Saturday, May 23, 2015

Raised to the altars: one who fell for the poor (THE TABLET 21 May 2015) by Robert Ellsberg

Raised to the altars: one who fell for the poor
21 May 2015 by Robert Ellsberg
A champion of the poor or someone mixed up in politics? A man who died for the faith or because he was a political inconvenience? Archbishop Oscar Romero’s beatification today confirms his stature and illuminates his model of holiness
The beatification of the slain Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, in his own city today, moves him one step closer to receiving the title long ago bestowed by the acclamation of his people: “San Romero de los Americas”. The honouring of the man comes 35 years after he was gunned down as he celebrated Mass in the chapel of a hospital, having preached a sermon the day before in which he called upon Salvadorean soldiers, as Christians, to stop carrying out the Government’s repression of the people, and spoken out continuously about the abuse of human rights and the plight of the poor.  
As the first bishop murdered at the altar since Thomas Becket in the twelfth century, Archbishop Romero would seem to have an easy claim on most definitions of martyrdom. For Romero, who clearly anticipated his fate, there was never any doubt as to the meaning of such a death. In an interview two weeks before his assassination, he said, “I have frequently been threatened with death … Martyrdom is a great gift from God that I do not believe I have earned. But if God accepts the sacrifice of my life then may my blood be the seed of liberty and a sign of the hope that will soon become a reality … A bishop will die, but the Church of God – the people – will never die.”

There are inevitably symbolic or even political considerations involved in any canonisation, extending beyond the selection of saints to the interpretation of their lives: what is the gospel message that this life proclaims? What significance does it hold for the Church of our time and for the future? 
Within days of Romero’s death, there were different messages about Romero. The crowd of 250,000 at his funeral was seen by some as a demonstration; Cardinal Ernesto Corripio y Ahumada, the personal delegate of John Paul II, said at the funeral that Romero was a “beloved, peacemaking man of God” and that “his blood will give fruit to brotherhood, love and peace”. 

No doubt since then there have been expli­citly political considerations at play in the long delay of his beatification. Many influential prelates in Latin America and Rome felt that the canonisation of Romero would be “utilised” by the Left, that he would be the poster boy for liberation theology, and thus promote div­isions in the Church. There were also supporters of the cause who insisted that Romero was wrongly identified with liberation theology, that he was in fact a traditional bishop, a man of prayer, and that these features – and not the circumstances of his death – should be emphasised. But there were also theological issues at stake. These concerned the particular criteria for martyrdom, which indicate that a martyr’s death must be prompted by “hatred of the faith” – odium fidei. 

This condition served to characterise the martyrs of the English Reformation, as well as victims of persecution in Japan, Vietnam and revolutionary France. It was also applied to the targets of anti-Catholic persecution in Spain, Mexico and various Communist countries. But it is a condition that had not, up to this point, been extended to any of the tens of thousands of Christians – whether priests, nuns, laypeople or bishops – killed by the ­military, death squads or other agents of national security in Latin America during the bloody decades of the 1970s and 1980s. Certainly, there was a willingness, as expressed by Benedict XVI, to recognise in Romero “an important witness of the faith, a man of great Christian virtue”. And yet it is striking, in the case of Romero and all the others he ­represents, how much church officials have seemed to choke over the “M word”. 

Last autumn, Pope Francis broached this question: “What I would like is a clarification about martyrdom in odium fidei, whether it can occur either for having confessed the Creed or for having done the works which Jesus commands with regard to one’s neighbour.” In fact, there were precedents for enlarging the definition of martyrdom. Pope John Paul II was able to term St Maximilian Kolbe a “martyr for charity” for accepting death in the place of a fellow inmate at Auschwitz. So, in an ­earlier time, St Maria Goretti could be termed a “martyr for chastity”, when she died during an attempted rape. Recently, a Sicilian priest, Pino Puglisi, who was killed for standing up to the Mafia, was beatified by Benedict XVI as a martyr who laid down his life for the ­evangelical virtues of truth and justice. 

And now, in the case of Romero as well, the question about his martyrdom has apparently been answered. In February of this year Pope Francis, acting on the recommendation of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, authorised a decree of martyrdom for Archbishop Oscar Romero, thus clearing the way for his beatification today. As Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the postulator for Romero’s cause, observed, his assassination “was not caused by motives that were simply political, but by hatred for a faith that, imbued with charity, would not be silent in the face of the injustices that relentlessly and cruelly slaughtered the poor and their defenders”.

Paglia’s remarks are significant because they address a specific obstacle that had shadowed the cause of Romero: the claim that Romero was not killed “in hatred of the faith”, but because he got himself mixed up in politics. Archbishop Paglia said that the Vatican received “kilos” of letters along these lines. They argued that Romero wasn’t targeted by his killers – presumably self-proclaimed Catholics – because they hated his faith, but because he acted and sounded like a subversive. 

