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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Poem: Irish Blessing

May the blessed light be on you, light without and light within.

May the blessed sunlight shine on you and warm your heart until it glows like a great fire.

So that a stranger may come and warm himself at it, and also a friend.

May God always bless you, love you, and keep you.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Spirituality: Miguel Pro

Excerpt from a letter by Jesuit Blessed Miguel Augustin Pro (1891-1927) from the "Supplement to the Divine Office for the Society of Jesus":

Nonetheless, the people are in dire need of spiritual assistance. Every day I hear of persons dying without the sacraments; there are no priests who confront the situation; they keep away due to either obedience or fear. To do my little bit may be dangerous if I do it the way I have so far; but I do not think it temerity to do it with discretion and within certain limits. My superior is dead scared and always thinks that, out of two possibilities, the worse is bound to happen. I dare say there is a middle way between temerity and fear, as there is between extreme prudence and rashness. I have pointed this out to the superior but he always fears for my life. But what is my life? Would I not gain it if I lost for my brothers and sisters? True, we do not have to give it away stupidly. But what are sons of Loyola for it they flee at the first flare?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Selections from the conclusion of "The First Jesuits" by John O'Malley, SJ

Leadership is a gift difficult to analyze, but it consists to a large extent in vision, in the ability to see how at a given juncture change is most consistent with one's scope than staying the course. It consists as well in the courage and self-possession required to make the actual decision to change to convince others of the validity and viability of the new direction. Such was Ignatius' vision and courage about the schools. He had another ability that is equally important for a leader. He could recognize and utilize talents that complimented his own.

According to Polanco, Ignatius possessed "in an uncommon degree certain natural gifts from God: great energy in undertaking extraordinary difficult tasks, great constancy in pursing them, and great prudence in seeing them to completion."

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Seventh Sunday in Easter

Seventh Sunday in Easter
June 1, 2014
Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:17-23; Matthew 28:16-20

On this Feast of the Ascension Pope Francis gives us memorable words and gestures from his recent trip to the Holy Lands. The motto for his trip, “that all may be one” comes from our readings for the Seventh Sunday in Easter, the prayer of protection commonly called ‘the priestly prayer.’ It communicates to the believers that God’s Spirit will protect the faithful after the period of time when the Risen Jesus is no longer physically on earth. The Ascension readings in Acts of the Apostles and Matthew’s Gospel are intended to encourage Christians to persevere during times when they have to rely upon their own spiritual resources to trust more fully in God.

Pope Francis boldly stands up for the causes that are right and just. Though cautionary words told us this was not a political trip, all actions are political and spiritual statements. We have seen many images of the Pope spontaneously stopping this motorcade to lean on and pray at that terrible wall of division along the route to Bethlehem. Walls of every type must come down if we are going to practice the “testimony of peace” Francis called for during the papal mass in Amman.

The Pope made grand gestures to our siblings of the Eastern churches in order to inch forward to the unity suggested in the readings: “That all may be one.” Petrine supremacy and other non-dogmatic practices do not have to hold us back from embracing our brothers and sisters in common faith. Our faith is strong enough to compromise on tightly held traditions for the sake of unity. He also made gestures to Jews to say “never again, never again” will we let our human hearts destroy human life and dignity. He embraced Muslims and honored tolerance and respect for other faiths, much of what is practiced in the kingdom of Jordan. He visited Al Aqsa mosque, the Dome of the Rock, the altar of sacrifice – a site holy to three major religions and declared this spot belongs to no one and to everyone and he beckoned that people challenge their long-held prejudicial beliefs with responsible maturity.

He calls for peace – an end to an unnecessary war in Syria and the extremists who sell weapons that perpetuate the cycle of violence and bloodshed. He holds many people accountable for participating in the war – even if it is from afar. Fundamental attitudes that respect and honor the sanctity of life and the common good need to be developed – through people who need to grow up and care for others instead of their self interests. His calls for peace extend to the people of the states of Palestine and Israel, a process to be continued in the Vatican next month. We join the pope in praying for peace.
The work of peace, justice, and mercy cannot come about only by prayer, though it is a necessary ingredient. Just like Jesus, the Pope came and left, but they both equipped us with enough resources to progress God’s work in the kingdom. We are not orphaned because the Spirit of God resides in our hearts. We need to release it from its protective shell and take the courageous risks Francis did during his visit. He was symbolically vocal and so we must be. We must make ourselves into a Christian presence where we work hard to bring glory to God. We cannot pray for peace in Syria, Palestine, Iraq or other parts of the troubled world if we hold onto serious grudges and offenses. Harboring anger in our hearts and letting it fester, failing to forgive or to understand, and a reluctance to move forward in vulnerability means that we deny the resurrection. Peace must be practiced daily where we become big enough men and women to move forward – onwards and upwards – towards a new day. Let us affirm the good work of the Pope. Let us affirm the resurrection and craft this new day of the Lord.

