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Letter to Minister Dion re: Situation in the Holy Land & Middle East

The Honourable Stéphane Dion, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Foreign Affairs
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

Dear Minister,

Greetings on behalf of the Catholic Bishops in Canada. I would like to bring forward to your attention two proposed recommendations which are of great importance to the Bishops of Canada: 1) to encourage the Government of Israel to recognize claims by a small Palestinian Christian community in the Cremisan Valley, and 2) to classify as "genocide" the atrocities carried out by the so-called "Islamic State". Although these two matters are not related to each other, we consider both to be issues of justice and peace, and which have significant impact not only for Christians but for all people in the Middle East.

As background, I should mention that in addition to many instances over the past 50 years of national and local involvement by our country's Catholic dioceses and eparchies in interfaith conversations and collaboration, for the past 16 years either the President of our Conference, or another member of our Executive Committee, has participated in annual week-long meetings in Israel and Palestine. Known as the Coordination of Episcopal Conferences in Support of the Church in the Holy Land, it began at the prompting of the Holy See and includes delegates from a number of the Episcopal Conferences of Europe as well as those of the United States and South Africa. This past January, following its customary approach of engaging in conversations with local Christians, Jews and Muslims, the Coordination's meeting focused on visits to Gaza, the Cremisan Valley and Jordan.

Our Conference's delegate for the Coordination's 2016 visit was the Most Reverend Lionel Gendron, P.S.S., Bishop of Saint-Jean-Longueuil. This was his second experience as delegate. Although he heard and witnessed the fears of many in the Holy Land dealing with violence and imminent war, Bishop Gendron likewise noted small but significant signs of hope. These included grassroots efforts among Muslims and Christians, in addition to examples of inspiring collaborative efforts among Jews and Muslims with the encouragement and assistance of local Christians. Bishop Gendron, and the Bishops from the other countries as well, were struck by the quiet and courageous determination among the ordinary people of Gaza to rebuild their homes, despite the scarcity of construction materials and the heavy impediments of security. At the same time, we also acknowledge the legitimate security concerns that the State of Israel and Egypt face regarding extremist elements in Gaza. Our Conference shares with other Catholic Bishops around the world a deep concern for all the peoples of the Holy Land to live free from fear, violence and hatred.

1. Encouraging Israeli authorities to recognize claims concerning the Cremisan Valley

The first matter of concern which our Conference urges the Government of Canada to consider is that you encourage Israeli authorities to recognize and remedy the difficult situation being experienced by the Christian community in the Cremisan Valley. This is a mainly agricultural area in the West Bank on the Palestinian side of the Green Line, adjacent to the towns of Beit Jala and Bethlehem. The Ministry of Defence seems determined to construct a security wall that will cut off 58 Palestinian Christian families from their agricultural lands which are among the most fertile in the Holy Land. Not only will the families lose their land and livelihood, but the local Catholic Salesian monastery there, as well as the nearby convent of Salesian Sisters, will be severely restricted in their educational services to 450 disadvantaged children—girls and boys, Muslims and Christians—from the surrounding towns and villages.

In August 2015, the Israeli army began building the security wall in the area, specifically on the privately owned lands of Beir Onah - Beit Jala, uprooting olive trees and bulldozing agricultural lands as sections of the wall are completed. Construction work on the wall in the Cremisan intensified at the beginning of April 2016 with eight-meter high sections of concrete now being put in place. This past September 2, the St. Yves Society issued a comprehensive outline of the legal case, entitled The Last Nail in the Coffin: The Annexation Wall in Cremisan. The text has been posted on the website of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, http://en.lpj.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/20150902063619.pdf. As noted on page 18 of the outline, the Cremisan Valley has not been the site of militant action in the recent past.

This past February, the Israeli High Court, while dismissing the latest petitions in the case, recognized that the landowners have the right to object to any route of the wall that does not maintain their right to access their lands freely, while the Salesian Sisters have the right to object to the final route of the security wall in the future. We join our voice to those of the other Conferences of Bishops which participate in the Holy Land Coordination, urging our respective governments to encourage all parties involved to exercise a more humanitarian approach to the Cremisan situation, and to seek alternative approaches through dialogue and negotiation.

At the same time as advocating for a just solution to the situation in the Cremisan Valley, we also wish to underscore our deep concern and total rejection of the use of violence and terror in the Holy Land. According to recent media reports, the Israeli Foreign Ministry indicates 34 Israelis have been killed in terrorist attacks and 404 people injured, including four Palestinians, in the wave of violence that began last autumn. This includes 331 stabbings and other attacks or attempted attacks. According to the international NGO Defence for Children International, some 180 Palestinians were killed and more than 15,000 injured from September through February, with some of the injured and killed including the attackers

As underscored by the Holy See in its 2015 document on Catholic - Jewish relations, "The Gifts and the Calling of God are Irrevocable", Judaism is not simply another religion with which the Catholic Church is in dialogue. Jews are our "elder brothers", our "fathers in faith". Because of these strong bonds, the Catholic Church feels a particular obligation to stand together with the Jewish community to decry any and all forms of anti-Semitism, wherever it may be found. At the same time, this close bond of friendship provides a bridge, a trusted relationship, whereby Catholics and Jews can speak in truth and love with one another, including matters which are of great mutual concern, including those such as the situation of Christian communities in the State of Israel and in Palestine, as well as the troubling signs of anti-Semitism in our day.

