'Asia’s diversity and gender diversity’
“Two men canned 83 times in Indonesia for homosexual sex”.[i] “Taiwan’s high court rules same-sex marriage is legal, in a first for Asia”.[ii] This was the week that was in Asia spotlighting gender diversity in particular, and Asia’s diversity, in general. How does one make sense of these milestones in human history?
The public canning of two gay-identifying men, aged 20 and 23, who were caught and filmed by “vigilantes” occurred in Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province which is the only Islamic province in Muslim-majority Indonesia. It is “very rare”, as CNN reports, “even in Aceh, which follows strict Islamic law, for two men to be caned for having sexual relations” (Westcott and Simanjuntak, 2017). The meting out of corporal punishment under Aceh’s Islamic law (hudud) became a spectacle where hundreds turned up at the mosque to witness, film and stream the ordeal of these men who were canned along with four other (heterosexual) couples for “being intimate outside of marriage”.
From Southeast Asia, one traverses to East Asia where a landmark ruling by Taiwan’s Constitutional Court deems the prohibition of same-sex couples from marrying as unconstitutional: these marriage laws “violate their personal freedom and equal protection”. Sexuality rights activists see this as “a huge step forward for LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex) rights in Taiwan and will resonate across Asia". The Taiwanese courts add that, marriage equality “[safeguards] human dignity, and therefore is a fundamental right" (Chappell, 2017). In contrast to the opposing standpoint of the Coalition for the Happiness of Our Next Generation, the court maintains that, "a permanent union of intimate and exclusive nature for the committed purpose of managing a life together" does not affect “the rights of people in a heterosexual marriage”.
This secular ruling profoundly resonates with the Christian sexual ethics of the Free Community Church of Singapore, an “inclusive community that celebrates diversity in living out God’s love and promise of abundant life for all”.[iii] The FCC—wherein ‘free’ stands for “first realise that everyone is equal”—is a church that is “free”, “inclusive”, ”community”, “relational”, “open”, “ecumenical”, “living”, “relevant” and “missional” where “there is no demarcation between that which is sacred, and that which is secular”.
The diversity of Asia is apparent from the above disparate treatments of gender diversity. There is predominantly denial and castigation of gender diversity on religious grounds not unlike the Catholic Church’s theology of the body that informs its pastoral care of homosexual persons. The Church’s insistence on gender complementarity of the sexes leaves LGBTI Christians the only moral option of leading a “chaste life” for the glory of God.[iv] There is the rarity of a landmark secular ruling predicated on the inviolability of human rights that are in turn, premised on the inalienability of human dignity. And there is the transformative faith that celebrates the dignity of the human person as created in the image of God.
[i] Westcott, B. and Simanjuntak, G. (2017, May 23). Two men canned 83 times in Indonesia for homosexual sex, CNN. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2017/05/23/asia/indonesia-caning-homosexuality/.
[ii] Chappell, B. (2017, May 24). Taiwan’s high court rules same-sex marriage is legal, in a first for Asia, NPR. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/05/24/529841027/taiwans-high-court-rules-same-sex-marriage-is-legal-in-a-first-for-asia
[iii] Free Community Church. (2013). Our mission. Retrieved from http://www.freecomchurch.org/christian-sexual-ethics/
[iv] Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith. (1986, October 1). Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the pastoral care of homosexual persons. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19861001_homosexual-persons_en.html.
Dream Maker Reviving Peace:
Our Current Reality and The Story of Joseph
Shawnee M. Daniels-Sykes, PhD
Lift up your eyes upon the day breaking for you. Give birth again to the dream. Women, children, and men, take it into the palms of your hands. Mold it into the shape of your most private need. Sculpt it into the image of your most public self. Lift up your hearts, each new hour holds new chances for new beginnings. –Maya Angelou
The current political and governmental realities in the United States of America call for mutual respect, empathy, and confidence between peoples and nations for discernment of and the promotion of peace. We need dream makers and peacemakers to lead us in this pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. We need models like Joseph of old (Genesis 37-45), Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago (1928-1996), and many other women and men who set out to revive peace by their example, teaching, and audacious actions for social justice.
The story of Joseph closely parallels the Great Exodus Event, where God instructed (Moses/Aaron) to help free the Israelites in Egypt from dehumanizing and violent enslavement captivity by Pharaoh. In the end, Pharaoh and his armies let the people go to worship God (Exodus 13:17-14:28) . In a similar way, Joseph was freed from captivity too. Although textually and chronically, The Story of Joseph precedes the Exodus Event, their pervasive mystical themes reveal how a God of justice and love speaks to and through the need for human beings to be in right relationships.
Joseph was considered a master dreamer and a peacemaker. Examples of his dreams, shared with his family members, tended to put him in places of power, honor, and authority, above his brothers and problematic for them. Joseph’s dreams were a foreshadowing of his gaining a position of power, honor, and authority in Egypt. The question is was that a power with or power over? Was Joseph to be a peacemaker or a peace-destroyer? How would Joseph revive peace among his brothers given their deep-seated contempt and envy towards him?