Let us try something different this week to show that we can be like the Apostles who were of common mind. Let us pray, not individually, but communally, for the sake of unity, peace, and justice. We need to pray together. Shake up your prayer style and be specific in your prayers. Actively ask others to pray with you and allow yourselves to be enriched by the ways we pray, and then ask the Spirit to guide you to glorify Jesus Christ through your actions. The hour of Jesus has already come; Let us pray that this is our hour. Our time has come to embrace and affirm the power of his resurrection.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: Paul goes to Ephesus to introduce believers to the Holy Spirit. Paul recounts the ways he served the Lord with humility, tears and trials, but he returns to an uncertain fate in Jerusalem. As Paul says goodbye, he urges them to keep watch over each other and to be vigilant about those who pervert the truth of the Gospel. Paul is brought to trial. The Pharisees and Sadducees are sharply divided; armed forces are sent to rescue Paul from their midst. The Lord tells Paul he must go to Rome and be faithful there just as he was faithful in Jerusalem. King Agrippa hears Paul's case and determines Paul is to be tried in Jerusalem, but Paul, as a Roman citizen, appeals for the Emperor's decision.

Gospel: The disciples realize Jesus is returning to the Father and that he is strengthening them for the time he is away. Jesus prays for the safety of those given to him by God. He wants them to be safe as they testify to God's steadfastness in a harsh world. He prays for unity, "so that they may be one just as we are one." He consecrates them to the truth and wards off the Evil One. He also prays for those given to him through the testimony of others. The love Jesus and the Father share is available to future disciples. ~ After the Farewell Discourse ends, Jesus appears at the seashore with Simon Peter who professes his three-fold love of Jesus. Jesus forgives him and asks him to take care of his people even though the authorities of this world will eventually have their day with him.

Saints of the Week

June 1: Justin, martyr (100-165), was a Samaritan philosopher who converted to Christianity and explained doctrine through philosophical treatises. His debating opponent reported him to the Roman authorities who tried him and when he refused to sacrifice to the gods, was condemned to death.

June 2: Marcellinus and Peter, martyrs (d. 304) died in Rome during the Diocletian persecution. Peter was an exorcist who ministered under the well-regarded priest, Marcellinus. Stories are told that in jail they converted their jailer and his family. These men are remembered in Eucharistic prayer I.

June 3: Charles Lwanga and 22 companion martyrs from Uganda (18660-1886) felt the wrath of King Mwanga after Lwanga and the White Fathers (Missionaries of Africa) censured him for his cruelty and immorality. The King determined to rid his kingdom of Christians. He persecuted over 100 Christians, but upon their death new converts joined the church.

June 5: Boniface, bishop and martyr (675-754), was born in England and raised in a Benedictine monastery. He became a good preacher and was sent to the northern Netherlands as a missionary. Pope Gregory gave him the name Boniface with an edict to preach to non-Christians. We was made a bishop in Germany and gained many converts when he cut down the famed Oak of Thor and garnered no bad fortune by the Norse gods. Many years later he was killed by non-Christians when he was preparing to confirm many converts. The church referred to him as the "Apostle of Germany."

June 6: Norbert, bishop (1080-1134), a German, became a priest after a near-death experience. He became an itinerant preacher in northern France and established a community founded on strict asceticism. They became the Norbertines and defended the rights of the church against secular authorities.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      Jun 1, 1527. Ignatius was thrown into prison after having been accused of having advised two noblewomen to undertake a pilgrimage, on foot, to Compostella.
·      Jun 2, 1566. The Professed House was opened in Toledo. It became well known for the fervor of its residents and the wonderful effects of their labors.
·      Jun 3, 1559. A residence at Frascati, outside of Rome, was purchased for the fathers and brothers of the Roman College.
·      Jun 4, 1667. The death in Rome of Cardinal Sforza Pallavicini, a man of great knowledge and humility. While he was Prefect of Studies of the Roman College he wrote his great work, The History of the Council of Trent.
·      Jun 5, 1546. Paul III, in the document Exponi Nobis, empowered the Society to admit coadjutors, both spiritual and temporal.
·      Jun 6, 1610. At the funeral of Henry IV in Paris, two priests preaching in the Churches of St Eustace and St Gervase denounced the Jesuits as accomplices in his death. This was due primarily to the book De Rege of Father Mariana.