2. Classifying as "genocide" atrocities carried out by the so-called "Islamic State"

Our second recommendation follows up the joint letter which the Co-Chair of the Canadian Rabbinic Caucus, Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl, and I forwarded you on December 15, 2015, requesting that Canada make a priority of advocating for at-risk Christian communities in the Middle East as well as Africa. The international organization Aid to the Church in Need wrote to the Prime Minister of Canada and yourself this past February 3 on the dire situation of Christians in both Iraq and Syria. While it is evident that all religious minorities, including Shi'ite Muslims and Yezidis, risk persecution and oppression by the so-called "Islamic State" and thus fully deserve every effort toward protection and assistance, I wish to note, as Rabbi Frydman-Kohl and I pointed out in the said letter, that Christians, particularly in North Africa and the Middle East, are facing more persecution, restrictions, hostility and harassment than any other religious group. These statistics are confirmed by the 2014 findings of the Pew Research Center in the United States, as well as by an extensive report in Great Britain last year by Aid to the Church in Need.

Similar concerns about the religious minorities in the Middle East have been further articulated in the Marrakesh Declaration, developed at a Middle East conference this past January 25–27 which brought together Muslim leaders from more than 120 countries plus representatives of the region's persecuted religious communities. The Declaration recognizes that "conditions in various parts of the Muslim world have deteriorated dangerously due to the use of violence and armed struggle as a tool for settling conflicts and imposing one's point of view"; that criminal groups "alarmingly distort" Islam's "fundamental principles and goals"; and that it "is unconscionable to employ religion for the purpose of aggressing upon the rights of religious minorities in Muslim countries."

For these urgent reasons, our Conference urges you to make your own the recent assertion by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that "Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims." Secretary Kerry's March 17 statement comes immediately after a March 14 bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives, unanimously supporting a resolution condemning as genocide the atrocities by the so-called "Islamic State". These actions by the United States follow the February 4 decision of the European Parliament to classify atrocities and religious cleansing by the "Islamic State" as genocide. Previously, during July 2015, Pope Francis also described the situation as genocide: "… we are dismayed to see how in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world many of our brothers and sisters are persecuted, tortured and killed for their faith in Jesus. This too needs to be denounced: in this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide—I insist on the word—is taking place, and it must end" (address given at the Second World Meeting of Popular Movements, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, July 9, 2015). By following with a similar intervention of your own, you would also help give support to the Marrakesh Declaration.

We welcome, Minister, your response to these suggestions and reflections. Should it be of assistance, Bishop Gendron and other representatives of our Conference would be most happy to meet with you to discuss these considerations further, as well as to work with you and the Government of Canada to promote efforts toward peace, justice and security in the Holy Land and throughout the Middle East. Please be assured that our prayers and best wishes are with you.

Sincerely,

(Most Rev.) Douglas Crosby, OMI
Bishop of Hamilton
President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Related Offices Ecumenical & Interreligious Affairs Office Social Justice Bishop's
Related Themes Social Justice Peace

Pope Francis' Twofold Challenge to all Catholics: Live Mercy and Do Justice!

Live Mercy and Do Justice!

March 13, 2016 marked the third anniversary of the election of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as Bishop of Rome. During the past three years of his pontificate, Pope Francis has captured the world's attention through his humanity, goodness, joy, and kindness. By living a life of simplicity and humility, Pope Francis is re-defining what it means to be a Christian in the new millennium. In his letters, papal visits, and daily interactions with the faithful, Pope Francis is challenging the world's Catholic population to lead lives that are defined by mercy and that engage in social justice.

In Misericordiae Vultus, the Bull of Indiction proclaiming this a Holy Year of Mercy, Pope Francis defines mercy as "the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us… the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness" [MV #2]. In this moving letter, Francis reminds us that the person of Jesus reveals the mercy of God by his words and actions.

Francis then calls upon us to follow Jesus' example by opening ourselves to the Father's mercy by looking "sincerely" into the eyes of our brothers and sisters on the path of life. "May we reach out to them and support them so they can feel the warmth of our presence, our friendship, and our fraternity! May their cry become our own, and together may we break down the barriers of indifference that too often reign supreme and mask our hypocrisy and egoism" [MV #15]. For Pope Francis, the practice of mercy is "absolutely essential" for not only the Church as an institution, but for each person that professes to be a Catholic.

For Francis, living mercy is more than simply an attitude, but a commitment to action. "True mercy, the mercy God gives to us and teaches us, demands justice, it demands that the poor find the way to be poor no longer. It asks - and it asks us, the Church, us, the City of Rome, it asks the institutions - to ensure that no one ever again stand in need of a soup-kitchen, of makeshift-lodgings, of a service of legal assistance in order to have his legitimate right recognized to live and to work, to be fully a person" [Address to ­Jesuit Refugee Services, 10 September 2013].

