A hijacked conference

This past week the United Nations held the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. However, the overriding focus of the meeting has not turned out to be a meaningful recognition of widespread racism and intolerance in the world. Rather, certain Arab nations present at the meeting and many pro-Palestinian and Arab NGOs in a parallel forum were allowed by the U.N. community and its leaders to hijack the meeting's agenda and the draft declaration driving the meeting by equating racism with Zionism. The forum's document brands "Israel as a racist apartheid state" and calls for an end to the "ongoing, Israeli systematic perpetration of racist crimes, including war crimes, acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing."

This fanatical rhetoric is the stuff of demagoguery and hatred. Let us be clear: Zionism is not racism. Zionism is the belief that Israel and the Jews have a right to a homeland. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Pope John Paul II's delegate at the conference, told the Vatican agency Fides that "no one equates Zionism with racism anymore." Archbishop Martin said this while also recognizing the sufferings of the Palestinian people. Further, it should be said that refusing to equate Zionism with racism does not mean Israel is morally blameless regarding its policy and treatment of Palestine. However, to single Israel out for mistreatment of minorities within its borders is absurd and is itself racist. Will the final declaration of the conference or NGO forum say anything about Arab or Muslim nations' treatment of their own minorities? Will we hear the voices of Algeria's Berbers, Egypt's Coptic Christians, Iraq's and Turkey's Kurds, India's untouchables, not to mention the most heinous crime against human rights in the world today: the slaughter and enslaving of Sudan's black Christian minority? Will the world witness any soul searching by the United Nations itself concerning its treatment of oppressed peoples by its own peace-keeping forces and its targeting of Third World women and children with so-called "reproductive health services" and population control ideology? Again, will we hear the voices of Somalians tortured and abused by Italian and Canadian U.N. peace-keeping forces in 1997; will we hear the voices of 6,000-8,000 Bosnian Muslim men in Srebrenica who were separated from their families by Dutch peace-keeping forces aiding Bosnian Serbs in 1995? After this separation, the Serbs murdered 6,000-8,000 men, the largest genocide in Europe since the Holocaust. There are myriad other examples of extremely exploitive and cruel treatment of peoples about which strong nations of East and West, and the United Nations are shockingly silent. So then, to what can we attribute this fixation of the United Nations and many of its member nations with Israel?

Martin Luther King went further than Archbishop Martin, when he said in a "Letter to an Anti-Zionist Friend": "You declare, my friend, that you do not hate the Jews, you are merely 'anti-Zionist.' And I say, let the truth ring forth from the high mountain tops, let it echo through the valleys of God's green earth: When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews - this is God's own truth. Anti-semitism, the hatred of the Jewish people, has been and remains a blot on the soul of mankind. In this we are in full agreement. So know also this: anti-Zionist is inherently anti-semitic, and ever will be so" (August 1967).

Labor and Church teachings

Pro football referees are in a labor impasse with the National Football League. The league has even begun hiring replacement referees who will call the games when the season starts next week. Barring a settlement, it appears the NFL will probably "lock out" the referees.

Labor struggles are, indeed, complex issues that impact employees, employers, their families, the survivability of the "company," as well as the consumers - the would-be beneficiaries of the goods and services provided in the workplace. What are we, as faithful Catholics, to think?

Ten years ago this year Pope John Paul II wrote "Centesimus Annus," itself commemorating 100 years since Pope Leo XIII's monumental "Rerum Novarum." These encyclicals apply the principles of justice to the dynamic of the workplace. They acknowledge the legitimacy of representative organizations of tradesmen and laborers to assure reasonable benefits and decent conditions for workers. The documents speak of the high purpose of unions as gathering "places where workers can express themselves," places where an "authentic culture of work" may be developed. The Popes cite the dignity of the worker as a person made in the image of God the Creator, and a participant in His creative endeavor - not solely for the worker's own benefit, but also as a contributor to the common good. The just workplace is a dynamic interaction that never grants a right without imposing a corresponding obligation.

The Church goes on to affirm the "legitimacy of workers' efforts to obtain full respect for their dignity and to gain broader areas of participation in the life of industrial enterprises." This emphasis on collaboration between workers and management, so that they together may achieve something for the good of society, provides needed definition to both the purpose and the means for the organization of workers. Such a partnership rules out any activities or tactics that are in themselves contrary to justice. Nor does it allow the exclusion of workers by their employers from "sharing in the exercise of intelligence and freedom" in furthering a good end.

Wage earners with responsibilities for the well-being of themselves and their families must be compensated in a manner that - at a minimum - assures their sustenance, and where there is a profit enjoyed by the enterprise, workers have a right to share in its benefits in proper proportion.

