Thursday, September 30, 2010

Religious Liberty and Islam

By Auxiliary Bishop Rutilio del Riego
Diocese of San Bernardino

On September 11 we marked the 9th anniversary of the terrorist attack that killed close to 3,000 people, injured thousands more and destroyed the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York City. This crime against humanity was executed by people who professed to do this terrible act in the name of God. All of them were Muslims. From the first moment after the attack, the U. S. President and practically every official and religious leader expressed their conviction that this was not a crime committed by all Muslims and that Islam was a religion of peace.

The relationship between Americans with Muslims in the U.S. since then has been respectful for the most part and even cooperative. However, in the last few months new unrelated issues to the September 11 attack have poisoned the nature of the relationship; from this development, no one has gained, except perhaps the radicals who claim Islam and can interpret this in the worst possible light.

The proposed construction of an Islamic Center (The Cordova House) in Manhattan two blocks from what we call Ground Zero has been the main cause of this difficult situation. Another irritant has been the proposed burning of the Quran by Rev. Terry Jones, Pastor of Gainesville’s Dove Center Church in Florida. Furthermore, in several cities people have protested the building of new mosques, including one in our diocese in the City of Temecula.

What should be our attitude as Catholics when confronted with this issue? As with other issues the Church has a moral and religious perspective and does not engage in political posturing. Our view as Catholics is based on the teachings of Christ and on the tradition and interpretation of those teachings by the Catholic Church. In the Declaration on the Relation of the Catholic Church To Non-Christian Religious, the Second Vatican Council says “The Church has [also] a high regard for the Muslims…The Sacred Council …urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding; for the benefit of all men, let them together preserve and promote peace, liberty, social justice and moral values.”

One principle that Jews, Muslims and Christians hold in common is that we should not do to others what we don’t want to be done to us. In our history, Catholics have been denied religious freedom because of our faith. This has happened in our country and in many other countries in the world under different systems of government, especially communist regimes. We maintain that Muslims have a right to worship freely and peacefully. We maintain also that, like all of us, they have a right to build cultural and religion centers respecting always the laws of the country and the local building regulations.

As I have for the past several years, I was again honored in September to attend the Islamic Center of Riverside’s annual Iftar Dinner, held during their holy month of Ramadan. It is always an opportunity to exchange dialogue and goodwill with the local Muslim community and leaders of other faith traditions. It is a good reminder that we have much in common.

As for the building of the Islamic Center on a place so close to where the terrorist attacks caused such human carnage, we believe there should be consultation and dialogue to reach a consensus as to whether building on this location offends the legitimate sensibilities of the relatives of those who were killed on 9/11. As for the insane proposition that Qurans be burned, we are very relieved that it did not happen. There was absolutely no reason for such a savage and hateful action, not in the twenty-first century and not in the name of a Christian Church, of the Christian faith.

As the Church of Christ, we are called to be signs and instruments of peace, reconciliation and justice. We think this way because we believe that this is the best contribution the Catholic Church can make to the building of a world in peace. We believe this is what Jesus, the Reconciler and the Prince of Peace, would want his followers to do.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Time to put capital punishment on the radar

By John Andrews, Director
Department of Communications

Last night before bed I read an interview with Sister Helen Prejean, as passionate and convincing an advocate against capital punishment as I have heard.

Then when I came to work this morning I read about the execution of Teresa Lewis in Virginia by lethal injection. Later I watched a report on CNN that a federal judge’s ruling Friday clears the way for the first execution in California in four years. It would take place in the newly constructed “death chamber” at San Quentin Prison.

There’s a lot of talk these days about the involvement of the Catholic Church in issues of government and policy. Is it too much? Not enough? Our response is that when policy has a moral dimension we are obligated to weigh in or, more than that, to proclaim our Gospel values in the public square.

Many of us are drawn to speak out on issues related to our Catholic belief in the dignity of every human life, be it abortion, physician-assisted suicide or even immigration in a slightly different sense. These issues ignite intense discussion around dinner tables and water coolers, in the cyber world and in the media. We’re thinking and talking about these issues, and we should.

By comparison, capital punishment is hardly on the radar.

We call our law enforcement personnel “peacekeepers,” we teach our children, in word anyway, that violence is not acceptable, and we want our legal system to ensure a peaceful society through civilized means. Yet when we employ our laws to execute people in publicly-funded “death chambers,” this sends an entirely different message. It says that the ultimate act of violence is a perfectly acceptable way to solve our problems.

This, of course, couldn’t be further from what we believe as Catholics – the love and mercy of Jesus, the availability of God’s grace to all and, yes, the dignity of every human life.

I offer two suggestions,

1) Read Sr. Prejean’s interview at:

http://www.thesunmagazine.org/issues/416/and_justice_for_all

2) Put this issue of capital punishment on your radar.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Faith-driven morality is always present in our laws

By Ted Furlow, Director
Office of Pastoral Planning

With the passage of healthcare and fi­nancial reform, attention in Washington may now return to the issue of meaningful changes in the immigration laws. With this shift in attention, comes the potential for a renewed national debate over the nature of political action versus moral action…a search for coherence in the voice from the public square and the voice from the pew.

