Archive for the ‘justice’ Category

A papal visit to the land of Bakhita?

September 20, 2008

Rocco at Whispers in the Loggia just pointed out yesterday a bit of news from a couple of months ago that I had missed at the time.  It seems that Pope Benedict XVI, while attending World Youth Day celebrations in Australia this past July, told a young woman from Darfur in Sudan: “Yours is the country I most want to visit.”

This is not surprsing and particularly relevant to readers of the Pope’s 2007 encyclical Spe Salvi, on Christian hope.   In the beautiful document, the Pope chose to highlight the life and witness of St. Josephine Bakhita (1869-1947), a native of Darfur.  Since he certainly had hundreds of extraordinary saints to pick from as illustrations of what hope looks like when it is lived out heroically, it’s surely no coincidence that he picked a woman from this tragically troubled region. 

Benedict would not be the first pope to visit Sudan. Pope John Paul II traveled there in 1993, less than a year after he beatified Bakhita.  At a special Mass celebrated to honor her in the capital city of Khartoum, he preached:

Her Beatification was an act of respect not only for her but also for the Sudan, since a daughter of this land was put forward as a hero of mercy and of goodwill…. The immense suffering of millions of innocent victims impels me to voice my solidarity with the weak and defenceless who cry out to God for help, for justice, for respect for their God–given dignity as human beings, for their basic human rights, for the freedom to believe and practise their faith without fear or discrimination…. Today, in the Sudan, the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter, repeats these words and encourages you to stand firm and to take heart. The Lord is close to you. He will never leave you alone. The whole Church understands your distress and prays for you.

That was more than 15 years ago, and still the violations of human rights in Sudan continues on a large scale, in some ways that are new and more intense since that time.  Another papal visit would surely be an important event. 

In the meantime,  consider offering some concrete support to the beleaguered people of Darfur through Catholic Relief Services.  (In my classroom, I show my high school juniors this video (in 3 parts, of about 7 minutes each) produced by 3 college students who visited Darfur.  There is also actually an online “game” called Darfur is Dying that has been designed to help people understand the experience of people there.  I know, it sounds crass at first, but I think it’s an effective tool for young people, who tend not to pay attention to anything that’s not online.  Finally, you’ll find a novena to St. Josephine Bakhita in my book Saints for Our Times: New Novenas and Prayers.)

St. Josephine Bakhita, witness of hope, pray for the people of Darfur!


My letter to Nancy Pelosi (sent Tuesday)

September 18, 2008

Dear Madam Speaker:

I enjoyed watching (on C-SPAN’s Book TV) your recent appearance at a Washington synagogue, talking about your book Know Your Power: A Message to America’s Daughters.  As the father of five daughters, a Catholic, and a religion teacher at a Catholic high school, I was very interested in what you had to say. 

I was particularly impressed by how comfortable you clearly are in speaking about your Catholic faith and how it intersects with your public service.  You invoked St. Francis and didn’t hesitate to speak of him as the patron of your hometown, or to quote his important maxim, “Preach the Gospel always, and when necessary use words.”  You invoked Catholic social justice principles and cited them as a foundation for your own work in working for policies and laws that respect all people.  You even spoke of a “spark of the divine” that is in each person, to which we must respond with laws that protect and respect them, regardless of who they are.  You cited examples of care for the environment, living wage, health care, and other policies that have been put in place in San Francisco, and said you prefer to speak of respect rather than tolerance, because speaking of tolerance belittles those who are different from us (I agree; it’s a good distinction.)  You said these matters are not political issues to you, but values to be upheld.

Ms. Pelosi, while I admired and agreed with all of this as I listened, I write today because it’s difficult to understand why you are willing to leave out one important piece from that beautiful mosaic of thinking about personal integrity in public service: working for laws that protect and respect the unborn. 

I am one of those who has been disappointed with your recent public comments about abortion, as well as those of Senator Obama and Senator Biden, all of which seem intentionally to ignore the very clear fact that when human life begins is not, fundamentally, a matter of faith at all, but of science.   

But having watched you at the synagogue event, I’m more confused still, since you so clearly do not hesitate to stand by the principles of human dignity in other cases, despite the fact and even because of the fact that they are rooted in your own faith tradition.  And you do it even regarding issues that are controversial, about which many people disagree with you.  (I applaud you for that.)

An illustration of what I mean, then I’ll finish: Obviously, some of the San Francisco policies you cited with approval – access to health care for every child and a living (rather than “minimum”) wage, for example – are not universally embraced with enthusiasm.  Suppose someone objected to these by saying, “I saw you on C-SPAN defending these policies by saying there’s a ‘spark of the divine’ in every person that must be respected, and these laws do that.  But I don’t believe in God or any divine spark, so don’t you force your faith on me by enacting laws that suggest there is.” 

I bet (and I’d hope) that your response would be something to this effect: “Though my faith tells me that divine spark is there, I needn’t be a person of faith to understand that we must respect every single person, and our laws must protect every single person.  Human dignity and human transcend any religion.”  And you’d be right.

So why is abortion different?  

In both cases we’re talking about an issue of human dignity (one that is part of the teaching of your religious faith, but transcends it, because we’re dealing with human life and human rights), and an issue that not everyone agrees upon.  Why is it so hard to stand up here and say, “You may disagree with me, but this is a fundamental issue of human dignity to which I must be true”?

In closing, Ms. Pelosi, I have to say that I agree with you and most of your Democratic colleagues about many things – including the crucial matter of the War in Iraq.  I think this war was a mistake in the first place, and that it was mishandled throughout.  And yet I won’t be able to vote for Senator Obama in the upcoming election, because abortion, to me, is an even more fundamental issue.  How could it be otherwise: over 3000 Americans have died in Iraq in the past six years – that’s how many died by abortion in the last day or two.   

A comment I read on the internet recently reflects my own thinking: “Don’t the Democrats realize if they’d drop their passionate commitment to abortion rights, they’d win every election?”  Ms. Pelosi, I can tell you they would have my vote, every time.


Barry Michaels 

The Catholic Vote

September 10, 2008