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April 2005 Archives

April 9, 2005

Recalling a day 25 years ago when the Pope brought America closer to Christ, as we look to the future of our Church

The coming of spring in the Northern Hemisphere conveys new hope as we contemplate the future of our Church. Pope John Paul II set a high standard as a peacemaker, heroically standing up to the advocates of war, torture, and indifference to the plight of the poor. One day 25 years ago, he brought to America a newly urgent sense of Christ's message, which is more relevant than ever today.

In the autumn of 1979, he stood on the Boston Common in a downpour, smiling and bathed in light as he gave his impassioned homily from a brilliant white stage in the darkness. People had camped on the Common the night before to get the best places, many staking out their blankets with little fences or ropes. Venders were everywhere selling all manner of Pope-abilia, from buttons to portrait-bearing commode covers. And then the most remarkable thing happened. The skies opened up, and a downpour seemed to catch everyone by surprise. All the venders disappeared, and all the blankets came up off the muddy ground. People clustered together beneath the few umbrellas, and suddenly the Pope appeared in his little car, rolling slowly and serenely through the crowd.

His first words were, "I greet you, America the beautiful." The crowd screamed with delight. Hope filled the wet air, and everyone there seemed so proud of both Catholicism and Christianity. The gospel that day was from Matthew 19:13-22, the story of the young man who had followed all the Commandments, but was discouraged at the prospect of having to sell all he had in order to follow Christ. When the Pope began his homily, he appealed specifically to the young people in this university city and across America. He said, "The sadness of the young man makes us reflect. We could be tempted to think that many possessions, many of the goods of this world, can bring happiness. We see instead in the case of the young man in the Gospel that his many possessions had become an obstacle to accepting the call of Jesus to follow him. He was not ready to say yes to Jesus, and no to self, to say yes to love and no to escape...In its precise eloquence this deeply penetrating event expresses a great lesson in a few words. It touches upon substantial problems and basic questions that have in no way lost their relevance. Everywhere young people are asking important questions - questions on the meaning of life, on the right way to live, on the scale of values: 'What must I do…?' 'What must I do to share in everlasting life?'… To each one of you I say therefore: heed the call of Christ when you hear him saying to you: 'Follow me!' Walk in my path! Stand by my side! Remain in my love! There is a choice to be made: a choice for Christ and his way of life, and his commandment of love.'"

With a rhythmic cadence which elicited ever increasing excitement, he exhorted the crowd thick with college students to reject the selfishness of the world and choose "the option of love." Repeatedly he uttered the words, "Follow Christ!"

"You who are married: share your love and your burdens with each other; respect the human dignity of your spouses; accept joyfully the life that God gives through you; make your marriage stable and secure for your children's sake. Follow Christ! You who are single or who are preparing for marriage. Follow Christ! You who are young or old. Follow Christ! You who are sick or ageing, who are suffering or in pain. You who feel the need for healing, the need for love, the need for a friend - follow Christ!

"The message of love that Christ brought is always important, always relevant. It is not difficult to see how today's world, despite its beauty and grandeur, despite the conquests of science and technology, despite the refined and abundant material it offers, is yearning for more truth, for more love, for more joy. And all of this is found in Christ and in his way of life...It is part of your task in the world and the Church to reveal the true meaning of life where hatred, neglect or selfishness threaten to take over the world...Faced with problems and disappointments, many people will try to escape from their responsibility: escape in selfishness, escape in violence, escape in indifference and cynical attitudes. But today, I propose to you the option of love, which is the opposite of escape. If you really accept love from Christ, it will lead you to God. Perhaps in the priesthood or religious life; perhaps in some special service to your brothers and sisters: especially to the needy, the poor, the lonely, the abandoned, those whose rights have been trampled upon, or those whose basic needs have not been provided for. Whatever you make of your life, let it be something that reflects the love of Christ."

In an era when every statesman wanted to be seen with the Pope, but few had the courage to renounce violence as Jesus insisted we must, the beginnings of a new Papacy offer us a chance for reflection on our own convictions. When others treat us with disrespect, do we respond in anger? When someone isn't listening to us, do we shout to force their attention? When someone possesses something we covet (like the world's second largest known petroleum reserves), is "preserving our way of life" an adequate reason to claim these things as our own at all costs?

We pray now for our next pope and for the one who has left us. But our focus must remain on Christ himself. We pray that the Holy Spirit will steer our Church away from the temptation to cozy up to the princes of this world. Moreover may the Spirit restore all of us to a true sense of Christ's vision for the unconditional love of friends and enemies, about which John Paul spoke so richly on that October evening 25 years ago.

