The Hungry Spirit

A Prescription for the Earth

Deforestaion
Dudarev Mikhail / Shutterstock

AS THE FATE of the world hangs in the balance, one humble pastor—leader of the world’s smallest nation-state—offers a word. Well, closer to 40,000 words.

Pope Francis’ much awaited social teaching on ecology was released in June to global acclaim and thunderous Twitterapplause. Laudato Si’ (“Praised Be to You”) takes its name from a line in St. Francis of Assisi’s “The Canticle of the Creatures,” written in 1225. The encyclical lays out the house rules for this earthly commons we share—archaea, bacteria, and eukaryota alike. (Google it. You, me, all the fauna and flora, are part of eukaryota.) So, what do you need to know?

1. The news is not good. The world’s leading spiritual physician has diagnosed “every person living on this planet” with a progressive and degenerative disease. A soul sickness has spread through us to infect the soil, seas, skies, and even the seasons. Among humans, the poorest have the least resistance and the richest are the major vectors. This disease multiplies in isolation and loneliness, with symptoms of obsessive consumption, greed and corruption, and habitual narcissism. “The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast.”

2. This disease is having dire consequences: objectification of the other, a failure of awe in the presence of beauty, and a defiance of reality by those who claim the “invisible forces of the market will regulate the economy” and dismiss the impact on society and nature as “collateral damage.”

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Should I Care More When a Christian is Killed?

Elena Dijour / Shutterstock
Elena Dijour / Shutterstock

THE BASILICA OF St. Bartholomew on the Island in Rome holds the bones of the apostle St. Bartholomew, who delivered the gospel of Matthew to India, southern Arabia, and Syria. Spreading the seditious good news eventually got him killed—crucified upside down in Baku, capital of modern Azerbaijan. Bartholomew proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus until the soldiers cut off his head.

In 1999, this church nestled on an island in the Tiber River was dedicated to modern Christian martyrs. Entering its cool interior, one can walk a global Via Dolorosa—each side altar is dedicated to parts of the world where Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox have been killed for their faith.

The relics include a letter from Franz Jägerstätter, the Austrian farmer beheaded for refusing to serve in Hitler’s army, and the missal of Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero left on the altar when he was assassinated during Mass in 1980.

Christians today fall out over Christian martyrs and persecution in a right/left divide. We fight about numbers. In 2015, Christian Freedom International released an often repeated statistic suggesting that Christians are “martyred for their faith every five minutes.” This has been widely debunked. But it raises questions about definitions, methodologies, and theological perspectives.

Thomas Schirrmacher directs the International Institute for Religious Freedom, which runs a research project with several universities to measure Christian persecution. He estimates that there are 7,000 to 8,000 Christian martyrs each year, a number that roughly matches the Open Doors World Watch List, which reported 7,106 Christians killed in 2015, an increase over previous years and far less than one Christian every five minutes.

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Afraid and Reaching for a Gun

gangis khan / Shutterstock
gangis khan / Shutterstock

AFTER MASS a few months ago, I asked a member of my parish how her search for a new apartment was going. She said, “I’m so scared where I’m living right now that I went out and bought a gun.”

I was shocked. “I hope you didn’t buy any bullets to go with it,” I quipped. She gave me an eye-roll; I gave her a hug.

Like many Americans (dare I say most)—from President Obama on over—I despair of our country ever regaining sensible gun-ownership standards.

If I had my way, society would have no guns. Period. My motto is: The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is ... the unarmed cross of Jesus Christ.

However, I recognize that in rural areas a gun can be a tool for wildlife maintenance.

I recognize that a well-ordered society relegates certain uses of force to the state—generally understood as police and military—for the protection of its members, especially the vulnerable.

I recognize that the U.S. Constitution has a Second Amendment—controversial as it may be—that allows for people to “keep and bear arms” (in the context of a “well-regulated militia” that was deemed “necessary to the security of a free state”). It’s a system of checks and balances built into our democracy’s operating manual.

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The Language of Angels

Mikhail Zihranichny / Shutterstock
Mikhail Zihranichny / Shutterstock

SHORTLY BEFORE Irish poet Seamus Heaney died in 2013, he texted these last words to his wife, Marie: Noli timere. Be not afraid.

I’m not sure if Heaney, who was described by Robert Lowell as “the most important Irish poet since Yeats,” knew this was his last text and final words, but I suspect he did.

It’s a sad commentary that when the Twitterverse got hold of Heaney’s message, no one could figure out what it meant or where it was from. Many did not recognize the angels’ message to Zechariah (Luke 1:13) or Mary (Luke 1:30) or the shepherds (Luke 2:10) or Joseph in a dream (Matthew 1:20): Be not afraid.