·      Jun 7, 1556. Peter Canisius becomes the first provincial superior of the newly constituted Province of Upper Germany.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Spirituality: Teilhard de Chardin

It happens sometimes that someone who is pure of heart will discern in oneself, besides the happiness which brings peace to one’s individual desires and affections, a quite special joy, springing from a source outside oneself, which enfolds him/her in an immeasurable sense of well being. This is the flowing back into oneself diminutive personality of the new glow of health which Christ through his Incarnation has infused into humanity as a whole: in him, souls are gladdened with a feeling of warmth, for now they can live in communion with one another. They see with amazement that the monstrous multitude of human kind forms but one heart and one soul, indistinguishable from the Heart and Soul of Christ. But if they are to share in this joy and this vision they must first of all have had the courage to break through the narrow confines of their individuality, depersonalize themselves, so to speak, in order to become centered in Christ."

~~Writings in Time of War, p. 111

Monday, May 26, 2014

From "Jesus of Nazareth" by Gerhard Lohfink (Liturgical Press, p. 353)

Jesus does not portray a utopian "realm of freedom," but he leads those who follow him into freedom. He does not describe the condition in which all alienation will be miraculously overcome, but he says, "Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it" (Luke 9:24). This is how Jesus projects society under the rule of God. He sets no preconditions: the reign of God is already beginning; its powers are already at work; it gives a new way of being together, even a new society, but not one that needs to be dreamed up. It takes place in the daily companionship of the one table, in common discipleship, in daily reconciliation. It happens out of joy in what God is doing. And it is by no means the case that this coming of the reign of God happens purely within. No, sick people are being healed, demonic forces are being overcome, the hungry are being filled, and enemies are being reconciled.

What do I love? St. Catherine of Siena wrote that love transforms us into what we love. How I choose to direct my time and energy - at work or at home - will inevitably inform what I begin to desire, for good or ill. Even for Jesuits, it can be easy to get caught up looking for distractions in secondary things - new books, clothing or shoes; another vacation; the latest piece of technology. With free evenings, it can become easy to glut ourselves on food and drink, constant socializing or Netflix. In moderation, these things may help us to unwind and forget about work for a while. But as with all created things, they risk becoming idols that diffuse our good desires and weaken communal life and apostolic witness. Pope Francis, in a July 2013 address to seminarians, brothers and sisters in formation, cautioned about the danger of seeking joy in things:

"There is joy. But where is joy born? ... Some will say: joy is born from the things one has, and so, the search for the latest model of the smartphone, the fastest scooter, the car that attracts attention ... But I tell you, true joy doesn't come from things, from having, no! ... Joy is born from the gratuitousness of an encounter! And from hearing it said: 'You are important to me,' - not necessarily in words...

In calling us God says to us: 'You are important to me, I love you, I count on you.' Jesus says this to each one of us! Joy is born from here, the joy of the moment in which Jesus looked at me. To understand and to feel this is the secret of our joy. To feel loved by God, to feel that for Him we are not numbers, but persons; and to feel that it is He who calls us."

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Poem: "The Uses of Sorrow" by Mary Oliver

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I love once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

Translation in English of Pope Francis' homily at Amman International Stadium

May 24, 2014

“In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus promise the disciples: “I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Paraclete, to be with you forever” (Jn 14:16). The first Paraclete is Jesus himself; the other is the Holy Spirit.

We are not far from where the Holy Spirit descended with power on Jesus of Nazareth after his baptism by John in the River Jordan (cf. Mt 3:16). Today’s Gospel, and this place to which, by God’s grace, I have come as a pilgrim, invite us to meditate on the Holy Spirit and on all that he has brought about in Christ and in us. In a word, we can say that the Holy Spirit carries out three actions – he prepares, he anoints and he sends.