Joseph was the highly favored son of his patriarch father Jacob, except for his brother Rueben, his other brothers disliked this so-called unearned privilege bestowed upon Joseph. This favoritism caused his brothers to denigrate, hurt, and threaten to kill Joseph. They conspired against him: stripping and tarnishing his long majestic tunic, throwing him inside a cistern to die, retrieving then selling him to Midian Ishmaelites who took him to Egypt and to Potiphar, a courtier and chief steward of Pharaoh. Given a well-earned ruling position in Egypt, Joseph eventually experienced struggles and sadness, and he yearned for more. It would be years before he would be satisfied with God’s grace to secure and protect the land of Egypt, to provide and take care of his family and their descendants, and to save their human lives as an extraordinary deliverance or liberation. As God has sent Joseph ahead of his brothers and father and family to Egypt, we can see how the master dreamer, Joseph, followed his dreams revealed and crystalized by the Divine who would also revive the promise and gift of peace.
Joseph was a peace-making dreamer used by God for peace, not a threat, not wielding power over others, not keeping some enslaved and others in captivity. Joseph Cardinal Bernardin was also a dream and peacemaker with reconciliation between nations in an age of nuclear proliferation and within the US on the sin of racism, sexual abuse and just sex, and the consistent ethics of life. For Bernardin the continued threats to reality and democracy in the US remain –untold victims of marginalized suffering, murder, suicide, depression, isolated dying, hurt, ashamed, bullied—in need of repair. Even amidst the struggles and debates of today: 1) with the best and most efficient ways to allow health care access to those who are medically uninsured instead causing people to be medical uninsured through Medicaid cuts and drastic changes to the Affordable Care Act, 2) with balancing the national budget on the backs of economically poor people, while allowing tax breaks for the rich, 3) with the right to work for a decent living family wage, 4) with travel bans directed at already vetted refugees and immigrants from seven majority Muslim countries, 5) with the constitutional understanding of an educated citizenry, 6) with the interference of Russians in the USA 2016 elections, 7) with an Executive Order on Religious Liberty that allows for broader exemptions, and 8) with white supremacy, sexism, heterosexism, homophobia, and hate crimes on the rise, God mandates liberation, redemption, and deliverance of all people, revealing to us that all will be well.
Hence, we call on the spirit of Jesus Christ, Susan B. Anthony, Ida B. Wells Barnett, Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Malcom X, Alice Hamilton, Fannie Lou Hamer, Cesar Chavez, Rachel Carson, Bayard Rustin, among many others, to help us, to come to be with us, to intercede for us. We stand on the shoulders of giant dreamers and peacemakers. May their peace and justice be with you!
Tamás Ragadics and Gusztáv Kovács (Theological College of Pécs, Hungary)
Are You In, or Out? – Public Service in Hungary
In western countries slums and ghettos within big cities are the collecting points of socially disadvantaged groups. But if someone visited Central Europe and Hungary, she would find most of the people living in poverty trapped in rural areas, distant from economic centres. She would see an aging and waning population, since the young and educated tend to move from these peripheral villages to larger cities. There would also be large numbers of multi-child families, and many Roma people. They would tell her about the high level of unemployment and the diminution of local services. Many of them would live from subsidies provided by the state, or by joining the public service organized by the local council.
Public service gives the chance for the unemployed to make a living and secure social insurance. It aims at a reintegration into the labour market. The tasks of public workers are determined typically by the local council, or, in smaller villages, by the mayor himself. The introduction of public service received heavy criticism in Hungary, but also yielded some apparently good practices. To look at what’s real behind these debates we looked at some small villages in Southeast Hungary, to see how the system of public work has paid off for these settlements.
In Cserdi most residents are Roma, just like the mayor. He used to work as a middle manager for a big company, and now uses this experience to supervise an agricultural program in the village. They grow vegetables and sell these at the market. A certain portion of these products are used to support the poor in the city, which is publicized by the media to lower the prejudices against Roma people. The mayor expects hard work from public workers, and exercises strong control over them. It was symbolic how hesitant locals were to answer our questions, and they redirected us to the mayor. There is a broad system of social support in the village, but all benefits are tied to a required lifestyle that conforms to certain social norms. It is the mayor himself who checks the bins of the applicants, and if he finds any alcoholic beverages or cigarettes, he turns down the application by pointing at these “luxury goods”.
The mayor of Markóc, a settlement with only 60 residents, is an expert in ecology, who encourages locals to cultivate their own garden within the framework of public service. He uses his expertise to teach locals basic agricultural skills, and to process the fruit they grow. The future goal of this work is to form a self-sustaining ecological village based on the alliance between local farmers. The mayor views seasonal work and the need to commute long distances as negative for families, tearing them apart. Instead, the mayor encourages the locals to discover the values of their own settlement. However, these people are the deadbeats of consumer society, who desire the goods presented by TV and the services available only in cities. They experience living in a village with a poor transport system as a burden, and would move on if they had the chance. By selling their grounds, they buy only TVs of bigger size.
