Monday, September 4, 2017

ENDING DACA PROGRAM A SERIOUS LOSS FOR ALL

Statement of His Eminence Roger Cardinal Mahony
Archbishop Emeritus of Los Angeles, CA
On

The Elimination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) Program

The announcement on September 5, 2017 by President Donald Trump that he will end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is deeply troubling.  Not only has the president revoked a promise to 800,000 young persons who wish to live the American dream, he has also harmed our nation.

These young persons are hard-working and talented, who through no fault of their own were brought to our nation at a young age.  For many, this is the only country they have ever known.  They are industrious, intelligent, and highly-skilled and want nothing more than to contribute 
their immense energy and ideas to our great nation. 

Instead, the Trump administration has placed them in jeopardy, betraying their promise as human beings and our values as Americans.  The president has rejected our future leaders, to our nation’s detriment.

Now they will be faced with possible deportation to nations they do not know and possible statelessness.  Many have brothers and sisters who were born here, and those bonds will now be broken with their separation.  Their vast potential and their hard work and sacrifice in our country will be wasted.

This issue is not about economics, the rule of law, the separation of powers, or fairness to US citizens.  It is a moral issue, and the ending of this program is an incredible blow to the ethical underpinnings of our country, a blow to our values given us by Jesus Christ, and a blow to basic human sensibilities.   

I urge Congress to swiftly pass the bi-partisan DREAM Act, recently introduced in the US Senate and the US House of Representatives, which would give Dreamers permanent residency and a path to citizenship.   For the sake of our nation, which was founded and built by immigrants, and for these amazing young persons, we cannot let this decision stand.

This is a special moment for Democrats and Republicans to demonstrate that they can be our country’s leaders.  Come together, hammer out an agreement favorable for our Dreamer young people!


Monday, August 28, 2017

DISGUSTING: PARDON of FORMER SHERIFF ARPAIO

STATEMENT by CARDINAL ROGER MAHONY
PARDON OF FORMER SHERIFF ARPAIO


I am deeply troubled and disgusted by President Trump's pardon of Joe Arapaio, former sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona.  The former sheriff's tenure was marked by racial profiling, harassment of our Latino brothers and sisters, and the disruption of immigrant communities.  He created fear and terror among so many immigrants, and not just in Arizona.  Children here in California were afraid to go to school because of what they heard from Phoenix.  He defied a court order to discontinue to round up immigrants and to detain them in inhumane conditions. 

 Rather than upholding it, President Trump's pardon flouts and undermines the rule of law. It also sends a dangerous signal to law enforcement throughout the country that they, too, can ignore due process and profile and harass persons of color, especially Latinos.  This pardon rekindles the fear and terror so rampant among our immigrant peoples.  The police need good relationships with immigrants, and our immigrants need an understanding and helpful police force to protect them.

It is clear that the President and his administration is intent on deporting as many immigrants as possible, regardless of their due process rights and the equities they have built in our country.  In line with this goal, I am also troubled that the president may remove protections from young immigrants who qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.  I urge him to find the moral courage to preserve the DACA program and to defend it rigorously in federal court.

May all Catholics and people of good will raise their voices and stand up for our immigrant brothers and sisters during this difficult period in their lives and in the life of our country.

[August 28, 2017]


[This Statement reflects only the personal views of Cardinal Mahony as Archbishop Emeritus of Los Angeles]

Sunday, August 27, 2017

REFLECTIONS ON CHARLOTTESVILLE, RACISM, ANTI-SEMITISM & VIOLENCE


            The reports and images of what is now known simply as “Charlottesville” cast a whiplash on our emotions: suddenly we felt a sense of horror, seeing innocence and beauty being violated by malice and ugliness ; anger, too, that the life that God gives so freely and joyously was attacked by human beings spewing hatred and bigotry. We feel also a weariness that we continue to live with the fruit of what many have called the original sin of our great country: slavery.  We reel at the hate speech so inappropriate for citizens of a land whose pledge of allegiance mandates and calls for liberty and justice for all !
          
            Our hearts go out to Heather Heyer and to the state troopers, Jay Cullen and Burke Bates, who were killed as a result of these sickening events, as well as to their families. We hold them and the residents of Charlottesville—and even the perpetrators—in our prayers for peace, justice, healing and understanding, and more. But prayers will not be enough.

            Racism, white supremacy, anti-Semitism and discrimination are morally evil. They are the very anti-thesis of the Judeo-Christian tradition which is grounded in love of God and of neighbor. They undermine the very foundation of our country and erode relationships among citizens. They generate hate and vengeance and rupture community. They are, therefore sinful.

            As a faith community inspired by the Gospel of Jesus, we Catholics must condemn in the strongest terms the actions and ideologies of the alt-right, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan. We need to recommit ourselves to stand up against racism and offer support for its victims. As we face this evil as a Christian community, I invite all Catholics to join together to examine how we can live out our Christian call.  As we do so, we must remember the promise of the Resurrection, life’s victory over sin and death, a promise that does not come easily or immediately but does come with a commitment to every kind of justice.

            I am reminded of the words of Pope Francis to the United States Congress two years ago when he said: “I ask everyone with political responsibility to remember two things: human dignity and the common good.”  Human dignity stems from our belief that God made every man and woman, no matter their race, country of origin or religion, in his own image ( Genesis 1:26-31) and that God especially loves and cares for the orphan, the widow and the stranger in  the land (Deuteronomy 10:17-19). Francis said in that speech: “Each human life is sacred. This theme is about our radical equality before God that leads us to think no less of somebody because they are from a different place or culture…or because of their work or employment situation.”

            Francis told our American lawgivers: “You are asked to protect by means of the law, the image and likeness of God on every face.”  Again he said to them: “ You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics”—adding the need to care especially for those in situations of greater vulnerability and risk.  To be sure, he saw the reality of hatred and violence in our world.

