Posts Tagged ‘bishop’

Bishop of Solwezi on Priorities for His Church

ROME, JAN. 13, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The 41-year-old bishop of Solwezi in Zambia is entrusted with a diocese stretching some 34,000 square miles (88,300 square kilometers). Scattered over the territory are about 80,000 Catholics. In this rural, poor setting, Bishop Charles Kasonde says his priority is evangelization.

Marie Pauline Meyer of Where God Weeps for Aid to the Church in Need spoke with the bishop, who is the fourth prelate to be charged with the task of overseeing Solwezi since it was declared a diocese in 1976.

Q: You have recently been appointed bishop (March 23, 2010). It this new task difficult?

Bishop Kasonde: Yes and no. It is difficult in knowing that it is a task that I have to perform and it requires a lot of experience. And it is measured by a lot of experience, of which I don’t have a lot. Once you are ordained a priest you remain open to the prompting of the Spirit in your life and also what the Church wants you to do. So we as priests, we have the missionary spirit ready to be sent anywhere and to be given any task; for us it is not a promotion, it is an appointment and we graciously say “yes” to that and we move on. So with that I rely on the grace of God to help me to carry out my activities with the support of the Christians, my brother priests, deacons, bishops and all the fraternity within the Church.

Q: What do you see as your most urgent project at the moment?

Bishop Kasonde: I think this is reflected through my motto, which is “Evangelization of the people of God.” Therefore I’m drawn much more to start projects that concern evangelization of the people, disclosing the love of Christ to the people; let the people encounter Christ. I’m not going to a new diocese; I’m going to a diocese that was founded in 1976. I’m going to a people who have already come into contact with Christ. I’m going there to add to what the people already know. I’m also going to a diocese that is largely rural and quite poor. So infrastructure will be needed. Many churches have been built out of mud and we need concrete churches that stand the test of time. So this is one more reason why I need also to go in that area, so that the people of God can worship the Lord in a house that is beautiful — and they are looking forward to going back to “their home,” the home of God. This is also my preoccupation.

Q: I’ve heard that there are many sects coming to Zambia. Is this something you have encountered?

Bishop Kasonde: My diocese is peculiar in a sense that out of the 10 dioceses it is the only diocese, by and large, which was occupied by the Protestants. Here our brothers and sisters shared greatly in proclaiming the Word of God. Catholicism is a little bit foreign, but slowly it is sinking in and people are getting to know about it and already we have our churches built, though some are very bad structures. Almost in the entire Northwestern province, which covers my canonical area, the population for the province is about 900,000 and the Catholic presence is just about 90,000 — 10% of the entire population. In other places the Catholic population goes, to some extent, even about 70% to 80%, so I have a long way to go.

Q: You say that your diocese is mostly rural and very poor. Are the poor attracted to other churches because they are given food and other needs of daily life?

Bishop Kasonde: Yes. The poor do it not intentionally but because they lack the very basic necessities. When you talk about poverty, it is overwhelming.

Q: Can you describe the poverty?

Bishop Kasonde: Poverty is making less than a dollar a day. They make 50 cents a day — that is all. Some even don’t make that much. So our people struggle a lot and they depend on farm produce. They also depend on the rain because we do not have irrigation systems; only a privileged few have this but the majority depends on the rain. Without the rain there is drought, which means they are unable to purchase their daily needs for their homes as well as tuition money for their children’s school fees. It is a very bad situation but by the grace of God we are surviving and we are happy even in the midst of that poverty.

Q: What do your people expect of you? 

Bishop Kasonde: They expect me to bring Christ to them; to be one who identifies and lives with them and one who brings them the Good News of the Risen Lord. You look at the people: They are very poor, yet very happy. We share the Word of God together. We pray together. We break bread together through the Eucharistic meal and that is what they want.

Q: When one consults the Internet about Zambia, most often the information one reads is about AIDS and poverty-related problems. Is this how you see it as well?

Bishop Kasonde: I see that but this is not all that is Zambia. Zambia is a peaceful and beautiful country. The media perhaps wants to portray Zambia as such but Zambia is not just poverty, AIDS or corruption. Of course we have these problems but when you walk around you see Zambians who are wealthy, Zambians who are poor. They are cheerful and well versed in what they do. Zambians are moderate and so it is a great mixture.

