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The Song of the Desert

The Song of the Desert

Fr. Carl Chudy, SX

Recently, a friend messaged me in Facebook, venting she later shared with me, her frustrations about the present mood of the country, with the large numbers of people expressing their difficulties with the direction of the new US Administration. She says, “All this hate, judgmental name calling and anger of the Americans make me so disappointed and tired. Can they just calm down for a minute and give this man a chance.” I get her dissatisfaction. She feels what so many are feeling now in the start of this new year and new administration that has surfaced, since prior to the election, the deep divide of our country. This deep, sense of frustration, which wallows in all sides of the ideological divides, hangs over our heads like a lingering dread.

In saying this, I am reminded of the story of Christiana N. Peterson, who reflected on the vigil she and her mother stood at the dying of her father of esophagus cancer. She shares:

“I’ve never lost a father before so I don’t know what his death will be like, but right now it seems as though dying is a harsher master than death. Dying refuses to follow a set pattern, it unearths personal weaknesses, unmet needs, and emotional griefs beyond the seemingly simple loss of a loved one. Dying complicates death, not because we always want death to come but because dying is filled with the looming shadow of dread. I dread the death of my father. But I also dread his prolonged suffering. I cannot know what he dreads and that is part of the pain. He won’t tell me.”
Dread is something that creeps in and out of our lives without invitation, it signals our sense of powerlessness in a world we love desperately, and the hope that struggles against it, almost unknowingly. It battles in order to reassert in us that all we want is an end to suffering, even if it’s at the bottom of a vial of morphine to temporarily take away the pain, or waiting to see if things get any better. For both my friend and Christiana and many of us, it is a waiting game to some extent.

Thomas Merton, in his work, Contemplative Prayer, said:

“The Word of God which is his comfort is also his distress. The liturgy, which is his joy and which reveals to him the glory of God, cannot fill a heart that has not previously been humbled and emptied by dread. Alleluia is the song of the desert.”
Is there something more that we are missing in the distress we hold and the hope we fervently are groping for? Is it in the dread itself, our collective angst that opens its mouth wide to the heavens as in the utterance of a song? Merton reminds us that the rock of dread that pins us to the wall provides a leverage of healing, a desperate moment to tap into the unknown reservoir of insight and strength we carry. Is our corporate confusion essential to convince  ourselves that we are perfectly capable of wrestling ourselves from behind the rock? Is that God’s healing? Is that what the power of the Cross provides?

Peterson closes with this: “But by then, will we all be too exhausted to sing Alleluia in the desert? Or does God mind that sometimes, the song of praise is as quiet as a puff of sand in the wind?”

Pope Francis’ Message for World Day of Peace

Pope Francis’ Message for World Day of Peace

MESSAGE OF POPE FRANCIS
FOR THE CELEBRATION OF THE
FIFTIETH WORLD DAY OF PEACE

1 JANUARY 2017

1. At the beginning of this New Year, I offer heartfelt wishes of peace to the world’s peoples and nations, to heads of state and government, and to religious, civic and community leaders. I wish peace to every man, woman and child, and I pray that the image and likeness of God in each person will enable us to acknowledge one another as sacred gifts endowed with immense dignity. Especially in situations of conflict, let us respect this, our “deepest dignity”, and make active nonviolence our way of life.

This is the fiftieth Message for the World Day of Peace. In the first, Blessed Pope Paul VI addressed all peoples, not simply Catholics, with utter clarity. “Peace is the only true direction of human progress – and not the tensions caused by ambitious nationalisms, nor conquests by violence, nor repressions which serve as mainstay for a false civil order”. He warned of “the danger of believing that international controversies cannot be resolved by the ways of reason, that is, by negotiations founded on law, justice, and equity, but only by means of deterrent and murderous forces.” Instead, citing the encyclical Pacem in Terris of his predecessor Saint John XXIII, he extolled “the sense and love of peace founded upon truth, justice, freedom and love”.  In the intervening fifty years, these words have lost none of their significance or urgency.

On this occasion, I would like to reflect on nonviolence as a style of politics for peace. I ask God to help all of us to cultivate nonviolence in our most personal thoughts and values. May charity and nonviolence govern how we treat each other as individuals, within society and in international life. When victims of violence are able to resist the temptation to retaliate, they become the most credible promotors of nonviolent peacemaking. In the most local and ordinary situations and in the international order, may nonviolence become the hallmark of our decisions, our relationships and our actions, and indeed of political life in all its forms.

A broken world

2. While the last century knew the devastation of two deadly World Wars, the threat of nuclear war and a great number of other conflicts, today, sadly, we find ourselves engaged in a horrifying world war fought piecemeal. It is not easy to know if our world is presently more or less violent than in the past, or to know whether modern means of communications and greater mobility have made us more aware of violence, or, on the other hand, increasingly inured to it.

In any case, we know that this “piecemeal” violence, of different kinds and levels, causes great suffering: wars in different countries and continents; terrorism, organized crime and unforeseen acts of violence; the abuses suffered by migrants and victims of human trafficking; and the devastation of the environment. Where does this lead? Can violence achieve any goal of lasting value? Or does it merely lead to retaliation and a cycle of deadly conflicts that benefit only a few “warlords”?

