Peace & Justice

This is the blog of the Commission on Peace and Justice for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Bishops call for ceasefire

America’s bishops have reiterated Pope Francis’ call for a ceasefire and peace between Israel and Hamas.

In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, said that the United States should seek an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, provide humanitarian relief to the vulnerable people of Gaza, and return to the challenge of pursuing a just and lasting peace.

Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, wrote, “Israelis should not have to live in fear of Hamas’ indiscriminate rocket attacks on civilian areas. At the same time, Palestinians should not have to live in fear for their lives from air and ground attacks or to suffer the humiliations of occupation.”

He noted that Catholic Relief Services has had to suspend it relief efforts in Gaza because of the fighting.

The full text of the letter is here

More information on the U.S. bishops’ advocacy on Israeli-Palestinian peace is available here..

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Friday, July 18, 2014

The sower, the seeds and immigration reform

Deacon Walter Ayres, director of the Commission on Peace and Justice, reflected on the Gospel and immigration reform in his homily for July 13, the 15th Sunday of Ordinary time:

            Today’s Gospel is so familiar to most of us, that the church doesn’t even require that we read it in its entirety. Instead, we have the option of reading a shortened version, as I did today.
            As Jesus explains in the full version of the Gospel, the seed that falls along the path is the person who hears the message without understanding it.
            The seed that fell on patches of rock is the person who first receives the message with joy, but falters when times get rough.
            The seed sown among the thorns is the person who hears the message, but who is choked off by worldly anxiety and the lure of money.
            Finally, the seed on good soil is the person who hears the word and takes it in, resulting in a miraculous yield.
            I assume that most Christians think of themselves as belonging to that last category, but many of them are wrong.
            We need to read the signs of the times to understand this better.

            Now, the phrase “the signs of the times” has been of particular importance to Catholics since Vatican II, because it signifies an understanding that the Church needs to attend more closely to the world if it is to remain faithful to its calling. It has been used by every Pope since Pope John XXIII.
            And when we read today’s Gospel in light of the signs of the times, we can see that it gives us a lens through which we can comprehend the issues of our time, such as the current immigration crisis.
            You see, this reading comes at a particularly opportune time.
            Just this week, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops held a national migration conference in Washington.
            The goals were to share and apply Catholic Social Teaching on migration; and to deepen the capacity of diocesan and parish leaders to minister to, and advocate for, immigrants, refugees, and other people on the move.
            This occurred around the time people were blocking buses with immigrant children and families from places where they could be housed and fed.
            And the hatred spewing from the mouths of some protestors was a disgrace to us as a nation and a people.

            The influx of unaccompanied children is an important issue that we must face, but we must do it with the love and understanding that our faith requires of us.
            Now, the plight of immigrants is imbedded in our sacred scripture. From the plight of the Hebrew people in Egypt to the flight of Jesus and his family to escape from Herod, immigrants are presented to us as people for whom we must show particular concern.
            The children who cross our borders have crossed some of the worst land we can imagine, and under the worst conditions.
            They are the seeds that God has scattered on the ground. And we are called to help them grow.
            How do we know?
            The bible tells us so.

            In the book of Exodus we are told, “Do not oppress the stranger: you know how a stranger feels, for you lived as strangers in the land of Egypt.”
            Psalm 82 tells us, “No more mockery of justice . . . rescue the weak and the needy.”
            Isaiah tells us, “Woe to legislators of infamous laws . . . who refuse justice to the unfortunate.”
            Jeremiah proclaims, “Do not exploit the stranger . . .”
            The message is carried throughout Leviticus, Proverbs, and other books of the bible.
            So what are we to do?                                                           
            First, we must understand that these children are like the seeds mentioned in today’s Gospel. They have fallen on the worst ground, and they are being choked off by worldly anxiety and the lure of money. By lure of money, I mean the fear some people have that immigrants will take their jobs, a belief which has been proven false.
            Some people fear that immigrants are a burden on the healthcare system, which has been shown not to be true.
            Others argue that they are a drain on the economy, and that, too, is not correct.