Gilvánfa is also a village populated exclusively by Romas, where most residents of working age are in public service. They organize work schedules according to the needs of the local households. After a few hours work in the morning, women go home to cook lunch and to look after their small children. They return to public service in the afternoon. This structure helps to accommodate different roles in the family with work, however it takes another step back from integration to the labour market. There is a strong cohesion in Roma families, and these ties trump any efforts toward social integration. Many young fathers following vocational training tend to turn down better paid work in the city just to stay with their families.
The most controversial example for the management of public service was found in Kórós, a village with 200 residents. The level of public security was extremely low here in the past. Usury, theft, and rivalry between gangs were common. The mayor created local regulations to gain control over the situation and imposed taxes on the lands at the frontier of the settlement. He used this source of income to employ security officials and installed 40 video surveillance cameras. These measurements brought the expected result, and now these cameras only serve the amendment of the ways of young smokers, public drinkers and litterers. In Kórós, the central part of public service is gardening. Vegetables produced in polytunnels are sold at the city markets at a comparatively low price. The central principle applied by the mayor is reciprocity: only those who contribute to the development of the community are entitled to support. Residents are required to keep their houses and environment tidy. This notion of reciprocity has resulted in a controversy with the study support centre run by a Catholic foundation, since the mayor accused the centre, through its aid programmes, of creating in its students a sense of entitlement to assistance without a corresponding duty to give anything back in return. The local council has pronounced that the building occupied by the study support centre is to become a development area, and its expropriation is in process.
Following the fall of the socialist system, politics was interested in providing local councils with a stronger mandate than before. Thus mayors became eminent actors in the local field of power. They have a huge role now in supporting the indigents and motivating them through the organization of public service. In small villages local elections often turn out to be clashes between familial alliances. Democratic values often seem to fail, and patriarchal models are sustained. These structures reflect the degree of socialization of the residents, who often lack sufficient democratic skills. In the short term, this devolved power structure offers efficiency by reducing decision-making mechanisms. However, in the long term, it raises serious questions.
It is obvious that one of the prerequisites to overcome poverty is the change in consumer behaviour and lifestyle. But is any mayor entitled to achieve this through regulation of social benefits and by expanding local authority over the private sphere? A further question is whether public service leads to a certain decline in mobility. The rate of income is low, however it provides the locals with a sense of stability and safety. Nonetheless, the marketing of agricultural goods produced through public service supported by the state lowers the chances of other small producers on the regional markets. These problems call for regulations, which go beyond here-and-now political interest, and create a concert of principles such as personhood, justice, subsidiarity, solidarity and sustainability.
STANDING FOR THE TRUTH – AGAIN!
Anthony Egan SJ (Jesuit Institute South Africa, Johannesburg)
Johannesburg, May 30-31, 1988: At an emergency Convocation of Churches initiated by the South African Council of Churches (SACC), and endorsed by the Catholic Church (which then had observer status in the SACC), the Standing for the Truth Campaign is launched. Comprising Christians from across denominations and including Jews, Muslims and Hindus, its purpose is clear: effective non-violent resistance against apartheid. It called on religious communities to support the June national days of protest planned by the trade union movements, prayer and protest calling for the release of detainees held under the national State of Emergency, the freeing of political prisoners like Nelson Mandela, the unbanning of liberation movements and the transition to democracy.
As I recall, the service that launched ‘Standing for the Truth’ was held at Regina Mundi Catholic Church in Soweto. The church was ringed by heavily armed police and military armoured personnel vehicles throughout and after the ecumenical service. One among thousands leaving Regina Mundi, I noticed (with more than a little unease, I must admit) how the heavy machine guns and water cannon mounted on the APVs followed us to our awaiting transport.
Flash forward: Regina Mundi (again), May 18, 2017: The SACC announces its ‘Unburdening Report’ on corruption and state capture by the ruling African National Congress government. It produces a pastoral statement to all member churches (including now the Catholic Church, which joined the SACC in the 1990s) which states quite bluntly: the ANC, with whom the SACC had often worked closely during the struggle era, has lost moral legitimacy. The government of South Africa could not be trusted to tell the truth about corruption. It was up to the religious community, together with a range of allies (including academics and sometime allies of the ANC, the trade union movement and Communist Party), to reveal the real state of the nation, so that the democratic legacy of the struggle would not be lost.
This is a profound moral moment in South Africa’s history, one that deserves analysis.