“All of us are quite aware of and deeply worried by the disturbing social and political situation in the world today.” Francis noted that our world is increasingly a place of conflict, violence, hatred and atrocities, “committed even in the name of God and religion”. To our lawmakers, he stated that “We the people of this continent are not fearful of foreigners.  I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants.”


            If the hatred we saw in Charlottesville, and perhaps will see again in other rallies in San Francisco and elsewhere, is a serious sin, we as Catholics and Americans need to do contrition for it, to act boldly against such violence, racism and anti-Semitism, to right the wrongs from its presence in our land by truly embracing, as Pope Francis called us to do two years ago, respect and reverence for human dignity and the pursuit of what is truly a common good for all.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Statement on the death of Archbishop George Niederauer

It was with deep sadness that I learned of the death of a long-time friend and Ordination classmate, Archbishop George H. Niederauer. May God’s warm embrace encircle him unto eternal life.

Archbishop George H. Niederauer in 2005
AArchbishop Niederauer, and his close friend from St. Anthony High School in Long Beach, William J. Levada [later Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, Archbishop of Portland, Archbishop of San Francisco, and Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith], joined our class in 1954 to begin the study of philosophy at Queen of the Angels Seminary in San Fernando. After two years, we moved to St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo.

His engaging wit and humor became hallmarks of his open and loving personality, and he always had just the right words and the turn of a phrase to help defuse tensions and to uplift people—no matter what cloud was overhead. His studies of English literature gave him a unique repertoire of quotes to embellish his conversation.

Ordained a priest of Los Angeles April 30, 1962, then Father Niederauer spent a single year in a parish assignment before beginning doctoral studies at USC where he majored in English literature. Upon his graduation in 1965, he began teaching at St. John’s Seminary College for the next seven years. In 1972 he was named Spiritual Director of the Seminary College where he served for five years.

After a special study year, he was assigned as the Spiritual Director of St. John’s Seminary theologate, where he carried out this ministry for nine years. In 1987 it was my privilege to appoint him as Rector of St. John’s Seminary, which role he performed for five years. He spent a total of 27 years serving our two Archdiocesan Seminaries.

After a sabbatical year, in 1993 he became the Co-Director of the Cardinal Timothy Manning House of Prayer for Priests, a role he carried out until November of 1994 when he was appointed as the next Bishop of Salt Lake City. Ordained in January of 1995, he served there until appointed Archbishop of San Francisco, where he served until retirement in 2012.

Archbishop Niederauer was one of the most intelligent people I have ever known. His command of English literature, his love for reading—he devoured books and articles weekly, and his abilities as a spiritual leader and director equipped him well for the many ministries into which God would lead him over the years. We served together with various projects in the Seminary, and remained good friends after our ordinations.

His 27 years at the Seminaries endeared him to generations of seminarians and priests, and his engaging style of teaching and leading made him one of the most popular Seminary professors and Rectors ever.

After his Ordination as Bishop of Salt Lake City, he early on established special relationships with the leadership of the Mormon Church, a role which he carried out during his years in Utah. With the increase of Spanish-speaking parishioners across the state, he added more Spanish Masses to accommodate this population.

In San Francisco he was well known for his outgoing and engaging pastoral style, and he worked well with the priests and lay leaders to continue the outstanding pastoral renewal of his predecessors.

During his years as Bishop and Archbishop, and after retirement, he continued to give retreats for priests all across the country. His spiritual presentations for priests were eagerly and well received by priests, and this special ministry was one of his greatest loves as a priest and Bishop.

A special and unique Church leader has returned home to God, and his 55 years of priestly and episcopal ministry have enriched the Church and its members across the western states and beyond.

May he continue to intercede for us as he resides in the presence of our Risen Lord, Jesus Christ.

Monday, March 6, 2017

GREECE: A REFUGEE SUCCESS STORY

Samer,  Rasha and Family
Please meet Samer, his wife Rasha, and their four children--two sons and two daughters.  They are now in a transition apartment in Athens operated by CRS and Caritas Greece, and hopefully, by the end of March, they will be going to their permanent home:  Switzerland.  The Swiss Embassy has confirmed with them their final destination, and they are in the process of that last leg of a long and harrowing journey.




Although they are very pleased to be in Athens on their way to Switzerland and a new life, the journey has been long, painful, and harrowing.  They are from Aleppo in Syria and left when confronted by an armed militia in their part of the city: three choices--join their militia as a fighter, remain and have all utilities, job, and food removed, or finally, be shot.  Samer gathered up his family and they fled in the night from Aleppo, working their way into Turkey.  From there they got a boat from Turkey over the sea into Greece.  They were actually saved by the Greek navy when their small boat began sinking.

They were then in many temporary camps attempting to reach the border with Serbia or Bulgaria in an effort to reach Germany or Sweden--two countries open to taking refugees.  On various trips to the border they found it closed, and had to retreat.

On one dreadful attempt they had gone a month and a half without a bath.  Finally, two Greek women came to their camp and offered to have them come to their house where they could all bathe and feel human once again.  They said they would never in their lifetime forget this gesture of kindness and goodness.

Samer's Family in their Apartment
Once approved for relocation out of Greece, they were given a temporary apartment in a building leased by CRS and Caritas Greece.  The building can accommodate 11 families and up to 63 total persons.  Compared to all the places they have lived over the years, the apartment seems like a "palace" to them.  They are so grateful to everyone who has helped bring their journey to a conclusion in such a positive and meaningful way.

Back in Syria Samer was a tailor and is hoping to resume his profession in Switzerland--most likely working for a clothing store there.  He knows some Syrian refugees from Aleppo now in Switzerland, and he looks forward to connecting with them soon.


Please continue your support of CRS, especially with the Lent Rice Bowl program, so that many more refugee families can reach a final destination where they are no longer in danger of being killed, persecuted, or threatened.

The journey is long and arduous for so many refugee families and families of displaced peoples in their own countries.  We are their life-line for the future.