Violence is not the cure for our broken world. Countering violence with violence leads at best to forced migrations and enormous suffering, because vast amounts of resources are diverted to military ends and away from the everyday needs of young people, families experiencing hardship, the elderly, the infirm and the great majority of people in our world. At worst, it can lead to the death, physical and spiritual, of many people, if not of all.

The Good News

3. Jesus himself lived in violent times. Yet he taught that the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart: for “it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come” (Mk 7:21). But Christ’s message in this regard offers a radically positive approach. He unfailingly preached God’s unconditional love, which welcomes and forgives. He taught his disciples to love their enemies (cf. Mt 5:44) and to turn the other cheek (cf. Mt 5:39). When he stopped her accusers from stoning the woman caught in adultery (cf. Jn 8:1-11), and when, on the night before he died, he told Peter to put away his sword (cf. Mt 26:52), Jesus marked out the path of nonviolence. He walked that path to the very end, to the cross, whereby he became our peace and put an end to hostility (cf. Eph 2:14-16). Whoever accepts the Good News of Jesus is able to acknowledge the violence within and be healed by God’s mercy, becoming in turn an instrument of reconciliation. In the words of Saint Francis of Assisi: “As you announce peace with your mouth, make sure that you have greater peace in your hearts”.

To be true followers of Jesus today also includes embracing his teaching about nonviolence. As my predecessor Benedict XVI observed, that teaching “is realistic because it takes into account that in the world there is too much violence, too much injustice, and therefore that this situation cannot be overcome except by countering it with more love, with more goodness. This ‘more’ comes from God”. He went on to stress that: “For Christians, nonviolence is not merely tactical behaviour but a person’s way of being, the attitude of one who is so convinced of God’s love and power that he or she is not afraid to tackle evil with the weapons of love and truth alone. Love of one’s enemy constitutes the nucleus of the ‘Christian revolution’”. The Gospel command to love your enemies (cf. Lk 6:27) “is rightly considered the magna carta of Christian nonviolence. It does not consist in succumbing to evil…, but in responding to evil with good (cf. Rom 12:17-21), and thereby breaking the chain of injustice”.[6]

More powerful than violence

4. Nonviolence is sometimes taken to mean surrender, lack of involvement and passivity, but this is not the case. When Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, she clearly stated her own message of active nonviolence: “We in our family don’t need bombs and guns, to destroy to bring peace – just get together, love one another… And we will be able to overcome all the evil that is in the world”. For the force of arms is deceptive. “While weapons traffickers do their work, there are poor peacemakers who give their lives to help one person, then another and another and another”; for such peacemakers, Mother Teresa is “a symbol, an icon of our times”. Last September, I had the great joy of proclaiming her a Saint. I praised her readiness to make herself available for everyone “through her welcome and defense of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded… She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity; she made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crimes – the crimes! – of poverty they created”. In response, her mission – and she stands for thousands, even millions of persons – was to reach out to the suffering, with generous dedication, touching and binding up every wounded body, healing every broken life.

The decisive and consistent practice of nonviolence has produced impressive results. The achievements of Mahatma Gandhi and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in the liberation of India, and of Dr Martin Luther King Jr in combating racial discrimination will never be forgotten. Women in particular are often leaders of nonviolence, as for example, was Leymah Gbowee and the thousands of Liberian women, who organized pray-ins and nonviolent protest that resulted in high-level peace talks to end the second civil war in Liberia.

Nor can we forget the eventful decade that ended with the fall of Communist regimes in Europe. The Christian communities made their own contribution by their insistent prayer and courageous action. Particularly influential were the ministry and teaching of Saint John Paul II. Reflecting on the events of 1989 in his 1991 Encyclical Centesimus Annus, my predecessor highlighted the fact that momentous change in the lives of people, nations and states had come about “by means of peaceful protest, using only the weapons of truth and justice”. This peaceful political transition was made possible in part “by the non-violent commitment of people who, while always refusing to yield to the force of power, succeeded time after time in finding effective ways of bearing witness to the truth”. Pope John Paul went on to say: “May people learn to fight for justice without violence, renouncing class struggle in their internal disputes and war in international ones”.

The Church has been involved in nonviolent peacebuilding strategies in many countries, engaging even the most violent parties in efforts to build a just and lasting peace.

Such efforts on behalf of the victims of injustice and violence are not the legacy of the Catholic Church alone, but are typical of many religious traditions, for which “compassion and nonviolence are essential elements pointing to the way of life”. I emphatically reaffirm that “no religion is terrorist”. Violence profanes the name of God. Let us never tire of repeating: “The name of God cannot be used to justify violence. Peace alone is holy. Peace alone is holy, not war!”

The domestic roots of a politics of nonviolence

5. If violence has its source in the human heart, then it is fundamental that nonviolence be practiced before all else within families. This is part of that joy of love which I described last March in my Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, in the wake of two years of reflection by the Church on marriage and the family. The family is the indispensable crucible in which spouses, parents and children, brothers and sisters, learn to communicate and to show generous concern for one another, and in which frictions and even conflicts have to be resolved not by force but by dialogue, respect, concern for the good of the other, mercy and forgiveness. From within families, the joy of love spills out into the world and radiates to the whole of society. An ethics of fraternity and peaceful coexistence between individuals and among peoples cannot be based on the logic of fear, violence and closed-mindedness, but on responsibility, respect and sincere dialogue. Hence, I plead for disarmament and for the prohibition and abolition of nuclear weapons: nuclear deterrence and the threat of mutual assured destruction are incapable of grounding such an ethics. I plead with equal urgency for an end to domestic violence and to the abuse of women and children.

