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Happy Feast Day of St. Therese!
The Art of Accompaniment in Faith Formation
Helping Children Understand the Mystery and Meaning of Jesus' Death and Resurrection
Experiencing Lent at Every Age: A Developmental Guide to Lenten Practices
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Sharing Catholic Faith

Social Justice

Talking with Children about The Worldwide Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace

In response to the recent conversation about Syria, Pope Francis has proclaimed Saturday, September 7th as a day of fasting and prayer for peace. The Holy Father has also made a number of statements expressing his concern over the use of chemical weapons and also reminding us that it is our responsibility as Christians to find peaceful ways to resolve conflicts whenever possible. While we don’t expect children to understand the complexities of issues like chemical weapons, international law and military intervention in conflicts in other nations, current events provide an opportunity to dialogue with them about Catholic teaching on war and conflict resolution.

"War never again! Never again war!" Pope Francis posted these words to his account on Twitter in the midst of the debate concerning Syria. While there might sometimes be just reasons for considering military intervention, our primary goal should always be to find peaceful means of resolving conflicts. The pope also sent the following message: “"We want a peaceful world, we want to be men and women of peace." In talking with our children, let us reflect on what it means to be people of peace in our own daily lives. Here are some questions for reflection with children:

• Do I pray for my enemies, as Jesus told us to do?
• When I have a disagreement with someone, do I look for ways to make it better?
• Do I stop to pray, asking the Holy Spirit to help me choose how to work things out peacefully?
• Do I take time to calm myself down so I can make a good (and prudent) decision? 
• Do I talk things through and avoid physical violence?

Being a people of peace can sometimes be counter-cultural. To be peaceful people means “going against the flow.” Pope Francis says, “"We want in our society, torn apart by divisions and conflict, that peace break out!" Le us all resolve, on this worldwide day of prayer and fasting, to “let peace break out” in our families, our schools, and communities. Let us all say together, “Let it begin with me.”