{To support the wonderful work of CRS, please go to:   www.crs.org ]











Sunday, March 5, 2017

GREECE: AFGHAN REFUGEES

Preparing for Sunday Mass



We began Sunday with Mass celebrated in Greek with the Latin Archbishop of Athens, Archbishop Sevastianos Rossolotos.  After Mass, we met with two other Greek Bishops to discuss the Church's response to the huge influx of refugees.



After Mass we had a good discussion about Caritas Greece and the Diocesan Caritas organization.  They are working closely with CRS and other Church partners to deal with the large number of refugees.  The flow of refugees into Greece has been virtually stopped with the E.U. accord whereby Turkey will handle the influx and flow of refugees.

Former Airport now rows of tents
Today we visit a camp housing refugees from Afghanistan.  It is actually the former airport buildings which have been empty for over 15 years.  The airport has been divided up into three camps, and we visited one of those.  Greek government authorities are in charge of the camps, but CRS has a good presence there offering cash assistance to the people to purchase food nearby and to sustain their families.

The old airport has been divided up with make-shift dividers affording some privacy.  Entire families live in a small enclosure, and get their government issued food from a central location.  The airport restrooms serve the people, and special shower areas have been installed.

Visiting a Family in their small space
These Afghan refugees fled their homes and towns because of the violence and persecution by the Taliban members and ISIS members.  These refugees were primarily members of smaller groups or sects--a few Christians, but most Shiites living in the midst of the Sunni Taliban and ISIS.  Taliban and ISIS fighters have no qualms about walking up to a Shiite on the street and shooting him or her.  Fear of this type of life forced them to leave, traveling first into Iran, then into Turkey, and finally into Greece.


CRS is working throughout Greece to obtain empty apartment buildings which they then fix up, and move families out of the camps into.  The families we met were mainly middle class Afghans with professions such as shoe maker, baker, and store owner.  They are all anxious to work again, and to contribute for the upkeep of their families.  This approach is similar to using the unfinished houses spread across Iraq.

One of the most urgent needs is for the children to get their education.  One Afghan young lady took it upon herself to begin informal classes for the children, and now has two Greek teachers assisting.  But life in this makeshift facility is simply inadequate for any type of normal life.

The goal of the Afghans we met was to reach Germany.  Many have a few relatives living there, and they would have a place to go if their asylum petitions are accepted.  The process is long and arduous, and months go by between various interviews and bureaucratic steps.

The universal plea and cry of all the refugee families we met across the Middle East is loud and clear:
we want a better life for our children than what we have had to endure, and we will make all the sacrifices needed to get them onto a sound path forward.



[To assist the wonderful work of CRS, visit:   www.crs.org ]


















Friday, March 3, 2017

ERBIL DISPLACED PERSONS

Five Brave Dominican Sisters
Today we met with five Iraqi Dominican Sisters who had been living and ministering to the peoples up in the northwest area of Iraq, the ancient Nineveh Plain area.  It would be roughly Mosul north.  Some 72 Dominican Sisters had been working in that area until ISIS swept down from Syria and began attacking people, especially Christians, and destroying their homes.  All had to flee quickly.

These Sisters had served both Christians and Muslims for many years, especially with education programs of all kinds.  Yet, when ISIS arrived, many of their Muslim friends and neighbors turn on them and all Christians living in the region.  The Sisters helped arrange rapidly escape caravans so that they could head south and out of the danger of being killed by ISIS.

These brave Sisters accompanied the people in the midst of their fright and panic, and served as guides and beacons of hope for them.  None of the Sisters are presently in the Mosul and northern regions, although the northern area have been liberated.  The Sisters are willing to return north as soon as the security is guaranteed for them and the residents to return safely.  No one wants to return prematurely and then have to leave in haste again.

Play-Acting for Reconciliation
The Sisters now have a convent south of Erbil and are working with Jesuit Refugee Services [JRS] priests and lay staff to assist the displaced persons from the north.  Pictured to the left is a role-playing theater class whereby they learn the skills to reconcile Muslims and Christians.  These young women are acting out a scene of healing and reconciliation.




Practicing Mass Prayers



The Sisters area also teaching the children their Catholic Faith, and preparing them for First Communion.  We attended one of their sessions as the children are practicing the prayers of their Chaldean Catholic Liturgy.










Training in marketable skills is another priority for JRS and CRS agencies.  Women are taught how to become beauty salon operators, and once they have completed their training, they are given a start-up kit with all the items necessary to begin hair styling.  They can then begin earning money for their families.

Similar courses are given for cooking and baking, and once they finish the course, they receive a mixer and tools needed to begin a career in cooking--eventually working for a restaurant or bakery, and then possibly opening their own shop.

Another course is in creative sewing, and when they finish, they receive a sewing machine so that they can begin at once to hone their skills at making clothes and other items for sale.

These projects are very similar to the livelihood projects we saw earlier in Jordan.

It continues to be encouraging to witness the hands-on programs of CRS and JRS, especially as they collaborate together to avoid overlap and duplication.



[For further information on the wonderful work of CRS and JRS, visit:   www.crs.org  and  http://en.jrs.net/about ]


Thursday, March 2, 2017

LACK of TRUST: HUGE IRAQ CHALLENGE

After a few days in Iraq with our CRS team, it is very obvious that one of the most serious challenges for this country is the almost total lack of trust among peoples and institutions.  Tensions among peoples in this region go back to the time of Muhammad the prophet.  When he died in 632, there was a dispute over succession to serve as the Caliph of the Islamic community across the world.

This led to two groups emerging:  Sunni Islam and Shia Islam.  Today, Sunnis are the majority in most Muslim countries--about 85% to 90%.  However, Shiites are a majority in Iran, Azerbaijan, Iraq and Bahrain.  Neighboring Syria is about 75% Sunni, and Saudi Arabia is about 85% Sunni.