Of course, in El Salvador in those years, it did not take much to sound like a subversive. Anyone who stood up for human rights or who challenged an unjust social order, was classified as a subversive, and thousands paid the price. As Jesuit Fr Rutilio Grande observed before his own assassination, if “Jesus himself came across the border of Chalatenango, they wouldn’t let him in.” Romero understood what was at stake. As he said, “One who is committed to the poor must risk the same fate as the poor. And in El Salvador we know what the fate of the poor signifies: to disappear, to be tortured, to be captive and to be found dead.” 

The Vatican might have skirted the question of “politics” by focusing on Romero’s virtues as a pious and holy churchman. And yet that is not what has happened. By the decree of martyrdom the Church has recognised that his death, like that of Jesus, was a consequence of his witness to the Kingdom of God – or, if you will, his faithful proclamation of the Gospel. In El Salvador, an overwhelmingly Catholic country named for the Saviour, Romero and thousands of other martyrs were not killed simply for confessing membership in the Church or for proclaiming the Creed. They died because their understanding of the Gospel put them in solidarity with the oppressed and in opposition to the structures of injustice. And in a society animated by “odium pauperum”, hatred of the poor, such faith caused them, as Romero put it, to take on “the same fate as the poor”. 

No doubt, in preaching a gospel of justice, peace and solidarity, Romero was regarded by many as a traitor. Among his fellow bishops there were doubtless those who believed that Romero should have preached the Gospel in a way that was less divisive. He might have done this. And thus he might have lived. As Romero noted in an address in Louvain, “Not any and every priest has been persecuted, not any and every institution has been attacked” – only “that part of the Church which has placed itself at the side of the people and has gone to their defence”. 

Perhaps it is significant that the beatification of Romero, and the recognition of his status as a martyr, has awaited the pontificate of Pope Francis. Thus, his beatification serves a wider vision of renewal and ecclesial conversion. To name and recognise the martyrdom of Romero is not simply to nullify the odium fidei of his killers. To name Romero a martyr, and not simply “a man of great Christian virtue”, is to make a great leap of amor fidei – a love of the faith he embodied, a love for “the Church of God – that is, the people” for which he offered his life. To recognise Romero as a martyr is to embrace his model of holiness and his proclamation of the Gospel without compromise or apologies. 

We might recall that for Romero a great turning point in his ministry came with the murder of his friend, Rutilio Grande, which occurred shortly after his installation as archbishop. It was in this event, and his choice properly to name, recognise and love Grande’s faithful witness, that Romero embarked on his own road to Calvary. In his beatification, Romero continues to walk ahead of the Church, beckoning us forward on the path to Jerusalem, which is the path of Jesus, clearing the way towards a Church which is, in Pope Francis’ words, “poor and for the poor”. 

Robert Ellsberg is editor and publisher of Orbis Books. He was a speaker at the conference on Archbishop Romero held at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, in September 2014.


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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Caritas Internationalis Takes Oscar Romero as Patron

Caritas Internationalis Takes 
Oscar Romero 
as Patron

Salvadoran priest will be beatified this Saturday

By Staff Reporter
Rome, May 18, 2015 (ZENIT.org)

The Church's international charity organization has adopted a third patron, Salvadoran priest Oscar Romero, who will be beatified this Saturday.
Caritas Internationalis’ General Assembly closed today with member organisations adopting a vision of “One Human Family, Caring for Creation”.
The 400-plus representatives from more than 160 national Caritas organizations gathered in Rome also elected a new president and treasurer and ratified the nomination of the secretary general this week.
Newly-elected president, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, archbishop of Manila, said, “Pope Francis gave us inspirational words on seeking to expand our work at the beginning of our General Assembly.  With the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Pope Francis’s encyclical on ecology and the UN climate meeting in Paris this year, Caritas will work towards putting the human family and human dignity at the heart of development.”
Regarding the SDGs, the final message adopted by the General Assembly states that “no target should be considered as met unless achieved for all income and social groups; this fundamental, person-centred strategy must be central”.
The message urges governments to look beyond their own borders and to recognise the moral imperative that is inherent in care for creation.
Caritas delegates also called attention to the plight of Christians who suffer from religious persecution in Syria and Iraq and of migrants and refugees all over the world: “We urge governments to build safe havens and humanitarian corridors, rather than fences, walls or programmes of interdiction at sea.”
Michel Roy was reconfirmed as secretary general of the Caritas confederation and a new board was appointed. Alexander Bodmann of Austria was elected as new treasurer.  South Sudan became the 165th national member organisation of the Caritas confederation.
Blessed Oscar Romero, who was murdered for standing with the poor in El Salvador, joins Mother Teresa and St. Martin de Porres as patrons of Caritas Internationalis.

