Pray for Nepal, flex your ‘compassion muscles’

Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' overseas relief agency and member of Caritas Internationalis, has been training people in Nepal in earthquake-resistant construction to help them rebuild in an effective way and to help them get jobs. (Photo courtesy CRS/Jennifer Hardy)

Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief agency and member of Caritas Internationalis, has been training people in Nepal in earthquake-resistant construction to help them rebuild in an effective way and to help them get jobs.
(Photo courtesy CRS/Jennifer Hardy)

By Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle*

KATHMANDU — As I traveled from Kathmandu airport this morning I saw areas affected by last year’s earthquake. I’m in Nepal for the Caritas solidarity conference to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the disaster. As I looked at the countryside, I could almost see the wounds of our Mother Earth.

Cardinal Tagle is welcomed by the staff of Caritas Nepal. (Photo courtesy Michelle Hough, Caritas Internationalis)

Cardinal Tagle is welcomed by the staff of Caritas Nepal. (Photo courtesy Michelle Hough, Caritas Internationalis)

I’ve joined Caritas organizations working on the Nepal emergency in one of the earthquake-affected areas outside the capital. We are here to fill ourselves with courage and knowledge regarding how to best accompany the Nepalese people as they forge their future.

We are also here remember the wounds of our brothers and sisters who survived the earthquake and who now have to rebuild their lives. The risk is, if you forget the wounds inflicted -– on others and on the Earth — you may inflict other injuries.

It’s easy to forget or even ignore the disasters which are the scourge of many countries.  Nepal, Japan and now Ecuador -– these are just some countries hit by recent earthquakes, but there have been many more disasters. When was the last time you thought about the people of Haiti?

We should never tire of seeing the face of Christ in all of the victims of these disasters. This is a challenge, but Pope Francis has given us the opportunity to pump up our “compassion muscles” this year by asking us to focus on mercy. True mercy has no geographical or spiritual boundaries.

Communities here in Nepal are resilient and are trying to rebuild their lives and revive their dreams, but they cannot do it without our help.

Nepalese resident Bal Bahadur Budathoki Chetri, 97, flanked by his grandchildren answers Caritas questions April 8. His house was destroyed during the 2015 earthquake. (Photo courtesy of Matthieu Alexandre, Caritas Internationalis)

Nepalese resident Bal Bahadur Budathoki Chetri, 97, flanked by his grandchildren answers Caritas questions April 8.
His house was destroyed during the 2015 earthquake. (Photo courtesy of Matthieu Alexandre, Caritas Internationalis)

Caritas is love in action and love without borders. We are here in Nepal not just to help rebuild homes and schools, help people get back to work or to ensure their water supply is repaired. We are here to offer hope.

With Nepal we have seen people offering support from all parts of the world. We pray this will continue. We pray that that we will never tire of recognizing and appreciating the signs and wonder that God accomplishes through our small acts of mercy and love so that each new disaster will launch a new wave of solidarity and compassion. Most of all, on this special day of commemoration, we pray for the people of Nepal.

Cardinal Tagle, the archbishop of Manila, is president of Caritas Internationalis.

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, April 24, 2016

"I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another." -- John 13:34

“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” — John 13:34

 

April 24, Fifth Sunday of Easter

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Acts 14:21-27

      Psalm 145:8-13

      2) Revelation 21:1-5a

      Gospel: John 13:31-33a, 34-35

 

By Jean Denton
Catholic News Service

In today’s Gospel, Jesus urges his disciples to take care of one another when he’s gone. But when he says, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another,” he emphasizes that the love he hopes will remain among them is of an uncommon kind.

For God, love is unconditional and absolute. But for us human beings, it seems, all love isn’t so equal. Nevertheless, Jesus calls us to hold one another in the kind of unconditional love that he has for all of us.

I can understand what Jesus is getting at. The other day, one of my grown children was complaining to me about a sibling — also one of my children, by the way, so I didn’t much like hearing it. In fact, I was stung as though I’d been the object of the criticism myself.