For the realm of political ethics, it reflects a dramatic rupture. During the struggle against apartheid the SACC and other religious organisations that were in opposition found themselves in a peculiar situation: while never formally part of the ANC or taking direction from it, and while recognising the significance of other non-ANC liberation movements, it took a broadly ANC line. This was hardly surprising, given that the fundamental option of the ANC – anti-apartheid, pro-democracy, pro-human rights, promotion of greater economic equality – accorded generally with Christian moral values. Even the use of violence by liberation movements including the ANC could be with varying degrees of difficulty accommodated: from the tragic consequence of state intransigence for some to a legitimate use of force under ‘just war’ doctrine.
Today, however, the message has changed. The SACC are not attacking the ANC’s policies as such but rather the misuse of power for political gain by those who run the ANC, centred on incumbent President Jacob Zuma and his colleagues. Whatever the merits or faults of policies, the issue is corruption, revelations of which suggest it is all-pervasive. Moreover the evidence suggests massive undue influence in policy and practice of a number of big businessmen, notably the India- and Dubai-based Gupta family, who have even allegedly influenced appointments to Cabinet and Ministries, profiting themselves and the Zuma clique. Honest public servants like former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan have been fired or side-lined; Constitutionally-instituted organs to prevent corruption have been compromised. In short, we have what is called ‘state capture’.
The integrity – the truth and wholeness – of the democratic system has been compromised.
In the absence of credible state organs, the SACC, religious communities and civil society have once again stepped into the breach – not as a political movement but as a moral voice that seeks to do what the state has failed to do: tell the truth. In telling the truth, it hopes to change public consciousness, offer an alternative moral vision and call public and parties to take ownership of the hard-won democracy, even if it might mean voting the ANC out of power in 2019.
This is a daunting task, one that will not easily be accomplished. First, the majority of South Africans still have an emotional attachment to the ANC. Given too that opposition parties have dubious credentials – the Democratic Alliance is perceived as at best a party of free market capital, at worst the political bolt hole of disaffected minorities; the Economic Freedom Fighters is a utopian socialist party, expert at protest but untested in managing even a city council. Second, the poorest South Africans – spurred on by ANC grassroots propaganda – believe that if the ANC loses they will at least lose their social welfare grants, at worst see the restoration of apartheid. They may be disillusioned with the lack of social development, disgusted with the corruption of Zuma and company, and frustrated by the increasing gap between themselves and the ruling elite, but will that inspire them to jump the ANC ship? Third, the church on the ground is deeply divided – many pastors have close ties with ANC leaders, some of them benefitting from ANC largesse. There is also the problem that many churches, ‘mainstream’ and independent, are themselves practising forms of corruption, notably squeezing money out of often cash-strapped congregations – hardly a grassroots advertisement for the integrity the SACC demands of politicians.
Finally, it is clear that if the SACC initiative takes off, then we are entering a new round of ‘church versus state’ confrontations. It is ironic, but hardly amusing, to note the ANC rhetoric against the SACC: keep out of politics, your job is to pray. We heard that throughout the apartheid era – now the paragons of anti-apartheid are using the same language! More sinisterly, it’s becoming clear that the old apartheid divide-and-conquer strategy with the churches is also being used: bring in prominent church leaders, especially from ‘opposition’ denominations, to give yourself legitimacy.
Like South Africa as a whole as it battles to restore democratic integrity and moral legitimacy, the churches are entering a difficult time. This is as it should be. To paraphrase that great saint of resistance Dietrich Bonhoeffer, if the churches do not stand with the country in its time of need, embracing the hard cost of discipleship, it will have little if any legitimate role in its renewal.
“Hoy en México el periodismo es profetismo”
por Miguel Ángel Sánchez Carlos
Uno de los sectores más afectados por la crisis del Estado fallido en México es el de los periodistas. Lo cual desgraciadamente es obvio: si las instituciones estatales fracasan en brindar seguridad a la población, oportunidades laborales con futuro, impartición de justicia equitativa y expedita y administración pública eficiente en general, lo que esos sectores gubernamentales quieren evitar es justamente que la población se entere de esa crisis, que tome conciencia de la situación y que, por ende, exija soluciones viables.
El trabajo periodístico siempre había sido peligroso en México, ya que en décadas, durante “la dictadura perfecta del priismo” y los medios de comunicación empresariales aliados a éste, no había más que dos posibilidades: aceptar la marginalidad de la libertad de expresión, con salarios y oportunidades ínfimas o entrar en la corrupción, abierta o encubierta, con censura o autocensura, donde en trabajo periodístico podía llegar a ser un negocio perfecto. Como muestra de esto último está aquella frase del presidente José López Portillo (1976-1982), quejándose de la fuente periodística de la presidencia que quiso revelarse de la censura: “No les pagamos para que nos peguen”.
Los procesos políticos y sociales que desembocaron en la alternancia en el poder gubernamental hacia el año 2000, produjeron la apertura de algunos medios de comunicación, situación que se ha visto potenciada por el uso de las nuevas tecnologías. Esto ha redundado en una mayor profesionalización del periodismo y en una mayor competencia por las audiencias, con todas las limitaciones que todo proceso social contiene.