The Jubilee of Mercy that ended in November encouraged each one of us to look deeply within and to allow God’s mercy to enter there. The Jubilee taught us to realize how many and diverse are the individuals and social groups treated with indifference and subjected to injustice and violence. They too are part of our “family”; they too are our brothers and sisters. The politics of nonviolence have to begin in the home and then spread to the entire human family. “Saint Therese of Lisieux invites us to practice the little way of love, not to miss out on a kind word, a smile or any small gesture which sows peace and friendship. An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures that break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness”.

My invitation

6. Peace-building through active nonviolence is the natural and necessary complement to the Church’s continuing efforts to limit the use of force by the application of moral norms; she does so by her participation in the work of international institutions and through the competent contribution made by so many Christians to the drafting of legislation at all levels. Jesus himself offers a “manual” for this strategy of peacemaking in the Sermon on the Mount. The eight Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:3-10) provide a portrait of the person we could describe as blessed, good and authentic. Blessed are the meek, Jesus tells us, the merciful and the peacemakers, those who are pure in heart, and those who hunger and thirst for justice.

This is also a program and a challenge for political and religious leaders, the heads of international institutions, and business and media executives: to apply the Beatitudes in the exercise of their respective responsibilities. It is a challenge to build up society, communities and businesses by acting as peacemakers. It is to show mercy by refusing to discard people, harm the environment, or seek to win at any cost. To do so requires “the willingness to face conflict head on, to resolve it and to make it a link in the chain of a new process”. To act in this way means to choose solidarity as a way of making history and building friendship in society. Active nonviolence is a way of showing that unity is truly more powerful and more fruitful than conflict. Everything in the world is inter-connected. Certainly differences can cause frictions. But let us face them constructively and non-violently, so that “tensions and oppositions can achieve a diversified and life-giving unity,” preserving “what is valid and useful on both sides”.

I pledge the assistance of the Church in every effort to build peace through active and creative nonviolence. On 1 January 2017, the new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development will begin its work. It will help the Church to promote in an ever more effective way “the inestimable goods of justice, peace, and the care of creation” and concern for “migrants, those in need, the sick, the excluded and marginalized, the imprisoned and the unemployed, as well as victims of armed conflict, natural disasters, and all forms of slavery and torture”. Every such response, however modest, helps to build a world free of violence, the first step towards justice and peace.

In conclusion

7. As is traditional, I am signing this Message on 8 December, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary is the Queen of Peace. At the birth of her Son, the angels gave glory to God and wished peace on earth to men and women of good will (cf. Luke 2:14). Let us pray for her guidance.

“All of us want peace. Many people build it day by day through small gestures and acts; many of them are suffering, yet patiently persevere in their efforts to be peacemakers”. In 2017, may we dedicate ourselves prayerfully and actively to banishing violence from our hearts, words and deeds, and to becoming nonviolent people and to building nonviolent communities that care for our common home. “Nothing is impossible if we turn to God in prayer. Everyone can be an artisan of peace”.

From the Vatican, 8 December 2016

Franciscus

My Interfaith Journey

My Interfaith Journey

Fr. Carl Chudy, SX 

My initial encounters with Islam began while I was studying theology at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. The ecumenical and interfaith possibilities were abundant there. During my internship as a theology student I worked for two years in Sierra Leone, West Africa. There it is predominately Muslim. The majority of Sierra Leoneans are adherent to Malikite Sunni Islam. Significant portions of Sierra Leonean Muslims are Ahmadis, Shia, and Non-denominational Muslims. Most mosques in Sierra Leone are non-denominational. It was there I learned much of our common love of God and the prophets, the extraordinary generosity, simplicity and respect that speaks much for African peoples, and the deep passion for justice and peace that rises out of their Islamic faith. To this day there is strong collaboration between us.

However, while working 13 years in the Philippines, with little exposure to Islam there, I began to understand with surprising depth, the centrality of interfaith dialogue in my work. One of the areas where we were working was assistance to landless farmers who were trying to dialogue with the government about land titles promised them 20 years prior and never delivered. During this work, clandestine, para-military soldiers, probably from someone in the government, began a systematic campaign to assassinate the leaders of these farmers structured through various organizations, and funded by an NGO in Belgium.

In the early 2000’s, more than 200 were killed. One of the targets of this campaign was a village in an island in the south in Negros where a number of men were killed. Their wives and mothers responded by traveling to Metro-Mania (center for the seat of government) and holding a hunger strike in front of the Department of Agriculture, close to our center. Fifteen days into the hunger strike, weak and lying on cots under a plastic canopy alongside the highway, a local Muslim chaplain and I were called to join them. We were asked to provide some spiritual consolation to this religiously mixed group of women who did not know what the future would hold.

Both he and I agreed that it would be simple. We would both read from our sacred texts, pray to God (Allah) for protection, and then visit each woman by their cots and have a quiet conversation with them. I began with a letter from St. Paul, he from the Qur’an. After our respective prayers, we spent the rest of the afternoon talking individually with each in quiet whispers, hunched over these frail, brave women who shaved their heads in protest. I realized in that interfaith worship, that our common prayer to God to bring justice to the poor and consolation to the grieved hit at the belief and passion of us all, Christian and Muslim.