These two groups have been in conflict in various ways over the centuries and this conflict raises tensions and impedes sound working relationships.  Since these countries tend to have theocratic governments, the lack of trust runs deep.  The presumption is that the ruling group favors its peoples over the other group.

This lack of trust and increase in suspicion of each other is a very serious problem, and helps to understand why it is so difficult to navigate foreign policy in these parts of the world.  To further complicate the scene, there are many sub-sects of the two major groups.  And of course, the Christians adhere to Jesus Christ, and not to Muhammad.  They are a minority in all of the Middle East countries.

Sometimes the tensions between Sunnis and Shiites break out into armed conflict, as with the Iran versus Iraq war several years ago.  You then have to include the Kurds who dominate Kurdistan and who tend towards the Sunni traditions.  But Kurds are fiercely independent and adopt various practises from all groups.  The Pesh Merga Kurds are famous fighters and have been successful in ridding Iraq of ISIS.

It is necessary to review briefly this history in order to understand the deep level of distrust that exists.  An example might help.  We met many families who had fled Mosul because of the attacks by ISIS.  These people told us that often their neighbors, who were Muslims, pointed out to ISIS fighters that they were Christians--who then had to flee for their lives.  One man put it well:  "My neighbor, with whom I shared bread at table, turned on me and betrayed me.  How could I ever trust him again? " These stories of distrust reminded me of Jesus and Judas at the Last Supper:  "The one who dips his bread with me in the bowl will betray me."

There is a deep distrust of government authorities since they often favor their group over others.  Since Christians have no political power or great numbers, they are vulnerable to discrimination.

Distrust in Iraq is so pervasive that Iraq is a totally "cash economy."  People do not trust banks, nor the government, nor each other with their money.  Everything is paid for in cash--credit cards and checks are non-existent.  This makes it very difficult to manage larger transactions.

The displaced Christians returning to Teleskof [an earlier blog] are reluctant to go home because of many factors of distrust.  Neighboring towns are Arab majority and non-Christian.  Yet when ISIS attacked their Christian town, none of their neighbors came to help them.  In fact, after the Christians fled, the neighbors looted their homes.  Enormous distrust.

Since Teleskof is a Christian town, local government services are very slow to return.  There is little electricity and water, no functioning schools, and no health services available yet.  The Christians feel that they will be the last in their region to have services restored.

The wars in the past ten years have greatly increased the distrust across Iraq, and the political gridlock in Baghdad is the direct result of this distrust.

Re-building trust among all the various Iraqi peoples is a huge challenge, and will take many years to bridge the gaps of distrust.  Memories of betrayal are not easily nor quickly erased.

CRS has worked very diligently to create trust by hiring local peoples from all backgrounds to assist in the many services which CRS offers.  Indeed, CRS is showing the way forward for Iraqi peoples--working together for the good of all people is the best way to begin restoring trust among all groups.



[For the wonderful work of CRS, visit:   www.crs.org ]





NEAR MOSUL: CHRISTIANS RETURNING

Today, we visited a small town named Teleskof which is about 20 miles from Mosul--an Iraqi city which ISIS attacked and took over in 2014.  Mosul is a city of 3,500,000 people--the second largest city in Iraq.

Iraqi forces have regained the northern and eastern sections of the city, and have trapped the ISIS fighters in the western region.  It is hoped that within some weeks the ISIS fighters will have been fully eliminated from Mosul.  However, at a great price.  Hundreds of thousands of Mosul residents have fled from their city, and known now as displaced persons, are in many camps scattered all over northern Iraq.

But after almost three years of ISIS occupation, Mosul will need incredible assistance to allow its residents to return.  All of the infrastructure has been destroyed and needs to be either upgraded or replaced:  electricity, water, sanitation services, security protection, health services, schools, and the like.  It will be an enormous task to restore Mosul to pre-2014 days.

A house hit bit suicide bombers
Teleskof is a Christian town about 18 miles from Mosul, and it had about 1,400 families--nearly 10,000 people.  All fled in face of ISIS, and left their town empty and vacant.

However, some 200 families have returned to Teleskof and are beginning to rebuild their homes and town.  This photo shows a house blown up by suicide bombers.  While most houses were not bombed or shot up with weapons, they were damaged in other ways.  Some neighboring Arab villagers came in and looted the homes of the Christians.


A part of the town hit by bombs

This Christian town was a hub of trade, small workshops, food processing, and government services.  But some bombed areas will require massive amount of reconstruction to return to normal.
 Some of the leaders of the group have returned and have begun to reestablish their town.




A family which returned to their home
We visited one house where the family has returned, and they are so glad to be home.  The concept of "home" is a universal gift and priority for all of us.







Inside the towns Catholic Church
The Christian Church was not damaged, and the priest comes twice a month for Mass.  However, he is planning to return to the town full-time and to encourage other members of the community to return as well.  Some of the local leaders are seen in this photo.






We then met at the offices of Caritas Iraq with a group of women from Teleskof who were living away from their town, and who were engaged in discussions about their past situation and their future.  They were outspoken in their desire to return home, but adamant about certain conditions being met:  there must be adequate security to assure them that no further violence would come to their town; the basic services would have to be restored--water, electricity, health clinics, and schools; and that some type of assurance that neighboring Arab towns would not create new problems for them.  CRS continues to support Caritas Iraq and they serve many people jointly.


A vast displaced persons camp
On the way back to Erbil we passed a very large camp for displaced persons.
Young people playing volleyball in the camp











[For more information on the wonderful work of CRS, visit:   www.crs.org ]

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

IRAQ "UNFINISHED" HOUSES

There is a unique phenomenon in Iraq which occurred following the USA invasion of Iraq.  Since the economy was beginning to improve, there was an enormous splurge of new houses all across Iraq--literally, hundreds of thousands of them.

These houses were built from concrete and are very sturdy and structurally sound.  The intent of the owners was to make them two or three floors high in order to accommodate possibly more than one family.