Reconociendo el riesgo de ser simplista, creo que es posible afirmar que desde hace casi 12 años el gran riesgo que enfrenta el periodismo procede de los poderes fácticos, los cárteles del narcotráfico y sus mutaciones en crimen organizado, que han tomado el lugar que deberían tener las instituciones del Estado, y esto ha sido por comisión, por corrupción o por omisión.
Algunos datos que pueden respaldar lo anterior indican que del año 2000 a la fecha han sido asesinados en México 123 periodistas. Paradójicamente, hace siete años se creó la Fiscalía Especial para la Atención a los Delitos cometidos contra la Libertad de Expresión, pero de ese entonces a la fecha la Fiscalía inició 1926 averiguaciones previas, de las que sólo se consignaron 111, y de esas sólo tres concluyeron con una sentencia; es decir, el 99.85 % de esos ilícitos quedaron impunes. En lo que va del año han sido asesinados seis periodistas, algunos a pleno día, frente a su lugar de trabajo o enfrente de su casa o en presencia de sus familiares.
Estos periodistas no son números estadísticos, sino personas con nombre y rostro y con una trayectoria profesional en favor de la verdad, como Jonathan Rodríguez, Maximino Rodriguez, Ricardo Monlui, Cecilia Pineda, Miroslava Breach y Javier Valdez. Aunque el actual gobierno de Enrique Peña Nieto no quiera reconocerlo, ser periodista en México es más peligroso que serlo en Siria o en Afganistán.
Los intereses de los grupos de poder en México, político o criminal o de ambos, que han sido “tocados” por la investigación de los periodistas son de diverso tipo; a veces los periodistas develan la verdad sobre los acontecimientos que impactan negativamente a la sociedad o en ocasiones rechazan divulgar determinados sucesos que los grupos antes mencionados quieren que se divulguen. Esto les lleva a ser presa de la violencia con que eso grupos criminales actúan.
Como en todo conflicto bélico, en “la guerra” que el gobierno de Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) les declaró a los carteles del narcotráfico y que ha continuado su sucesor Enrique Peña Nieto, siempre hay movimiento de diversos grupos y diversas interpretaciones sobre lo acontecido. Una cosa si es cierta: quienes buscan difundir la verdad tocan intereses de grupos que responden de forma violenta, situación que se agrava en un Estado fallido que no imparte justicia.
Y es justamente en el tema de la verdad donde destaca el carácter ético de la labor de los periodistas. Como es de todos conocido, para la tradición judeo-cristiana el profeta es “el que habla en lugar de otro”, el que trasmite la verdad que Dios quiere comunicar, verdad que denuncia el mal cometido y que anuncia la voluntad reconstructora o salvadora de Dios. Por tanto, ninguna denuncia o anuncio de la verdad ha sido neutra, pues siempre va en relación de nuestro actuar como humanos; para derribar o para reconstruir.
Independientemente de la tendencia de los análisis que podamos hacer sobre la realidad política y social de México, una cosa es cierta: Dios no quiere vivamos en una sociedad donde se daña o se elimina la dignidad de las personas, mucho menos como medio para favorecer intereses de poder, económicos o políticos grupos dominantes. Esta es una verdad fundamental para la ética cristiana; la restauración de la dignidad humana en este contexto forma parte esencial del anuncio del evangelio (Evangelii Gaudium 75); “la dignidad de la persona humana y el bien común están por encima de la tranquilidad de algunos que no quieren renunciar a sus privilegios. Cuando estos valores se ven afectados, es necesaria una voz profética” (Evangelii Gaudium 203).
En esta hora de México hay periodistas que han hecho suya esta voz, viviendo las consecuencias de todo profeta (Mt 23, 30-31; Lc 11, 47-48). ¿Dónde está la nuestra como sociedad, como eticistas y como Iglesia? Es pregunta.
 El Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) es un partido político de México que mantuvo el poder político sobre dicho país de manera hegemónica entre 1929 y 1989, cuando perdió por primera vez una gubernatura, la del estado de Baja California (ante el candidato del PAN Ernesto Ruffo Appel); posteriormente perdería la mayoría absoluta en la Cámara de Diputados en 1997 y la de Senadores en 2000. Desde 1929 todos los presidentes de México fueron miembros del PRI o sus partidos antecesores, hasta que se produjo la primera alternancia en el poder de manera pacífica en un siglo, en las elecciones federales del año 2000, cuando ganó por primera vez un representante de la oposición. Ese fue Vicente Fox, del PAN (Partido Acción Nacional).
The Planning Committee with Cardinal Fernando Filoni, of Propagation of the Faith
The Planning Committee with Archbishop José Rodriguez Carballo, ofm, of the Congregation for Religious Life
The Planning Committee with Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, at the Congregation for Catholic Education
The Planning Committee with Cardinal Kevin J. Farrell, of the Congregation for the Laity, Family, Life
The Planning Committee with Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, of the Pontifical Council of Culture
The Planning Committee with the General of the Society of Jesus, Arturo Sosa S.J.
