Essay

Saint Augustine Contra Suicide

September 29, 2019 Dr. Jared Ortiz 14

When it comes to attitudes about suicide, we Americans are Janus-faced. We are shocked and grieved when loved ones or famous people take their lives, and yet we show high approval ratings for euthanasia (72% […]

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At Mass for Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis says world is increasingly more elitist

September 29, 2019 CNA Daily News 3

Vatican City, Sep 29, 2019 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Pope Francis celebrated Mass for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees Sunday with a message that the world is becoming more elitist to the detriment of the poor and the most vulnerable.

“Today’s world is increasingly becoming more elitist and cruel. Developing countries continue to be drained of their best natural and human resources for the benefit of a few privileged markets. Wars only affect some regions of the world, yet weapons of war are produced and sold in other regions which are then unwilling to take in the refugees generated by these conflicts,” Pope Francis said in his homily in St. Peter’s Square Sept. 29.

The pope said that those who pay the price are always “the little ones, the poor, the most vulnerable, who are prevented from sitting at the table and are left with the ‘crumbs’ of the banquet.”

“As Christians, we cannot be indifferent to the tragedy of old and new forms of poverty, to the bleak isolation, contempt and discrimination experienced by those who do not belong to ‘our’ group,” Pope Francis said.

The Lord calls us to practice charity toward all those in existential peripheries, who together with migrants and refugees, are the victims of “the throwaway culture,” he said.

“Loving our neighbor means feeling compassion for the sufferings of our brothers and sisters, drawing close to them, touching their sores and sharing their stories, and thus manifesting concretely God’s tender love for them. This means being a neighbor to all those who are mistreated and abandoned on the streets of our world, soothing their wounds and bringing them to the nearest shelter, where their needs can be met,” Pope Francis explained.

“Along with the exercise of charity, the Lord also invites us to think about the injustices that cause exclusion – and in particular the privileges of the few, who, in order to preserve their status, act to the detriment of the many,” he said.

In his Angelus address immediately following the Mass, Pope Francis unveiled a new bronze sculpture in St. Peter’s Square called “Angels Unawares.” The sculpture by Canadian artist Timothy Schmaltz depicts migrants and refugees throughout history huddled together on a raft.

“I wanted this artistic work here in St. Peter’s Square to remind everyone of the evangelical challenge of hospitality,” Pope Francis said.

“The Lord has a particular concern for foreigners, widows and orphans, for they are without rights, excluded and marginalized,” he said in his homily. “We must pay special attention to the strangers in our midst as well as to widows, orphans and all the outcasts of our time.”

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Online Japanese Catholics are looking for a digital shepherd

September 29, 2019 CNA Daily News 1

Tokyo, Japan, Sep 29, 2019 / 04:00 am (CNA).- In the age of mass communication, the Catholic Church is finding previously unimagined opportunities for evangelization – namely, over the internet.

However, for the small minority of believers in Japan, the internet is far less connective. Much like their diocese and parishes, which are hardly seen or experienced outside the walls of the Church or rectory, Catholicism has not yet found a way to thrive on the Japanese end of the internet.

“In Japan, the connection between Catholics is only within the church, and hardly outside it,” said Tomomi, a Japanese Catholic in her twenties who lives in Tokyo.
 
“I’ve been [in] the Catholic Church since I was a kid, but I think I must say that outside the Church there is no connection between the believers.”
 
With the entire world connected over websites and messaging applications, the ability to evangelize domestically and abroad to groups and persons outside of Catholic social circles has never been easier.

Technology has, by many measures, become one of Catholicism’s most powerful areas of growth.

Pope Francis has held Internet-focused conferences in the past, inviting online celebrities and activists to the Vatican in order to discuss opportunities for cooperation and humanitarian efforts through the use of the internet.

The Vatican website is available in a staggering number of languages, as are the pope’s official writings and the church’s official announcements – it takes its commitment to universality seriously.

By all regards, the Catholic Church appears to be dedicated to keeping abreast of today’s hyper-social internet culture, making sure its message can be heard regardless of geography, income, or skill set.

But while Japan is a technologically advanced country, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Japan is, technologically, behind.

“Each diocese in this country is trying hard to take steps forward with fairly limited resources, resulting in slow progress,” Satoh Takaharu of the conference’s social communications division told CNA.