This right to a fair wage does not justify an unchecked escalation of wages past the breaking point of the enterprise. The corporate entity - workers and management - has certain obligations in justice to its consumers. It cannot demand an exorbitant amount for a limited but necessary service or good, even when secular economic principles (for example, supply and demand) make it possible. The principle of solidarity reminds us that when the dignity of one person or element in society is respected we gain as a community.

This Labor Day, let us first offer our daily work to God, sanctifying even the littlest tasks as a conscious participation in the building up of the Kingdom of God. Then let us redouble our efforts to be voices for truth and the value of people over things - voices for Christ and his people at work.

St. Joseph, patron of workers, pray for us.

ADA working at home too

With thanks and well-deserved congratulations, Archbishop Justin Rigali has acknowledged the success of the 2001 Archdiocesan Development Appeal (ADA) this week in surpassing its $11 million goal. The consistent, generous response of the faithful coupled with the superb organizational structure at the archdiocesan and parish levels is a combination that pays off for so many needy - Catholics and non-Catholics - of our area.

In addition to the daily works of mercy - emergency shelters, food pantries, immigrant and refugee programs - and the many other agency-administered ministries of the Catholic Church in the archdiocese, much money comes back to us as direct support for the mission in the parishes.

As school begins, teachers, school families and other contributing parishioners should be proud of the significant sum ADA again gives to our Parish School Assistance Fund. More than 13,000 students in 65 parish elementary schools that employ 740 teachers will be helped to stay in Catholic schools because of this year's appeal. That means our schools stay open, securing jobs for the teachers and faith-laden learning for thousands of our youngsters. Many of us are who we are today because of the opportunities we were provided in one of the largest and best Catholic school systems in the United States.

Approximately 4 percent of the Kenrick-Glennon Seminary budget is provided by your ADA gifts. Men are being prepared for the priesthood here in the archdiocese. They will serve us for the rest of their lives as the pastors of our parishes and guides in the faith. They will fortify us in the Church's sacramental life, accompanying us at significant moments from birth to death. The priest alone will forgive our sins in Reconciliation, and offer, in the person of Christ the head of the Church, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. ADA money supplements the work of seminary formation.

Parishes in the majority of the 10 deaneries have been beneficiaries of grants (not loans!) from the ADA-sponsored Parish Emergency Fund. Unexpected needs - boilers and roofs and other emergency maintenance and repairs - are met without seriously impairing the other necessary work of the parish. In this way we all provide support for each other through the Archdiocesan Development Appeal, sustaining the structures that make the Church's work continue.

These are just three of the "close to home" needs met by ADA. Thanks and congratulations to the donors, the many volunteers, and the parish and ADA staff for being such generous and trustworthy stewards of God's gifts for the care of his people.

Responsibility for priestly vocations

The image of hundreds of priest-concelebrants processing into the Trans World Dome for June's Eucharistic Congress Mass was described by one participant as "breathtaking." Similar images from the Holy Thursday Chrism Mass or at last week's episcopal ordination of Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Dolan help us realize our identity and mission as the Catholic Church in the third millennium. Indeed, a growing chorus of faithful obedience to the Holy Father, of vigilant attention to the Holy Eucharist and confident professions of love for our Blessed Mother - as well as the devoted service of God's people that must necessarily flow from these attestations - are welcome symptoms of the "New Springtime" to which we look in hope.

Ask Bishop Dolan what it means to him to be a bishop, and he will speak first about how proud he is to be a Catholic and what a thrill it is to be a priest now home among his brother priests in St. Louis. Earlier this spring, in an interview with Zenit news service, then-seminary rector Msgr. Dolan spoke about priestly celibacy as "a gift, a call from the Lord to love him and his Church totally, exclusively, radically." Those who have met Bishop Dolan bear universal testimony to his joy - joy which seems to stem from his deep connections: to Almighty God, to his family, to his brother priests and to the people of God in the many places he has served. That is a deliciously far cry from the images of isolation and sterility that critics and cynics would have us associate with celibacy.

In the St. Louis Archdiocese we are abundantly blessed with joyous, holy, healthy priests who lovingly balance the heavy loads often placed upon them. We have reason to believe that God is calling more young men to the priesthood here in the archdiocese. Priests and religious, teachers and coaches, and especially mothers and dads and all family members must be willing to give unqualified, hope-filled and deeply prayerful support to their sons considering such a call.

Archbishop Justin Rigali has assigned the new Bishop responsibilities for "coordinating all the efforts of our local Church in promoting vocations to the priesthood since every vocation in the community of the Church needs the Eucharist and, therefore, the priesthood." We have seen Bishop Dolan's success in his seminary work of formation. As he assumes this new work on the "supply side" of vocations, let us do our part to help make him "look good" in this vital task. We must renew our own commitment to be happy, faithful Catholics and to prayerfully pass on that zeal within our families. Let us often be on our knees before our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, frequently availing ourselves of God's mercy in sacramental confession, and persistent in our devotion to Mary, the mother of priests. From these should flow an enthusiastic apostolic service, as we humbly beg the Lord of the harvest to send us, and help us to nurture, more priestly vocations.

