Notes on peace and justice

Books help children learn about faith-based action

Two new books with the goal of helping children connect with the idea of faith-based action have been developed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“Green Street Park” and “Drop by Drop” are new entries from the USCCB’s Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development and published by Loyola Press.

two-feet-green-street-park-coverJill Rauh, assistant director of education and outreach in the department and the mother of a 2-year-old son, wrote the books. They illustrate the two feet of Christian love in action: social justice and charitable works, she said.

“It’s an area where there are not a lot of children’s books to reflect our call to discipleship in the world and how do we put God’s love for the world into action,” Rauh said.

“Green Street Park,” written for children in kindergarten through second grade, tells the story of children playing in a park who encounter trash and overgrown brush. Inspired by St. Francis of Assisi’s love of creation, the children organize a plan to clear the debris and plant a community garden to beatify the park.

two-feet-drop-by-drop-cover“Drop by Drop,” intended for second- through fourth-graders, focuses on the actions of students at a Catholic school who step up to raise money for water projects in Africa. They act after hearing from a Catholic Relief Services worker visiting their classroom who tells the story of a young girl in Burkina Faso. The girl, Sylvie, yearns to attend school, but cannot because she spends much of her day collecting water from a river miles away from home for her family. That changes when the village gets a well, inspiring the American students to act to help other communities

The books are accompanied by “Pray Me a Story” guides developed by Loyola Press. The books and guides are being promoted to schools and parish school of religion activities.

Rauh said the books can be used in tandem with Pope Francis’ planned encyclical on the environment coming this summer.

“It’s an opportunity for the students to have a real deep impact, a prayer experience, a faith experience rather than just hear a story,” she said.

The materials can be ordered here.

 Pax Christi International concerned about ‘excessive’ military spending

Although worldwide military spending declined slightly in 2014, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Pax Christi International has raised concerns about the almost $1.8 trillion spent on weapons systems last year.

The international Catholic peace organization called such massive spending a “scandal” and “excessive” in a “world where human and ecological well-being are in dire need of investment.”

Pax Christi raised its concern April 13, the Global Day of Action on Military Spending.

The 2014 figure is about 1.7 percent less than the peak of spending in 2011, according to a report released by the Stockholm institute April 13.

The report identified the top 10 nations in order of spending as the U.S., China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, United Kingdom, India, Germany, Japan and South Korea. The U.S., even with a 0.4 percent reduction in spending, still came in at about $610 billion and accounted for 34 percent of the world’s military spending in 2014, according to the report.

Spending by China and Russia increased 167 percent and 84.5 percent, respectively, the Stockholm institute reported. It cited continued declines in military expenditures in Western Europe, which it attributed to austerity measures undertaken by numerous governments. Military spending increased in Central Europe, led by Poland, the report said.

Pax Christi raised concern about boosts in major spending increases in the Middle East and Africa based on the report’s findings.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute is an independent organization that researches conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament. It was established in 1966 and the Swedish government is its primary funder.

In week of wonders, Melkite wedding was one of the best

The bride and groom wear crowns at a Melkite Catholic wedding in Jordan. (CNS/Mark Pattison)

The bride and groom wear crowns at a Melkite Catholic wedding in Jordan. (CNS/Mark Pattison)

By Mark Pattison

ADER, Jordan — Melkite Catholic Father Boulos Paul, we were told, was too busy to accommodate an audience of about a dozen writers and bloggers on religion. He is, after all, the pastor of two parishes, one in Karak and another, smaller parish of about 50 families — about 300 people total — in the smaller town of Ader.

But we were offered a chance to go to a wedding at the church in Ader. Would that be OK?

Are you kidding?

We got to the church a good half-hour before the scheduled 6 p.m. wedding ceremony was to begin. The church was decked out in wedding finery, but absolutely empty.

Outside, we chatted with one of the parish elders, Michael Bagain, who returned to Ader two years ago after spending the previous 35 years in and around Chicago, where his children still live.

Bagain said Ader is home to three Christian “tribes.” The Melkites are all named Bagain, the Latin-rite Catholics are all named Hijazeen, and the Orthodox are all named Madanat. So the nuptials were between Mr. and Ms. Bagain, Michael Bagain confirmed.

By this time, the groom and his best man had arrived. There was the typical nervous pacing and frowning into a smartphone one might see prior to an American wedding.

The bride’s family arrived, dressed in stylish clothes appropriate for a wedding. And here we were, Americans, who got only a couple hours’ notice of this blessed event and were wearing jeans and sneakers. What must the others be thinking?