National Migration Week

As National Migration Week comes to a close, fully reproduced below is the text of last month's letter to immigrants by our country's 33 Hispanic Catholic Bishops, including our very own Bishop of Austin, Joe S. Vasquez:
LETTER OF THE HISPANIC/LATINO BISHOPS TO IMMIGRANTS
Dear immigrant sisters and brothers,
May the peace and grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you!
We the undersigned Hispanic/Latino Bishops of the United States wish to let those of you who lack proper authorization to live and work in our country know that you are not alone, or forgotten. We recognize that every human being, authorized or not, is an image of God and therefore possesses infinite value and dignity. We open our arms and hearts to you, and we receive you as members of our Catholic family. As pastors, we direct these words to you from the depths of our heart.
In a very special way we want to thank you for the Christian values you manifest to us with your lives—your sacrifice for the well-being of your families, your determination and perseverance, your joy of life, your profound faith and fidelity despite your insecurity and many difficulties. You contribute much to the welfare of our nation in the economic, cultural and spiritual arenas.
The economic crisis has had an impact on the entire U.S. community. Regretfully, some in reaction to this environment of uncertainty show disdain for immigrants and even blame them for the crisis. We will not find a solution to our problems by sowing hatred. We will find the solution by sowing a sense of solidarity among all workers and co-workers —immigrants and citizens—who live together in the United States.
In your suffering faces we see the true face of Jesus Christ. We are well aware of the great sacrifice you make for your families’ well-being. Many of you perform the most difficult jobs and receive miserable salaries and no health insurance or social security. Despite your contributions to the well-being of our country, instead of receiving our thanks, you are often treated as criminals because you have violated current immigration laws.
We are also very aware of the pain suffered by those families who have experienced the deportation of one of their members. We are conscious of the frustration of youth and young adults who have grown up in this country and whose dreams are shattered because they lack legal immigration status. We also know of the anxiety of those whose application process for permanent residency is close to completion and of the anguish of those who live daily under the threat of deportation.This situation cries out to God for a worthy and humane solution.
We acknowledge that, at times, actions taken in regard to immigrants have made you feel ignored or abandoned, especially when no objection is raised to the false impressions that are promoted within our society. Through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops we have testified before the U.S. Congress for change in our immigration laws and for legislation that respects family unity and provides an orderly and reasonable process for unauthorized persons to attain citizenship.The new law should include a program for worker visas that respects the immigrants’ human rights, provides for their basic needs and ensures that they enter our country and work in a safe and orderly manner.We will also continue to advocate on behalf of global economic justice, so that our brothers and sisters can find employment opportunities in their countries of origin that offer a living wage, and allow them to live with dignity.
Immigrants are a revitalizing force for our country. The lack of a just, humane and effective reform of immigration laws negatively affects the common good of the entire United States.
It pains and saddens us that many of our Catholic brothers and sisters have not supported our petitions for changes in the immigration law that will protect your basic rights while you contribute your hard work to our country. We promise to keep working to bring about this change.We know how difficult the journey is to reach the border and to enter the United States.That is why we are committed to do all that we can to bring about a change in the immigration law, so that you can enter and remain here legally and not feel compelled to undertake a dangerous journey in order to support and provide for your families.As pastors concerned for your welfare, we ask you to consider seriously whether it is advisable to undertake the journey here until after just and humane changes occur in our immigration laws.
Nevertheless, we are not going to wait until the law changes to welcome you who are already here into our churches, for as St. Paul tells us, “You are no longer aliens or foreign visitors; you are fellow-citizens with the holy people of God and part of God’s household” (Eph 2:19).
As members of the Body of Christ which is the Church, we offer you spiritual nourishment. Feel welcome to Holy Mass, the Eucharist, which nourishes us with the word and the body and blood of Jesus. We offer you catechetical programs for your children and those religious education programs that our diocesan resources allow us to put at your disposal.
We who are citizens and permanent residents of this country cannot forget that almost all of us, we or our ancestors, have come from other lands and together with immigrants from various nations and cultures, have formed a new nation. Now we ought to open our hearts and arms to the recently arrived, just as Jesus asks us to do when he says, “I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink; I was an alien and you took me into your house” (Mt 25:35).These words of the Lord Jesus can be applied to the new immigrants among us. They were hungry in their land of origin; they were thirsty as they traveled through the deserts, and they find themselves among us as aliens. (See Daniel G. Groody, CSC, “Crossing the Line,” in The Way, Vol. 43,, No. 2, April 2004, p. 58-69). Their presence challenges us to be more courageous in denouncing the injustices they suffer. In imitation of Jesus and the great prophets we ought to denounce the forces that oppress them and announce the good news of the Kingdom with our works of charity.Let us pray and struggle to make it possible for these brothers and sisters of ours to have the same opportunities from which we have benefited.
We see Jesus the pilgrim in you migrants. The Word of God migrated from heaven to earth in order to become man and save humanity. Jesus emigrated with Mary and Joseph to Egypt, as a refugee.He migrated from Galilee to Jerusalem for the sacrifice of the cross, and finally he emigrated from death to life in the resurrection and ascension to heaven. Today, he continues to journey and accompany all migrants on pilgrimage throughout the world in search of food, work, dignity, security and opportunities for the welfare of their families.
You reveal to us the supreme reality of life: we are all migrants. Your migration gives a strong and clear message that we are migrants on the way to eternal life. Jesus accompanies all Christians on our journey toward the house of our Father, God’s Kingdom in heaven. (See Pope John Paul II, Tertio Millennio Adveniente, No. 50.)
We urge you not to despair. Keep faith in Jesus the migrant who continues to walk beside you. Have faith in Our Lady of Guadalupe who constantly repeats to us the words she spoke to St. Juan Diego, “Am I, who am your mother, not here?” She never abandons us, nor does St. Joseph who protects us as he did the Holy Family during their emigration to Egypt.
As pastors we want to continue to do advocacy for all immigrants. With St. Paul we say to you: “Do not be mastered by evil; but master evil with good.” (Rm 12:21).
May Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, accompany you and bless you always.
Sincerely in Christ our Savior,
The Hispanic/Latino Bishops of the United States
 
Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, December 12, 2011

National Human Trafficking Awareness Day

The kids you see in this picture are child prostitutes in Cambodia. I know it's unthinkable to us that children this young would be used in this way, but this is the face of human trafficking. Estimates are that as many as 30,000 children in Cambodia are involved in the sex trade. Last December, my wife and and I went to Cambodia to do trainings for the staff of three organizations that help to rescue and rehabilitate children like these. We were shocked and amazed by what we heard and saw. I will return in June  to do follow-up training as requested. (There are no child psychologists in Cambodia, but many traumatized children, and the good people trying to help them need help and support.)
 
The need is great, and everyone reading this can help make a difference. Please consider donating to the work of Agape International Missions (www.aim4asia.org), World Vision (www.worldvision.org), or New Hope for Cambodian Children (www.newhopeforcambodianchildren.org). New Hope, started by Texans John and Kathy Tucker, was the first place in Cambodia to care for HIV-infected children. Today, the Tuckers care for nearly 200 children onsite and approximately 1200 children who live in various areas around the country.
 
Scripture tells us in Isaiah 58:6,
 
"Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking off every yoke?"
 
You really can help make the world a better place for children in Cambodia. Join with me today in "setting free the oppressed."
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