That wasn’t the intention. This child was simply airing out minor family issues. I’d certainly listened to criticisms among the siblings before. No one meant to hurt me or each other, and the complaints always were prefaced by a sincere, “I love (sibling), but …”

I know that. But I wish they’d consider my feelings and see each other through my eyes as a parent, where even when my child goes wrong, I instinctively recognize, love and defend his inherent goodness.

However, such an attitude doesn’t come easily in our daily encounters with others — even friends.

When I catch myself complaining about someone, I often stop because I sense God’s disapproval of my behavior — not out of consideration for his love of that person.

Today’s Scriptures take us beyond morality to living as one of Jesus’ own: loving others not only as he loves me, but also as he loves them.

Revelation’s image of God dwelling with us is of God living and loving his entire human family — being not just my God but our God.

Jesus lived briefly among us in the flesh. Like a parent loving his children and desiring that they embrace each other in that same love after he passes on, Jesus tells his disciples that the world will know they belong to him when they share his unconditional love with one another in every encounter.

QUESTIONS:

Where in your life are you currently experiencing concerns or conflicts involving others? How does trying to see others through God’s eyes change your attitude toward them? How does it change you?

Faith leaders call world to act quickly on Paris climate agreement

People call for action on climate change during a rally in June in Washington. (CNS photo/Shawn Thew, EPA)

People call for action on climate change during a rally in June in Washington. (CNS photo/Shawn Thew, EPA)

World religious leaders, including a Vatican official and the heads of regional bishops’ conferences, are calling on countries to promptly sign and ratify the Paris climate agreement.

In a statement sent to world leaders ahead of the Paris agreement signing ceremony at the United Nations April 22, Earth Day, some of the world’s most prominent voices in religion said caring for the earth is a shared responsibility.

The Paris agreement emerged from December’s U.N.-sponsored climate change conference — known as COP 21 — after four years of negotiations. Nearly 200 countries agreed to take steps in an effort to hold global warming to 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.

Citing Pope Francis’ encyclical “‘Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home” and other climate change statements from Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and other faiths, the leaders stressed that “humanity is a crucial turning point” and urged the world to act immediately on behalf of all people of the planet.

“We are united in our support for the full and ambitious implementation of the Paris agreement and of all other decisions adopted at COP 21,” the statement said in calling governments to accelerate climate action before 2020 and to increase commitment to the nationally determined contributions to slow climate change that each country submitted to the conference.

“Climate change presents our global family with the opportunity to embark on a path of spiritual renewal defined by deeper awareness and greater ecological action. Every act to protect and care for all beings connects us to one another, deepening the spiritual dimension of our lives,” the religious leaders said.

“We must reflect on the true nature of our interrelationship to the earth. It is not a resources for us to exploit at our will. It is a sacred inheritance and a precious home which we must protect, they said.”

Thirty-five Catholics were among the 264 religious leaders lending their names to the statement. Among them were Bishop Marcelo Sanchez, chancellor, pontifical academies of sciences and social sciences; Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, India, president, Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences; Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogota, Colombia, president, CELAM, the Latin American bishops’ council; Archbishop John Ribat, of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, president, Federation of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Oceania and Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands; Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manilla, Philippines, president, Caritas Internationalis; Father Joseph Komakoma, secretary general, Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar; Bishop Georges Pontier of Marseilles, France, president, French bishops’ conference; Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, president, Austrian Catholic bishops’ conference; Good Samaritan Sister Elizabeth Delaney, general secretary, National Council of Churches in Australia; and Mercy Sister Patricia McDermott, president, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, April 17, 2016

"My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me." -- John 10:27

“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” — John 10:27

 

April 17, Fourth Sunday of Easter

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Acts 13:14, 43-52

      Psalm 100:1-3, 5

      2) Revelation 7:9, 14b-17

      Gospel: John 10:27-30

      Gospel: John 20:19-31

 

By Jeff Hedglen
Catholic News Service

While leading a youth ministry retreat on how to hear the voice of God, I presented an activity that involved one person being blindfolded and then challenged to navigate an obstacle course by listening to directions from others in the group. The catch was each group member played a different role.

One person was the calm assuring voice of God — giving the right directions through the course. But the other voices were: a loud voice of chaos yelling random directions, a quiet voice of deception whispering the wrong information, a voice of confusion giving contradictory directions, a voice of flattery complimenting every move made and a voice of disapproval criticizing every move.