Final Message From Caritas General Assembly


Final Message From Caritas General Assembly
Week-long meeting concludes in Rome
By Staff Reporter
Rome, May 18, 2015 (ZENIT.org)
Caritas Internationalis
20th General Assembly
12 – 18 May 2015 – Rome
Final Message
Committed to the ministry of the Church in service to poor, vulnerable and marginalized persons, 424 women, men and youth from 140 countries and representing 165 national member organizations, gathered in Rome, Italy for the quadrennial General Assembly of Caritas Internationalis. From the beginning of his papal ministry, Pope Francis has acknowledged Caritas as “the caress … to those suffering … being at the continuous service of people living in extreme situations.” [1] The members of Caritas Internationalis strive to fulfill that promise by touching the lives and supporting the wellbeing of millions of people in need each day.
Pope Francis was a source of profound inspiration and blessing for us as he presided at the Opening Mass for our Assembly, the first time such an honour was bestowed on our Confederation. He noted that “Caritas is a reality of the Church in many parts of the world and must still seek a greater expansion in the different parishes and communities, to renew what took place in the early days of the Church.” He urged us always to be mindful that “Whoever lives the mission of Caritas is not a simple charitable worker, but is a true witness of Christ.” The Holy Father also encouraged us to pray for “the grace to understand that ‘Caritas’ is always to be found in the peripheries, in each particular Church.”[2]
During the past four years, we have taken action with courage and determination in response to complex humanitarian emergencies and to the crush of extreme poverty. During this Assembly, our hearts, minds, and prayers are focused, in particular, on the suffering, pain, and loss experienced by our sisters and brothers in the Middle East, Ukraine, Central African Republic, Burundi, Colombia, Fukushima (Japan), Philippines, Nepal, and many other places of the world where violence, destruction, and environmental degradation prevail.
We pray in a special way for all those subjected to religious, racial, and ethnic persecution, throughout the world, including Christians in Syria and Iraq. Their communities and churches are being targeted, and continuing Christian presence in their homelands is being undermined. We assure our solidarity to all who are trying to survive in a context of fear and anxiety, to those displaced in their own countries, or who have sought refuge, in huge numbers, in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Cyprus and Egypt.
We call attention to the plight of hundreds of thousands of other migrants – women, children, and men - suffering unspeakable privations, abuse, and even lose their lives in pursuit of a life of dignity and freedom.  We urge governments to build safe havens and humanitarian corridors, rather than fences, walls, or programmes of interdiction at sea.
We are inspired by the courageous response by our Caritas colleagues and other people of good will who, in the face of such great despair and inhuman treatment of human persons, respond with love and take action to build a world founded on justice.
Integral human development is at the heart of Caritas and is centered on the empowerment of individuals, families, and communities to fulfill their God-given potential. While great progress has been made to ensure that all people enjoy the same rights and opportunities, growing inequality threatens a truly global prosperity, including the considerable gap remaining between men and women, which must be addressed with deliberate intention. In the words of Pope Francis, “the feminine genius is needed in all expressions of the life of society.[3]”  Caritas acknowledges women as a strong and important force in promoting development in their families and communities and is committed to supporting their ability to make their voices heard, including within our own Confederation.
Two years ago, Caritas launched the One Human Family, Food for All Campaign, with the goal of making hunger history by 2025. The campaign received global support from Member Organisations, mobilizing advocacy from the halls of the United Nations as well as national and regional Parliaments, to communities spanning the globe, building a living network of global solidarity. The advocacy and international representation work of Caritas, at all levels of the Confederation, is respected and listened to, from Washington, D.C. to Brussels, from Peru to Tonga, from Bangkok to Amman to Addis Ababa, because it is informed by on-the-ground, real-life experiences across the globe, professional expertise, and clear moral and ethical values.
This year, 2015, will mark a significant milestone for the future and common good of the human family. Governments and other stakeholders will review and update global processes of Financing for Development. National leaders will approve and launch new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to orient our global collective efforts for the next fifteen years. In this regard, Caritas remains convinced that these goals must promote full realisation of universal human rights and values by addressing the structural dimensions of inequality and increasing access to basic entitlements and quality of life for all. We further insist that no target should be considered as met unless achieved for all income and social groups[4]; this fundamental, person-centered strategy must be central to every SDG.
 During 2015, we also will witness further negotiations for a global plan to face and confront the serious challenges posed to our world as a result of climate change. As Caritas, we attach great importance to “protecting our environment, which all too often, instead of using for the good, we exploit greedily, to one another’s detriment.[5] In this same regard, we look forward to further enlightenment when Pope Francis releases his much-awaited encyclical on this urgent topic. We further urge governments to look beyond their own borders and to recognize the moral imperative that is inherent in care for creation. In the words of Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who addressed our Assembly, “Progress towards sustainability requires a fundamental openness to relationship or, in other words, justice and responsibility, opening up new avenues of solidarity. Citizens of wealthier countries must stand shoulder to shoulder with the poor, both at home and overseas.”[6]
As we leave Rome at the end of this Twentieth General Assembly, we are determined to promote greater cooperation across the Confederation and stronger unity while we implement our Strategic Framework 2015-2019, which was oriented by Pope Francis’ teaching in the Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, and includes the following objectives:
  1. Uphold the  Catholic identity of Caritas as an essential service of the Church to the poor;
  2. Reduce the impact of humanitarian crises by enhancing disaster risk preparedness;
  3. Eradicate poverty in all its forms by empowering people and transforming unjust systems and structures;
  4. Address the causes of extreme poverty through reinforced communication, education and mobilization and enhance the visibility of Caritas;
  5. Build a stronger confederation based on professional and effective members and mobilize more resources
These goals, developed in broad consultation with the women and men, young and old, associated with our Confederation, reflect the hopes and dreams of so many beyond our membership: all of our sisters and brothers who work tirelessly on behalf of the Church to serve others and all people of good will who put the common good above personal gain. We are deeply grateful for the direct engagement of youth in our Assembly and for the expression of their strong desire to continue meaningful involvement and sharing of their dynamic energy in the service of Caritas. At the centre of our attention and action are our sisters and brothers who live on the periphery of society and simply wish to be recognized as equals and given the opportunity to live to their God-given potential.
Pope Francis will initiate a special “Holy Year of Mercy” on 8 December 2015.  This offers Caritas a unique opportunity to renew and intensify its witness of love and inclusion of all people, but particularly those who are excluded and forgotten. Several times during our Assembly, we have thanked God for the selfless witness left to us by Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez, who gave his life as a martyr in defense of the dignity of poor and marginalized persons in his own country and throughout the world and who, during this General Assembly, was proclaimed a patron of Caritas Internationalis, along with previously proclaimed patrons, St. Martin de Porres and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
We express deep gratitude to Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodriguez Maradiaga, for his tireless service in presiding over the Confederation for the past eight years. We welcome Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle as our new President as well as our new member organization, Caritas South Sudan.
We know that God sends us forth accompanied by abundant grace and love to do our utmost to deliver on the promise of our collective mandate to work for a better world. In that spirit, we remind ourselves constantly that: “ ‘God has loved us first (1 John 4:19) and he alone ‘gives the growth’ (1 Cor. 3:7). This conviction enables us to maintain a spirit of joy”[7] in pursuing with relentless commitment our desire to create  One Human Family:  Caring for Creation.
--
NOTES:
[1] Pope Francis, Address to Representative Council and Staff of Caritas Internationalis, 16 May 2013, Vatican City.
[2] Pope Francis, Homily for Opening Mass of XX General Assembly of Caritas Internationalis, Vatican City, 12 May 2015.
[3] Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, #103.
[4] Position Paper, “Caritas Internationalis[4] Perspectives on the Post-2015 Development agenda: Our ‘non-negotiables’ ”, Vatican City, not dated.
[5] Pope Francis, Address to the Diplomatic Corps Accredited to the Holy See, Vatican City, 22 March 2013.
[6] Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Address to XX General Assembly of Caritas Internationalis,  Human development in a changing environment, 14 May 2015, Rome, Italy.
[7] Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, #12.