April 12, 2005

Centesimus Annus (The Hundredth Year) - Encyclical Letter of Pope John Paul II (1991) on the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum, an encyclical emphasizing the dignity of the worker

It is only when hatred and injustice are sanctioned and organized by the ideologies based on them, rather than on the truth about the human person, that they take possession of entire nations and drive them to act. Rerum Novarum opposed ideologies of hatred and showed how violence and resentment could be overcome by justice. May the memory of those terrible events guide the actions of everyone, particularly the leaders of nations in our own time, when other forms of injustice are fueling new hatreds and when new ideologies which exalt violence are appearing on the horizon.

While it is true that since 1945 weapons have been silent on the European continent, it must be remembered that true peace is never simply the result of military victory, but rather implies both the removal of the causes of war and genuine reconciliation between peoples. For many years there has been in Europe and the world a situation of non-war rather than genuine peace. Half of the continent fell under the domination of a Communist dictatorship, while the other half organized itself in defense against this threat. Many peoples lost the ability to control their own destiny and were enclosed within the suffocating boundaries of an empire in which efforts were made to destroy their historical memory and the centuries-old roots of their culture. As a result of this violent division of Europe, enormous masses of people were compelled to leave their homeland or were forcibly deported.

An insane arms race swallowed up the resources needed for the development of national economies and for assistance to the less developed nations. Scientific and technological progress, which should have contributed to man's well-being, was transformed into an instrument of war: science and technology were directed to the production of ever more efficient and destructive weapons. Meanwhile, an ideology, a perversion of authentic philosophy, was called upon to provide doctrinal justification for the new war. And this war was not simply expected and prepared for, but was actually fought with enormous bloodshed in various parts of the world. The logic of power blocs or empires, denounced in various Church documents and recently in the encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, led to a situation in which controversies and disagreements among Third World countries were systematically aggravated and exploited in order to create difficulties for the adversary.

Extremist groups, seeking to resolve such controversies through the use of arms, found ready political and military support and were equipped and trained for war; those who tried to find peaceful and humane solutions, with respect for the legitimate interests of all parties, remained isolated and often fell victim to their opponents. In addition, the precariousness of the peace which followed the Second World War was one of the principal causes of the militarization of many Third World countries and the fratricidal conflicts which afflicted them, as well as of the spread of terrorism and of increasingly barbaric means of political and military conflict. Moreover, the whole world was oppressed by the threat of an atomic war capable of leading to the extinction of humanity. Science used for military purposes had placed this decisive instrument at the disposal of hatred, strengthened by ideology. But if war can end without winners or losers in a suicide of humanity, then we must repudiate the logic which leads to it: the idea that the effort to destroy the enemy, confrontation and war itself are factors of progress and historical advancement. When the need for this repudiation is understood, the concepts of "total war" and "class struggle" must necessarily be called into question.

Among the many factors involved in the fall of oppressive regimes, some deserve special mention. Certainly, the decisive factor which gave rise to the changes was the violation of the rights of workers. It cannot be forgotten that the fundamental crisis of systems claiming to express the rule and indeed the dictatorship of the working class began with the great upheavals which took place in Poland in the name of solidarity. It was the throngs of working people which foreswore the ideology which presumed to speak in their name. On the basis of a hard, lived experience of work and of oppression, it was they who recovered and, in a sense, rediscovered the content and principles of the Church's social doctrine.

Also worthy of emphasis is the fact that the fall of this kind of "bloc" or empire was accomplished almost everywhere by means of peaceful protest, using only the weapons of truth and justice. While Marxism held that only by exacerbating social conflicts was it possible to resolve them through violent confrontation, the protests which led to the collapse of Marxism tenaciously insisted on trying every avenue of negotiation, dialogue, and witness to the truth, appealing to the conscience of the adversary and seeking to reawaken in him a sense of shared human dignity.

It seemed that the European order resulting from the Second World War and sanctioned by the Yalta Agreements could only be overturned by another war. Instead, it has been overcome 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. This disarmed the adversary, since violence always needs to justify itself through deceit, and to appear, however falsely, to be defending a right or responding to a threat posed by others. Once again I thank God for having sustained people s hearts amid difficult trials, and I pray that this example will prevail in other places and other circumstances. May people learn to fight for justice without violence, renouncing class struggle in their internal disputes, and war in international ones.