The task was for the blindfolded person to listen to the cacophony and distinguish the “voice of God” in order to make it through the obstacle course.

In this week’s Gospel, Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” As with most aspects of living the Christian faith, this is simple but not easy.

As our retreat exercise showed, there are many voices assaulting us, often all at the same time. It can seem almost impossible to decipher which voice is God’s.

There are no short cuts to learning to distinguish the voice of God: It simply is all about exposure. Imagine that you are in a crowd and many people are calling your name, but one of them is your mother. You have heard your mother call your name hundreds of times, so it will be easier to pick out her voice. In the same way, it takes time to learn the voice of God.

We can grow in our ability to recognize God’s voice by reading and meditating on the Scriptures, listening attentively to homilies, sitting in silence to hear God’s voice inside our hearts and by seeking the counsel of trusted spiritual mentors.

The more exposure we have to the truths of God, the more we will know how God would guide us, and this is the key to recognizing his voice. Just as the sheep know the voice of the shepherd, we too need to know the voice of God if we are to follow him.

QUESTIONS:

Has there ever been a time when you clearly heard the voice of God? How do you know when you hear the voice of God? What is hardest for you about discerning God’s voice?

USCCB among religious organizations urging Congress to support $750 million contribution to Green Climate Fund

On the heels of the White House’s announcement that the United States has made its first $500 million contribution to the Green Climate Fund more than 120 faith-based organizations called on Congress to continue to support the effort in the fiscal year 2017 federal budget.

In a letter to members of Congress April 11, the organizations — including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — urged Congress to approve an allocation of $750 million in President Barack Obama’s budget plan submitted in February.

The contributions are part of the four-year $3-billion U.S. pledge to the fund, which is helping developing countries respond to climate change.

A woman and children walk through a drought-stricken rice field April 3 in Cebu, Philippines. (CNS/Jay Rommel Labra, Reuters)

A woman and children walk through a drought-stricken rice field April 3 in Cebu, Philippines. (CNS/Jay Rommel Labra, Reuters)

The groups urged congressional action because rising sea levels, caused by a changing climate, threaten small island nations and that extreme weather is occurring more frequently around the world, endangering food security and the political stability of least developed countries.

“Our scriptures and religious texts call us to care for God’s creation and our most vulnerable neighbors,” the letter said. “We believe that climate change presents an unprecedented threat to all of creation, but particularly to those living in poverty around the world.”

Budget negotiations are in the early stages in both houses of Congress. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change established the fund in 2010. It particularly funds countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, especially least developed nations, small island developing states and African nations.

The fund gained wide support during the climate meeting in December in Paris. While the most advanced countries have committed to provide $100 billion annually for mitigation and adaptation programs within a decade, by mid-March countries had contributed a bit more than $10 billion to the fund.

The fund is allocating about half of its money for mitigation efforts and half to help communities adapt to the changing climate.

Catholic organizations signing the letter include Catholic Climate Covenant, Catholic Relief Services, Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, Conference of Major Superiors of Men, Dominican Sisters of Hope, Franciscan Action Network, Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Network, a Catholic social justice lobby, School Sisters of Notre Dame Cooperative Investment Fund, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas’ Institute Justice Team and Society of St. Ursula, American region.

To be blessed by those who suffer, one must walk with them

Raeda Firas kisses her 4-year old son, Luis, as he leaves their modular home April 7 to attend a church-run preschool in Ankawa, Iraq. The family was displaced by the Islamic State group in 2014 and lives in a church-provided modular home. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

Raeda Firas kisses her 4-year old son, Luis, as he leaves their modular home April 7 to attend a church-run preschool in Ankawa, Iraq. The family was displaced by the Islamic State group in 2014 and lives in a church-provided modular home. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

By Paul Jeffrey

IRBIL, Iraq — Every morning, as her son prepares to leave for preschool, the mother of 4-year old Luis Firas takes a stick of oil and makes the sign of the cross on his forehead.

Blessing is important for this Christian family, which fled from Mosul during the 2014 takeover of the area by Islamic State militants and today — like tens of thousands of other displaced — live in a small modular temporary shelter in Irbil, a town in northern Iraq controlled by Kurds.