            Our church, through Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services, is working to help these vulnerable people.
            And because the church sees the world as it is, and not how we would like it to be, we are working in Central America to provide education and employment opportunities to young people so that they will not feel that they have to leave their country in order to find a better life.
            These children have the potential – as do our own children – of producing the miraculous harvest that Jesus mentions in today’s Gospel, a harvest of a hundred-fold.
            One of them might discover the medicine that may someday save your life.
            Or they might start a company that employs your grandchild.
            They might return to their own country and become a politician who promotes the good that is needed at that time.
            But none of that can happen if we don’t take care of them now.

            When we think of today’s Gospel – about the sower and the seeds and the harvest – we must think not only about these children and the harvest they can provide as they mature. We must also ask ourselves what kind of harvest we are producing in our own lives.
            Does the word of God produce in us a willingness to help others in need, a desire to care for our neighbors as ourselves?
            Or has our love of neighbor been choked off by the weeds of selfishness and fear?
            Can we provide a bountiful harvest of love and compassion, or will we ignore the face of Jesus in these desperate children?

            The gospel of Matthew tells us that one day Jesus will come to us and we will ask Him, “when…. when did I see you?” When did I see you a stranger? When did I see you hungry? When did I see you needing clothes?
            Today, as you hear my words, a little girl is on her way across a desert land. A little boy is walking the same path. There is a good chance that both of them are Catholic.
            If they do not die alone on the way, they will arrive here as strangers. They will be hungry. They probably will need clothes.
            Like the tender shoots of today’s parable, their grip on life will be tenuous at best.
            We can help them by praying – praying for their safety and for a resolution to the current crisis.
            We also can send money to Catholic Charities or Catholic Relief Services.
            And we can contact our legislators and ask them to support sensible and fair immigration reform, and let them know that we do not object to housing some of these children in our own community as they await the next phase of their journey.
            But we must not stand idly by and do nothing.
            When the attendees at this week’s Migration Conference received their registration packet, they found a letter from the office of the Vatican Secretariat of State, who wrote to them on behalf of Pope Francis. This is part of what he had to say:
            “It is [the Pope’s] hope that, in the best traditions of the Church in the United States, the Catholic community will continue to welcome new immigrants, defend the unity of families, and provide opportunities for their full integration into society.”
            May the Pope not be disappointed in how we respond to this current immigration crisis.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Pray for the 2014 National Migration Conference

The 2014 National Migration Conference, a gathering hosted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC), and Catholic Charities USA, is being held in Washington D.C. this week.  It is intended to build the capacity of the Catholic Church and society to advance the life and dignity of the human person in our work with immigrants, migrants, refugees, unaccompanied migrant children, victims of human trafficking, and other vulnerable people on the move. 

The purpose of this conference is to:

    - to share and apply Catholic Social Teaching on migration;
    - to share information on domestic and international issues affecting the life and dignity of  immigrants, migrants, refugees, trafficking victims and other vulnerable people on the move;
    - to prepare and organize participants to carry the message on these migration issues both to Congress in Washington, D.C., and to constituencies and political leaders in their own communities;
    - to deepen the capacity of diocesan and parish leaders to serve, minister to, and advocate for  immigrants, migrants, refugees, trafficking victims, and other people on the move by providing skill-building workshops, and by sharing strategies, best practices, materials and activities that  are useful at the local level;
    - to gather in the context of the Catholic social tradition to teach, pray, and celebrate the work and accomplishments of our networks.

Let us pray for the success of this gathering, and recall the words of Leviticus (19: 33-34): When an alien resides with you in your land, do not mistreat such a one. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the LORD, am your God.

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Monday, June 30, 2014

Catholics lead the way

A new column from the Association of Religious Data Archives (ARDA) reports Catholics are among the leaders in efforts to change public policy:
When religious groups move from the noise of denominational battles to enlisting congregational foot soldiers for moral agendas, no group is more successful than the Catholic Church . . .
In a column headlined “Catholic churches most likely to be on the front lines of issues from abortion to poverty, ” author David Briggs writes:
When religious groups move from the noise of denominational battles to enlisting congregational foot soldiers for moral agendas, no group is more successful than the Catholic Church, the 2012 National Congregations Study finds. 
A quarter of Catholic congregations reported that they had lobbied officials in the last 12 months, and more than half of Catholic congregations said they had organized or participated in a demonstration or march on a public issue or policy. 
In contrast, just 10 percent of Protestant congregations reported taking either action, the study found. 
And while Catholics were most active on the abortion issue, they also were more likely than other groups to lobby and demonstrate on a wide range of issues, from combating poverty to advocating for immigration reform.
The rest of the column is here.