Takaharu is the extremely polite and timely staffer who answers messages submitted through an embedded inquiry form on the CCBJ’s infrequently-updated website. The process through which she communicates is not intuitive. The answers to inquiries cannot be replied to, and so replies to her answers must be submitted through the initial form. It can be cumbersome.

The inquiry form is, for some, a promising sign, though. Many Japanese parishes’ official contact email addresses are hard to come by online. If an inquirer does stumble upon the email address of a parish, priest, or bishop, there’s a good chance of it being out of date.

“[The conference] finds technical difficulties in increasing its presence on the internet,” Takaharu said.

Why is progress slow? It’s not for lack of enthusiasm, according to the CCBJ.

What the Japanese church lacks, they seem to claim, is effective management and simple computer know-how.

“The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan has no expert staff on IT and SNS,” Takaharu continued. SNS stands for ‘social networking sites.’
 
“Although some discussions on the necessity of using SNS have been made, the Church in Japan has yet to launch an initiative geared to take next steps due to the reasons mentioned above.”
 
In the West, even unofficial, lay Catholic social media communities and evangelization movements have become prominent enough to warrant mentions in the New York Times and other major publications.
 
But in Japan, this form of online community is rare, and only scarcely populated in comparison to other nations. This is, no doubt, a direct result of the low percentage of Christians in Japan (less than 2%), but even this tiny, vibrant community’s efforts can be hampered by the Japanese Church’s lack of infrastructure online.
 
Much like an actual church needs a priest to function properly, many online lay religious communities are looking spiritual and social leaders to rally around – in this case the very same priests who lead their physical churches.
 
“American and European priests have their own [social media] accounts and often communicate. In Japan, even the priest does little [communicating] on Twitter,” lamented Tomomi.
 
Without official clergy accounts and church-sanctioned groups, it can be difficult to find other Catholics online. Religion isn’t a common topic of Japanese online discussion, especially if one belongs to a minority religion imported from the West.
 
Without beacons to flock to for familiarity, many Catholics in Japan say they are mostly left rogue and homeless online without a serious community to engage with about their faith.
 
Some Church officials in Japan are aware of the deficit and of the potential benefits to going digital. In emails on the subject, Church officials expressed support for the few Japanese priests reaching out through social media.
 
“Some bishops and priests are using SNS actively and its usefulness is duly valued,” said Takaharu.
 
“The Catholic Church isn’t influential [in Japan],” said Tomomi. “But…we need to unite the Japanese believers with each other. That’s what we can do online.”
 
There are movements, though. They’re small, and mostly contained within individual parishes. These groups may be a good starting point for the outward expansion of the Church, and for greater involvement in the communities around local parishes.
 
Warinthorn is a 28-year-old resident of Japan originally from Thailand. He is a university student and has lived in Japan for 12 years.
 
He converted from Buddhism to Catholicism while in Japan, at the age of 25.
 
“In my university there’s a Christian club, like YMCA, where they go camping, arrange sessions of bible studies, etc. But all of its members, in my knowledge, are Protestants,” said Warinthorn.
 
Warinthorn has noticed the ways in which Catholics have managed to build support networks online. But he said they are not without problems, some of which will likely seem familiar to Catholics in the West.
 
“There’re quite active communities of Japanese Catholics on Twitter and Facebook, but as someone who has seen the contents, I must say that they don’t reflect the reality of Church life here. Most people tend to be more aggressive on social networks, both to other Catholics and to the hierarchy,” said Warinthorn.
 
Also, “the statements of the bishops of Japan are usually politically left-leaning, which is something annoying to some believers,” he said
 
Offline, things run a little smoother.
 
“In my parish there’s a variety of active groups doing many kinds of activities, including non-liturgical ones, such as visiting homeless people and [giving] them onigiri-rice, or serving curry rice to anyone every Monday. However, their activities are parish-centered and depend in many ways on the parish’s support.”
 
Many Japanese citizens have never talked about religion with a Christian. Many Japanese citizens have never even been inside Church. The internet may prove to be where many Japanese are exposed to other Japanese professing Christian values and ideas for the first time.

“In a stable society like Japan, with such a different understanding of religiosity from the West, it’s totally natural thing that the Catholic Church is experiencing only marginal growth. The only things that we can, and should do as believers, is to learn about our own faith, be of one mind and to form our consciences in accordance with Catholic teachings, and to witness Christ to people around us, such as friends and family.”
 