Soon the courtyard in front of the church filled, and everyone took their places for the grand procession.

A pre-wedding ritual: firing a gun before the ceremony. (CNS/Mark Pattison)

A pre-wedding ritual: firing a gun before the ceremony. (CNS/Mark Pattison)

The women led a song with rhythmic hand-clapping; even the bride took part. A couple of the women ululated during the song. Soon afterward, one man took out a pistol, held it straight in the air and fired five shots. Nobody in the courtyard flinched. Well, none of the Melkites, that is.

Slowly, the wedding principals and the guests began surging through the narrow doors of St. Georges Melkite Church. With all of the excitement apparently over on the outside, it was time to go inside and find a seat.

Once a wedding chant by a small men’s chorus ended, Father Paul spoke to the assembly in Arabic, then switched to English to repeat some of the highlights for his temporary flock. He concluded his remarks by announcing: “I know you want to take pictures. If you want to take pictures, you can move closer.”

The bridge and groom clasped hands and held them aloft. (CNS/Mark Pattison)

The bridge and groom clasped hands and held them aloft. (CNS/Mark Pattison)

That was my cue. Under the dictum of “don’t ask permission first, ask forgiveness later,” I made my way to the back of the sanctuary, where there was lots of singing. Nearly everything, including Father Paul’s proclamation of the Gospel — the only Scripture reading that I could tell was being proclaimed — was sung or chanted. I fought to hold my position in the sanctuary amid the priest, the choir, two cantors, three flower girls, one ring bearer, five women whose purpose there I could not ever quite ascertain, a couple of videographers hired to record the happy occasion, and some light stands.

There was no homily in this Melkite ceremony. There also were no vows in the style we in the Latin-rite church have come to expect. But Father Paul moved closer to the couple and had them hold their clasped hands aloft for quite some time.

Next, he gave them each a crown — the bride already was wearing a tiara. The bride and groom exchanged crowns, then exchanged them again.

After that, Father Paul led the wedding party in a counterclockwise procession around the altar of the crowded sanctuary. I had no idea what any of this meant, but it was exhilarating to witness.

The priest leads the wedding party around the sactuary. (CNS/Mark Pattison)

The priest leads the wedding party around the sactuary. (CNS/Mark Pattison)

A couple of days after the fact, we get an explanation for some of what we saw. The hand-clapping song and the ululating were typical pre-wedding rituals in the region. The hand-raising is also customary in the Eastern church. The crowns were a reminder of the biblical mandate to go forth and multiply. The gun was a more recent tradition.

After a churchwide recitation of a prayer I gathered must be the Our Father, Father Paul took a clear, small, glass cup filled with wine and gave it to the bride, groom and their attendants to drink. There was more ululating, and the men’s chorus was changing.

There probably was not much more to this ceremony — we were told that a Melkite wedding generally runs 40 to 50 minutes — but we get the sign from the tour leaders that it was time for us to go. Mr. and Mrs. Bagain have a whole life yet to lead as husband and wife, but we American interlopers had a two-hour trek to get to a hotel on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea.

In a week filled with wonders, the intimacy and immediacy of this moment may rank as the best.

– – –

I will continue to blog from time to time about things I encountered on my Jordan journey. Also, look me up on Twitter at @MeMarkPattison for Jordan-related tweets with the hashtag #holyjordan.

Shroud of Turin goes on public display

The Shroud of Turin unveiled yesterday for the media. Now on public display, (CNS/Paul Haring)

The Shroud of Turin unveiled yesterday for the media. Now on public display, (CNS/Paul Haring)

TURIN, Italy  A thin white cloth draped over the glasscovered Shroud of Turin was pulled down and billowed to the floor, marking the official opening of the venerated icon’s exposition to the public.

The unveiling came during a Mass held in the city’s cathedral of St. John the Baptist today in the presence of a small group of dignitaries, religious and lay faithful. 

“We have put ourselves in the wake of generations of pilgrims” who come to contemplate the shroud and “it will do us good to feel like we are drops in the river thahas run through the centuries of a humanity in need of God,” Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia of Turin, papal custodian of the shroud, said in his homily.

As it was for countless pilgrims over the centuries, the shroud continues to be an invitation to reflect on Jesus’ incarnation, death and resurrection, he said, which in turn inspires and calls people to reach out to others in need. “The shroud invites us to never let ourselves be beaten down by evil, but to overcome it with good,” he said. 

As people gaze at the image, may they no longer feel alone or afraid as soon they can discover “it is not we who are looking at that image,” but it is Christ who is gazing back at themhe said.