Monday, May 18, 2015

WE ALL HAVE THE RIGHT TO LIVE!

Today (May 18th 2015) ARUNA SHANBAUG finally said "GOOD BYE" to us after a long struggle of 42  years!May she REST IN PEACE! We salute ALL those WONDERFUL WOMEN who so courageously looked after her ALL these years and who in no uncertain terms have given us a very powerful message that "EVERY HUMAN BEING HAS THE RIGHT TO LIFE!" Here is a reflection which I wrote over a year ago


Do we have the “Right to Die?”
Reflections on Pro-Life Day, March 25th, 2014
-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*

Today, March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation of our Lord is observed in several parts of the world as Pro-Life Day. It is the day on which we take a stand for the unborn child; say “NO” to the death penalty; highlight the fact that wars, murders and violence of all kinds still take centre-stage and above all, that the scourge of euthanasia is slowly becoming more and more acceptable in many parts of the world.

Exactly a month ago, on February 25th, 2014, the Supreme Court of India in a bench headed by the Chief Justice P Sathasivam held that the verdict given earlier in March 2011 in the Aruna Shanbaug case was based on a “wrong premise” and therefore decided to re-examine the earlier judgement which allowed “passive euthanasia” permission to withdraw life support from patients in a permanently vegetative state and to permit them to die.

This verdict is already a subject of much debate because it not only questions the 2011 judgement by the Bench headed by Justice Markandey Katju which gave thousands of patients either suffering from an incurable disease or living in a vegetative state the possibility of ending their agony by saying that the parents, spouse or any other immediate relative could take this important decision after getting the necessary consent from the concerned High Court but it also brings the debate on “euthanasia” back to centre-stage.