And then came the Great Recession, and the rapid decline in the price of oil--one of Iraq's few natural resources.  All of a sudden the country is littered with all of these unfinished houses.  They are everywhere.




When ISIS began overtaking northwest Iraq, many thousands of families fled away from those zones of fighting and persecution.  Christians in particular were targeted and had to run for their lives.

Although most displaced persons began in camps, gradually ways were found to locate them in more permanent housing.  And one of those resources was the use of these unfinished houses.  CRS began working with the owners of the empty shells of houses, and arranged a contract whereby an Iraqi family could move into one of these houses.

A sample unfinished house in Iraq

The role of CRS became to add some of the missing items:  especially exterior doors and windows.  PVC material was used to fabricate inexpensive but sturdy doors and windows for these homes, and CRS had people install them.

Then, inexpensive interior doors were added to create privacy in the house, especially when there were two or three families living in one house.

A family inside their restored unfinished house
















Electrical power, water, and sanitary facilities were added for the comfort of the families.

Most of the new residents were able to remain for two years, but as those contracts end, many will be able to extend their stay.  These houses offer a dignified place for families to stay--away from the extreme winter and summer temperatures.




Even the family's sheep and lambs live on the lower level of the house.



These unfinished structures are found all over Iraq, often financed by the wealthy Gulf States when the economy was robust in Iraq.  After the world-wide recession, these buildings now stand idle waiting for a future when they can be finished and occupied.  A few examples south of Erbil.


This program is being extended by CRS all across Iraq, and thousands of displaced families will be able to find a more permanent solution to being homeless.


[For more information on the wonderful work of CRS, visit:   www.crs.org ]

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

IRAQ DISPLACED PERSONS

In Erbil, Iraq now.  All of the persons on the move here are internal displaced persons, primarily Christians who have had to flee in face of ISIS assaults and their taking over large cities and towns, such as Mosul.  Erbil is about 225 miles north of Baghdad, and in the region controlled by the Kurds--called Kurdistan.

When ISIS started its aggressive assault in the northern part of Iraq, Christians began fleeing at once.  For a Christian to remain in their homes they would have to agree to pay a regular "fee" to remain, and would be subject to many harsh restrictions.  Almost all fled.

Some 13,000 families came to Erbil--a total of some 90,000 people.  They simply just showed up, and created an enormous humanitarian challenge.  This challenge was met at once by the Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil, Archbishop Bashar Warda--a dynamic man who quickly mobilized the Catholic community to help respond.  They at once opened camps and engaged the broader Catholic community to assist.  The response was overwhelming by the Church since the government was helpless to assume this burden of so many displaced persons.

Gradually the Archdiocese began finding permanent housing for these families, and today there are very few living in temporary quarters scattered all around Erbil.  It was surely one of the most amazing responses by the Church to such a challenge.

The Archdiocese opened 14 schools for the children, and 8,000 children are in those schools.

The view here is that ISIS will be defeated as an organized military fighting group, but that their ideology will continue to spread all around the world.  That is the greater threat by far.  The political problems in Iraq are huge, and the Iranian influence is very problematic.  The strong influence of the USA us needed to change dramatically the political deadlock in Baghdad.

At every turn CRS has been present with staff and funding.  The Archbishop reached out to many groups for assistance, and one of the most generous was the Knights of Columbus from the United States.  They have given over $5 million so far.


Children in front of painting of the alphabet

We drove north from Erbil and stopped along the way to visit a CRS school which assists internally displaced people [IDP], almost all from Mosul where ISIS had created so much murder and plunder.

Several more photos from our visit to this school are shown below.  When asked what they want to be when they grow up, many students respond a teacher--because the most important people for them, the ones who have helped them the most, are teachers.  Most are young, energetic, and relate well to the children.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi and I visit the various classrooms.  They are very curious about Americans, and they are most grateful to the Catholic Church, CRS, and Caritas Iraq for all of the assistance they have been receiving.


Monday, February 27, 2017

JORDAN REFUGEES & MIGRANTS

Today we are in Jordan which is a small country wedged between Israel, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia.  Jordan has received many refugees over the years, especially the Palestinians from 1948 when the state of Israel was created and the Palestinians had no place to go.

Jordan has been so welcoming of refugees and migrants, and takes positive steps to assist them while they are here.

Caritas Jordan and CRS are the key providers of so many services to these displaced peoples.

We began the day with a visit to Naour where we celebrated Mass with Iraqi refugees from Mosul and the Nineveh Plains.  Iraqi refugees do not have the freedoms that refugees from Syria have.  Especially difficult:  Iraqis are not able to get work permits.

On the grounds of the Church is the Our Lady of Peace Livelihood Center--an innovative approach to help these Iraqis obtain dignity, self-worth, and the ability to earn a living.  People, especially men with a family, cannot just sit around all day.  They need to work and to contribute to their families and the community.  The joy and feeling of being needed shines in their faces.  They truly enjoy "going to work"!

At this Center men recycle wooden pallets, the large circular wheels used to roll wire, and other items.  Various furniture items emerge and they sell them to the people of Amman.  Some examples:

Creating a table from an oak tree rooto

Also, the women use olive oil produced on their farm at the Church to make and sell a high quality soap--with many different scents.



Women making and selling olive oil soap 


Other women are involved with sewing--creating women's handbags and a variety of products that can be used in the home.

Handbags made by the refugees











Still others are becoming expert at making mosaics.  Jordan is famous for its mosaics over the centuries, and many ancient mosaics still exist.  They make many custom mosaics on special order for many people in and around Amman.

Large mosaic being made







Some of the men are working on a very large mosaic, and they estimate it will take over three months to finish it.  It will then be cut into sections and shipped to its final location.  They will re-assemble it and it will be a magnificent and large mosaic.

All of these jobs teach the refugees skills which they can eventually use as future occupations when they are able to return to their land of Iraq or wherever they eventually settle.