At the baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus to prepare him for his mission of salvation, the mission of one who is a Servant, humble and meek, ready to share and give himself completely. Yet the Holy Spirit, present from the beginning of salvation history, had already been at work in Jesus from the moment of his conception in the virginal womb of Mary of Nazareth, by bringing about the wondrous event of the Incarnation: “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, will overshadow you – the Angel said to Mary – and you will give birth to a son who will be named Jesus” (cf. Lk 1:35). The Holy Spirit had then acted in Simeon and Anna on the day of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple (cf. Lk 2:22). Both were awaiting the Messiah, and both were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Simeon and Anna, upon seeing the child, knew immediately that he was the one long awaited by the people. They gave prophetic expression to the joy of encountering the Redeemer and, in a certain sense, served as a preparation for the encounter between the Messiah and the people.

These various works of the Holy Spirit are part of a harmonious action, a sole divine plan of love. The mission of the Holy Spirit, in fact, is to beget harmony – he is himself harmony – and to create peace in different situations and between different people. Diversity of ideas and persons should not trigger rejection or prove an obstacle, for variety always enriches. So today, with fervent hearts, we invoke the Holy Spirit and ask him to prepare the path to peace and unity.

The Holy Spirit also anoints. He anointed Jesus inwardly and he anoints his disciples, so that they can have the mind of Christ and thus be disposed to live lives of peace and communion. Through the anointing of the Spirit, our human nature is sealed with the holiness of Jesus Christ and we are enabled to love our brothers and sisters with the same love which God has for us. We ought, therefore, to show concrete signs of humility, fraternity, forgiveness and reconciliation. These signs are the prerequisite of a true, stable and lasting peace. Let us ask the Father to anoint us so that we may fully become his children, ever more conformed to Christ, and may learn to see one another as brothers and sisters. Thus, by putting aside our grievances and divisions, we can show fraternal love for one another. This is what Jesus asks of us in the Gospel: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Paraclete, to be with you for ever” (Jn 14:15-16).

Lastly, the Holy Spirit sends. Jesus is the one who is sent forth, filled with the Spirit of the Father. Anointed by the same Spirit, we also are sent as messengers and witnesses of peace.
Peace is not something which can be bought; it is a gift to be sought patiently and to be “crafted” through the actions, great and small, of our everyday lives. The way of peace is strengthened if we realize that we are all of the same stock and members of the one human family; if we never forget that we have the same heavenly Father and are all his children, made in his image and likeness.
It is in this spirit that I embrace all of you: the Patriarch, my brother bishops and priests, the consecrated men and women, the lay faithful, and the many children who today make their First Holy Communion, together with their families. I also embrace with affection the many Christian refugees from Palestine, Syria and Iraq: please bring my greeting to your families and communities, and assure them of my closeness.

Dear friends! The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the Jordan and thus inaugurated his work of redemption to free the world from sin and death. Let us ask the Spirit to prepare our hearts to encounter our brothers and sisters, so that we may overcome our differences rooted in political thinking, language, culture and religion. Let us ask him to anoint our whole being with the oil of his mercy, which heals the injuries caused by mistakes, misunderstandings and disputes. And let us ask him to send us forth, in humility and meekness, along the demanding but enriching path of seeking peace.”

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Prayer: Teresa of Calcutta

Lord, open our eyes that we may see you in our brothers and sisters. Lord, open our ears that we may hear the cries of the hungry, the cold, the frightened, the oppressed. Lord, open our hearts that we may love each other as you love us. Renew in us your Spirit. Lord, free us and make us one.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Pope Francis to the bishops in Brazil during World Youth Day 2013:

Let us read once again, in this light, the story of Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:13-15). The two disciples have left Jerusalem. They are leaving behind the "nakedness" of God. They are scandalized by the failure of the Messiah in whom they had hoped and who now appeared utterly vanquished, humiliated, even after the third day (vv. 17-21). Here we have to face the difficult mystery of those people who leave the Church, who, under the illusion of alternative ideas, now think that the Church - their Jerusalem - can no longer offer them anything meaningful and important. So they set off on the road alone, with their disappointment.

Perhaps the Church appeared too weak, perhaps too distant from their needs, perhaps too poor to respond to their concerns, perhaps too cold, perhaps too caught up with itself, perhaps a prisoner of its own rigid formulas, perhaps the world seems to have made the Church a relic of the past, unfit for new questions; perhaps the Church could speak to people in their infancy but not to those come of age. It is a fact that nowadays there are many people like the two disciples of Emmaus; not only those looking for answers in the new religious groups that are sprouting up, but also those who already seem godless, both in theory and in practice.