Heavenly patron

Readers of the recently published historical sketch "Archdiocese of St. Louis, Three Centuries of Catholicism 1700-2000" will recall that this year marks the 175th anniversary of the establishment of the archdiocese. In 1826, the work of the missionaries was crowned by Rome's decision to divide the Louisiana Purchase territory into two dioceses, New Orleans and St. Louis. The ecclesiastical boundaries of St. Louis then encompassed Missouri, western Illinois, and all American territory north of Louisiana and west of the Mississippi river. The see city had been named by Pierre Laclede in honor of St. Louis IX of France.

The life of our patron saint is both inspiring and humanly touching, and should be more widely known. He was born on April 25, 1214, at Poissy, France, the son of Louis VIII and Blanche of Castile, who was half English. At the age of 12, he succeeded to the throne under the regency of his mother. At 19, he married Marguerite of Provence, with whom he had 11 children. He was a devoted husband and a loving father. From his earliest years his faith in and love of God were the center of his life. His mother taught him that it would be better to die than commit a mortal sin.

We know much about the daily life of St. Louis, thanks to the fascinating and extensive memoirs of his lifelong friend, Sieur de Joinville, which include innumerable anecdotes, which are both charming and revealing.

He assumed full royal authority in 1234 and proved an able administrator and an impartial dispenser of justice. He always sought to secure peace but at times had to resort to war. He was ever a faithful son of the Church, though he did not hesitate to rebuke an overbearing bishop. He did his best to maintain good domestic relations between his mother, who was pious but had a penchant for control, and his dear wife. He began each day with attendance at Mass.

Two places attest to his memory to this day: the magnificent Sainte Chapelle in Paris which he built to house the crown of thorns; and the abbey of Royaumont near Chantilly. Royaumont was an edifice of peace, devotion and splendor which was a paramount shrine in Europe for more than five centuries.

St. Louis undertook two crusades in response to the call of the Church. He died of fever on his second crusade in 1270 at the siege of Tunis after receiving the last rites.

Throughout his life, St. Louis displayed deep faith in God, a warmly human love of neighbor and an unyielding hope and trust. No less than 65 outstanding miracles were attested for his canonization in 1297.

Nowhere is the spirituality of this great saint revealed more than in the letter he left for the son who would succeed him. "My son, my first instruction is that you should love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your strength. Without that there is no salvation. ... Be kindhearted to the poor, the unfortunate and the afflicted ... always side with the poor ... be devout and obedient to our mother the Church ... work to remove all sin from your land ..."

We are fortunate to have St. Louis as our heavenly patron and guide.

Faith-filled storytellers

Everyone loves a good story. From tots to the elderly, we like to hear and read stories or watch them on stage and screen. And most of us like to tell stories. We often delight in relating something that happened on our vacation, a memory from our childhood or a passed-down episode from our family history. Why is it, then, that so few of us are willing to share our faith stories? Why do we refrain from telling stories of our encounters with God and stories of how God has worked in our lives?

Stories are a wonderful and easy way to pass on the faith to the next generation and to others. Jesus taught with stories. The Catholic Church nourishes us with stories, drawing from Scripture and the lives of the saints. Should we not be doing the same with our children, grandchildren, family members, friends and neighbors? The U.S. bishops think so. They are looking to adults with a mature, vibrant faith to be the messengers who pass on the faith by telling their own stories of God in their lives. This is what the early Christians did. This is what we must do.

In their recent pastoral letter "Were Not Our Hearts Burning Within Us?" the U.S. bishops called for the Church to prepare adults to spread the faith. It is a major undertaking. Some studies show that only 10 percent of Christian families discuss their faith with any regularity and, in 43 percent of families, faith is never discussed.

For many years, the Archdiocese of St. Louis has emphasized adult faith formation. Offerings range from Paul VI Institute courses to parish RCIA and Scripture study programs. In addition to these learning opportunities, most parishes offer faith-sharing programs, such as Renew. These small faith-sharing groups provide an environment where we can learn and practice how to share our faith experiences through storytelling.

Anyone who has participated in such groups knows, however, how easy it is to avoid the faith-sharing part of the session by focusing on reading and discussing Scripture. We find it difficult to reveal our intimate relationship with God. We fear embarrassment or what others might think. We fear pricking old hurts and memories that bring tears to our eyes. Yet unless we are willing to take such risks in our world of family and friends, we will miss the experience of healing, joy and love that flow when hearts are opened to one another.

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