Q: Yet AIDS is a problem? 

Bishop Kasonde: AIDS is certainly a big problem in the Sub-Saharan region of Africa and Zambia is part of this region. There is no cure so when one is infected, it spreads. We have seen especially the middle-aged people, the bread winners, the family providers dying from AIDS and the retired, the old, and the feeble — the grandmothers and grandfathers — taking over the role of parenthood again for their orphaned grandchildren, because their children are dying or are dead.

Q: Do you have a solution?

Bishop Kasonde: I think one of the solutions could be investing in education. There was a time when the Catholic Church provided education facilities and then the government took over and “Zambianized” everything, which was a good thing but they became overwhelmed and they couldn’t provide the quality service in education. Now they want to dump this back on the Church, now that the schools are not in good condition and are dilapidated. So the Church is a little bit hesitant but we know that education is a priority. If we want to help our people it is through education because an educated person will suffer less than an illiterate one. Education is the key and empowerment especially for the generation that is growing up; if those are educated they will go and find their own means of sustenance and survival. So this is one area I want to look at — to get back the schools. If we have the money and we invest in them, we could renovate them and attract the teachers who could educate our children.

Q: What is the hope for your country?

Bishop Kasonde: Zambia is very rich in minerals and natural resources. All we need is a leader who is able to interpret the signs of the times; a leader who is able to die a little for his people, a leader who is sincere and honest. We can’t be as poor as we are because everywhere you go you find minerals and we live in a rainy belt. Every season we have the rain, which is why people have not even invested in irrigation because we have enough rain for a season in which to grow crops. The poverty in Zambia is exaggerated. All Zambia needs is a leadership that could command respect and put things in order and we’ll be home and dry.

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This interview was conducted by Marie-Pauline Meyer 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.

NICARAGUA: A CHURCH IN THE SWAMP (PART 2)

Interview With Auxiliary Bishop David Zywiec of Bluefields

BLUEFIELDS, Nicaragua, MARCH 7, 2010 (Zenit.org).- It is easy to become isolated in the problems of one’s own nation, but a bishop working with the poor in Nicaragua says it is important to remember that we live in a global community and form part of the universal Church.

Capuchin Bishop David Zywiec is the auxiliary bishop of the Vicariate of Bluefields, which serves almost all of the eastern half of Nicaragua, including what is known as the Mosquito Coast.

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.

Part 1 of the transcription of the interview appeared last Sunday.

Q: You learned the Miskito language — how long did it take you?

Bishop Zywiec: I’m still learning it! They say to learn a language it takes about 1,000 hours. One of the difficulties I find is that you almost have to be immersed in it or speaking the language all the time. And one of the things I find difficult here is that I’m in the Miskito area for a while and in the Spanish area for a while.

Q: You are one of the few missionaries who actually speaks the language.

Bishop Zywiec: That’s right, and the thing is, we are blessed in the vicariate because we’ve got five Miskito priests, and then there are some young Miskito men in the seminary. So I think that this is God blessing us in a way to build a native church.

Q: What would be your appeal? What would be your call now for your work, for the diocese, for the vicariate?

Bishop Zywiec: One thing of course would be prayer because we are called to pray. Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries of Latin America. We’ve been through civil wars, and hurricanes, and so prayer is important. A lot of times, I feel that I read a newspaper in Nicaragua and they just talk about Nicaragua …you go to the States, they just talk about the States. We are part of a global community now; we are part of the Catholic Church. So, I believe that this is an important thing too. And also we’ve had, you might say, partnerships with different parishes and I believe that this is an important way of not just saying: “OK we’ll pray for Nicaragua”; and also not to say … I know this person there, or this family there, so that it isn’t just helping a certain person or a certain anonymous area, but this particular person, this particular family with their needs. I believe, that makes one … it kind of hits you in the heart … and I think this is a way of living the brotherhood and sisterhood that God calls us … that Jesus calls us to live, as followers of Jesus.

