Posts Tagged ‘world’

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.

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Interview With Chief Electoral Commissioner

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, AUG. 28, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Sierra Leone’s Aug. 11 elections were the first held there since U.N. peacekeepers left — and they did not reignite an 11-year-old war that plagued the country since 1991.

Sierra Leoneans are now awaiting a Sept. 8 runoff between the leading two presidential candidates after none of the seven contenders won the needed majority in the Aug. 11 elections. There have been scattered reports of violence and a curfew is in effect.

And the outgoing president announced today that he could invoke emergency powers to avoid further clashes between rivals’ supporters. Yet, there is hope that the successful elections earlier this month are a sign of the West African nation’s progress in returning to the civilized world.

At the center of it all is Christiana Thorpe, the chief electoral commissioner.

She first came to public attention as the minister of education. Thorpe introduced a new educational system and later distinguished herself as an advocate for the promotion of women and the education of girls.

Moreover, Thorpe is a fervent Catholic who attends daily Mass.

In this interview, she tells ZENIT that God is the indispensable factor behind her success.

Q: What do you make of your appointment as the chief electoral commissioner, being the first woman to have ever held that position?

Thorpe: I take it as a challenge, and every day I try to live up to its requirements.

Q: What challenges have you met and what successes have you achieved?

Thorpe: Elections, for many people, are just a matter of going to cast their votes.

But that is not all. Casting of votes is just the end of a series of activities and engagements.

To have the elections, boundaries have to be set, a census conducted, voter registration carried out with the lists thoroughly verified and voter education carried out.

There is also need to train people to professionally conduct the elections and equip the polling.

The candidates who are going to be voted upon also need to be nominated, accredited and they need the campaign time to convince voters. All of that preparation takes a lot of time. This demands a lot of work.

We’ve done everything to meet up to international standards.

We are coming from the war and we need international assistance to move forward in a lot of things.

So if the elections were not of international standards, we would not get the aid and assistance that we are looking for.

Q: What can you say about the political maturity of Sierra Leone?

Thorpe. We are coming into it. There needs to be a lot of voter education in all that concerns the electoral process.

Even after elections and before elections, measures should be put in place. And the commission is ready to do that, to continue to educate people on what the democratic process is about.

The democratic process is not about violence, it is not about abusive language, it is not competition in the unhealthy sense of the word. [It is] choosing people who will lead us and who will lead us within the international circle so that we, too, could be counted as a civilized nation.

Q: You will be remembered for promoting women’s rights. Why has this been such a great priority in your life?

Thorpe: Because I was always interested in women’s and girls’ education since I was a child. I think God has been directing the path I would follow.

Wherever I have gone, [I’ve worked on] issues of development, issues of handicapped people, especially that of women and girls.

And since I have a natural flare for teaching — education in general — I have enjoyed passing on information. I like to have people becoming enlightened on whatever the issue. I think I am at my best in that field.

Q: The Forum for African Women’s Education has been a success story in Sierra Leone. How did it all start?

Thorpe: I started with FAWE in 1995 when I was minister of education, and I attended the conference in Geneva where I met the FAWE executive members from Nairobi.

They introduced the idea. Basically it was to get women throughout Africa to become educated. The rate of illiteracy at that time in Africa was 70%.

I saw that the ideals they espoused coincided in with my interests and so I jumped at the opportunity.

When I came back in March, 1995, I was able to get like-minded women — 21 of them, and we started the work of establishing the organization.

It has been very successful, especially useful during the war when we were able to come to the assistance of thousands of girls who has suffered brutally in the carnage.

With women who were violated, there was need to help them keep their heads above water and to assure them that they can start life all over again, despite all these difficulties.




Churches Face Challenge in Postmodern Culture

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, JULY 8, 2007 (Zenit.org).- With just a year to go before World Youth Day takes place in Sydney, data on religion from the 2006 national census in Australia reveals several challenges facing the Church.

The June 27 press release from the Australian Bureau of Statistics explained that Christianity remains the dominant religion in the country. Since the 1996 census the number of people reporting that they are Christian grew from around 12.6 million to 12.7 million. This is, however, a significant fall in terms of a proportion of the total population, from 71% to 64%.

The Catholic Church continues to be the largest Christian group in Australia. Since 1996 the number of Australians affiliated with the Catholic Church grew by 7% to 5.1 million. Nevertheless, this growth was not enough to keep the proportion of Catholics from declining as a proportion of the country’s overall population, from 27% in 1996 to 25.8% by 2006.

The Anglican Church is the second-largest group, accounting for 19% of the population. Their numbers are in decline with a 5% fall over the decade between the census surveys of 1996 to 2006. The fastest-growing Christian denomination was Pentecostal, increasing by 26%, to around 220,000 members.

Australia’s three most common non-Christian religious affiliations were Buddhism (2.1%), Islam (1.7%) and Hinduism (0.7%). Their numbers are growing strongly, with Hinduism more than doubling from 1996 to 2006, to 150,000. The numbers of Buddhists doubled in the ten-year period.

The number of nonbelievers also continues to grow. Since 1996, the number who stated they had no religion increased from 2.9 million to 3.7 million — boosting their proportion from 16.6% to 18.7% over the period 1996-2006.