Heaney understood words as “bearers of history and mystery.” As a distinguished translator of poetry from Greek, Latin, Italian, Irish, Anglo-Saxon, and Middle Scots, he had plenty of languages to choose from. But he chose St. Jerome’s fourth century vulgate version of the Bible. He chose the language of the angels.

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The Front Lines of the Global Free-Trade War

Shutterstock / Julia Tsokur
Shutterstock / Julia Tsokur

ONE GAUGE OF global policies is how they affect people we may have never heard of. West Papuans, for example.

In March, I met Matheus Adadikam while he was visiting Washington, D.C. He’s the general secretary of the Evangelical Christian Church in Tanah Papua, representing 600,000 people. Located between Australia and Indonesia, West Papua shares a South Pacific island with New Guinea. It’s basically on the other side of the world from D.C.

Pastor Matheus told me about his country. Well, not exactly his country, he says. Indigenous Papuans have lived there for 40,000 years, but in the colonial era—and more recently, as a province of Indonesia—they’ve had no right of self-determination. “As a Papuan, we have no right to speak about our rights as Papuans,” he says. “Forty years ago we ‘became Indonesian,’ so we can no longer speak of ‘Papuan human rights.’”

The story is starkly familiar. Since the establishment of colonial economic forces, the land of Indigenous Papuans has been held in chattel slavery by those more powerful—English (1793), Dutch (1828), Japanese (1944), United Nations (1962), and now Indonesians (1963). “Killings, torture, and rape of Indigenous people are routine,” according to the Center for World Indigenous Studies. A conservative estimate is that 100,000 people have been killed since 1963. “Even to raise our Morning Star flag is to die or be in jail,” says Matheus. (One man is serving seven years in jail for flag-raising.)

In 1960, a rich vein of gold and copper was discovered in the Jayawijaya mountain range in West Papua. After some back-room deals, the U.N. “gave” West Papua to Indonesia. Indonesia promptly welcomed the Phoenix-based Freeport-McMoRan mining company to open what became the largest gold and third-largest copper mines in the world.

“Justice, peace, and care of all of the Lord’s creation is the main mission of our church,” says Matheus, “but our experience has been that change happens fast, and external influences are changing who we are as a people.” His main mission now is traveling the world asking for help.

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#BlackLivesMatter Meet Stokely Carmichael

IN AN undistinguished apartment around the corner from my house in Columbia Heights, the Black Power revolutionary Stokely Carmichael honed his forceful, insistent rhetoric and organizing genius. His apartment effectively served as the Washington, D.C. headquarters for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Historian Peniel E. Joseph’s recently released Carmichael biography, Stokely: A Life, traces this complicated American revolutionary with nuance and freshness critical in our era of resurging black youth-led movements. Regarding Carmichael’s D.C. years, Joseph describes the intellectual crucible that was Howard University at the time.

The Caribbean-born, Harlem-raised Carmichael lived in D.C. from 1960, when he enrolled at Howard as a philosophy major, to 1965, when he relocated to Lowndes County, Ala., as a fulltime organizer for the black freedom struggle. For five critical years, Carmichael—who was raised Methodist and would later found the Black Panthers and become a leading anti-colonial, pan-Africanist living in Guinea (changing his name to Kwame Touré)—honed his organizing skills and revolutionary perspective from his student apartment on Euclid Street.

The fall of 1960 followed the culmination of the first wave of sit-ins sparked by the North Carolina A&T students in Greensboro. Ella Baker had encouraged students to break from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and form their own youth-led organization, which became SNCC. Black campuses, including Howard, were on fire with possibility. Carmichael’s freshman English teacher was future Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison. Poet Sterling Brown, called “the dean of Negro literature,” mentored Carmichael, urging him to pay “attention to the voices of not just the dignified but also the damned.”

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The Pope and Pandora's Box

JOURNALIST Elisabetta Piqué was reporting for Argentina’s La Nacion from a conflict zone in Gaza when her phone rang. On the line was her friend, Padre Jorge. He knew Piqué, a war correspondent, was somewhere bombs were falling. He wanted to pray with her.

Piqué had known Argentina’s Catholic Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio since 2001. “He knew me first as a war correspondent,” Piqué told me when we met on a warm October afternoon in the courtyard of Hotel Helix in Washington, D.C. An affectionate friendship developed. Bergoglio even baptized her two children. Her new book, Pope Francis: Life and Revolution, investigates the history, passions, mistakes, humility, courage, and spiritual maturity of the man her friend has become.

In the rush to publish biographies of the new pope, some (see Paul Vallely’s Pope Francis: Untying the Knots) tout Bergoglio’s conversion from careful, benevolent, autocrat to radical, somewhat careless, lover of the poor. Piqué categorically challenges this portrayal. “He is a person who has been consistent all his life,” she says, “not somebody that suddenly became like that now. The theories that he had a conversion are totally nonsense and without any basis. He was always a sensitive person toward suffering.”