Q: We’re talking about a really rural area where you are: swamps, lots of swamp areas, mountains. How would you characterize the social development of the people? Are they still very traditional in their practices or are they becoming more modernized, so to speak. How would you characterize that?

Bishop Zywiec: I’d say a lot of things have changed in the rural area. When I first worked there, I was working with the Spanish-speaking settlers — Spanish-speaking farmers — and you know older missionaries said that, when they’d have a mission, the priest would come like every year, every six months, there were some women who wouldn’t understand when another man talked to them because they lived so isolated and the only man’s voice that the woman would hear was the husband’s voice. And now in some of the same areas you don’t just have radios, you know, battery powered radios, but with solar panels you now have television. And so things have changed there … slowly, not all of a sudden … not over night… but one of the things I noticed too is when I came there 30 years ago the children as a sign of respect would fold their hands and say “Santito,” [holy one] and now they don’t do that and this is something that you might say is just a little sign of how things have changed a little bit.

But then on the other side there have been some good changes. I find, for example, people are very gifted as far as making up songs. When I first came there, if we came to a chapel and there was a man there who played the guitar this was really great! Now there are chapels were they will have a guitar, and a guitaro — and a little guitar — an accordion and a trumpet, or maybe even a keyboard; so things have changed … you know, a mixture of good and bad, but I think, these things here give more life to our celebrations in the rural area.

Q: You mentioned earlier some of the social challenges — particularly schools. You’ve been working very hard for the development of a grade school system for young rural children that wouldn’t otherwise have access to education. Why did you see this as a priority?

Bishop Zywiec: If you’re going to live in the world today, you need to know how to read and write. And another thing that we find is that, lots of times, there is migration, from the country to the towns. For example, one of our seminarians comes from a rural family — he is one of 16 children. Now most likely a lot of them will move to towns and then if you do not know how to read and write, what are you going to do? You are just going to have menial jobs, or else you might be tempted to rob. So at least, if a person has the capacity to read and write, that person can get a job more easily and make a living in an honest and dignified way.

Q: What other priorities, what other projects would you see as very important now for this vicariate?

Bishop Zywiec: I believe that this whole business about education, because there has been too much history of non-involvement by the government in this area — so it goes way back, 40, 50 years — that the Church has had to get involved in education. Right now there is a school system of over 400 schools with over 20,000 children in grade school. I believe another step is to get involved in a type of high school, but technical high schools so that people are able to work in agriculture…

Q: To have skills, vocational training …?

Bishop Zywiec: That’s right, vocational training. … Another challenge in the whole line of human promotion is health, because there are so few doctors. Doctors want to stay in the cities. They do not want to go out in the country, and so we have, lots of times, small health clinics … that’s a challenge too. As I mentioned, our whole work for evangelization — that’s an important priority, and our lay leaders, that that they are ever better trained so that as people become more educated, that our lay leaders are able to give quality leadership and be able to explain the faith with more capacity, and I believe too, one of the things that we have to do is to work for the common good, the sense of community.

I think, lots of times, people get into certain situations in politics or business or even in the Church, where they think: “Well, I have this particular job and let’s see what I can get out of it for myself,” rather than say, “I’m here as a public servant, as a servant of God.” As Jesus said: “I came not to be served but to serve.” This whole spirit of service is one of the big challenges that we have. You might say, to have a mentality of service … a service attitude like that of Jesus, is part of evangelization. I think that is an important challenge that we have in Latin America and in the Bluefields Vicariate.

Perhaps, one other thing too, as you mentioned, with the Miskito area, is the whole inculturation of the faith, being able to express the faith we have in Miskito. For example, now we have a Miskito Bible, we have a song book, and to be able to help the Miskito to express their faith, their feelings, their love of God in their own way and that this becomes part of their Church structure — in the rural areas too — with the music and so forth, becomes part of their way of expressing their faith and their love of God.

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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.

Catholic Schools in the Spotlight

Role of Faith and Education Debated

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, OCT. 7, 2007 (Zenit.org).- State funding of Catholic schools has been a hotly debated topic in the lead-up to Oct. 10 legislative elections in the Canadian province of Ontario.