Furthermore, it was a balm of healing we could only carry together to this valiant community. I knew from that time forward, my energies would be about gathering that same kind of collaborative spiritual healing and revitalization in front of the great challenges and cancers that afflict our communities and world in the name of justice and peace, the Kingdom of God. “The world has grown sufficiently small, the problems that we share across the globe sufficiently large and common…. While plural in so many wonderful ways, morally the human family is one.”

Our mutual desire to come together is in itself encouraging. Yet it is tapping into this deep longing among us all to bridge the divides between us. We naturally seek to dialogue through our common Creator who wills this so. Pope Paul VI, in his first encyclical at the end of Vatican II, Ecclesiam Suam, after the Catholic Church began to look anew at its relationship with those of other faiths (Nostra Aetate), and with ever-changing culture (Guadium et Spes), wrote this: “God Himself took the initiative in the dialogue of salvation. “He hath first loved us.” We, therefore, must be the first to ask for a dialogue with men (others), without waiting to be summoned to it…” (72)

An important discovery for me in the last few years is the particular perspective of our Muslim friends, beginning with my partner at the hunger strike some years ago. “The Prophet Muhammad did not hesitate to listen to others, be they idolaters, People of the Book, or fellow Muslims.” I saw this too in my interaction with the Islamic Society of North America, Islamic Network Group, Interfaith Youth Core, and Muslim centers in our area. We worked with Groundwell to bring letters of support to local Muslim centers during this distressing time of Islamaphobia, particularly within this volatile election cycle in the United States.

In those we visited the outpouring of gratitude and a resolve to work together with their non-Muslim neighbors to overcome religious hate which was a prominent feature. Discovering our mutual desire to connect with each other in meaningful ways is heartening. Between Catholics and Muslims, we share much in our hope in the dialogue of life, action and works, theological exchange, and religious experience.

The full article can be downloaded here

Rainy Season: It’s the Time of the Farmers

Rainy Season: It’s the Time of the Farmers

The Xaverian Missionaries have been working in Sierra Leone, West Africa since the early 1950’s. Today many challenges mark the growing Church in the predominately Muslim nation. Fr. Sudarmanto, one of our Indonesian missionary priests, shares his experience. Like Advent that marks time in faith, so too the rainy season in many countries that mark time to gather food from the farms, feed families, and rejoice in God’s creation.

BY FR. FX SUDARMANTO, SX.

Most people of Mongo Bendugu, including our parishioners, are farmers. There are other jobs, of course, as teacher, police officer, nurse, carpenter, fitter or trader, but they are rather few. Farming is the most common occupation of the people here. I imagine this situation to be like at the time of Jesus, as we read in the Gospel, where he tells many parables about the life of the farmers or farming activity (Mat 13:1-23.24-30.31-32; 20:1-16; 21:33-46; Mr 4:26-29, John 15:1-17). The rainy season is the time when they work with all their heart and soul as farmers. Now is the time of farmers! It is a blessed time when they give themselves totally to farming work, in order not to miss the opportunity to produce a good harvest for the survival of their families and communities.

It is also a good opportunity for me to go around their farms. I take time to visit farms where most of people and parishioners are every day. They are in various places, near and far of the town. Some have to walk hours to reach their farm. I reach the farms either by bicycle or on foot. I visit them to greet and get to know their work. They have mainly ground nuts, rice and millet farms. But among these crops they also have other varieties, like corn and beans or vegetable like cucumber, chilli pepper, eggplants, okra, etc. They are happy for my visit. They are surprised to see me there. I can see how proud they are of their farms. They show me round them from one end to the other. They also confess that, because of the farming work, they cannot come to church for daily prayer. So, before leaving the farm, I pray with them and bless their farm.

While moving around the farms, I come to appreciate their strength. They work hard, with passion, endurance and perseverance. Many make and cultivate huge farms, changing the bush into nice farming fields. They are really strong people, dedicated to their work. Is it because there is no other choice for them? It may be so. However, their work is the source for the survival and progress of the family, of the community, of society. Their work deserves appreciation, indeed. Farming activity is a dignified job, as mentioned in the book of Genesis: “The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the Garden of Eden, to cultivate it and care for it.” (Gen 2:15).

I am happy to see that many students enjoy their holiday time in the farm. Their duty is mainly to protect the farm, especially to keep away the monkeys from their ground nut fields. They usually remain in the farm from early morning till late evening, so that monkeys will not spoil the produce. I find it amusing that they have to make noise to keep monkeys away. Some come with their mp3 music played with their mobile phone or radio, so that they also can sing and dance together. Some areas are under network coverage so that they have a chance to call their families and friends, send messages or pictures. Some parents told me that their children are given the responsibility to work in the farm because they, too, have to learn. The crops are necessary to provide food for the family, but also to paying their school fees, to buy the uniform, shoes, books, pens and other school material, when the holiday is over.

Visiting farmers in their farm is just an effort to contact the people in real life. In the light of faith and missionary experience, it is also an opportunity to encounter Jesus in the basic dimension of human life. Instead of just complaining and grumbling because few people go to church during the rainy season, I spend some of my time to visit the farms. This is for me like entering the Garden of Eden, fresh and green. It is the time of farmers! Who dares to rob the joy of farmers!