The shroud, believed by many Christians to have wrapped the crucified body of Christ, will be on public display through June 24. More than 2 million people were expected to visit, and, before the official opening in mid-April, 1 million people had already pre-booked their visit through the archdiocese’s free, but mandatory online andon-site reservation process. 

One couple from Paris with their two small children stood disappointed on the flagstone street alongside the long metal barricades that kept them and scores of other visiting foreigners and locals from attending the invitation-only Mass.

The couple, who identified themselves only by their first names, Constance and Hubert, said they were heading to southern France from the Italian Alps and came through Turin as a shortcut.

“I saw on the Internet that today is the first day the shroud is being shown, so we came to see, but we won’t have the possibility,” Constance said, since thehadn’t booked ahead and had family waiting for them.

She said she remembered seeing the shroud as a young girl with her parents and “I have memories of it being like a ‘shock’ when you see it,” trying to find the right word in English for the impact and amazement she felt. She said she wanted her kids and husband to experience the shroud for the first time, too.

Members of the media had their own look at the Shroud of Turin yesterday, before it went on public display today. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Members of the media had their own look at the Shroud of Turin yesterday, before it went on public display today. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Media outlets were given an exclusive preview yesterday when Archbishop Nosiglia had the shroud unveiled for reporters. 

Flanked by uniformed members of the Italian military and police forces, the shroud’s high-tech protective case was positioned upright like a large landscape portrait, surrounded by large red velvet drapes and with a smallbox of green ivy and white tulips below.

At least 100 journalists were perched on a winding three-tiered platform pilgrims would later have as their viewing stand. They had cameras, mobile devices and eyes focused on the shadowy photonegative image of a man’s bearded face, crossed hands and long body on the 14-foot by 4-foot linen cloth.

The man in the image bears all the signs of the wounds corresponding to the Gospel accounts of the torture Jesus endured in his passion and death. Scientists have determined the dark stains around the head, hands, feet and right side are human blood, type AB.

The church supports scientific research concerning the shroud and its possible age and origins, which continues to see heated debate, but it has itself never officially ruled on the shroud’s authenticity.

Instead, the church invites the faithful to reflect on shroud’s image as a way to grasp the kind of suffering Jesus endured during his passion and death, and the love for humanity that sacrifice entailed.

Meeting with Holocaust survivors — in living rooms

Holocaust survivor Eliezer Rozenman speaks to a class of middle school students in Tel Aviv April 15, the eve of Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day. The students met with Rozenman in the living room of a classmate, as part of the Zikaronbasalon (Memories at Home) project, which “offers the possibility to listen, think, talk, feel, and connect with the memories of survivors, as well as to ponder the challenges facing (students) today.” (CNS/Mary Knight)

Holocaust survivor Eliezer Rozenman speaks to a class of middle school students in Tel Aviv April 15, the eve of Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day. The students met with Rozenman in the living room of a classmate, as part of the Zikaronbasalon (Memories at Home) project, which “offers the possibility to listen, think, talk, feel, and connect with the memories of survivors, as well as to ponder the challenges facing (students) today.” (CNS/Mary Knight)

By Mary Knight

TEL AVIV — A variation on the serious theme of Holocaust testimony has brought survivors and young Israeli students together in living rooms to celebrate life while remembering atrocities.

Coordinated by Zikaronbasalon, Memories at Home, hundreds of small groups gathered in their living rooms to have meaningful and vibrant conversations on Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 15.

The average age of Holocaust survivors living in Israel is 83, and approximately 40 survivors die each day, according to a report just released by the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel.

The soon-to-be absence of survivors, due to mortality rates, prompted founders Adi Altschuler and her husband Nadav Embon to reflect on the future and relevance of traditional Holocaust commemorations. Wanting to shape a social gathering around living memories, they began a discussion in their own living room, inviting friends and survivor Hannah Bergman. They didn’t know who would show, but in the end, so many friends came that they spilled out onto the balcony. Someone played music, others brought beer and bourekas (savory pastries), and all discussed life-after-pogrom.

On this year’s Hashoah, some 3,000 alternative Holocaust commemorations took place in Israel, among them, Zikaronbasalon. The get-togethers for students are organized into parts — the story of the Holocaust victim, songs and diversions, conversation and questions.

The gathering I attended was in the home of a therapist who has a seventh grader. Approximately 25 schoolchildren joined in, as lively and noisy as 12-year-olds can be. They listened to survivor Eli Rozenman, 73, who was 2 when his mother fled Poland during World War II and remained on the run throughout the forests of southeast Poland, finally settling in Armenia. He joked with the students, read some of his poems, asked for their impressions and showed them the only possession from his former life — a baby spoon.