 In 2011, when the verdict was delivered, it very naturally created a huge uproar all over the country.  The judgement was based on a PIL filed on behalf of a 60 year old female patient Aruna Shanbaug who was assaulted and strangulated by a sweeper in a hospital on November 27th, 1973.  Though she survived, she never fully recovered from the trauma and the brain damage resulting from that assault and strangulation, inspite of tremendous compassion, attention and care, not only by her family members but also by the nurses and other staff members who looked after her for 37 long years.  After examining various pros and cons, the Divisional Bench headed by Justice Katju said that permission could be given in the case of Aruna Shanbaug for “passive euthanasia”.  The fact however is that even today Aruna lives – in tremendous pain and agony.

When on February 25th, 2014 the Apex Court very strongly stated that the previous verdict allowing “passive euthanasia” was delivered on a wrong premise, it also referred the case to a five member Constitution Bench to clear the air on this contentious issue for the benefit of humanity since an important question of law is also involved in it. The court categorically stated that “in view of the inconsistent opinions rendered in Aruna Shanbaug case and also considering the important question of law involved which needs to be reflected in the light of social, legal, medical and constitutional perspective, it becomes extremely important to have a clear enunciation of law.  Thus, in our cogent opinion, the question of law involved requires careful consideration by a Constitution Bench in this Court for the benefit of humanity as a whole.”

Strangely enough on February 13th 2014, the Belgium Parliament voted in favour for allowing euthanasia for terminally ill children without age limit. On March 3rd, the King of Belgium signed into law this controversial bill making Belgium the first country in the world to allow euthanasia for terminally ill children of all ages. The bill was passed and signed to law despite huge protests and oppositions from all over Europe and the world that this should not be done.

Earlier in 2002, Belgium was only the second country in the world besides the Netherlands to have legalised euthanasia in the 21st century. In 1999, Albania permitted passive euthanasia. In 2008, Luxembourg passed and legalized euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide laws. That most countries in the world and most people in the world are not inclined to either accept euthanasia or deal with this contentious issue is already a case in point.

On 10th December 1948, the General Assembly of United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Both the Preamble and the 30 Articles which follow, focus on the culture of life: promoting life and enhancing the quality of living, rather than on the culture of death.  So what must be accepted as sacrosanct is the fact that this Charter provides a framework for all to live in a qualitative manner rather than attempting to demand the right to die or the right to take another person’s life.

There are several arguments for and against in the euthanasia debate. Those who argue for euthanasia maintain the following:

when a person is in a vegetative state, in a coma or is terminally ill instead of allowing a person to suffer (other near and dear ones also suffer), one can ensure a “death with dignity” rather than force them to live an unproductive life.
“I have a right to do with myself / my body what I want” therefore if I choose the right to die, no one can stop me from doing so
I have neither the resources, the time or the inclination to keep this family member alive artificially
government legislation can safely regulate who are permitted to die and how and when

On the other hand, there are several more arguments against euthanasia. These include:

God alone is the author of life and death and no one can and should ever demand the right to die for themselves or for others.
the right to die is on a ‘slippery slope’ which can easily become the right to be killed. So it opens the huge window of immoral acts like a doctor or a nurse can conveniently kill several patients under their care because of “compassion” (example “Doctor Death” in Australia)
legalizing euthanasia means mainstreaming the culture of death in society
more and more would conveniently legitimize any form of death from abortion to the death penalty
there would never truly be checks and balances. It is common knowledge that even in those places where euthanasia and physician-assisted suicides are legal, the doctors usually do not always report it
for a patient, the right to die also obviously means that a physician or a nurse have to assist in the actual act of dying which technically means “killing the other”

The Catholic Church is very clear of its stand on euthanasia. In 1980, ‘the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released its Declaration on Euthanasia (entitled ‘Jura et Bona’) and which takes a very clear stand on it. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2276 – 2279) provides a very succinct explanation of the Catholic Church’s position terming it as morally unacceptable and an evil action. The Second Vatican Council condemned “all offences against life itself such as murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and willful suicide” (Gaudium et Spes #27).

In India, by and large adherents of the major religions be it Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Jainism or Buddhism – at this stage, will never accept euthanasia on principle because of their respective teachings to promote and defend life.

Euthanasia is clearly violative of the right to life. In simple logic, providing a right which contradicts in sum and substance the Rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes the great Charter both redundant and irrelevant. This will obviously lead to chaos all over with every single person trying to justify or legitimize his or her own act and not mindful of the consequences or repercussions these acts may cause, to the morality of our times.