The Planning Committee with Cardinal Peter Turkson, of the Dicastery of the Service of Integral Human Development
The Planning Committee at the Alfonsianum (hosted by Andrzej Wodka).
Inside the lecture hall at the Urbanianium (hosted by Vincenzo Viva)
Committee at the Gregorianum (hosted by Miguel Yanez)
Laudato Si’: care of Creation as the new social issue
Prof. Pablo A. Blanco
After the encyclical Laudato Si’ (LS) was published, not only many have begun to call Pope Francis the "Green Pope", but also, in the Summit on Climate Change in Paris of 2015, the countries seem at last to have progressed towards concrete measures to safeguard the planet. Many “blame” - in a positive sense - Pope Francis’ activism on the subject. Let’s see.
In his encyclical Lumen Fidei (LF), Francis considers: the need of faith to collaborate and awaken a critical sense; of science not to reduce nature to formulas and to marvel itself at the mystery of Creation, widening the horizons of reason. As Pope Francis says, the view of science can benefit from faith, by being open to reality in all its riches (cfr. LF, 34).
In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (EG), Pope Francis outlines four important issues: an approach focused on the Creation as a living being (no longer the concept of Nature); the consubstantiality between man and other creatures together with their mutual fragility; the criticism of a voracious and predatory economic system; the need of intergenerational solidarity as an expression of a love engagement proposed to humanity.
Francis affirms that "there are other weak and defenseless living beings who are frequently at the mercy of economic interests or indiscriminate exploitation. I am speaking of creation as a whole. We human beings are not only the beneficiaries but also the stewards of other creatures…God has joined us so closely to the world around us that we can feel the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment, and the extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement" (EG, 215).
In Laudato Si', care of Creation is presented as a new social issue. The encyclical letter of the Holy Father Francis appears as a climax reflection that allows this new social issue to be completely integrated within the Social Magisterium of the Church.
Which are the novelties of Laudato Si’?
Laudato Si’ is not just a mere synthesis - in the sense of a compilation or summary of what is being said about the environmental crisis -; it brings new concepts and paradigms for understanding.
Going deep to the novelties of the document of the Holy Father we could highlight:
- The discovery of a new social issue of global dimensions linked to the crisis of Modernity;
- Which due to its causes and effects should lead to a new conceptualization of the "ecology" from an integral perspective, it should lead to an "Integral Ecology";
- Placing the "Creation" (much more than the idea of nature or environment) at the core of this new social issue;
- Rethinking the Earth as “Mother Earth", as a vital body, “nursery of Life”, in accordance with the Judeo-Christian tradition and the indigenous peoples ones, and no longer as a result of physical-chemical phenomena;
- Leaving the idea of unlimited progress in an environment that is not unlimited, and shifting toward new models of production (cfr. LS, 22).
- Finally, as there is an intimate connection between what man produces and what man is, the solutions to the environmental crisis involve the Conversion of man himself.
A global change towards the Creation sustainability should consider a "green" conversion of all humanity.
Such "green” (ecological) conversion implies a successive - not linear - series of "conversions", whose dimensions reach the personal, social, cultural spheres, and include the political and economic conversions, necessary for an effective transformation of the unjust realities. This "ecological" conversion – in Pope Francis’ words - can be represented as the already mentioned circular model of conversion (figure 1)
It remains to be urgent the establishment of a new international order in which the unequal relations between rich and poor countries should be abolished. The defense of nature cannot be an “end” itself, and must be oriented to equity, preserving the balance of Creation.
The scale and speed of the Globalization process should be redirected toward transformations and a positive recovery of the environment and, above all, it should be at the service of man, as the Church often expresses.
No country can go on its own on a matter that has to do with other countries as well. For that reason, it is very important that the agreements become a concrete policy, where everyone feels committed to the future of all.
Finally, the underdevelop countries need specific tools to strength capabilities that enable them to deal with the environmental crisis and lead toward a sustainable development, considering man as a morally relevant creature …where hunger and exclusion do not take place, where it is worth living.
We can affirm that Laudato Si’ of Pope Francis, could have in the near future (if it does not already have it) the same relevance as the one Leo XIII’s Encyclical “Rerum Novarum” had in that historic moment.
By Peter Knox
Before the days of Photoshop it took enormous skill to alter reality. Specialised graphic artists were employed by the Russian government (and no doubt many others), to alter the historical record, to purge photographs of unwanted characters too close to the chief protagonist. Propagandists required that the masses received the correct message, and in the early days of photographic reportage it was very important to shape public opinion with the right images. To give just one example, famously, there is the photograph of Stalin walking along the Volga Canal beside the Soviet chief of police, Nikolai Yezhov. Subsequent published versions of the photograph have Yezhov completely removed from the picture. With the digital revolution, techniques may have changed to alter images. Photoshop and its equivalents are now the tools of choice for image editing.