At the end of the evening, he signed autographs and said he felt like a rock star.

Mary Knight, a former CNS staffer, now lives in Tel Aviv.

Pope Benedict XVI ate here

Omar Ramirez, a caretaker at a retreat house in the town of El Cobre, Cuba, fondly remembers Pope Benedict  XVI's visit. (CNS photo/ by Rhina Guidos)

Omar Ramirez, a caretaker at a retreat house in the town of El Cobre, Cuba, fondly remembers Pope Benedict XVI’s visit. (CNS photo/ by Rhina Guidos)

A few weeks ago, on a stop at El Cobre, Cuba, I heard a man talking about leftovers and retired Pope Benedict XVI. In a country where St. John Paul II dominates the memory of Cuban Catholics, I went over to meet Omar Ramirez, an admitted fan of the retired pope. He talked about the time Pope Benedict stopped by the retreat house in 2012, and privately met with him and his wife during a visit to the nearby Shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre. The pope stayed at the retreat house where Ramirez is the caretaker.

No one but the pope, his entourage and the Ramirezes were allowed to stay on the property, which is next door to the shrine that is home to the patroness of Cuba.

Ramirez said he never imagined he’d one day see, much less meet, a pope. Since they were the only ones allowed in the retreat house, they cooked and served Pope Benedict’s meals, and Ramirez’s wife ended up ironing the pope’s alb.

The caretaker likes to tell visitors that the pope did not eat much and, when he was done with his food, Ramirez ate his leftovers. They keep a photo of the visit at the entrance to their home.

No doubt that today, on Pope Benedict’s 88th birthday, someone in Cuba is fondly thinking of him.

Petra: Of ancient history and context

The largest and most impressive of all the ruins in Petra, a funeral chamber known popularly known as "The Treasury." (CNS/Mark Pattison)

The largest and most impressive of all the ruins in Petra, a funeral chamber known popularly known as “The Treasury.” (CNS/Mark Pattison)

By Mark Pattison

PETRA, Jordan –- Imagine going to your parish’s mission to hear a guest preacher speak, but your parish is in the Holy Land.

That’s what it’s like when you tour an archaeological find like Petra – which was only reintroduced to Christians from the West about 200 years ago — and you have a tour guide who is a font of knowledge about the Bible and the ancient history of the region.

So it is with Ra-Ed Haddad, who has been guiding this Jordan Tourism Board-sponsored tour for religious media writers and bloggers. Any tour guide worth his salt –- and we’ll get to the salt part later -– will have his or her facts straight, although they may get jumbled in the mind of the listener. But the bonus comes from providing context. It’s like putting shredded coconut on top of the cake frosting.

A sandstone carving of the Nabatean goddess  in Petra. (CNS/Mark Pattison)

A sandstone carving of the Nabatean goddess in Petra. (CNS/Mark Pattison)

So, did the inhabitants of Petra in Jesus’ time just “give up” Petra to the Romans? Yes, but also no. The Bedouins, a nomadic people who still traverse the Jordanian countryside today, were realizing less and less income from Petra. So while there wasn’t a battle or a formal surrender, it was more of an abandonment, Haddad said, and the far richer Roman Empire could do with it what it wanted. The Romans ultimately restored the Silk Road, which ran partly through Jordan.

Just as most world religions have something analogous to what Christians recognize today as baptism, Haddad says, so, too, do most world religions have a great degree of discomfort with recognizing the pagan element in their worship. Think of Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments only to find the Israelites worshiping a golden calf.

Such was also the case with the different groups who had control of Petra over the years.

Take the case of a sandstone carving of a woman in which all is obliterated except for her legs. The Nabateans likely made the carving, but some other civilization — the Romans, perhaps? — pulverized the image to such an extent you can’t even tell what she might have been the goddess of. Haddad pointed out several tributes to Dusharrah, the Nabatean god of wine, but few remain intact to this day, due to both the ravages of man and the ravages of time.

With so many vendors hawking camel rides in and around Petra, one could commandeer a fleet of Magi along the way. But even this is an occasion for a bit of catechesis from Haddad — a refresher lesson of sorts from earlier in the tour. Myrrh, for instance, one of the three gifts the Magi bore to the Christ child, was known for its medicinal purposes, particularly as an anesthetic. (Dentists of the time, working with crude instruments, used myrrh as a painkiller for their patients.) And, as Haddad sees it, it was not vinegar that was on the soaked sponge held up by a Roman soldier for Jesus to drink while on the cross, but myrrh.