We then journeyed to Mount Nebo where Moses was allowed to view the Promised Land, but not to lead his people into it.  The Book of Deuteronomy:  "Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo....and the Lord showed him all the land.....The Lord then said to him, "...I have let you feast your eyes upon it, but you shall not cross over."  So there, in the land of Moab, Moses, the servant of the Lord, died as the Lord had said, and he was buried in the ravine opposite Beth Peor...." [Dt 34:1-7]

An ancient mosaic uncovered
Church of Mt. Nebo Restored












Children with their artwork


We then drove back to Amman and visited one of the Caritas Jordan's education centers where Syrian and Iraqi refugee children are educated.  Special emphasis is given to assist them deal with the horrific traumas they have witnessed and experienced in their countries as they fled the violence and persecution.  Often, the children are encouraged to draw pictures about their hopes and dreams, as well as their fears.  This opens up the opportunity to begin to talk about what they have been through and bring closure to some parts of it.  A long process, indeed.

Eager to learn in their new land
Incredible joy in spite of all they endured



[For more information on the wonderful work of CRS, visit:   www.crs.org ]









LEBANON MIGRANTS Day Three

Today was our final day in Beirut, and it was a privilege to celebrate the English Mass in the Church at the University of St. Joseph.  This historic university goes back many years, and has emerged as one of the leading universities in all of Lebanon.

The large Church was filled with mostly Filipino migrants, men and women who work on contract for employers in the greater Beirut area.  Most are involved in domestic work.  The positive thing is that these migrants are free to come to Church on Sunday, and free to gather with other Filipinos.  There is a great spirit of unity and fellowship among all of them.

Sunday Mass in the Church
The photo shows Archbishop Silvano Tomasi and I celebrating the Sunday Mass.  There was enthusiastic singing by all, and a great spirit of joy.

Since the Filipinos are such fine Catholics, their faith gathers them and renews the bonds among them.

A great joy to be with them!


After Mass, we greeted everyone.  And as always happens with Filipinos, many cell phones and cameras emerged to take photos!


Hospitality is so important for Filipino peoples around the world, and they are anxious to greet priests everywhere.  And, of course, many photos!

Afterward we joined them for a delightful Filipino food lunch, including all of the Filipino favorites.  It reminded me so much of Los Angeles being with them--so warm, friendly, kind and hospitable.

We then proceeded to the Beirut Airport to fly to Amman, Jordan, for the second phase of our journey.

[For more information on the wonderful work of CRS, visit:   www.crs.org ]

Saturday, February 25, 2017

LEBANON MIGRANTS: Day Two

Today our focus was on a huge problem around the world:  human trafficking.  Refugees are people who are fleeing wars, violence, oppression, hunger, and persecution.  The Middle East is filled with these people.

But there is another large group of people on the move and in dire conditions:  the victims of human trafficking.  Although this problem exists world-wide, we are experiencing it here in Lebanon.  The victims are people who have been brought to a country based on the promise of getting a job and living in service to others.  In most cases, these are young women hired to serve as domestic help for a family.

Technically, they have been employed under the protection of certain laws and regulations:  safe travel to the country where the work is located, a just monthly salary, room and board, clothing,
and other necessities.

But in practice, too many of these domestic help are taken advantage of, physically and even sexually abused, and kept as virtual captives in the homes where they work.  Often the employer takes their passport and other papers which might assist the person to leave.

Many receive far less than promised, and in general, their salary is based totally on how white their skins is.  We met women from Ethiopia who are dark, and they were given $150 per month; others from the Philippines who are lighter, might get $400.  The sole criteria:  how light their skin.

Many of these women flee from abusive homes and find themselves on the streets--alone and helpless.  The Lebanese government operates a Retention Center for such migrants, to which they are sent until their case can be sorted out and until they can arrange to go home.

One big catch:  the government provides very little money for the operation of the Retention Center. Instead, Caritas of Lebanon has stepped in and provides virtually everything for these people:  clothing, bedding, medical care, legal advocates, social workers, even basic food.  Caritas is the heart and soul of the Church's presence for these migrants caught up in the evil of human trafficking.

There are no photos of these migrants since the government allows no photos in the Retention Center.

We next visited a Safe House, also operated by Caritas Lebanon, which is located on the top floor of a building owned by the Church.  Here, exploited and abused women are free to come and to find a welcoming place.  Even though many are referred to the Safe House by the government, the location of the House is kept secret.

We were privileged to meet a large number of women desperate to escape the misery, lies, and manipulation which they experienced.

A group of women gathered for Mass with us.







The women sometimes give birth while at the House, and the baby is welcomed and cared for.  Counseling services are a high priority since the women have been traumatized by so much exploitation and disrespect.  They are truly fragile.




We then traveled to Oak Shelter, a third center which accepts women who have been heavily abused by their husbands in every possible manner.  Many have small children with them.  They have fled situations in which their lives were at danger, and were desperate to escape the trauma.

Psychological work with these victims is a high priority.  Since many of these women are migrants and not refugees, the range of other services available to them is limited.

Complicating their situations is that separation and divorce are handled by Religious Courts, usually following Sharia law, not civil laws.  Their choices are greatly limited by those Courts.

Once again, the presence and services of CRS and Caritas Lebanon are the only such services for women caught up in this manner of abuse.

[For more information on the wonderful work of CRS, visit:   www.crs.org ]

Friday, February 24, 2017

LEBANON REFUGEES: Day One

Our first day in Lebanon took us to the Beqaa Valley in northern Lebanon where our Catholic Relief Service [CRS] guides, Davide Bernocchi and Sean Kenney,  Brought us to witness some of the activities of CRS and Caritas Lebanon to assist refugees who have fled the endless conflicts in Syria and have cross over the mountains into Lebanon.

This young man sang an Arabic song.
Children in classrooms are classic.
Journeying with me is Archbishop Silvano Tomasi who is a special Secretary in the new Dicastery for  Promoting Integral Human Development.