For some, the truth on issues like immi­gration has become a strict constructionist interpretation of the law, absent any sense or consideration of a moral imperative. While we should support the law, what we risk in ignoring its moral implication is de­veloping the narrow view that enshrined “Jim Crow” laws into the sensibilities of the South for generations of destructive bigotry.

Those who believe that there is an im­penetrable wall between church and state would do well to revisit their history books. Rousseau, whose political thought perme­ated the new American polity, introduced the notion of civil religion in his work, The Social Contract wherein he outlined the simple dogma of a belief in God, a life to come, the rewards of virtue and the pun­ishment of vice, and the exclusion of re­ligious intolerance. Our founding fathers were deeply invested in this sense of civil religion, their understanding of God and the presence of their faith is evident in our founding documents.

Many of the percepts of Jeffersonian democracy are found in the Declaration of Independence, in which Jefferson en­shrined the famous phrase that defines American polity, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal… endowed by their creator with cer­tain unalienable rights.”

The right of all men, granted to them by their creator is a concept that framed the American experiment in democracy for John Courtney Murray, a preeminent American Catholic theologian of the mid-twentieth century. Murray offered that the strength of democracy rested in a moral consensus rooted in those transcendent rights. Because he felt that the moral con­sensus was foundational to democracy, Murray believed that substantive and civil dialogue within the American society on key issues was necessary for democracy’s survival. As an active participant in the moral consensus, the Church has long held a seat in that dialogue, with its moral and social teaching providing point and coun­ter point in the formation of democratic thought. The discussion is not just a re­quirement of faithful citizenship; it is an obligation of moral leadership.

Locally, the increasing presence of non-English speakers in church communities has been a simmering issue. An example is a recent article in the San Bernardino Sun, which detailed the disaffection of some members at a local parish over the influx and a displacement caused by Spanish speakers, and the changes that they have made in the long term patterns of worship and social life. The shift from carnivals to fiestas, to culturally important feast days, and to foreign language masses, may not seem the stuff of obstacle to some, but to those who view constancy, and habit of practice as faith, it is unsettling.

This sense of the loss of place will un­doubtedly be exacerbated by the upcom­ing results of the current Census 2010. By any prediction, the numbers should show a significant increase of Hispanic popula­tion in our diocese, segueing them into the largest demographic block in the two coun­ties. The image of predominantly Anglo, English speaking demographic dominance is about to dissipate in the face of change, and in that change, perhaps a new defini­tion will emerge of what it means to be a minority.


A political and moral discussion is about to be renewed, and each of us will have to find someplace reasoned to stand in the dialogue that follows. Perhaps a safe place will be within the words of the Holy Father who, preaching from Castle Gandolfo in early July, recalled the words found in chapter 10 of Luke, “Who is my neighbor?” According to Jesus, our neighbor is anyone in need, especially the most marginalized. It is a good beginning, and a place to stand in Murray’s “civil dialogue”.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The day I crossed the line – for peace

By Jeannette Arnquist
Director, Ministry of Life Dignity and Justice

Back in June I referred to spending the night on the floor of a county jail, and I promised to tell the story of how I got there.

Remember the US Bishops 1983 Pastoral “The Challenge of Peace?” I found the document deeply moving and highly motivating. I realize that already puts me in a rather small category of people, those who seek out Church documents and actually read them. I seriously began looking for ways to make a difference. At the time, the world was dangerously close to nuclear war. The experience of being a parent and the passionate desire to see a future for my children and really, all children, drove me to seek out communities of people who were working for peace.

I was drawn to Nevada Desert Experience and the prayerful activities and non-violent actions they sponsored around Nevada Test Site. I participated in these activities for quite a while before I felt called to commit civil disobedience.

On August 6, 1986, the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, I crossed the line with a couple hundred other people. We were too numerous for the local jails, so we were shipped out to county jails all over Nevada. I and 23 other women were transported to Tonopah. We arrived at the jail in the middle of the night and we tried to get some sleep on the floor.

The next day 18 of us were moved to a two bedroom, one bathroom apartment fitted out with cots –wall to wall cots. We had an armed guard at all times. They took our clothing and possessions and issued us jail uniforms designed for men. Mine was size 46L. Meals were brought in to us – that was the time when ketchup was designated as a vegetable and a pickle counted for greens. During the day we had a choice of working in the animal shelter or the cemetery.

When we returned to our quarters, we all wanted a shower and a chance to wash our uniforms, so we would be fresh for the next day. We created a lottery for the shower with time limits. After we got clean, we changed into togas made from our sheets and washed our uniforms in the bath tub. In the desert heat it was no problem for them to dry over night on the fence.

We spent six days together, during which time we formed relationships and community. Most of us were Catholics, but not all. There were several Sisters. Many of the women had been working for peace all of their professional lives. Others were like me. We prayed together daily and shared our stories and had long discussions. We wrote articles and songs. The experience was very formative for me in that I learned that very ordinary people – people like myself -- could find ways to work for the transformation of the world, as well as the transformation of ourselves. I learned that “fighting for peace” is a contradiction; that (to paraphrase Gandhi) we must become the change we seek.