must say that, above all the good rites, as you say polygamy for instance where a man married two or three wives, had children; they all farmed with him on the farm, they acquired property together, the kids were more or less farm hands and everything. Now, the difficulty of Christianity has been to come in and tell the man: send 2 of your wives away, send your children away…
Q: What do you do?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: What do you do? Just like Abraham had to, in the book of Genesis to send away Hagar and her son Ishmael, and if you look back today you have to admit that some of the present problems go further back to those who trace their origins to Isaac and those who trace it to Ishmael. It’s very sad so we have been caught up in the Church; we know how to deal with this particular situation.
Q: Practically, a man comes to you: I want to become a Christian, I want to be Baptist, I’m in a polygamous relationship, I have four wives. How does the church respond to a situation like this?
Archbishop Palmer-Buckle: Officially we tell them what the Church says: One man one woman. We normally advise them, the man to choose the oldest wife, the one with whom he is at, but we also try to help them to take care of the children and the women without necessarily making use of what we call the marital offices that offend Christian morality of adultery and the rest of it. And it’s not easy. There have been cases where the offspring of these women, together with the man, have blamed the Church for ruining their family system because in many, many places they have lived at peace with one another: The boys have identified with the three women as their mothers, in the absence of their father, the women have taken care of all the children. This is an ideal situation of course. There have been other situations where it wasn’t too ideal, with a lot of rivalry between their mothers and their children and that has created a lot of pain.
So what we try to do is to accompany them through growing. Once they accept Christ, you must accompany them to grow in their faith, and as they grow in the knowledge of their faith, by the grace of God, those who have been baptized do away with what we call the sinful remains of a thing like polygamy or like the widowhood rites or other rites that may not be in consonance with the Catholic or the Christian faith.
Interview With Mark Miravalle
ROME, SEPT. 25, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Violations of human rights and religious freedom continue to be widespread in China, says the author of a book on the Asian country.
Mark Miravalle, a professor of theology and Mariology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, traveled to China last summer and saw firsthand the daily struggles of the people and the faithful in the country.
In this interview with ZENIT, he talks about his book “The Seven Sorrows of China” (Queenship Publications), and some of the testimonies from underground Church clergy, religious and laity, as well as a confidential interview with an underground bishop.
Q: What led you to visit China and write this book on the situation there?
Miravalle: I went to China with the sole intention of helping friends there who were taking in terminally ill abandoned orphans and caring for them in a Mother Teresa-type manner.
Each day instead brought with it an encounter with the horrific violations of human dignity and religious freedom that have been significantly neglected in the secular media’s recent portrayal of a “new democratic and open” China. I found the opposite to be the case.
Women are being forced to have abortions by the population police in every province. Bishops and priests who refuse to cooperate with the government-run Chinese patriotic church are oftentimes hounded down, arrested, imprisoned and sometimes tortured.
Underground seminaries are at times no more than an abandoned building without electricity or heat. Religious and human-rights violations are ubiquitous.
Q: What are the seven sorrows of China that you refer to in the title of your book?
Miravalle: The seven sorrows represent seven categories or concrete cases of oppression presently being experienced by the Chinese people. For example, one sorrow conveys the account of a woman I met in a secret refugee house for pregnant women who wanted to have their babies in spite of government prohibitions. She had to flee the house in her hospital gown and rush into a taxi held by a Catholic religious sister in order to save her baby from abortion.
Another sorrow refers to an underground bishop who risked his life to give an interview so that the West could know the real story about religious persecution in China. Still another sorrow tells of a small Catholic village that, through Catholic solidarity Chinese-style, are having large families and public Catholic liturgies in spite of the one-child policy and government opposition to unsanctioned public religious gatherings.
Love of our Blessed Mother was so frequently referred to by members of the underground Church. I could not help but think of how her heart, pierced seven times historically because of the innocent suffering of her divine Son, continues to be pierced mystically as she observes the unjust suffering of the noble Chinese people. She sees Jesus in each innocent Chinese person tortured, abused, aborted. So should we.