New South Wales, whose capital Sydney will host World Youth Day, had the smallest proportion — 14% — of any of the nation’s main cities not affiliated with any religion. It is also the state with the highest proportion of Catholics, at 28.2% of the population.

Pentecostal boom

Pentecostals are also strong in New South Wales. From a small base, their numbers grew by no less than 48% in the state over the decade leading up to 2006, reported the Sydney Morning Herald on June 28. Among other groups Sydney is home to the Pentecostal Hillsong Church, which claims 19,000 members.

Its pastor, Brett Macpherson, commented that the number of Pentecostals was in all likelihood even greater than the census figures indicated, as some would have just ticked the more generic Christian box on the form. His comments came in an article on the census data published by the Australian newspaper June 28.

The newspaper also published an analysis by Bernard Salt of the situation regarding young people and religion. He commented that the proportion of believers aged 20-35 contracted by no less than 5% between 2001 and 2006. The latest census data, he added, suggest that people in this age group are much less inclined to hold traditional beliefs than were their age counterparts in the 1980s.

One interesting initiative to put young people in greater contact with religion was the launch of a national program to fund chaplains in schools. The National School Chaplaincy Program was launched by Prime Minister John Howard last October.

The program is voluntary and provides annual funding of up to 20,000 Australian dollars ($17,176) a year for both government and nongovernmental schools, according to a presentation of the scheme on the Web site of the federal government’s Department of Education, Science and Training. The government will provide up to 30 million Australian dollars ($25.7 million) a year for the next three years.

Education Minister Julie Bishop said that more than 1,500 applications were lodged around the country — around 15% of Australian schools, reported The Age newspaper May 30. After reviewing the applications, Prime Minister Howard announced that the government allocated funding to 1,392 schools for the first round of grants, reported The Age on June 27. Moreover, due to the high demand, he said that an extra 25 million Australian dollars ($21.4 million) in funds would be made available for the three-year program.

A reawakening

There is a reawakening of interest in religion and spirituality in Australia according to a book published last year by Monash University academic, Gary Bouma. In “Australian Soul,” he notes that Australia is a typical example of a secular, postmodern and post-Christian society. This does not mean, however, that it is irreligious, he argues.

Compared to the 1960s and 1970s, when secularism seemed triumphant, Bouma detects much more interest these days in religion and spirituality. Nevertheless, this is both good and bad news for the traditional churches, because much of this resurgence in religion is often not directed within the formal structures offered by established religion.

Studies of attendance at Catholic and Protestant churches, for example, show that regular churchgoers tend to be older and more likely to be female. One study revealed that the traditional Protestant congregations lost nearly half of those who were raised as young people in these churches.

Furthermore, the traditional predominance of Christianity is under challenge due to a burgeoning of other faiths, in part due to immigration, in part due to a growing desire for religious experimentation. Thus, not only have numbers of Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims risen, but also those who declare themselves followers of New Age type spiritualities or even forms of paganism is on the increase.

A closer look at the situation of the Catholic Church came in another book published last year: “Lost!: Australia’s Catholics Today,” by Michael Gilchrist. The Australian experience after the Second Vatican Council was similar to that of many other Western countries, he commented, with severe inroads made due to the forces of secularism and relativism.

Moreover, declining numbers of priests and a severe decline in many of the religious orders, who staffed the Church’s schools, has notably weakened both parishes and Catholic education. Gilchrist also devoted considerable space in his book to describing the theological and liturgical experimentation that led to a marked dilution in Catholic doctrine.

Catholic renewal

Gilchrist suggested a number of steps to improve the state of the Church in Australia. These ranged from recommending strong leadership by the bishops, to renewing the Catholic identity of the Church’s schools and revitalizing devotion and liturgical life.

He also urged that efforts continue to promote vocations and ensure good formation in seminaries. Over the last decade or so substantial progress was made in this area and the seminaries that have undergone reforms are seeing a steady increase in numbers.

Even though the task ahead is difficult, Archbishop Philip Wilson, president of the Australian bishops’ conference is hopeful. In a speech given this April at a conference for Church administrators he declared certain optimism for the future of the Church. This is based, he explained, both on a conviction of God’s faithfulness, and also because he believes that there is openness in Western culture to receive the Gospel message.

Transmitting this message to today’s world also requires a sustained effort on our parts, he added. In part we can achieve this through living “faithful, vibrant, intelligent Christian lives,” Archbishop Wilson commented. Being able to do this will require a serious religious and moral formation.

To achieve this, the archbishop noted the importance not only of educating young people through the Catholic schools, but also of forming adults in their faith. Not easy tasks, but essential ones to ensure a healthy future for the Church.

Interview With Chicago’s Cardinal George

CHICAGO, JUNE 27, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Suffering, says Cardinal Francis George, has taught him to know that no one is saved alone.

On his 10th anniversary as archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal George spoke to ZENIT about the lessons and demands of shepherding the third largest diocese in the United States.

Q: What have been the most significant trials and triumphs for you in leading 2.3 million Catholics as the archbishop of Chicago?