Warinthorn is optimistic.
 
“Although there’s a lot of temptations from the society that could make us dilute the faith, I have seen a number of believers, whose witnesses are by no means dramatic or heroic, but have succeeded in bringing their friends and family to Christ.”

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Ahead of synod, alumni of Benedict XVI express concerns about married priesthood

September 28, 2019 CNA Daily News 0

Vatican City, Sep 28, 2019 / 02:02 pm (CNA).- Just days before the Amazon synod of bishops is to convene in Rome, a symposium of students of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI published a statement of concern regarding the possibility of married priests, a controversial topic of discussion at the upcoming synod.

“The vocation as well as the existence of the priest are solely dependent upon the will of Jesus Christ alone and are not derived from either human considerations or Church regulations. In Him and with Him the Priest becomes the ‘proclaimer of the Word and the servant of joy,’” the students said in a public statement September 28.

“As the priest only exists from his relationship with Christ, a participation in the lifestyle of Christ would seem to be appropriate for those who are to act his person,” the statements added.

“According to the constant tradition of the Latin Church, celibacy is seen as a clear witness to a belief-filled hope and generous love for Christ and his Church.”

The statement was given by the Circle of Students, as well as the New Circle of Students of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI, at a symposium in Rome with the theme “Recent Challenges of the Ordained Ministry in the Church.”

The “Ratzinger Schuelerkreis,” or “students’ circle,” has met to discuss topics in theology and the life of the Church since 1978, when their professor was pulled from academia to become a bishop. Their annual meetings continued with their former professor even after he was named Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. The “New Circle” is comprised of graduate or doctoral students studying the theology and life of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

The theme of the group’s meeting came from a topic that will be discussed at the upcoming Amazon synod, namely, whether to allow already-married and “proven men” (or “viri probati”) to be ordained as priests in the region of Amazonia in order to help alleviate the shortage of priests in the area.

“Affirming that celibacy is a gift for the Church, it is requested that, for the most remote areas of the region, the possibility of priestly ordination be studied for older people… even if they have an existing and stable family, in order to ensure availability of the Sacraments that accompany and sustain the Christian life,” a section of the working document for the Amazon synod states.

The Amazon synod will be held at the Vatican Oct. 6-27. Pope Francis said in August that the topic of ordaining married priests will “certainly not” be the main topic of discussion at the Synod.

Some Church leaders, including Cardinal Walter Brandmüller and Cardinal Raymond Burke, have expressed concerns that allowing married priests in the Amazon region will devalue the practice of celibacy in the priesthood in the rest of the Church and that the practice of married priests will soon become widespread.

The statement on priestly celibacy given by the students of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is the first time they have spoken publicly as a group in “many years,” they said, but they felt convicted to bring “the theological thought of the Pope Emeritus…to the wider public.”

The students noted that priests do not have a simply functional role in the Church, but that they are called to be a “re-presentation” of the person of Jesus Christ both in the celebration of the sacraments and in their personal lives of holiness and devotion.

Remaining single and celibate as a witness to the kingdom of God is “a human as well as spiritual expression of the sacramental unity of the priest with Christ,” the students noted.

They added that the current sex abuse scandal of the worldwide Church “reduces the believability” of the priest as a person in union with Christ, but that the answer to this “is not first and foremost structural reforms that will bring healing and relief, but an authentically lived life of faith.”

“Only when we all return united to our common understanding of Jesus Christ as true God and true man will the Church be able to be renewed,” they stated.

Prof. Dr. Christoph Ohly told the symposium that it was a “gift” for priests to be able to conform their lives to Christ in such a way.

“The gift of the priest’s conformation to Christ consequently becomes his mission, in his style of life, his personal attitudes, his life of prayer as well as in the duties assigned to him.”

In her comments to the symposium, Dr. Marianne Schlosser also noted that the priesthood is not a functional role but a vocation of “personal identification with Christ, the Good Shepherd.”

A celibate life seems to follow as part of this vocation, she added, because it was “Christ’s own way of life, who gave his life for humanity, even unto death.”

“Celibacy is a telling witness of the faithful person’s hope for eternal life. By renouncing marriage and the founding of a family, celibacy wants to foster a generous love for the entire (family of Christ) as well as a personal bond with the Lord,” she added.

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