In 2010, an Indian drama romance film called ‘Guzaarish’ (‘Request’) received critical acclaim and awards and nominations in all the leading award ceremonies of India. The movie is centred around a Goan, Ethan Mascarenhas, who is a quadriplegic paralysed from the neck down, after a serious accident during a magic show he was performing. On the 14th anniversary of this accident, he decides to file an appeal in the court for euthanasia.  His plea is rejected twice because the judge very clearly states that the legal code of the country cannot be violated under any circumstance. But his legion of friends and admirers have no qualms of conscience in supporting Ethan in his desire to end his life. At a farewell party for several of them, Ethan tells all of them that he will be dying a happy man without any regrets. His friends come to the couch and hug him goodbye. The movie ends just with Ethan laughing heartily. While, what the Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali was trying to communicate was the fact that Ethan had the right to decide for himself – a film critic can easily interpret the final burst of laughter “at his joy of being alive!”

Meanwhile, the raging debate on euthanasia will continue for a long time to come...even if we really do NOT have the right to die….!

25th March, 2014



Friday, May 01, 2015


ON BEING A JOSEPH TODAY!
-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*

It’s ‘May Day’! The world today celebrates and recognises the role and importance of the ordinary worker particularly those who labour unceasingly and in very hidden ways in order that our world keeps moving.  It is also a day on which since 1955, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, someone who was not only entrusted with the responsibility of being the guardian of the Child Jesus and the husband of Mary, but a person who laboured as a carpenter in skill which did not only his family proud but gave a new meaning to the dignity of work.

What then does St. Joseph the Worker signify for our complicated and problematic world? There is not much written about him in the Bible but from the little that there is about him, one can with conviction surmise the following characteristics of the great human being:

Just
If there is one overriding quality which sums up Joseph is the fact that “he was a just man”.  He was perceived as a righteous person and for the Hebrew people “righteousness” was one of the chief attributes given to God. It symbolises a high degree of virtuousness and integrity with the underlying assumption that this person will never be a source of injustice to anyone. It is the ultimate state of moral perfection required by God to enter heaven. Joseph epitomised this.

Obedient
There is no doubt like his wife Mary, Joseph was also able to say a whole-hearted ‘yes’ to the will of God. He was obedient to the core. The obedience of Joseph was always the outcome of a process of discernment: his courage to be open and to listen to the angel of the Lord telling him to accept Mary as his wife or to relocate his family to Egypt. His obedience was a cheerful one never looking back after he put his hand on the plough.

Sincere
Sincerity is synonymous with holiness: the USP of Joseph.  His love for Mary and Jesus was genuine. He cared for them with total commitment. As a carpenter, he was well-known.  The fact that people had to quip “is he not the carpenter’s son?” speaks volumes. They would certainly not have done so if Joseph was a scoundrel or somebody who could exploit them. His unassuming bearing certainly added weightage to his sincerity.

Exemplary
As a child growing up, Jesus certainly needed a role model. His mother was an obvious one. Joseph could not be a distant second because he complemented Mary. Artistic impressions of St. Joseph show us how he fondly carries the baby Jesus; there are several other paintings which show Jesus studiously learning from his father in the workshop.  When Jesus was lost and Mary and Joseph went in search of him and find him in the temple, we are also told that Jesus returns with them to Nazareth where he continued to be under their authority – nurtured by example.

Prudent
The ancient Greeks and Christian philosophers like Thomas Aquinus considered prudence as a ‘cause, measure and form of all virtues’- in fact the mother of all virtues. Prudence implies practical wisdom and Joseph is a terrific example of a prudent person. The Gospels do not record a single word of St. Joseph.  He chose to be discreet but yet we know that he walked the talk in no uncertain ways.                                                                            

Humble
The humility of Joseph is legendary. It is not easy for an old man betrothed to a young maiden to find her pregnant before marriage. It is not easy to go from door to door asking for room and to be turned away. It is not easy to offer to the ones you love so much the squalor and stink of a miserable stable.  It is not easy to leave all you have and flee with your family to an unknown land yet Joseph accepted all this and more because he was truly a humble man.

As we celebrate St. Joseph the Worker today, let us pray that each one of us do all we can to be Just, Obedient, Sincere, Exemplary, Prudent and Humble

May 1st, 2015

(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)

Address: ‘PRASHANT’, Hill Nagar, Near Saffron Hotel, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052

Phone: (079) 27455913, 66522333 Fax:  (079) 27489018  Email: sjprashant@gmail.com  www.humanrightsindia.in

Thursday, April 30, 2015

NGOs and agrarian crises by Kuldip Nayar (The Statesman April 30th 2015)