John Tory, leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, raised the issue when during the campaign he questioned why Catholic schools in the province are state-funded while other faith-based schools are not, reported the National Post newspaper Aug. 25.

Tory, who is hoping to unseat the ruling Liberal Party Ontario premier, Dalton McGuinty, proposed extending public funding to other faiths, at an estimated cost of 400 million Canadian dollars (US $407).

The newspaper article explained that the decision to fund provincial Catholic schools dates back to the 1867 Constitution Act, which established in Canada two systems of publicly funded education: government and Catholic. Other provinces have since changed their education funding, but this has not been the case in Ontario.

In reply to Tory’s proposal some critics proposed simply eliminating any public funds for all faith schools. “The best course of action would be to simply eliminate public funding for Ontario’s Catholic schools,” opined an editorial in the Globe and Mail newspaper on Sept. 6.

The editorial echoed a censure heard with frequency in some quarters, saying: “As we struggle to avoid the polarization of ethnic and religious minorities, governments should not be contributing to it by encouraging kids to interact only with members of their own faith.”

An opinion supported by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, in an open letter dated Sept. 21 written to Ontario Education Minister Kathleen Wynne, said: “Public funding of religious schools will drain resources from the public system and promote private schools at the expense of public schools.”

Parental rights

The province’s Catholic bishops had their say in the altercation, reported the Ottawa Citizen newspaper on Sept. 10. “The public funding of Catholic schools recognizes that parents have the right to make educational choices for their children, and that the state should assist them,” said a statement issued by Bishop James Wingle, head of the Diocese of St. Catharines and president of the Ontario conference of bishops.

“The primacy of parental rights in education is a value which should be realized not only by Catholic parents, but also by others,” the prelates’ continued.

The bishops also stated that they “respect and support the wishes of parents in other faith communities for religion education in the public school system or for alternative schools which reflect their beliefs and values.”

Faith-based education was also criticized in England recently, by columnist Zoe Williams, in a commentary written Sept. 19 for the Guardian. Her article came after the decision of Catholic schools in Northern Ireland to disband their support groups for Amnesty International, owing to its adoption of a pro-abortion stance.

Williams accused Christians of “prosecuting an agenda that is repugnant,” through their schools and argued that they should not receive any public funds.

Times opinion columnist Alice Miles previously expressed similar sentiments. In a May 23 article, she accused the middle classes of using the faith schools “as a barely covert form of social and academic selection.”

Selecting on belief

Schools run by Anglicans or the Catholic Church, Miles argued, should not be allowed to select pupils on the basis of belief, but should simply accept anyone who applies to enter.

The question of using religious criteria to select pupils also came up recently in Ireland, reported the Irish Times newspaper on Sept. 15.

Replying to criticisms of Catholic schools, Bishop Leo O’Reilly, chairman of the Irish bishops’ education commission, said that the schools were founded by the Church to provide a Catholic education for its members.

Parents have a right to have their children educated in Catholic schools, and having contributed through taxes to fund public education, it is not unfair that the faith schools receive government funds, argued Bishop O’Reilly.

The right of parents to choose what sort of education they wish for their children, he added, is supported by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the European Convention on Human Rights.

Shortly afterward, Archbishop Sean Brady of Armagh spoke about the topic of faith schools in a speech given Sept. 21 for the launch in Belfast of a Web site for the Consultative Group on Catholic Education.

At a time of moral confusion, he argued, Catholic education defends the dignity of the human person and offers a set of values based on the Gospel.

Labeling such an education as divisive is simply not the truth, Archbishop Brady maintained. “Reconciliation, love of neighbor, respect for difference: These values are intrinsic to Catholic education because they are intrinsic to the message of Jesus,” he said.

“We do not abandon children to the ‘whatever you think yourself’ approach to morality so often associated with a purely secular or state-based education often found in other countries,” the archbishop added.

Catholic values

The advantages of a Catholic education were enough to persuade even an atheist to make a large donation, as an article posted May 23 on Bloomberg.com explained. Retired hedge-fund manager Robert W. Wilson announced he was giving $22.5 million to the Archdiocese of New York to fund a scholarship program for needy inner city students attending Catholic schools.