After school snack time!
First stop:  a unique school operated by the Good Shepherd Sisters.  The Sisters have a small school in which they take Syrian refugee children and help them with a variety of services, including hygiene practises, basic education, and various programs to assist them with their precarious living situation.  Some photos of these children are shown here:
Children love to have their pictures taken!



Childish antics are universal!















Our next stop was to visit a nearby camp where many refugee families have lived for some four years, ever since the armed conflict in Syrian began.  The people live in small tent-like structures, many family members per tent. Most long to return to their homes in Syria when the terrible war in Syria ends.  We met refugees from Aleppo, Homs, and other cities and towns spread across the country.

CRS and Caritas Lebanon offer many services to assist the families and children.  Sadly, families from rural Syria do not value education since their lives are centered on farming and each family member is needed to help with all the farm jobs.
Syrian Refugee family

Some photos from this camp:

Children enjoying play time

Isaac, age 21, opens a store in the camp demonstrating again human ingenuity!



Continue to pray for all refugees and people forced from their homes by war, conflict, hunger, and persecution.  Only Jesus, the Prince of Peace, can bring an end to so much displacement and suffering.




[For more information on the work of CRS, visit:  www.crs.org ]




Tuesday, February 21, 2017

POPE FRANCIS: The Protection of Migrants Is A Moral Duty

Pope Francis Addresses Refugees & Migrants

Tuesday, February 21, 2017  Vatican City


Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

I extend to you my cordial greeting, with deep appreciation for your invaluable work. I thank Archbishop Tomasi for his kind words, as well as Doctor Pöttering for his address. I am also grateful for the three testimonies which reflect in a tangible way the theme of this Forum: “Integration and Development: From Reaction to Action”. In effect, it is not possible to view the present challenges of contemporary migratory movement and of the promotion of peace, without including the twofold term “development and integration”: for this very reason I wanted to establish the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, with a Section concerned exclusively for migrants, refugees and the victims of human trafficking.

Migration, in its various forms, is not a new phenomenon in humanity’s history. It has left its mark on every age, encouraging encounter between peoples and the birth of new civilizations. In its essence, to migrate is the expression of that inherent desire for the happiness proper to every human being, a happiness that is to be sought and pursued. For us Christians, all human life is an itinerant journey towards our heavenly homeland.

The beginning of this third millennium is very much characterized by migratory movement which, in terms of origin, transit and destination, involves nearly every part of the world. Unfortunately, in the majority of cases this movement is forced, caused by conflict, natural disasters, persecution, climate change, violence, extreme poverty and inhumane living conditions: “The sheer number of people migrating from one continent to another, or shifting places within their own countries and geographical areas, is striking. Contemporary movements of migration represent the largest movement of individuals, if not of peoples, in history” (Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, 5 August 2013).

Before this complex panorama, I feel the need to express particular concern for the forced nature of many contemporary migratory movements, which increases the challenges presented to the political community, to civil society and to the Church, and which amplifies the urgency for a coordinated and effective response to these challenges.

Our shared response may be articulated by four verbs: to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate.

To welcome. “Rejection is an attitude we all share; it makes us see our neighbour not as a brother or sister to be accepted, but as unworthy of our attention, a rival, or someone to be bent to our will” (Address to the Diplomatic Corps, 12 January 2015). Faced with this kind of rejection, rooted ultimately in self-centredness and amplified by populist rhetoric, what is needed is a change of attitude, to overcome indifference and to counter fears with a generous approach of welcoming those who knock at our doors. For those who flee conflicts and terrible persecutions, often trapped within the grip of criminal organizations who have no scruples, we need to open accessible and secure humanitarian channels. A responsible and dignified welcome of our brothers and sisters begins by offering them decent and appropriate shelter. The enormous gathering together of persons seeking asylum and of refugees has not produced positive results. Instead these gatherings have created new situations of vulnerability and hardship. More widespread programs of welcome, already initiated in different places, seem to favour a personal encounter and allow for greater quality of service and increased guarantees of success.

To protect. My predecessor, Pope Benedict, highlighted the fact that the migratory experience often makes people more vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and violence (cf. Benedict XVI, Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, 18 October 2005). We are speaking about millions of migrant workers, male and female – and among these particularly men and women in irregular situations – of those exiled and seeking asylum, and of those who are victims of trafficking. Defending their inalienable rights, ensuring their fundamental freedoms and respecting their dignity are duties from which no one can be exempted. Protecting these brothers and sisters is a moral imperative which translates into adopting juridical instruments, both international and national, that must be clear and relevant; implementing just and far reaching political choices; prioritizing constructive processes, which perhaps are slower, over immediate results of consensus; implementing timely and humane programs in the fight against “the trafficking of human flesh” which profits off others’ misfortune; coordinating the efforts of all actors, among which, you may be assured will always be the Church.

To promote. Protecting is not enough. What is required is the promotion of an integral human development of migrants, exiles and refugees. This “takes place by attending to the inestimable goods of justice, peace, and the care of creation” (Apostolic Letter Humanam Progressionem, 17 August 2016). Development, according to the social doctrine of the Church (cf. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 373-374), is an undeniable right of every human being. As such, it must be guaranteed by ensuring the necessary conditions for its exercise, both in the individual and social context, providing fair access to fundamental goods for all people and offering the possibility of choice and growth. Also here a coordinated effort is needed, one which envisages all the parties involved: from the political community to civil society, from international organizations to religious institutions. The human promotion of migrants and their families begins with their communities of origin. That is where such promotion should be guaranteed, joined to the right of being able to emigrate, as well as the right to not be constrained to emigrate (cf. Benedict XVI, Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, 12 October 2012), namely the right to find in one’s own homeland the conditions necessary for living a dignified life. To this end, efforts must be encouraged that lead to the implementation of programs of international cooperation, free from partisan interests, and programs of transnational development which involve migrants as active protagonists.