Piqué is also quick to note that hers is an unauthorized biography. “I never wanted to involve him because there are chapters where I say things that maybe it’s better that he’s not involved with. I speak about his clashes with some sectors [of the Jesuits] and also the Vatican. He didn’t read before it was published.”

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Catholic Sisters Are Redefining Leadership

A new model of leadership that’s been refined in the fires of change and conflict is emerging from U.S. religious women.

In June, the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies, along with Solidarity with Sisters, invited 150 people to Catholic University for an opportunity to discuss the model of leadership that has developed in Catholic women’s communities around the world over the last 50 years since Vatican II. The event coincided with the release of Spiritual Leadership for Challenging Times, an anthology of 10 addresses given by Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) presidents.

Catholic sisters are emerging as leaders ahead of their times. From Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, and Nuns on the Bus to Catholic Health Association CEO Sister Carol Keehan, DC, who helped pass the Affordable Care Act, to former LCWR president Sister Pat Farrell, OSF, who practiced authentic spiritual leadership in the face of the Vatican’s ongoing investigation of that organization (an investigation that Pope Francis should have laid quietly to rest, but has not), religious women are getting notice for their thoughtful, faithful leadership in the face of withering criticism and their own communities’ dramatic changes.

What are the marks of this new leadership?

1. Leadership must begin with facing oneself. Sister Marie McCarthy, SP, calls this taking “a long, loving look at what is.” Developing a prayerful, contemplative consciousness allows illusions and judgments to fall away. What changes are needed so that we can go “deeper into life, into service, into God,” as Sister Joan Chittister, OSB, writes? “The purpose of leadership is not to make the present bearable,” writes Sister Joan, but “to make the future possible.” This kind of leadership is measured and evaluated by the degree to which the people around the leaders are inspired to effective, resilient change.

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Our Lady of the Watershed

OUR LADY QUEEN of Peace church sits atop a low bluff overlooking the Army Navy golf course. This vibrant Arlington, Va. Catholic community has a history of staring hopelessness in the eye and declaring, “Not on our standing ground!”

Queen of Peace was founded by African Americans in the midst of virulent segregation. In the 1940s, Arlington’s black Catholics had to travel two hours by buses to attend a Mass where they were welcome. There was a closer church, but black Catholics were relegated to the back pew and prevented from receiving communion before whites. In 1945, 16 families pooled their money, hired a black real estate agent, and purchased small parcels of adjoining property under various names so as to not arouse suspicion. In an era when redlining and “neighborhood covenants” protected white enclaves and economic power, this was a courageous act. A little less than two acres—their standing ground—was purchased for $14,000. The bishop blessed Queen of Peace, Arlington’s first black Catholic congregation, on Pentecost Sunday 1947.

Now, nearly 70 years later, this multicultural community is asking a new question: With global temperatures rising and changes visible everywhere in nature, how do we face the truth of climate change?

During a speaker series in March focused on “the integrity of creation,” I encouraged them to overlap the ecclesial concept of “parish” with the ecological one of “watershed.” For life to persist, there must be living water. Scientists tell us that each watershed, no matter how small, is responsive to climate change. Since human activity has destabilized the climate, changing human activity is important in undoing the harm. And since the earth’s biosphere is made up of interlinked watershed communities, perhaps restoring our particular watershed is analogous to healing the earth at its “cellular” level, which would be a positive contribution.

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A Shift in Priorities?

IN MINDANAO, Philippines, a cheer went up: Mayron tayong cardinal! (“We have a cardinal!”) In January, Orlando B. Quevedo, archbishop of Cotabato, was one of 19 new cardinals named by Pope Francis.

Cardinal Quevedo rose from newsboy to archbishop. He’s renowned for his interreligious work and cofounding a Catholic-Muslim peace community in the southern Philippines where there is violent ethnic conflict. Quevedo is a leader in the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, a body representing more than 100 million Catholics that has courageously pushed forward the values of Vatican II amid traditionalist backlash.

During a papal conclave, when a new pope is chosen, much of the world, Catholic and otherwise, pays close attention to the news ticker from the Vatican. For the selection of new cardinals, not so much. But with Francis, everything bears watching.

Historically, cardinals were called “the princes of the church” because of the power they wielded. Functionally, they serve in the College of Cardinals, which meets with the pope to deal with questions of major importance and elects new popes. Sadly, scoring a red hat has been for some the acme of clerical ambition. The season of cardinal picking can devolve into extravagant indulgence.

But, there’s a new sheriff in town: Pope Francis wants deputies, not darlings.

“The cardinalship does not imply promotion,” the pope wrote in a personal letter to his fresh picks; “it is neither an honor nor a decoration; it is simply a service that requires you to broaden your gaze and open your hearts.”

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