Does this sound like your parish? If not, perhaps you should contact the diocesan Commission on Peace and Justice to learn how you can engage people in the effort to influence public policy.  The Commission can provide you with speakers and resources to educate parishioners about Catholic social teaching and help you create a social justice ministry that follows Pope Francis’ advice to engage the world. As the Pope wrote in The Joy of the Gospel, [220.] "People in every nation enhance the social dimension of their lives by acting as committed and responsible citizens, not as a mob swayed by the powers that be. Let us not forget that 'responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation'."

You can call the Commission at 518-453-6695 or send an e-mail to Deacon Walter Ayres, Director of the Commission, at

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Update on Meriam Ibrahim

Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese Catholic woman whose death sentence for renouncing Islam was overturned, was been released from jail again, after she was detained at Khartoum airport on Tuesday.

According to news reports, Mrs. Ibrahim was released yesterday on the condition that she remains in Sudan. The lawyer said that she was currently in the US embassy with her family.

In Washington, a State Department spokeswoman said Mrs. Ibrahim and her family were "in a safe location" and Sudan's government "has assured us of the family's continued safety." Citing privacy considerations, she declined to specify that location.

Sudan's National Security and Intelligence Authority is reported to have lodged a complaint against Mrs. Ibrahim. Reports say now that Sudan's intelligence agency is involved, Mrs. Ibrahim's case is likely to be more difficult and complicated to resolve.

Mrs. Ibrahim was sentenced to death and to 100 lashes after refusing to renounce her Christian faith. She has been convicted by a court in Khartoum on charges of apostasy and adultery. Last month, she gave birth to a baby girl while shackled to the floor in a Khartoum prison where she is being held with her newborn daughter and 20-month-old son.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Meriam Ibrahim released

When Father Thomas Konopka asked me to write a blog post about Meriam Ibrahim last week, I had no idea that the end result would come so quickly. However, I am happy to inform you that she has been released from prison.
If you were one of the people who signed the petition, or called a legislator, or prayed for her release, “Thank you!” (And if you were not, may this encourage you to do something the next time a situation arises.)
This is just one example of the power that we have when we add our voices to those of others, and even when we pray in the silence of our own rooms.

You can read more here.


Friday, June 20, 2014

Catholic mother condemned

The case of Meriam Ibrahim has gained world-wide attention.

She is the 27-year-old Catholic woman in Sudan who was sentenced to death and to 100 lashes after refusing to renounce her Christian faith. She has been convicted by a court in Khartoum on charges of apostasy and adultery. Last month, she gave birth to a baby girl while shackled to the floor in a Khartoum prison where she is being held with her newborn daughter and 20-month-old son.

Her husband, Daniel Wani, a US citizen, told the Guardian newspaper that his wife and children were being held in inhumane conditions, and the prison authorities were "extremely tough" with her. He said that she spent two days in her labor blood after she gave birth and was prevented from having a shower until the human rights committee visited. 
According to newspaper reports, Ibrahim had told the court she was the daughter of a Sudanese Muslim father and an Ethiopian Christian mother. She said that her father left when she was six, and she was brought up as a Christian by her mother. She met Wani, who moved to the US in 1998 and became an American citizen, in 2005. They were married at Khartoum Catholic church on December 19, 2011.

CNA/EWTN News reports that the Catholic Archdiocese of Khartoum has urged Sudanese authorities to review the legal case. 
“The fact of the matter is that Meriam did not abandon the Islamic faith but rather she, in the first place, did not follow the Islamic religion since her childhood,” Father Mussa Timothy Kacho, episcopal vicar for the archdiocese’s Khartoum region, said June 11.

He said the archdiocese has “deep regret” over the way the case was handled “in disregard to Meriam’s moral and religious belief.” He noted that Sudan’s interim constitution guarantees religious freedom.

Vatican Radio reports that a gathering of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and representatives of other denominations from across the European Union earlier this month called for her immediate release.
A petition has been started urging the Obama administration to “pressure the Sudanese government to release Meriam and her children so she can escape execution and possible death of her children and be rejoined with her husband in the U.S. Please grant her expedited safe haven in the U.S., where she could seek asylum.”

You can sign the petition here.

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