To integrate. Integration, which is neither assimilation nor incorporation, is a two-way process, rooted essentially in the joint recognition of the other’s cultural richness: it is not the superimposing of one culture over another, nor mutual isolation, with the insidious and dangerous risk of creating ghettos. Concerning those who arrive and who are duty bound not to close themselves off from the culture and traditions of the receiving country, respecting above all its laws, the family dimension of the process of integration must not be overlooked: for this reason I feel the need to reiterate the necessity, often presented by the Magisterium (cf. John Paul II, Message for World Migration Day, 15 August 1986), of policies directed at favouring and benefiting the reunion of families. 

With regard to indigenous populations, they must be supported, by helping them to be sufficiently aware of and open to processes of integration which, though not always simple and immediate, are always essential and, for the future, indispensable. This requires specific programs, which foster significant encounters with others. Furthermore, for the Christian community, the peaceful integration of persons of various cultures is, in some way, a reflection of its catholicity, since unity, which does not nullify ethnic and cultural diversity, constitutes a part of the life of the Church, who in the Spirit of Pentecost is open to all and desires to embrace all (cf. John Paul II, Message for World Migration Day, 5 August 1987).

I believe that conjugating these four verbs, in the first person singular and in the first person plural, is today a responsibility, a duty we have towards our brothers and sisters who, for various reasons, have been forced to leave their homeland: a duty of justice, of civility and of solidarity.
First of all, a duty of justice. We can no longer sustain unacceptable economic inequality, which prevents us from applying the principle of the universal destination of the earth’s goods. We are all called to undertake processes of apportionment which are respectful, responsible and inspired by the precepts of distributive justice. “We need, then, to find ways by which all may benefit from the fruits of the earth, not only to avoid the widening gap between those who have more and those who must be content with the crumbs, but above all because it is a question of justice, equality and respect for every human being” (Message for the World Day of Peace, 8 December 2013, 9). 

One group of individuals cannot control half of the world’s resources. We cannot allow for persons and entire peoples to have a right only to gather the remaining crumbs. Nor can we be indifferent or think ourselves dispensed from the moral imperatives which flow from a joint responsibility to care for the planet, a shared responsibility often stressed by the political international community, as also by the Magisterium (cf. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 9; 163; 189, 406). This joint responsibility must be interpreted in accord with the principle of subsidiarity, “which grants freedom to develop the capabilities present at every level of society, while also demanding a greater sense of responsibility for the common good from those who wield greater power” (Laudato Si’, 196). Ensuring justice means also reconciling history with our present globalized situation, without perpetuating mind-sets which exploit people and places, a consequence of the most cynical use of the market in order to increase the well being of the few. As Pope Benedict affirmed, the process of decolonization was delayed “both because of new forms of colonialism and continued dependence on old and new foreign powers, and because of grave irresponsibility within the very countries that have achieved independence” (Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, 33). For all this there must be redress.

Second, there is a duty of civility. Our commitment to migrants, exiles and refugees is an application of those principles and values of welcome and fraternity that constitute a common patrimony of humanity and wisdom which we draw from. Such principles and values have been historically codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in numerous conventions and international agreements. “Every migrant is a human person who, as such, possesses fundamental, inalienable rights that must be respected by everyone and in every circumstance” (ibid., 62). Today more than ever, it is necessary to affirm the centrality of the human person, without allowing immediate and ancillary circumstances, or even the necessary fulfillment of bureaucratic and administrative requirements, to obscure this essential dignity. As Saint John Paul II stated, an “irregular legal status cannot allow the migrant to lose his dignity, since he is endowed with inalienable rights, which can neither be violated nor ignored” (John Paul II, Message for World Migration Day, 25 July 1995, 2). 

From the duty of civility is also regained the value of fraternity, which is founded on the innate relational constitution of the human person: “A lively awareness of our relatedness helps us to look upon and to treat each person as a true sister or brother; without fraternity it is impossible to build a just society and a solid and lasting peace” (Message for the World Day of Peace, 8 December 2013, 1). Fraternity is the most civil way of relating with the reality of another person, which does not threaten us, but engages, reaffirms and enriches our individual identity (cf. Benedict XVI, Address to Participants in an Interacademic Conference on “The Changing Identity of the Individual”, 28 January 2008).

Finally, there is a duty of solidarity. In the face of tragedies which take the lives of so many migrants and refugees – conflicts, persecutions, forms of abuse, violence, death – expressions of empathy and compassion cannot help but spontaneously well-up. “Where is your brother” (Gen 4:9): this question which God asks of man since his origins, involves us, especially today with regard to our brothers and sisters who are migrating: “This is not a question directed to others; it is a question directed to me, to you, to each of us” (Homily at the "Arena" Sports Camp, Salina Quarter, Lampedusa, 8 July 2013). Solidarity is born precisely from the capacity to understand the needs of our brothers and sisters who are in difficulty and to take responsibility for these needs. Upon this, in short, is based the sacred value of hospitality, present in religious traditions. 

For us Christians, hospitality offered to the weary traveller is offered to Jesus Christ himself, through the newcomer: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35). The duty of solidarity is to counter the throwaway culture and give greater attention to those who are weakest, poorest and most vulnerable. Thus “a change of attitude towards migrants and refugees is needed on the part of everyone, moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization – all typical of a throwaway culture – towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world” (Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, 5 August 2013).

As I conclude these reflections, allow me to draw attention again to a particularly vulnerable group of migrants, exiles and refugees whom we are called to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate. I am speaking of the children and young people who are forced to live far from their homeland and who are separated from their loved ones. I dedicated my most recent Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees to them, highlighting how “we need to work towards protection, integration and long-term solutions” (Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, 8 September 2016).

I trust that these two days will bear an abundant fruit of good works. I assure you of my prayers; and, please, do not forget to pray for me. Thank you.



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