Interfaith Opportunities for Christians at Advent

Interfaith Opportunities for Christians at Advent

The Interfaith Observer, one of the most important resources for interfaith dialogue today in the United States, recently featured a useful blog post from Vicki Garlock on interfaith opportunities for Christians at Advent. Although Advent is a special Christian period of expectation and hope, it is also a time to seek common ground with people’s of other faiths. The Advent/Christmas time offers many chances.

For Christians, another Advent season will soon be upon us. As one of the quintessential periods in the liturgical calendar, it might seem like the wrong time to be thinking about interfaith efforts. It’s a feeling further heightened by the encroachment of numerous secular obligations. Who has time for “the other” right now? I tend to view things from a slightly different perspective, though, and I think Advent offers a great opportunity to bring a bit of interfaith into your household. Here are a few ideas to get started.

Light to the World

For Christians, Advent is a time of anticipation. Many churches mark that time by lighting candles on an Advent wreath for each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas/Jesus’ birth. With all four candles lit by Christmas Eve, the wreath burns brightest just when the nights are at their longest (at least in the Northern hemisphere). The Advent wreath therefore serves as a visual reminder that Jesus, for many, is a light to the world. This is most clearly stated in the first few verses of the Gospel of John. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. [John 1:1-5, NRSV translation]

Interestingly, the Qur’an also refers to the message of Jesus as a light. And in their footsteps We sent Jesus the son of Mary, confirming the Law that had come before him. We sent him the Gospel. Therein was guidance and light, and confirmation of the Law that had come before him, a guidance and an admonition to those who fear Allah. [Surah 5 (al-Maida), verse 46, Yusuf Ali translation]

So an easy way to make your Advent more interfaith is simply to use “Light” as your theme. It’s no accident that Christmas falls around the same time as the winter solstice, and many Advent/Christmas practices are derived from the ancient pagan traditions of Northern Europe. Teaching your kids about the winter solstice through books, recipes, and crafts is a good place to begin.

The Winter Solstice (written by Ellen Jackson and illustrated by Jan Davey Ellis) and The Shortest Day (written by Wendy Pfeffer and illustrated by Jesse Reisch) are both good book options. And even though Circle Round (by Starhawk, Diane Baker, and Anne Hill) was published in 2000, it’s still a great go-to book for crafts and activities. Because pagan traditions are grounded in our relationship with the earth, focus your activities on plants currently available in your geographical area. Create a small home altar and decorate it with winter fruits and greenery. Bake some pumpkin seeds or flavored nuts. You could even teach older kids how to can/freeze food to last through the winter.

Hanukkah is another one of those light-related holidays that happens at this time of the year. Start with one of the many books available. There are board books, like the Hanukkah “touch and feel” book by Roger Priddy and My First Chanukkah by Tomie dePaola, for toddlers. For slightly older kids, you’ll find pop-up books covering the various Hanukkah traditions, like lighting a menorah or spinning a dreidel. One book, Maccabee! (written by Tilda Balsley and illustrated by David Harrington), even portrays the legendary brothers who took the temple back from the Seleucids, as super heroes. Hanukkah books are found in most local libraries, and many craft/discount stores now sell Hanukkah-related products. You can also find resources at your local synagogue, which offers a great excuse to visit with your kids!

Advent Stories from the Islamic Perspective

Another way to make your Advent more interfaith is to read Islamic versions of typical Advent stories. For example, many Muslims are familiar with the story of Mary/Maryam being told she is pregnant with Jesus/Isa (sometimes spelled Eesa). In that account, Hannah, Maryam’s mother, promised to dedicate her unborn child to God/Allah. Years later, as a young woman serving in the temple, Maryam was visited by the angel Gabriel who told her that she would give birth to a son. Some of the story can be found in Surah 19 (called Maryam) of the Qur’an. He said: I am but a messenger from your Lord that I may bestow on you a pure boy. She said: How shall I have a boy, when no mortal has touched me, nor am I an unchaste woman?” He said: Thus it shall be; your Lord said: It is insignificant for Me; and: We shall assign him as a Sign to humanity, and as a mercy from Us. It was a decreed command. [Surah 19 (Maryam), Verses 19-21, Laleh Bakhtiar translation]

The Qur’an is non-narrative, for the most part, but Muslims do read stories to their kids based on Qur’anic passages. A good, kid-friendly version of Gabriel’s announcement to Maryam, the subsequent birth of Isa, and Isa’s first days can found here. Note how in the Islamic narrative, Isa is able to talk at birth. On the right is a kid-friendly video of the birth story. The video is seven minutes long, but the narrative about Zachariah, Mary, the birth of Jesus, and Jesus’ first words are in the first 5 minutes (before the quiz). For interested adults, a more complete version of the story, with specific excerpts from the Qur’an, can be found here.

Birth Stories from Other Faith Traditions

You can also make your Advent more interfaith by focusing on amazing birth stories from other traditions, several of which include the idea of a virgin birth. One of the most popular comes from the Buddhist tradition. According to that narrative, an elephant with a lotus flower was responsible for Queen Maya’s pregnancy of Gautama Buddha. In most versions, the Buddha takes seven steps as a newborn infant. In some versions, angels appear and the baby Buddha speaks (much like Isa does in the Islamic narrative). The Life of the Buddha site has kid-friendly narratives of Queen Maya’s elephant dream and the Buddha’s birth. Finally, the 8-minute video above, in English, tells the story.