This is not revisioning history. This is an attempt to falsify history. It was dangerous to be too close to any leader during the early Soviet period. If your thinking did not co-incide 100% with the leaders’, you became an ‘enemy of the people’ and stood the risk of being airbrushed out of history. Often with the help of 10 grams of lead. Of course this did not begin and end with the Soviet era. We have seen the same recently with insiders of the North Korean regime.
We are all aware of ‘fake news’ since the term was coined recently in the social media. My mother sent me a digital image recently of the charred remains, supposedly of hundreds of Christians after a Boko Haram massacre on a village in Northern Nigeria. It turned out that the image was of the vicitms of an oil-tanker explosion in a village in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is so easy to be misled. And it takes so much time to check one’s sources. We generally trust what we receive from trusted sources.
Which is why one can even come across a Masters’ thesis questionnaire in Africa asking whether homosexual persons should be admitted in the Church. Where else could this possibly be taken as a real question, than in societies in which the leadership have airbrushed homosexual people out of the picture? A prominent African churchman said in 2013 that he knew no homosexuals… and therefore could not be accused of homophobia. Is it because they are too close to the leaders, or because they are somehow perceived as a threat to the ‘party line’ or are an inconvenient truth? Or because one doesn’t want to be contaminated by association?
Some of our leading academics believe that Africa saved the Second Synod on the Family by not allowing divorce and remarriage and same-sex marriage to dominate the agenda. These are not daily African concerns. Fair enough. But when it is denied that these non-standard family arrangements even exist in Africa, that is ‘fake news.’ That is photoshopping the true image of African society. It does not serve the truth, and prevents enlightened pastoral programmes being put in place. It means that non-conventional families continue to suffer from neglect in the Catholic Church and look for their support elsewhere.
Solvitur Ambulando - It is Solved by Walking.
By Mary Margaret
It seems people have been walking for a cause more than usual of late in the United States. On the day after the presidential inauguration, droves of women and their allies “marched for America” in cities across the country (and women across the globe –in Africa, Arabia, Asia, Australia, Central America, Europe, and South America—marched in solidarity). Rivers of the now iconic pink hats flowed through the streets. People of every age, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and ability came out to be a part of it all. More recently, marchers for science carried signs celebrating evidence and breakthroughs like penicillin and the polio vaccine. Marchers for the climate have drawn attention to environmental devastation. And today, May 1st, the International Day for Workers, people are marching and engaging in direct action on justice for immigrants and workers. To be sure, these marches for gender equality, investment in the scientific enterprise, justice for immigrants, and environmental protections have included protests against the policy proposals and executive actions of President Trump during the first 100 days of his administration.
Marching has played an important role in many social movements. A January 2017 piece by Julie Turkewitz in the NY Times highlighted the 1913 Women’s March for Suffrage, the 1932 Bonus Army March, the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at which MLK’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered, a 1969 march to end the war in Vietnam, the annual March for Life, Marches for LGBTQ rights beginning in the 1980’s, and the 1995 Million Man March. Marches increase visibility. They disrupt business as usual. They provide an avenue for political involvement and participation in the common good. They involve risk to participants that demands the courage to keep going in spite of fear.
Many also come out to walk, run, and bike for all sorts of charitable organizations. And, since “sitting” has become the new “smoking” in terms of the impacts of a sedentary lifestyle on health and well-being, walking for a cause or not has benefits for physical and mental health. The “walking meeting” is all the rage and there is a new market for “executive treadmill desks” (as if life doesn’t feel enough like a spinning hamster wheel). The pedometers on our smartphones or wrists coach us to “get our steps in.” But this kind of exercise has little semblance to Thoreau’s meditation on walking in which one saunters and meanders along, open to a new adventure in nature, or to Mary Oliver’s invitation to “walk slowly, and bow often” among the trees.
Critics have asked whether the marches are marking the beginning of a sustained social movement or whether they will simply “fizzle” out after the buoyancy of the moment. Perhaps the proliferation of marches and charity walks will suffer diminishing returns and fail to link causes together in solidarity. While the pink hats and t-shirts might prove “I was there,” where do we walk to next, with whom, and why?
This moment in time is a walking and a marching time, for restorative purpose and solidarity. Moving about can relieve anxiety and mitigate the effects of fatigue that can be physical, emotional, and spiritual. Many of us have need to “shake off the village” as Thoreau would say, taking time away from the stresses in life and fears about the direction the U.S. is taking. The events of these last few months have suggested also that we need to walk in and with the village. People are walking and marching not only to make public statements about their commitments to issues and fidelity to persons, they are marching also to overcome feelings of isolation. They march to reconfirm for themselves that they are not alone in their fears, frustrations, and angers on the one hand, nor alone in their passions for justice and peace on the other. This kind of walking too brings consolations.