As I photographed their morning ritual, Luis grabbed the stick and marked a cross on his mother’s forehead, also blessing her.

Luis Firas, 4, marks the sign of the cross on his mother's forehead April 7 at their home in Ankawa, Iraq. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

Luis Firas, 4, marks the sign of the cross on his mother’s forehead April 7 at their home in Ankawa, Iraq. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

When the displaced families arrived in Irbil, a booming oil town fallen on hard economic times and the looming threat of Islamic State they found physical safety. But since they weren’t refugees — they had crossed no international border — they weren’t eligible for assistance from a variety of international agencies. Neither the governments of Iraq nor the autonomous Kurdistan offered much. It was the church that walked with them as they fled from ISIS, and the church that struggled to find them food and shelter in exile.

As almost 20 months have gone by, the church continues to be the de facto manager of aid. The displaced camps are managed by priests-turned-mayors, the schools run by nuns who are themselves survivors of what many consider genocide, the clinics staffed by volunteer doctors who go home at the end of the day to a tiny prefabricated house in a camp for the internally displaced.

Sister Ferdos Zora sings along with students April 7 in a preschool for displaced children run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Ankawa, Iraq. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

Sister Ferdos Zora sings along with students April 7 in a preschool for displaced children run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Ankawa, Iraq. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

To be blessed by those who suffer, one must walk with them. It’s the essence of accompaniment, which comes from the Latin words “ad companis” that could be translated as “breaking bread together.” Here the church has broken bread together with those suffer, and yet I heard no complaints from those who continue to work tirelessly to keep bodies alive and souls fueled with hope. Rather I witnessed joy and radiance and laughter as the faithful served their neighbors, and as they sang hymns in their makeshift chapels. It’s the same look that I glimpsed on the face of Luis’ mother as her son turned her act of love back into a blessing for her.

– – –

Paul Jeffrey’s photos from around the world can be viewed on Instagram.

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, April 10, 2016

"At nightfall, weeping enters in, but with the dawn, rejoicing." -- Psalms 30:6

“At nightfall, weeping enters in, but with the dawn, rejoicing.” — Psalms 30:6

 

April 10, Third Sunday of Easter

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41

      Psalm 30:2, 4-6, 11-13

      2) Revelation 5:11-14

      Gospel: John 21:1-19 or John 21:1-14

 

By Sharon K. Perkins
Catholic News Service

Most moms have their favorite proverbs that, repeated often enough, become embedded wisdom in their children’s brains. One of my mother’s sayings was, “This too shall pass,” and it still pops up into my head whenever I feel stuck in a rut or am going through a tough time. It reminds me that trials are temporary and that there is always hope.

I imagine that in those days following Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, his disciples must have been grasping for some way to make sense of their situation. Words alone, while comforting, could not suffice. Jesus’ continued presence — which he had promised them at their last supper together — would be the only thing to sustain them.

At first, Jesus made himself known by way of post-resurrection appearances, usually accompanied by a meal. Today’s Gospel narrative describes one of those appearances in superb detail, noting that the disciples didn’t recognize him immediately. Once Jesus’ identity became apparent, however, Peter literally jumped out of the boat to meet him. The ensuing meal and conversation would serve to strengthen him in the days ahead.

When Peter is later confronted by the Sanhedrin for speaking in Jesus’ name, he boldly counters their accusations with the words, “We are witnesses of these things, as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” Therein lies the key: We are never asked to be witnesses (literally, “martyrs” in Greek) by ourselves. Even if it takes us a while to recognize it, the promised Holy Spirit has already been poured out, ensuring that Jesus is always present to us.

This same Holy Spirit gives us the hope to carry on in the midst of trial. As the psalmist writes, the weeping of nightfall will enter in — it’s part of living. But just as surely as dawn follows night, rejoicing will come. Jesus’ abiding presence isn’t simply a platitude. It’s a promise. And the sacred sustenance he provides isn’t simply a meal. It’s himself.

QUESTIONS:

Is there a favorite saying or proverb that you rely on when you are in need of comfort or renewed hope? When has the presence of the Holy Spirit brought you from discouragement to joy?

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