Add an Intrafaith Twist

If an interfaith Advent seems too far removed from the spirit of the season, you might want to focus on various Advent practices within the Christian tradition. One of the most notable is the Nativity Fast observed in the Orthodox tradition from mid-November until Christmas Eve. Here the word “fast” does not mean a total absence of food. Instead, Orthodox Christians abstain from meat, dairy, fish, wine, and oil, except on certain days of the week. The specifics, if you’re interested, are complex but fascinating and can be found here.

As many Orthodox moms have discovered, the Nativity Fast diet is closely related to a vegan diet, which means many families break out their vegan recipes for the holiday season. One post offering great Orthodox Advent recipes can be found here, but you can also simply search the internet for vegan recipes that you and your kids might enjoy. Just make sure they don’t require any oil if you really want to stick with the rules!

In Short…

It’s easy to assume that Advent offers few or no opportunities to interact with other faith traditions. After all, the entire focus is on preparing for the arrival of Jesus. However, a little creative thinking reveals several possibilities. During this unsettling time of the year – when the pendulum swings wildly between “traditional Christianity” and “rampant commercialism” – consider a move away from both ends of the continuum, and bring a bit of interfaith into your holiday season.

Gratitude, stupor and thankfulness

Gratitude, stupor and thankfulness

Fr. Michael Davitti, SX

“Nunc dimittis….” and “My soul glorifies the Lord…”

Thanksgiving is possible only at the end:

when the harvest has been gathered in
and when life approaches its end.
A glance at the life that has passed,
the awareness that we were never alone,
that our steps were guided,
that we were shielded under the wings of God,
Fills the heart with gratitude
And the tongue bursts in a hymn of gratitude.

Looking back at my life I have to say with Jacob awaking from his sleep,
“Surely the LORD is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!” Gen. 28:16 or with the Israelites: “our clothing did not wear out on us, nor did our foot swell these forty years.” Deut 8:4

Truly, the fidelity of the Lord which we have experienced in our personal history and during our life journey is the sure foundation for our hope in the times to come.

While in Chinatown, I used to introduce myself as Fr. Michael, the happy Pastor of Chinatown. Doubtlessly, those years are the most fruitful of my whole life. I consider them the “harvest time” of my life, which is rich of so many different experiences.

I was “Happy” not because the situation at St. Therese was perfect, or Parishioners were very dedicated, or the collections abundant. No!  I considered myself “happy” because I felt there is like a spring deep inside myself, welling up gently, overflowing and reaching out to people. It amazed me since it was not of my doing.

Most probably it was the wisdom that comes with the passing of time and the Holy Spirit at work in me at the time, reaching out to those around me.

Looking back at my past life as a priest, a lectures and as a missionary I feel overwhelmed by gratitude, stupor and thankfulness.

There is, in fact, an invisible “golden thread“ uniting the different events of my life. Like in a Rosary, some excruciating sufferings and wounds of the past, are now shining brightly, as the big beads marking the decades.

Everything is providence, everything is Grace, and everything has been directed and planned for my greater happiness. It cannot be doubted.

I think I have received the best education possible, in Italy, England, Germany and Israel by the Xaverians and the Jesuits.

I was taught and I learned that missionaries have to be knowledgeable not to run the risk of smuggling their ignorance as “Faith” to be accepted blindly. I was taught that faith begins where reason ends.

Africa taught me that to  “have a brain” is good, but in life there are other things equally important: music, dance, rhythm, color, smell, touch, friendship, wasting time together just doing nothing…

Asia teaches me that everything is a state of the mind: love, hate, joy are all a state of the mind. Whoever can control the mind has the remote control of happiness.

My life circle is now complete: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your mind, with all your strength, and with all your heart” It is so!

Asia with its beauty and rich culture intrigues me and challenges me at the same time, keeping me alive, preventing me to bend over myself and my little ego, with its fears and desires, and spurring me on.

The sufferings of the past are a precious school. It would have been different should I have suffered less. The future is equally joyful and my hope is based on the Lord’s mercy, which was made visible in past events of my life.

This is why I like to be called “Father” and why I consider myself “The happy pastor of Chinatown.”

During this time of “Thanksgiving,” I would like to invite you to this “Treasure hunt,” to discover God’s work in your life, to write your “personal Gospel” to be added to the existing ones. The could be entitled: “The Gospel of  NN” where NN stands for your name.

Like old Simeon and our Blessed Mother Mary we have to learn to discover God’s goodness to us. We will discover how our joy is directly proportioned to the awareness we have of having been loved first and ours will be an enthusiastic answer, welling up fro!m the depths of our being!

Murder in Burundi: the man who knew too much

Murder in Burundi: the man who knew too much

How the killing of three elderly nuns set the country’s leading human rights activist on a collision course with its most powerful general

We share with you a recent investigative report on the background story referring to the murder of three Xaverian sisters in Burundi, Africa two years ago. We are grateful to Jessica Hatcher and the Guardian for this important story.  

by Jessica Hatcher

On a Sunday afternoon in early September 2014, Sister Bernadetta Boggian drove into the compound of the Catholic convent where she lived in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, and called out to her fellow nuns. There was no sign of the other elderly sisters who lived in the convent, so Sister Bernadetta went to find Father Mario Pulcini, the head of the mission, to ask if he had seen them. He tried phoning them, but there was no reply. So they walked across the shady compound to the nuns’ quarters, where they found the curtains drawn.