THE STATESMAN
30APR2015
NGOs and agrarian crises
Kuldip Nayar
It is unfortunate that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is harassing and hounding NGOs. Probably, the party’s leaders do not realise that many of their members were once themselves part of NGOs. When the Jana Sangh merged into the Janata Party after successfully resisting the authoritarian rule of Mrs Indira Gandhi, they were part of the struggle to uphold human rights, which the then ruling Congress Party had trampled upon mercilessly. How can those very people be anti NGO now?
Accounts of voluntary organisations are audited and checked by the Finance Ministry on a regular basis. All foreign funds come through official channels. There is little scope for any hanky-panky. The change of procedure is nothing but harassment. Prior government sanction means endless waiting for the funds urgently needed in the fields where the activists work.
I am surprised how the BJP has forgotten the Gandhi Peace Foundation was hauled over the coals after Mrs Gandhi came to power in 1980. The then Jana Sangh workers were chastised unnecessarily. The BJP is only a new avatar of the Jana Sangh, which took part in movements for the assertion of individuals’ right to liberty and free speech.
I know both Teesta Setelvad and Javed Anand. They enjoy an impeccable reputation for integrity. Their relentless fight against communal forces is the bright chapter in the annals of secularism. That the BJP is tilting towards Hindu ideology is unfortunate, to say the least. But that does not mean those who are fighting against parochialism to underline the secular spirit of our Constitution should be getting the wrong end of the stick.
After winning freedom, the constituent assembly discussed many forms of governance. But what came to be supported by all sections of the society was a secular polity. To undo that would mean mocking at the sacrifices which millions of people made to establish a democratic, secular republic.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was reportedly behind the Gujarat riots which killed thousands of Muslims, has himself realised the futility of dividing the society on religious basis. It is a healthy development that Modi himself now publicly says: sab ka sarkar, sab ka vikas (Everybody’s government for everybody’s progresses). Unthinkingly some BJP members, who are under the influence of the RSS, are picking on members of minority communities and going to the extent of vandalising churches or indulging in conversions in the name of ghar wapsi .
Modi should intervene at some stage to stop them from bringing a bad name to India which is admired for its spirit of tolerance and sense of accommodation. I remember a Jews’ delegation calling on me when I was India’s High Commissioner at London. The delegates wanted to convey their gratefulness for the tolerance India had come to signify.
They said that it was the only country in the world where Jews had never faced any kind of discrimination. At that time New Delhi had not given recognition to Israel. Still they did not make any issue of it. What is disconcerting is that secularism which should have deepened its roots by this time has failed to do so. India has developed economically as it should have in the last 68 years since independence.
Maybe, rapid economic development is the answer. In this context, the backwardness of villages testifies to our failure. Farmers are the backbone of India’s economy. But they are suffering the most. Their countrywide suicides indicate that the benefits of production have not reached them. Even a basic amenity like clean drinking water is a mirage.
Another farmer has committed suicide in the well-off state of Maharashtra. He is the ninth since March. The news from other states is too distressing. The farmer cannot afford the rising cost of production at the farm. After a farmer from Rajasthan committed suicide at a public meeting in New Delhi, I thought that his death would touch the respondent chord and the nation would focus its attention on how to improve the plight of the farmers. I must admit that I was wrong. There was a furore in parliament all right. Prime Minister Modi too expressed his grief. Yet, it was business as usual soon after. The farmer was forgotten. I have not been able to draw up a blueprint on how to improve the farmer’s lot.
In fact, the introduction of land acquisition bill in parliament showed that the corporate sector has had its way. The concerns of the farmers, a pre-requisite, have been dropped. The matter has been pushed into the background. Even the opposition's march, led by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, is an event of the distant past. I do not have to remind that some 67 per cent of the people in the country depend on fields which are increasingly becoming killing fields.
Showing preference to the corporate sector, which no doubt provides jobs, will be against the ethos of the freedom struggle. Mahatma Gandhi focused attention on people in rural areas and moved from a bustling city to a small place, Wardha, which later became an important town in the country. NGOs are carrying on the work of the Mahatma. The sanction to some 900 NGOs has been withdrawn because they have not kept accounts properly. The purpose of auditing their accounts should be to see whether there is an overall pilferage of funds.
Expecting them to maintain accounts is not wrong. But checking even the last paisa spent is asking for a little too much because these activists are engaged in day to day work at the grassroots level. The task which Teesta and Anand have embarked upon may not be to the liking of the ruling party because ideologically they are poles apart. One stands for a composite society while the other is engaged in a task which is divisive. Both cannot coexist. Freedom was won for a secular democratic society and the society should stay with that purpose.