Will the challenges and injustices of our time be solved by walking and marching? Probably not, but they won’t be solved without them. And we Christians, pilgrim people on the way, must keep marching and working for justice. Jesus bowed often and he was a man on the move with purpose and solidarity. Though the disciples practically tripped over themselves to keep up, they too marched. Even as Aquinas cautioned, “to stand still is to go backwards,” Christians resist the frenetic pace of competition that isolates us and opt instead for a shared journey with those who are vulnerable and marginalized. When the saints come marching in, “I want to be in that number.”
Assisted Dying Bill in Victoria Must Be Rejected
By Hoa Trung Dinh SJ
In June 2016, the eight-member Legislative Council Committee submitted to the Parliament of Victoria the Final Report of the Inquiry into end of life choices. In this Report, the Committee recommends the legalisation of doctor assisted suicide and euthanasia in Victoria. The Committee suggests that doctors should be authorised to prescribe lethal drugs to dying patients who can use them to end their life.
The Committee also insists that, for a person who is physically unable to take the lethal drug, due either to disability or incapacity, “a doctor should be able to assist a person to die by administering the drug.” 
Later this year, a Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill will be voted on in Parliament to decide whether assisted suicide and euthanasia will be legalized in Victoria. If it is passed, Victoria will be the first State in Australia to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide since the NT Rights of the Terminally Ill Act was annulled two decades ago.
In 1996, Northern Territory passed the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act to legalise euthanasia. This was overturned less than a year later by the Federal Government. Since then, other euthanasia Bills have been rejected in Victoria, SA, and Tasmania.
In the last few years, euthanasia campaigners such as Andrew Denton and Dr Rodney Syme have presented stories of persons dying in unbearable distress to argue the case for assisted death. The Melbourne paper, The Age, has shown itself to be a strong supporter of euthanasia by selectively publishing articles that support euthanasia legislation, but providing little space for anti-euthanasia perspectives. In the aftermath of the Royal Commission investigations into institutional responses to child sexual abuse, the religious voices are too readily dismissed by the public on this issue.
The 2016 Victorian Parliament’s Report also puts forward the arguments in support of change in law. It is argued that euthanasia legislation would (1) enhance individual autonomy or self-determination, (2) provide relief from suffering for patients and loved ones, (3) prevent suicide by other means, (4) benefit doctor-patient relationship. They also argue that (5) assisted dying occurs already, and is unregulated, (6) assisted dying is a form of palliative care. These arguments are either erroneous or simply naïve.
First, As British actress and disability rights advocate Liz Carr said in her captivating address to Victorian Parliament on 22 March 2017 euthanasia legislation would lead to further coercion against vulnerable persons in society: the elderly and people with disability. Once voluntary suicide is legalised, to continue living becomes a choice that people will have to justify to themselves, their family, and society. It is especially the case for persons who have to depend on the assistance of others: the elderly, and people with disability. Note that elder abuse is currently a growing concern in Australia. The Australian Law Reform Commission is calling for law changes to protect elders from abuse at the hands of their children and carers. One suggested intervention is a national register of enduring powers of attorney in order to “prevent greedy children from using the document as a ‘licence to steal’ from their elderly parents”. In this context, legalising euthanasia would diminish individual autonomy, not enhance it, if we look at it from the perspective of the most vulnerable in society.
Second, the role of palliative care for dying persons is to relieve pain and suffering, but not by killing the ones who suffer. Intentional killing of patients is not a medical treatment, and assisted suicide is not a form of palliative care.
Third, legalising assisted suicide is not an answer to the problem of pain and distress in the dying patient, but improving the quality and access to palliative care for Victorians. The argument that medical suicide will prevent suicides by other means is very misguided indeed.
Fourth, as Professor Margaret Somerville points out, the medical profession is trusted because it carries the value of respect for life in a secular society. Authorising doctors to cause their patient’s death would damage the doctor-patient relationship by undermining that trust. In Canada, increasing numbers of doctors request to be removed from the “assisted dying” lists after they assisted patients to die. Euthanasia legislation would result in great harm not only to vulnerable individuals and populations, but to health professionals as well.
Fifth, the key difference between palliative care and euthanasia is the intention behind the doctor’s medical intervention. In palliative care, the intention is to care for the patient by relieving pain and distress. In euthanasia and assisted suicide, the intention is to cause the death of the patient. For this reason, euthanasia and assisted suicide are radically different from palliative care. The British House of Lords (9 May 1994) regards the prohibition of intentional killing “the cornerstone of law and of social relationships”. To overturn this prohibition would undermine the very fabric of society.
For these reasons, the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill in Victoria must be again rejected.
 The Parliament of Victoria, The Final Report of the Inquiry into end of life choices, June 2016, #8.6.1.
 http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-12-11/elder-abuse-inquiry-calls-for-law-changes/8106528, accessed 29 March 2017.