Q: What about the fact that Beijing has been awarded the 2008 Olympics? Isn’t the Chinese government trying to convince the West that it is more open and democratic?
Miravalle: This is precisely the question I asked the underground bishop I was able to interview.
We met secretly in an impoverished family dwelling near his cathedral, as he had numerous police watching the cathedral. His answer was, “The Chinese government is like the fox that goes up to the chicken and says, ‘Happy New Year,’ and then devours the chicken. We are not free to practice our Catholic faith. I have been imprisoned for a total of 20 years, where I have experienced hard labor, and witnessed the torture and killing of priests and laity.”
When I suggested that perhaps it would be imprudent to include the reference to 20 years in prison for fear that it would break his anonymity, he said there would be no problem including this fact since all underground bishops have spent approximately 20 years in prison for refusing to compromise their Catholic faith and their loyalty to the Holy Father.
Q: Did the underground bishop have any comment on Benedict XVI’s recent letter to the Church in China?
Miravalle: Yes, the bishop had received a copy of the letter just a few days before our interview. The Chinese government blocked all Web sites, including the Vatican Web site, that posted the Holy Father’s letter, but the underground Church has its information networks.
The bishop praised Benedict XVI’s letter for its wisdom and prudence. In fact, my interview with the bishop was interrupted 10 minutes after it began, because regional police came to the cathedral searching for the bishop. The people at the house were afraid they were taking the bishop back to prison.
A half-hour later, the bishop returned to our clandestine meeting place, and told me the police had come to warn him not to say anything publicly about the Pope’s letter. The bishop then smiled and commented how the inevitable could not be stopped.
Q: What about the government’s one-child policy? How is this being enforced?
Miravalle: I received testimonies from women who had gone to the hospital nine months pregnant and in labor, but without the government’s certificate allowing for birth. After consultation with the population police, a doctor or nurse would re-enter the room with a needle and inject a substance into the abdomen of the woman, which would instantaneously kill the unborn child.
Other married couples would return home from the hospital with their second child and find their home burned to the ground. Still others would be forced to pay high fines or return to homes where everything was removed, including windows and doors, except for the kitchen table.
Does this sound like a new, democratic, religion-respecting government? What if any of our Western families received this type of treatment for trying to bring a beautiful new baby into the world?
Just last week, another underground bishop died in prison and his body was cremated six hours later in the middle of the night. Was there something to hide? What if this happened to one of our bishops in the West?
Q: Did you see any signs of hope for the Church in China during your visit?
Miravalle: Yes. In a few remarkable villages within provinces known for their heroic stands of faith and martyrdom for our Catholic faith under untold persecution, many families had multiple children and public Masses and Marian processions.
I flew to one particular village and interviewed the parish priest, asking how this was possible in light of Beijing’s one-child policy. He answered, “Here, we are united. The priests would die for the bishop, and people would die and have died for their bishop and priests, and the bishop is completely loyal to the Holy Father. We are so united that they would have to wipe us all out, and they will not do that now.”
I asked the parish priest and religious sister translating for us, what makes this village different. They responded: “We rely on the Eucharist, Our Lady, and the blood and prayers of the martyrs before us. Here we are Catholic. If you do not follow the Holy Father, then you are not Catholic.”
Q: What can the Church in the West do to help the Church in China?
Miravalle: Our hearts should feel pierced as we hear of the daily plight of our Chinese Catholic brothers and sisters. This should lead to committed daily prayer for the Church and the people of China.
I also asked the underground bishop this question. He said, “Pray, pray for the Chinese Church. Finances can help, but most of all, pray.”
The bishop added that Communism is not the only evil facing his people.
He shared: “In the last few years, my people are being affected with a secular, worldly idea of happiness, that they can find their ultimate happiness in this life. They have lost their desire for prayer and sacrifice. This is an even greater danger than the Communist government.”
The bishop then exhorted, “Pray to Our Lady, Maria! She is the remedy for the situation in China. It is like the battle in the Book of Revelation, between the woman and the dragon. It is first a spiritual, cosmic battle. Pray to Our Lady for China.”