“Let’s face it, without the Roman Catholic Church, there would be no Western civilization,” Wilson said.

Nevertheless, Catholic schools face trials in some areas. In Washington, D.C., Archbishop Donald Wuerl is proposing to convert eight out of the 28 Catholic schools into charter schools, due to financial pressures, reported the Washington Post on Sept. 8.

The plan means the schools lose their religious identity, as they would be run by a secular body. Archbishop Wuerl said this was the only way to continue providing education for many low-income families.

Chicago is also facing a time of transition, as an article published Sept. 11 in the Chicago Tribune newspaper reported. Chicago’s Catholic schools educate 98,000 students, but responsibility for this task now depends on laypeople instead of members of religious orders.

Citing data from the National Catholic Education Association, the article noted that while in the 1950s about 90% of the Catholic teaching staff was made up of religious brothers and sisters. Today, there are only 206 religious teaching in Chicago’s Catholic schools, or 4% of the staff.

Numbers up

Meanwhile, Catholic schools in Australia face a different kind of situation. Private schools, many of them Catholic, are flourishing. An article published Feb. 27 by the Australian Associated Press reported that the number of students at independent and Catholic schools had risen by 21.5% since 1996.

Over the same period, numbers in government schools increased by just 1.2%. By the end of last year, 66.8% of Australia’s 3.36 million full-time school students went to government schools, down from 70.7% in 1996.

In spite of the numerical success there are concerns over the Catholic identity of the Church schools. On Aug. 8 the bishops of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory issued a statement titled “Catholic Schools at a Crossroads.”

In it, they observed that over the past two decades the proportion of children in their schools from non-practicing Catholic families has risen considerably. As well, enrollments from non-Catholics have more than doubled to 20% from 9%.

The bishops urged school leaders to study how to maximize enrollment of Catholic students and also to work in order to maintain the religious identity of their institutions. The document recommended a greater space for prayer and liturgy, along with sound religious education. Maintaining the Catholic identity of schools in clearly no easy task in today’s world.



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.”



Interview With Expert in Ecumenism

WASHINGTON, D.C., JULY 15, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The recent document on the Church’s identity emphasizes the gifts Catholics offer to the quest for unity, says the director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church” on June 29, and an accompanying “Commentary.”

In this interview with ZENIT, Father James Massa discusses what the document offers to ecumenism today, and considers reactions from Protestant communities.

Q: In your position as a leader in ecumenical and interreligious work, what is your assessment of the recent document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the Catholic understanding of the Church?

Father Massa: I think it is a necessary and helpful clarification on how Catholics understand the nature of the Church. Jesus Christ founded the Church as a visible and unified society that would exist until his return. Catholics believe that this one Church of Christ exists in all its fullness in the Catholic Church alone.

That doesn’t mean the one Church is not also present and active in Orthodox churches and Protestant communities for the salvation of their members. In fact, in these Christian bodies we find genuine elements of truth and holiness that inspire us, draw us into ecumenical dialogue, and make us yearn even more for the unity for which Christ prayed. Properly understood, the “Clarification” can be a real inducement to deeper and more honest dialogue between Catholics and their ecumenical partners.

Q: What has your impression been of the reaction among Protestants and other non-Catholics to the document?

Father Massa: It’s clear that some prominent leaders in the Protestant world feel profoundly disappointed by the document. The Reverend Setri Nyomi, General Secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, is quoted as saying that it contradicts the “spirit of our Christian calling toward oneness in Christ.” He and others wonder whether the Holy Father and the Catholic leadership are still serious about dialogue.

To my mind, this is an overreaction that misreads both the intended audience and substance of the document. The “Clarification” was directed at bishops and Catholic scholars, not our ecumenical partners. Secondly, it renounces none of the essential commitments that the Catholic Church has made since Vatican II to advance the cause of Christian unity.

Other reactions have been more positive. Ann Riggs of the Faith and Order USA Commission, for example, views the document as an invitation to a more sophisticated dialogue in which each side tries to understand the other’s statements as coming out of a distinct tradition of doctrinal expression.