April 19, 2005

"Everything falls apart without truth."

Pope Benedict XVI has been selected to lead our Church, and proclaim anew Jesus' message of love for friends and enemies. He chose a name associated with the striving for peace; Pope Benedict XV risked his Papacy in efforts to reconcile all the combatants of World War I. The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany has been a champion of resistance against the forces of materialism that have sought to overtake Christian spirituality.

The Pope famously condemned in 1988 those who believe that Salvation can be attained here on Earth, through violence and utopian schemes that emphasize the principal that "the ends justify the means." In his own words:

"Morality does not lie in present existence but in the future. Man has to fashion himself. The only moral value there is lies in the future of society when we will get everything we do not have now. Morality in the present consists in working for the sake of this future society. The new standard of morality says, then: whatever serves the bringing about of this new society is moral. And what serves it can be determined by the scientific methods of political strategy, psychology, and sociology. The ‘moral' becomes the ‘scientific': morality no longer has a ‘phantom' goal - heaven - but a realisable phenomenon, the new age. In this way the moral and the religious have become realistic and ‘scientific'.

Blessings upon Pope Benedict as he leads our Church forward to a new recognition of Christ's truth in this violent world.

April 25, 2005

"Faith, Hope and Love--these three abide. But the greatest of these is Love." by Marla Ruzicka (April 12th, 2005)

In my two years in Iraq, the one question I am asked the most is: "How many Iraqi civilians have been killed by American forces?" The American public has a right to know how many Iraqis have lost their lives since the start of the war and as hostilities continue.

In a news conference at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan in March 2002, Gen. Tommy Franks said, "We don't do body counts." His words outraged the Arab world and damaged the U.S. claim that its forces go to great lengths to minimize civilian casualties.

During the Iraq war, as U.S. troops pushed toward Baghdad, counting civilian casualties was not a priority for the military. However, since May 1, 2003, when President Bush declared major combat operations over and the U.S. military moved into a phase referred to as "stability operations," most units began to keep track of Iraqi civilians killed at checkpoints or during foot patrols by U.S. soldiers.

Here in Baghdad, a brigadier general commander explained to me that it is standard operating procedure for U.S. troops to file a spot report when they shoot a non-combatant. It is in the military's interest to release these statistics.

Recently, I obtained statistics on civilian casualties from a high-ranking U.S. military official. The numbers were for Baghdad only, for a short period, during a relatively quiet time. Other hot spots, such as the Ramadi and Mosul areas, could prove worse. The statistics showed that 29 civilians were killed by small-arms fire during firefights between U.S. troops and insurgents between Feb. 28 and April 5 ? four times the number of Iraqi police killed in the same period. It is not clear whether the bullets that killed these civilians were fired by U.S. troops or insurgents.

A good place to search for Iraqi civilian death counts is the Iraqi Assistance Center in Baghdad and the General Information Centers set up by the U.S. military across Iraq. Iraqis who have been harmed by Americans have the right to file claims for compensation at these locations, and some claims have been paid. But others have been denied, even when the U.S. forces were in the wrong.

The Marines have also been paying compensation in Fallujah and Najaf. These data serve as a good barometer of the civilian costs of battle in both cities.

These statistics demonstrate that the U.S. military can and does track civilian casualties. Troops on the ground keep these records because they recognize they have a responsibility to review each action taken and that it is in their interest to minimize mistakes, especially since winning the hearts and minds of Iraqis is a key component of their strategy. The military should also want to release this information for the purposes of comparison with reports such as the Lancet study published late last year. It suggested that since the U.S.-led invasion there had been 100,000 deaths in Iraq.

A further step should be taken. In my dealings with U.S. military officials here, they have shown regret and remorse for the deaths and injuries of civilians. Systematically recording and publicly releasing civilian casualty numbers would assist in helping the victims who survive to piece their lives back together.

A number is important not only to quantify the cost of war, but as a reminder of those whose dreams will never be realized in a free and democratic Iraq.

Marla Ruzicka was killed four days after writing this op-ed piece, along with her close friend and colleague Faiez Ali Salem, in a car bombing near Baghdad. As the founder of Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), she had worked with Senator Patrick Leahy to help secure $20 million in funding to assist victims of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. At her funeral Mass at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Lakeport CA, she was repeatedly championed as a living example of Jesus' commission to the unconditional love of friends and enemies.

Contributions to Ms. Ruzicka's work can be made through the CIVIC website.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

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"Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.

"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

"On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics."

First Inaugural Address, President Barack Obama

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