Faced with this situation, what are we to do?

We need a Church unafraid of going forth into their night. We need a Church capable of meeting them on their way. We need a Church capable of entering into their conversation. We need a Church able to dialogue with those disciples who, having left Jerusalem behind, are wandering aimlessly, alone, with their own disappointment, disillusioned by a Christianity now considered barren, fruitless soil; incapable of generating meaning.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Pastor Reflects on the Pope's Visit

As pastor of the largest Roman Catholic parish in the Kingdom of Jordan, I reflect upon the significance of the visit of Pope Francis to the Holy Lands. Whether it is due to poor marketing or lack of national historical consciousness, Jordan is often overlooked by pilgrims and tourists who set their sights solely upon Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Galilee. As one who has lived in the Kingdom for the past two years, I have discovered that Jordan is the holy land of the Old Testament while also bearing witness to many New Testament events. Jordan is far more than the desert sands of Lawrence of Arabia.

The English-language parish has no special building, but its religious services are offered in Latin-Rite parish churches convenient to the areas of the city in which English-speaking Catholics live and work. The host pastors of these churches provide facilities for the services, but the English-Language Pastor is responsible for the conduct of worship and all other aspects of parish life for those native-born and immigrant Roman Catholics who choose to participate in the parish.

            The composition of the large English-speaking community is racially diverse, culturally rich, and extremely complex. Many parishioners are native Jordanians or from parts of the Middle East who choose to worship in this community. Many are ambassadors and visiting dignitaries, embassy workers and professors, business owners and government officials; others are housemaids, clerks, and restaurant and factory workers. A large number are Filipino, and a growing number of immigrants are not. The needs are as diverse as every person’s situation, but all seek to find something good in their church and in worshiping with a rich and beautiful tradition.

The English-speaking community is one that is growing. While Arab Christians are thought to be diminishing in number, the influx of new Catholics maintains steady growth and most of these immigrants are English-speaking. These new immigrants to the kingdom are reshaping the local mission of the church; therefore the parish is placed in a situation where it needs to explore new ways of responding to these continued challenges. The increased influx of Africans and Indians poses pastoral opportunities, and the church can be helpful in connecting these populations to adequate pastoral, social, legal, or cultural resources. Furthermore, the American presence is increasing substantially as Jordan is considered a family-friendly venue for embassy work.

A very major concern for is finding creative ways to reach out to the many immigrants who are often unable to come to Mass because of their employers’ restrictions. Many English-speaking immigrants reside in areas outside of Amman, like Irbid, Zarqa, Madaba, and the Dead Sea. More than 40,000 immigrants reside in the kingdom and only 1,500 are able to attend weekly worship services. Every person has the right to pray, but often the freedom to worship publicly is restricted, mostly by individual employers. The spiritual dimension of each Christian needs to be developed.

The questions around immigrant issues remain complex and at some point the church needs to discern new ways of providing religious support for these Catholics. The diversity of nationalities, class and educational levels, socialization abilities, employment and legal matters are extreme and new models need to be evaluated. Resources are available and we have to use them in different ways.

Integrating the mindset of our Arabic-speaking hosts with the immigrant church will bring about a celebration of common faith. Together, we are one church, even though we may speak different languages and hold different customs and traditions. We want to build upon a foundation of shared Christian values, such as dignity, hospitality, and love of one another – fellow Christians valued equally as an essential part of our local church to which we belong.

Hoped For Effects of the Pope’s Visit

The visit of Pope Francis carries a celebrity status to it. There is no doubt that the Pope has had an enormous effect upon the religious imagination of the faithful and the public. His visit creates great enthusiasm for Christian, Muslim, and non-believers alike. He brings a kind of “spectacle Catholicism,” where everyone wants to be able to claim they had their special moment with the Pope.

As pastor, I see the silent contentment of a few who are very pleased that the Pope is making this special visit because they know that he brings the words of Jesus Christ to them. I also see those who clamor for special privileges and rights to have access to the Pope and the Royal Court. Parents tell me their children are now ready for First Communion even though they have not attended any classes or have been home-schooled all year long. Others tell me it is time to have their child baptized at the Jordan River because relatives are flying in from far away places for this special moment. I certainly understand the desire for that once-in-a-lifetime moment, but I would also like to use these events as educational opportunities that teach more about the faith. I want to preserve the church’s integrity and help people realize the sacred event that is happening regardless of the Pope’s visit.