Metropolitan Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church called it “honest” and preferable to a diplomatic approach that dodges the tough issues. So the reaction has been mixed. But overall, I think its long term benefits for authentic ecumenism will outweigh any disadvantages.

Q: Why is this document needed now, at this moment in the journey toward full Christian unity?

Father Massa: Seven year after “Dominus Iesus,” we are still facing a problem with insufficient attention to the Catholic doctrine of the Church. Perhaps in an effort to underscore God’s saving work in other churches and Christian communities, some theologians have failed to make it clear that the one Church of Christ is uniquely identifiable with the Catholic Church. Other churches and communities welcome the saving presence of Christ into their midst, but only in the Catholic Church does the one Church subsist in fullness. Contrary to what some Catholic theologians have written, there are no other “subsistences.”

Taken out of context, the document’s position on what groups deserve to be called a “church” might also appear to be jarring. The Orthodox churches are rightly called such because they’ve retained the sacraments and the ministry that exists in apostolic succession. Protestant communities lack a certain ecclesial substance, namely, the sacraments and ministry that unite us as one in the Body of Christ. But even the Orthodox, though very close to us in faith and practice, are still “wounded” in their communion because they lack the Office of Peter, the Pope.

Q: What, if any, novelties are contained in the new document. Is this simply a restatement of Catholic teaching as articulated in other documents — if so, why the need? Or does it present new material — if so, what?

Father Massa: I don’t think there is anything substantially new here. But I do believe that the restatement of the Catholic position offers those of us involved in the dialogues to take more seriously what are the Catholic “gifts” that we bring to the table. Pope John Paul II said that ecumenism is less an exchange of ideas than an exchange of gifts. Eucharist-centered worship, episcopal ministry, and papal primacy are the unique Catholic gifts. They should never be placed “under a bushel basket.”

Q: The final paragraph of the Commentary on the Document, which was also released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, quotes “Deus Caritas Est”: “Union with Christ is also union with all those to whom he gives himself. … Communion draws me out of myself towards him, and thus also toward unity with all Christians.” Do you think Benedict XVI will be a key element in achieving unity?

Father Massa: I do indeed believe that the present Holy Father is a credible ecumenist. He was such as an academician, as a bishop-prefect, and now as a Pope. But he also cautions us not to think that “unity” is something that we ourselves achieve by means of our theological cleverness or skills in diplomacy. Unity is and always will be a gift from the Lord, and therefore something that we must wait upon in prayer and while doing appropriate works of love with the other and on behalf of the other.

Q: On another front, there was also a stir in the media after Benedict XVI’s “Summorum Pontificum” was released July 7. Some said that document is anti-Semitic. What has given that impression? And how should the document be interpreted in the light of Catholic-Jewish relations?

In the Motu Proprio “Summorum Pontificum,” the Holy Father is merely extending permission for the wider pastoral application of the Missal of 1962 — the so-called Tridentine Mass. The 1962 “Missale Romanum” already reflected Blessed John XXIII’s revision of liturgical language often construed as anti-Semitic. In 1965, Vatican II’s “Nostra Aetate” — no. 4 — then repudiated all forms of anti-Semitism as having no place within Christian life. When the new Mass was published in 1969, the only prayer for the Jewish people on Good Friday completely reflects a renewed understanding of the Jews as God’s chosen people, “first to hear the word of God.”

Throughout his papacy, Pope John Paul II worked effectively to reconcile the Church with the Jewish people and to strengthen new bonds of friendship. Benedict XVI is continuing along the same lines. But keep in mind, in 1988 John Paul II himself gave permission for the missal of 1962 to be used as a pastoral provision to assist Catholics who remained attached to the previous rites, thereby hoping to develop closer bonds within the family of the Church.

The present Holy Father — and here I quote him — remains committed to “the need to overcome past prejudices, misunderstandings, indifference and the language of contempt and hostility (and to continue) the Jewish-Christian dialogue … to enrich and deepen the bonds of friendship which have developed” — Benedict XVI, On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the promulgation of “Nostra Aetate,” Oct. 27, 2005.