They knocked, and called out, but there was no answer. The priest was about to force open the door, but Sister Bernadetta walked around to a side entrance, which was unlocked. Inside she found a horrific scene. Sister Olga Raschietti was lying dead in her bedroom, blood pooling around her head. In the bedroom next door lay the body of Sister Lucia Pulici. Both women had been stabbed, and their throats slit.

Sister Lucia would have celebrated her 76th birthday the next day. Sister Olga was 82. Together, these three elderly friends had worked for almost 50 years in South Kivu, an eastern province of the Democratic Republic of Congo that was at the centre of a series of conflicts sometimes known collectively as the Great African War, the deadliest in the continent’s modern history. When the three sisters finally left South Kivu for Burundi, they were looking forward to a more peaceful retirement posting.

Father Mario called the local police, and his superiors in Italy. Lorries and pickup trucks arrived quickly, disgorging police and soldiers, and security forces circled the compound. At around 6pm, the congregation poured out of mass in their brightly coloured Sunday best, straight into a crime scene. A papal official stood over the bodies and wept. Outside the convent, young women the sisters had taught to sew wailed with grief.

When noises woke Sister Bernadetta in the night, she phoned Father Mario. “I think the killer is still here,” she said
Sister Bernadetta, who remained collected throughout, accompanied the bodies to the morgue, and then returned to the convent. Father Mario wanted to find somewhere else for sister Bernadetta and the other nuns to sleep. But the sisters insisted they wanted to stay together, and sleep at the convent. As night fell, heavily armed police patrolled the compound.

When noises woke Sister Bernadetta during the night, she telephoned Father Mario, who was still awake, writing down an account of the previous day. “I think the killer is still here,” sister Bernadetta told him in a shaky voice.
The priest hurried to the nuns’ quarters, but he was too late. Sister Bernadetta was already dead. In an act of violence unimaginable to those who knew the small and wiry 79-year-old, the killer had cut off her head.
The next morning, shocked and angry locals closed their businesses and gathered outside the convent to protest against the murders. People claimed the killers were being protected by the police. Some protesters saw the notorious head of the state intelligence agency, General Adolphe Nshimirimana, enter the convent. Some time later, Father Mario emerged from the gates and appealed to the protesters to disperse peacefully. Three weeks on, a leaflet was found at the convent urging the mission not to pursue an investigation into the crimes.

The murders at the convent horrified Burundians, not just because of their brutality but because they took place almost a decade after the end of the country’s 12-year civil war, in which 300,000 were slaughtered and 1.2 million – a fifth of the population – fled their homes. In the wake of that conflict, which divided the nation along ethnic lines, between Hutu and Tutsi, Burundians vowed that their country would never again experience such brutal violence.
Church missions to countries riven by long-term civil strife are liable to get caught up in toxic politics. The powerful Catholic church in Burundi, which represents 80% of Burundians, has come under suspicion for providing aid to militant groups during the civil war. But it has also regularly criticised government abuses, and paid a price for it. In 1995, during the civil war, when the majority Hutus rose up against the abusive Tutsi military, gunmen executed two priests and a lay preacher suspected of supporting the rebels. A year later, a moderate Tutsi archbishop was murdered by gunmen. More than 10 Catholic clerics were assassinated in Burundi in the first three years of the civil war. When church leaders have denounced the violence of the country’s warring factions, political leaders have often seen them as a threat – and done whatever was necessary to silence them. [MORE]

Part I: The Catholic Bleed & Community Outside the Church

Part I: The Catholic Bleed & Community Outside the Church

We will be running a blog series on the departure of our young people from the Church and how we need to understand this as well draw lesson on how we innovate the ways we share Christ with our young people. 

We encourage you to accompany us in this dialogue as we spend a few blog posts on this most important matter. Share with us your views and concerns. We will be sharing them in the social media world.

Fr. Carl Chudy, SX

Missionary work in the northern hemisphere of the 21st century lies in part, a way of understanding what the Catholic bleed is and how we respond to it.

What is the Catholic bleed? Pew Research Center provides statistics that point toward important realizations why people leave the Catholic Church, and in particular youth and young adults who see themselves as “unaffiliated” from any religious institution, or the “nones.”

The New Evangelization is the commitment of the Church to renew our faith and innovate new ways to share our faith in Christ in a diverse and multi-religious world where our young people face a plethora of choices no generation before it ever experienced.

wpid-1228_global_map_of_religiously_unaffiliated_including_nones

The Catholic Bleed

The Catholic bleed looks at the disenchantment of our young people with their inclusion in the Church and the meaning and inspiration we wish to provide, but in many cases, do not. One way to make a snap shot of this bleed is to say this: For every Catholic convert in the US, six Catholics leave the Church. There are more than 30 million Americans who see themselves as “ex-Catholics.” Finally, our young people are disengaging themselves in droves. The number of those who left the Catholic Church has risen around 30 percent since 2007, and the number grows.

Finding Community Outside the Church

The first thing to say is that many young people are finding a sense of community, if only tentatively tethered to faith, elsewhere. The Interfaith Youth Core provides resources and places to share for young people of all faiths. One of the largest group among them are unaffiliated young people who anchor their search for meaning, direction, and hope outside of religious institutions of any kind. This is not merely a Catholic issue, it affects all faiths, both Christian, and non-Christian.