By linking a life of mercy with social justice, Pope Francis is calling Catholics beyond simply living in society; rather he is commissioning them to build a more equitable, just, and peaceful society that facilitates the holistic development of every human person.

Once we understand Francis' teachings, how do we live mercy and do justice? In other words, how do we apply these teachings to our everyday lives?

To answer this question, on Saturday, May 7, the Diocese of Calgary Social Justice Commission is hosting a special daylong workshop on How to Live Mercy and Do Justice. Please see Diocesan Dates on page 21 for all the details.

Related Offices Social Justice
Related Themes Social Justice Jubilee of Mercy

Coldest Night Of the Year 2016 – We Need Each Other

The first line in the final press release before February 20th's Coldest Night Of the Year event read "Calgary is definitely not getting the cold shoulder from donors this year despite tough economic times." How fitting that during the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy this diocesan hosted event supporting the poorest of the poor should receive so much generosity! In a city where people are losing their jobs, their homes and other possessions every day, Calgarians still gave generously. So much so that more than $127,000 was raised to benefit Acadia Place, Feed the Hungry and The Mustard Seed.

By the time registration closed, almost 600 walkers joined together at Eau Claire and then headed out to walk 2, 5 or 10 kilometers along the Bow River Pathway system. The weather was balmy; most 2 km walkers upped the ante to 5 km! Location Director Samantha Jones was moved to tears during the opening ceremonies. "We are so truly grateful to every single one of you!" she said to the crowd. Representing the Diocese through their participation in the event were St. Anthony's (second place team), Deacon Rob McLean with his company Bentall Kennedy, Ascension Parish, Holy Name Parish, the FCJ Centre, St. Bonaventure Parish, St. Patrick's Parish, St. Peter's Parish and the U of C Catholic Community. Many of the event's volunteers were also Catholic parishioners. They were joined by many other denominations, corporate teams, and staff, donors and volunteers from the other beneficiaries.

Pope Francis has asked us during this special Jubilee of Mercy to open our hearts and minds with love and mercy and to look for opportunities to bring healing to the wounds of those struggling. Almost 600 people spent the evening of February 20 doing just that. And it was beautiful!

Related Offices Social Justice Carillon Charities & Development
Related Themes Social Justice Stewardship Giving Homelessness

LP’s Story: A Prisoner’s Response to Prayer


I was in a very dark place in my life. I had been incarcerated for six years, had seen so much: men being beaten, stabbed, sexually assaulted. I had been verbally abused, challenged to fight; I had little reason to believe in anything. My family had abandoned me. I had no one.

When the cell door was locked shut at night, the darkness set in, and the demons of yesterday came in full force to attack me. I was frightened, alone and desperate.

I tried to pray — for forgiveness, for healing for my victims — only to be attacked by Satan in my every thought. I would go to the chapel for refuge during the day. One day the Reintegration Chaplain from Bridge Ministries was there with a volunteer named Jack. We met, we shared; I cried as I felt human again for the first time in a long time.

Jack said he would have a prayer circle he was involved with pray for me. When I went to my cell that night I no longer felt alone and desperate. I had some power back. When the demons came to accuse me I rolled over and had a peaceful sleep. The demons lost their power over me. I knew I only had to wait a few days and many would be praying for me. It felt as if God had placed an angel of peace at my door.

Why was it so important that someone prayed for me? As I had done so much damage to innocent people my prayer seemed weak and futile. I felt my crimes gave an opportunity for the demons to mock my prayers and taunt me; to belittle me to the point that I wanted to die. The prayers of others gave me the strength to move beyond my past and begin to heal.

I believe prison volunteers are of vital importance. I pray that they will continue to engage with us in prison, and after release. I challenge all prison volunteers to pray with, and for, one inmate. A volunteer’s prayers saved my life. My thanks go out to all those who volunteer with offenders.

To become a volunteer in Prison Ministry, email Elaine McMurray at emcmu65@gmail.com

Related Offices Social Justice Related Programs Prison Ministry
Related Themes Social Justice Discipleship Volunteers Prison Ministry

Social Justice Resources

Catholic Social Principals

  1. Dignity of the Human Person
  2. Call to Family, Community and Participation
  3. Rights and Responsibilities
  4. Preferential Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
  5. The Dignity of Work and Rights of Workers
  6. Solidarity
  7. Care for God's Creation

Encyclicals and Documents

Films

  • The Human Experience (2008), by Grassroots Films, Director is Charles Kinnane, Genre: Documentary (90 mins)This film is suitable for highschool grades and up. Deals with the Catholic Social Principles of Human Dignity and Preferential Option for the Poor and Vulnerable.
    Link to official website: http://www.grassrootsfilms.com/thehumanexperience/
    It is available in the Pastoral Centre Library
  • For Greater Glory (2012), NewLand Films, by Director Dean Wright, Genre: Drama (145mins) This film is suitable for higher highschool grades and up. Deals with Religious Freedom and the Principle of Rights and Responsibilities.
    Link to official website: http://www.forgreaterglory.com/
    It is available in the Pastoral Centre Library

Articles

Related Offices Social Justice
Related Themes Social Justice Resources
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