Pope Francis Steps Up Campaign on Climate Change, to Conservatives’ Alarm

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Pope Francis is to deliver an encyclical this summer on how climate change affects the poor.CreditAndreas Solaro/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
WASHINGTON — Since his first homily in 2013, Pope Francis has preached about the need to protect the earth and all of creation as part of a broad message on the environment. It has caused little controversy so far.
But now, as Francis prepares to deliver what is likely to be a highly influential encyclical this summer on environmental degradation and the effects of human-caused climate change on the poor, he is alarming some conservatives in the United States who are loath to see the Catholic Church reposition itself as a mighty voice in a cause they do not believe in.
As part of the effort for the encyclical, top Vatican officials will hold a summit meeting Tuesday to build momentum for a campaign by Francis to urge world leaders to enact a sweeping United Nations climate changeaccord in Paris in December. The accord would for the first time commit every nation to enact tough new laws to cut the emissions that cause global warming.
The Vatican summit meeting will focus on the links between poverty, economic development and climate change, with speeches and panel discussions by climate scientists and religious leaders, and economists like Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia. The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, who is leading efforts to forge the Paris accord, will deliver the opening address.
Vatican officials, who have spent more than a year helping Francis prepare his message, have convened several meetings already on the topic. Last month, they met with the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy.
In the United States, the encyclical will be accompanied by a 12-week campaign, now being prepared with the participation of some Catholic bishops, to raise the issue of climate change and environmental stewardship in sermons, homilies, news media interviews and letters to newspaper editors, said Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant in Washington.
But the effort is already angering a number of American conservatives, among them members of the Heartland Institute, a libertarian group partly funded by the Charles G. Koch Foundation, run by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, who oppose climate policy.
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“The Holy Father is being misled by ‘experts’ at the United Nations who have proven unworthy of his trust,” Joseph Bast, the president of theHeartland Institute, said in a statement. “Though Pope Francis’ heart is surely in the right place, he would do his flock and the world a disservice by putting his moral authority behind the United Nations’ unscientific agenda on the climate.”
The institute plans to hold a news conference and panel event in Rome on Tuesday in protest of the Vatican summit meeting.
But climate policy advocates see a scheduled address by the pope to Congress in September as a potent moment — about 30 percent of members of Congress are Catholics, more than belong to any other religion, according to a study published this year by the Pew Research Center.
Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, invited the pope to speak to Congress, but some Catholics say that Mr. Boehner should prepare for some uncomfortable moments. Mr. Boehner, who is Catholic, has often criticized the Obama administration for what he calls its “job killing” environmental agenda.
“I think Boehner was out of his mind to invite the pope to speak to Congress,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, an analyst at the National Catholic Reporter. “Can you imagine what the Republicans will do when he says, ‘You’ve got to do something about global warming’? ”
In addition, a number of Catholics — including Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie and Rick Santorum — are gearing up to compete for the Republican presidential nomination, and most of them question the science of human-caused climate change.
Several conservative Catholic intellectuals who expect the pope’s message to bolster the vast majority of scientists who hold that climate change is induced by human activity, including Robert P. George, a Princeton law professor, have published articles reminding Catholics that papal pronouncements on science are not necessarily sound or binding.
Maureen Mullarkey, a painter and writer, said in the conservative journalFirst Things that “Francis sullies his office by using demagogic formulations to bully the populace into reflexive climate action with no more substantive guide than theologized propaganda.”
Timothy E. Wirth, vice chairman of the United Nations Foundation, said: “We’ve never seen a pope do anything like this. No single individual has as much global sway as he does. What he is doing will resonate in the government of any country that has a leading Catholic constituency.”
Francis, however, is not the first pope to push an environmental message. His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, called the “green pope” by some, wrote about the environment and the impact of climate change in documents that have been collected in a book, “The Environment.” But Catholic and climate policy experts acknowledge that those works had little substantive impact on global warming policy.
Francis’ policy moves on climate change, particularly his use of the encyclical, go far beyond what has come before. Catholics point to other papal encyclicals that have had public policy impacts: Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical on labor and workers’ rights is believed to have spurred the workers’ rights movement and led to the creation of labor unions.
“I think this moves the needle,” said Charles J. Reid Jr., a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. “Benedict was an ivory-tower academic. He wrote books and hoped they would persuade by reason. But Pope Francis knows how to sell his ideas. He is engaged in the marketplace.”
Francis, who chose the name of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment, has had far more influence on the church and public. Born in Argentina, Francis draws cheering crowds from around the world and millions of followers to his social media accounts. He has been embraced for his humility, antipoverty agenda, progressive statements on social issues and efforts to reform the Vatican bureaucracy.
This month he said in a Twitter post: “We need to care for the earth so that it may continue, as God willed, to be a source of life for the entire human family.”
The pope’s influence on the Paris climate accord may be strongest in Latin America. In past years, Latin American countries have resisted efforts to enact climate policy, arguing that developing economies should not have to cut emissions while developed economies continue to pollute.
But over the past year, some Latin American governments have signaled a willingness to step forward on climate policy, and this year Mexico became one of the first nations to submit a plan ahead of the Paris talks.
“This pope is more than just a church leader — he is a political leader, particularly in Latin America,” said Romina Picolotti, president of theCenter for Human Rights and Environment in Argentina. “Youth in Latin America are really following him closely.”