            I do not fault the people because I know of their need of a savior. For many, life is difficult in a tribal, patriarchal society that both protects and represses individuals. Christians are a minority, but not an oppressed one, even though the legal system of property transference mitigates against them. Christians are free to worship, but the wider cultural constraints shackle them. Their practice of faith is to sit obediently in church, pray their beads, practice devotionals, and make sure they get back to church the following Sunday. Development of one’s prayer life or one’s sense of participation in church simply does not happen except for a few remarkable individuals. The people seek for a greater understanding because the homilies they hear do not address the challenging situations of their daily life. The faithful seek a voice they can trust.

            What are the possible consequences of the Pope’s visit? He can begin the process of bringing unity between the Eastern and Roman churches. His visit is on the occasion of Pope Paul VI’s meeting with Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem fifty years ago. He will meet with Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople in an effort to reconcile and heal. In my recent trip to Istanbul, Turkey, one of the Hagia Sophia guides claim that the Orthodox church has still not forgiven the Roman church for withholding military support of Constantinople against the Ottoman Turks. The majestic, most powerful Christian city in the world fell to the hands of Islamic invaders while Rome’s involvement would have tipped the balance in favor of Christianity.

            The average person does not know the theological differences between the Orthodox and the Latin churches. They know the Orthodox use an imprecise lunar (Julian) calendar and have stricter fasts during Lent. They know Latin Catholics cannot receive holy Eucharist in their church, but the Orthodox may receive at the Latin Table of the Lord. It seems to everyone that unity can be achieved if it were not for the question of the loss of authority, prestige, and honor.

            A second goal is to promote peace in Syria and the Middle East, which includes the troublesome conflict between Israel and Palestine. The proxy war being waged in Syria among extremists has displaced nearly four million refugees. Diplomats are stymied that the peace process hits far too many obstacles thereby damaging any hope for statesman-like progress. A new world order can only come about when the people and their leaders choose to practice peace, which comes about through a conversion of hearts. Presently, these hearts are hardened and only a wise leader who can lead others to trust in their God can turns these hearts of stones to ones of flesh.

            As a consequence to the above-stated goal, dialogue with other faiths may be jumpstarted. Within Jordan, Christians coexist with Muslims and King Abdullah has visited the Pope in Rome three times. Mutual respect between the leaders helps create a tolerant, accepting climate. The Islamic community sees the Pope as a kindly man, a man they can trust. His words and actions inspire them and they speak of him with great affection. Interfaith dialogue and cooperation means nothing unless Muslims and Christians can eat meals with one another, to socialize and to learn about each other’s family lives. The most sensible way to approach this shared enrichment is to respond to the needs of the poor, to promote the common good, and to work for peace.

            A more challenging endeavor is to create a safe environment for Christians within Israel and Jerusalem. In the lead-up to the Pope’s visit, Jewish extremists have desecrated Christian holy sites and there is real fear that Israel will become a Jewish state, thereby forcing Christians to become second- or third-class inhabitants. Muslim Palestinians are often in the news because of the continuous hostile conflict, but very few people hear of the silent plight of the diminishing Christian community.

            The church hopes that Pope Francis will encourage Christians to rightly claim their Christian identity and to forge a joyful life in a land that is rightfully theirs to share with others. Baghdad, Iraq has seen a mass migration of their Christians to the northern lands of the Kurds or they have repatriated to other safer countries. The Copts in Egypt face destruction of property and livelihood during a time of great instability. Syrian Christians have fled to Lebanon. The church is in great danger of becoming an underground church because the larger world remains hostile to their presence.

The immigrant community that feeds the infrastructure of the Middle East are domestic maids, construction workers, restaurant staff, gardeners, and trash collectors. Pope Francis wants to speak to them words of hope and concern for he shows solidarity with the crucified peoples of the world. They await his words of hope, freedom, and joy and they want to live the values he outlines for the world, but it remains a world of danger.

This Pope has star power and many know that he points them to the mind and heart of God. He is not the Savior. He is not the Christ. He is not God. He is, however, an extraordinary leader who can point both the people and their leaders in the right direction. He can establish a relationship that endures so that he can lead a people who live in darkness to a place of new light and hope. In the end, he will endear himself to us and will give us a glimpse of joy – that God has not forgotten all God’s people (Muslim, Jew, or Christian), and that God wants a better world for us. So, we bask that the divine is smiling favorably upon us.