In my work of dialogue with atheists and humanists, I find this group not to be mono-lithic at all, but quite diverse. Their common dissatisfaction or all out distaste for religious groups is within the context of a wide variety of experiences that disavow God all together, to a stance of openness to the possibility of God, to defining themselves with a personalized spirituality that brings together religious ritual and belief with secular groundings.

Listen to this podcast by Interfaith Youth Core entitled: Unaffiliated but Not Unconnected: Community Among Religious Nones. Share your own reflections on this in the comment section, whether you consider yourself unaffiliated or not. Let us begin a fascinating conversation in something that is important to us all.

The Road Not Taken

The Road Not Taken

Fr. Tony Lalli, SX/Monday of the 28th Week

The American Poet, Robert Frost, has long been a favorite of mine. In his well-known poem, “The Road Not Taken”, he beautifully reminds us of the necessity to make choices in life:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I /I took the one less traveled by,/And that has made all the difference.

Today’s lesson from the Gospel according to Luke confirms that message and contains words of warning to people who were not taking advantage of their opportunities. Jesus was the messenger sent from God to proclaim the coming Kingdom of God.

But many people ignored his invitation to repent and to welcome the reign of God in their hearts. Jesus had some harsh words fro these people. He told them it would go easier for the pagan Ninevites than for them at the judgment. The Ninevites repented in response to the preaching of Jonah.

And Jesus was certainly greater than Jonah. Their greater opportunity carried a greater responsibility. God would hold them accountable for he light that was available to them. It would go worse for them than for the pagans because they had rejected the message from the messenger of God.

This passage reminds us of the tragedy of missed opportunities in every area of life. Looking back over a long life, most people have few regrets about the things that they have done. They may feel some guilt over mistakes but the failures of the past are accepted because they were occasions for change and growth. What people regret the most are the things that they did not do!

The missed opportunities are the memories that haunt a person as he grows older. The roads not take out of carelessness or cowardice or fear are the memories that fill us with regret. Don’t neglect the gift of friendship that is asking to be formed. Don’t neglect the chance to strike a blow for justice that may never come again. Don’t neglect the tug of the heart that is calling for a deeper faith commitment. Don’t let the boat of opportunity sail without your being on board.

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THE ROAD NOT TAKEN

Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence;
Two roads diverged n a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

21st Anniversary of the Murders of Three Missionaries

21st Anniversary of the Murders of Three Missionaries

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On Saturday, October 1, 2016 we went on Pilgrimage to Buyengero Burundi where our confreres, Fr. Ottorino Maule SX and Fr. Aldo Marchiol SX, were killed on September 30, 1995. It has been 21 years since their martyrdom along with Katina Gubert, a volunteer lay woman from Italy.
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As usual, this year, we have celebrated the memorial of their martyrdom by having a Pilgrimage to Buyengero. The parish was founded by father Ottorino Maule on September 7, 1991 when he arrived in Bururi diocese.
In the Eucharistic celebration presided by the Bishop Venant Bacinoni of the Diocese of Bururi, there were five Xaverian priests and fifteen diocesan priests. Five of our young students in Philosophy were also present. Some Christians and a good choir took part in the liturgy. Some pastoral agents, soldiers, police and administrative officers were also with us.
In his homily and some other speeches, the Bishop insisted on the courage of the three martyrs. He said that twenty one years after their tragic death local people continue to appreciate their fidelity to God’s Mission and their true love for God’s people in Africa.
Burundi is still suffering from the same causes that brought about their death. Yet there is hope that the example they set will bring about peace, respect for the life and dignity of people from various origins.
Fr. Mario Pulcini SX, Provincial Superior of the Burundi Xaverian Region personally thanked the Bishop for always being present at all pilgrimages in twenty years.
Buyengero has become part of our life, our story and our way of evangelizing. For us, Buyengero means to forgive no matter how deep we have been wounded. Buyengero will remain our Parish forever. Geographical distance will never separate our missionary spirit from this place where love and faith continue to be witnessed so strongly through the presence of those three missionaries of charity and forgiveness in African land.
In these difficult moments we are living in Burundi, we know that relatives, friends, parents, and confreres all over the world are accompanying us spiritually with faith and gratitude for the great example Ottorino, Aldo and Katina set within the Catholic Church. When we recall the past, we are always touched emotionally and we get new strength in our missionary endeavor. We are renewed and we improve our capacity to forgive and to love.
The Pilgrimage went well because local people have fixed a dusty road by putting on it some gravel. Even though there was rain we travelled without any problem. The Eucharistic celebration was prayerful but afterward priests, nuns and administrative authorities had something to eat and to drink while other people had to go back home in the rain without joining the sharing of a meal.
I wish that everywhere the Gospel is proclaimed everyone would share not only words and songs but also whatever God’s kindness continues to bestow to all creatures. I believe that the sharing of prayers and material goods can bring about peace and reconciliation in the world and particularly in Burundi.
Indeed, poverty is becoming rampant in this country. The international community strives to solve Burundi’s problem through the sharing of power. We need to share material goods as much as possible because people who seek power and strive to keep it for too long do so in order to enjoy material goods selfishly. Worldwide generosity may bring about peace and reconciliation.
Fr.Mario Pulcini, SX and Fr. Gabriel Basuzwa, SX
Fr Mario is the Superior of Burundi Xaverian Region; Fr Gabriel Basuzwa has been working in Burundi since 2010 at the end of his Cross-Cultural Studies at CTU, Chicago, Illinois, USA.