“It was an act of mercy” by the soldier, he said, “to put this man out of his misery. But Jesus refused it; “he wanted to feel the pain to the last,” Haddad added.

Let’s get back to that salt. The biblical account holds that Lot’s wife was instructed by God, like the rest of Lot’s family, to not look back at Sodom and Gomorrah, which were being consumed by fire. But she looked back anyway and turned into a pillar of salt.

Haddad explains that pillars were regarded as phallic symbols in those days. Some people placed their hands on pillars; for some it was OK to do, for others it was definitely not OK.

But did Lot’s wife actually turn into a pillar of salt? People may never know, Haddad suggested. “The concept is, don’t look back and be a prisoner of your past,” he said. “The longer you carry a grudge in your heart, the heavier it gets.”

– – –

I will blog from time to time about things I’ve encountered on my Jordan journey. Also, look me up on Twitter at @MeMarkPattison for Jordan-related tweets. Others on this tour will use the same Hashtags: #holyjordan.

A man playing the one-stringed rababa for tips in Petra. (CNS/Mark Pattison)

A man playing the one-stringed rababa for tips in Petra. (CNS/Mark Pattison)

World Bank hopes power of faith will help end extreme poverty

Charity Dorelien stands with her grandchild outside her makeshift home in Canaan, a community on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Feb. 17.  (CNS/Bob Roller)

Charity Dorelien stands with her grandchild outside her makeshift home in Canaan, a community on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Feb. 17. (CNS/Bob Roller)

It’s not surprising that faith leaders consider worldwide poverty a scandal that each person must take responsibility for. Hardly anyone would expect them to say otherwise. There’s no news value there.

When the president of the World Bank agrees and has placed the institution on a path toward eliminating extreme poverty by 2030, it gets attention from a lot more people, including those with the resources to help.

Bring the two parties together and the promise of action on the causes of extreme poverty would seem likely to succeed.

Jim Yong Kim, World Bank president, hosted six faith leaders, including Carolyn Woo, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, in an hourlong discussion today on efforts to alleviate extreme poverty.

Extreme poverty is defined as having an income of $1.25 or less a day.

Kim said partners from the faith community are crucial to ending extreme poverty because of their connections deep inside local communities.

Woo said people acting on their faith will yield the results being sought. “It’s not just what we talk about. We have to act on our faith and show faith, action results.”

At the same time, it’s important for faith-based organizations to work with other organizations in government, business and civil society that share the same goals.

“It’s probably as controversial for me as for the Catholic Church to say we will work with the World Bank,” Woo said. “But we won’t be able to get anything done that is meaningful if we don’t collaborate, including (with) government and, of course, other faith groups and, of course, even the World Bank.”

Representatives of faith-based development organizations echoed Woo.

Vinya S. Ariyaratne, general secretary of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement in Sri Lanka, urged steps that go beyond outcomes for the world’s 900 million people living in extreme poverty.

“You can’t just focus on poverty in order to eliminate poverty,” he said. “You have to also address affluence, extreme consumption. You don’t endorse extreme suffering or extreme poverty but at the same time you don’t endorse indulgence or consumption based on greed.”

Mohamed Ashmawey, president of Islamic Relief Worldwide, said all people of all faiths and even no faith are brothers and sisters together.

“The Lord says in the book, the Quran, that we bestowed dignity on the progeny of Adam. All of us have this given fact that we are all dignified by the Lord. How can one be dignified if they are spreading their hand every day asking for food?” he asked.

“We need to have the responsibility to work together hand-in-hand, faith based organizations. Rather than fighting, let’s put our hands together and let’s try to resolve the issues of the world. It’s unacceptable ethically, morally, and religiously to have one more person on earth in extreme poverty.”

Others joining the discussion were Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service, and Pujya Swamiji, co-founder of the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance based in India.

Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto, Nigeria, invited to the World Bank for the April 14 release of a report on development in his country, liked what he heard from the panel.

He said he has seen cooperation among Christians and Muslims in his diocese in the northern part of the country and that the Boko Haram insurgency has not reached the region.

“What is most powerful is the collaboration between the various faith communities,” he said. “The real challenge is when you place religion before faith. Then people get quite territorial. Whereas the issues of common concern like rampant poverty go beyond religion. I think in a pluralistic society like ours, with competing identities, religious differences and so on, one way to look at this is as a common cause, and I think poverty is one of those.”

 

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