Cardinal George: The challenge in every generation of the Church’s history is to help God create saints, holy people formed by the Gospel, enlivened by the Church’s sacraments and encouraged and loved by pastors in apostolic succession.

All the Church’s institutions are secondary to her mission to make people holy so that they can transform the world here and live forever with the Lord as his saints.

The Archdiocese of Chicago has developed many institutions in her history, and it is a constant struggle to keep them alive and to decide when they should be allowed to die.

The population of the city and the two counties that form the archdiocese changes and moves, but the institutions are rooted in place and have to respond to the challenges of population shifts and changing economic constraints.

Extra efforts have had to be made to strengthen liturgical life and assure adequate catechesis. The reform of the clergy, overseeing the seminary and creating new formation programs for deacons and lay ministers are particular concerns. All of this is the constant administrative challenge.

Planning is part of governing, but one can’t see too far into the future. Planning is often overcome by events. The important thing is to keep the principles clear and then make decisions in light of them.

Two events of the last 10 years have impacted the Church’s life and ministry in this country and in the Chicago Archdiocese: the attack on our country in the name of God on Sept. 11, 2001, and the ongoing effects of the crisis of sexual abuse that occurred, for the most part, between 1973 and 1986, but which became a cause of national notoriety in 2002. These challenges to the Church’s mission continue here and elsewhere.

In partial response to some of these challenges, Chicago now has a new liturgical institute of some importance, a Chicago Scripture school for the laity, and reformed preparation programs in lay ministry and youth ministry.

Catholic Charities continues to strengthen its work with the poor. The cemetery system and the network of parishes and schools bring the mission home to practicing Catholics.

Unfortunately, only about 30% of Catholics go to Mass each Sunday, and many of these are immigrants, people trained to be Catholic elsewhere. The huge influx of Spanish- and Polish-speaking immigrants has been a life-giving challenge, and the archdiocese has responded in many imaginative ways.

Ideological conflict in the Church destroys the unity necessary for mission. We can’t live and act together if we are divided on essentials of faith and morals, or if some decide they don’t have to obey bishops unless they govern the Church according to their particular expectations.

Some groups operate as a kind of fifth column in the Church, convinced of their own righteousness and willing to weaken or destroy the Church if she doesn’t change to suit them, or if bishops don’t do exactly what they want when they want it.

This is also a major challenge today, but the response is what it has been for 2,000 years: conversion of mind and heart.

Q: You have written a pastoral letter on racism, and promoted workshops on the topic in the archdiocese. What has prompted you to focus on this issue so particularly?

Cardinal George: The archdiocese has an extensive program to train people to see the effects of racism, because racism is a terrible sin and one that is firmly embedded in the country’s history. It is the original sin of the English-speaking colonies of the Eastern seaboard and it affects all of us.

The pastoral letter “Dwell In My Love” addresses this sin by looking at many of the effects of racism as it influences our lives together.

Q: Your archdiocese, perhaps more than most, is known as home to large numbers of immigrants. From your experience in this area, what are the most pressing pastoral needs of immigrants?

Cardinal George: The first generation of immigrants needs to find the Church here a welcoming place, able to minister to them in their own language and culture. The children of immigrants present a different pastoral problem, for they are at home with their family in one culture and at school and work with their friends in another culture.

Priests have to be not only bilingual — or trilingual — but also bicultural, which is a bigger challenge. Culture tells us what is valuable and what not, and so does faith. Both are part of us, and the Church has to respect that dialogue between faith and cultures in the hearts of believers. It is a complicated situation, but a positive one.

The Church’s fundamental message is that we worship a God who is love, and we must be willing to sacrifice ourselves for others. This means giving up things that are dear to us, sometimes even our first language, in order to be part of something bigger. This gives the context for both combating racism and welcoming immigrants.

Q: As a long-time colleague of Joseph Ratzinger, what has been your impression of Benedict XVI’s pontificate thus far?

Cardinal George: Benedict XVI is living up to his name: He is a blessing for the Church.

Q: You have encountered numerous health problems in the past several years, in addition to polio in your youth. What has your experience of suffering taught you? What message of hope does the Church offer to those who suffer?

Cardinal George: Suffering marks the human condition since the fall. Christ used something evil, suffering and death, to undo the effects of sin and to bring us the gift of eternal life.

In faith, suffering is to be embraced as a means to participate in Christ’s own passion and death. The temptation that hides the meaning of suffering is called self-pity or resentment: the “why me?” question.

What personal suffering has taught me over many years is that one cannot build a life, let alone a call to sanctity, on resentment or self-pity. These are cages that make suffering useless in the quest for holiness.

The response in faith to suffering also must go beyond stoicism, the “grin and bear it” reaction. This reaction continues the isolation that pain brings; it does not invite one to participation, which is how we are saved.

The faith community’s spontaneous response to the suffering of any of its members is to pray for him or her. This expresses the solidarity of the communion of saints. What suffering has taught me, among other truths, is that no one is saved alone; no one lives here or in the hereafter alone.

Learning how to accept help as well as learning how to reach out beyond one’s own limiting experiences are lessons that suffering can teach us. They make suffering an instrument for building communion.