Archive for the ‘Defending Life’ Category

For One Jesuit, Syrian War is Professional Challenge, Personal Heartache

Jesuit Father Nawras SammourFor Jesuit Father Nawras Sammour, the ongoing conflict in Syria is both a professional challenge and a personal heartache. As Jesuit Refugee Service’s (JRS) regional director for the Middle East, Fr. Sammour lives in Damascus, Syria. He was born in Aleppo, Syria, where his mother, brother and sister still live.

Tens of thousands of Syrians have died and millions have been displaced in more than two years of fighting between President Bashar Assad’s government and rebels seeking his resignation.

“Sometimes I can’t believe we Syrians have reached that level of violence,” Fr. Sammour said. “I’m shocked. Shocked. We need to step back and realize that we went too far.”

According to Fr. Sammour, the situation is so tense and so divided, particularly among different Muslim groups, that Syria’s small Christian communities may be frightened. But with Christian aid programs and partnerships with others providing assistance, they also enjoy a certain respect as non-partisans looking only to help others.

With the help of funding from a variety of agencies — including the worldwide Caritas network and the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Relief Services — JRS has about 250 paid employees in Syria and another 300 volunteers. They visit displaced families living in shelters, abandoned buildings, mosques, churches and monasteries and provide food and basic necessities.

JRS runs field kitchens that serve 20,000 meals a day. They provide medicine to the chronically ill, operate a clinic in Aleppo and provide psycho-social support to almost 5,000 children, offering them a safe environment where they can play and try to keep up with their school work.

Fr. Sammour said the situation in Syria “is not calming down at all. The tension is worse. People are nervous. Syria is much more fragmented, and fear is much more established in the hearts of people,” he said.

The work with the children, though, may be the seedbed of a better future. The children come from Christian as well as Sunni Muslim and Alawite Muslim families, and the JRS team is earning the trust of their parents.

“That will help with long-term reconciliation,” Fr. Sammour said. [Catholic News Service]

Former Jesuit Navy Chaplain to be Installed as New Bishop of Oakland

Jesuit Father Michael BarberJesuit Father Michael Barber will be installed as bishop of the Diocese of Oakland, Calif., on May 25 at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland. Before being named bishop earlier this month, he had served in a wide range of ministries, including as a missionary in Western Samoa, an assistant professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, a tutor and chaplain at the University of Oxford and as a chaplain for the U.S. Navy.

Bishop-elect Barber’s time as a military chaplain included active duty in 2003 to serve the 6,000 troops in the 4th Marine Air Wing who participated in the invasion of Iraq.

Bishop-elect Barber joined the Chaplain Corps shortly after the first Gulf War, while he was studying at the Gregorian University. In 1991, U.S. Navy ships began arriving in Naples, and the call came for Catholic priests to say Mass aboard ships.

In Naples he learned that 30 percent of Marine officers are Catholic, and that there weren’t enough Catholic chaplains to minister to them. As a result, many were converting to other religions.

“All of this inspired me to sign up,” recalled Bishop-elect Barber. “I never knew much about the Navy, but I was inspired by the tremendous needs of these people and by their great generosity.”

Bishop-elect Barber said about ministering during wartime: “As a Catholic and a priest, I agree with the papal teachings regarding this war. And as a member of the military, I know what my duty is: to serve the Marines wherever they are. If they are put into combat, I want to be with them to give them the sacraments.

Jesuit Father Michael Barber “When Marines see a priest going on marches with them and sleeping in the same tent, they show you tremendous gratitude. They are so happy I was there for them,” he said.

As a military chaplain, Bishop-elect Barber counseled soldiers of all denominations, with most soldiers wanting to discuss marital problems. “They would come to me with ‘Dear John’ e-mails,” said Fr. Barber. “This is the biggest issue, even in times of peace. The pressure is sometimes too much for spouses who worry about their partners dying.”

According to Bishop-elect Barber, ministering to the military was important because he was able to reach men and women with whom the Jesuits didn’t have contact with through Jesuit schools.

For more on Bishop-elect Barber’s time as a military chaplain, read the full story at the Saint Ignatius College Prep website.

Jesuit Students to Attend Mass for Life, New Face of Pro-Life Movement

By Kaitlyn McCarthy Schnieders

Jesuit students at the 2012 Mass for LifeThe face of the pro-life movement is changing. Roe v. Wade was once the cause of those who remember when abortion was illegal. Now, 40 years after the landmark Supreme Court decision, the pro-life mantle has been taken up by those who’ve never known a world without abortion. One glance at the young people who attend the Jesuit Mass for Life in Washington, D.C., confirms that fact.

Every year to commemorate the Roe v. Wade decision, the Society of Jesus hosts a Mass and rally in the nation’s capital for students of Jesuit institutions. What began as a small gathering now attracts more than 700 attendees. Students from across the country, hailing from more than 30 Jesuit schools, pack St. Aloysius Church near Capitol Hill, often leaving just standing room.

This year, the Jesuit Mass for Life will be celebrated by Jesuit Father Gerry Stockhausen and feature Jesuit Father Phil Hurley as homilist. A number of Jesuits from around the country are also expected to concelebrate.

Steven Trottier, a graduate of De Smet Jesuit High School in St. Louis and a current student at Notre Dame, is a past attendee. Trottier says he learned about pro-life issues at De Smet, which prompted him to attend the Jesuit Mass and rally.

Mass for Life“I think student involvement brings youth, energy and excitement together, giving the pro-life movement a driving energy,” says Trottier. “Young people want their voices heard. The youth is the future of the pro-life movement and with all of our access to technology and media, we can stay informed of public policy concerning issues of abortion and life.”

For many students, attending the Mass and rally is often the culmination of a semester’s worth of work — saving money, attending meetings, hosting bake sales and sacrificing their time to fund the trip to Washington.

“This will be a significant experience of service of faith and promotion of justice for many students because the Masses, prayer services and holy hours that they participate in while in Washington are done alongside a series of talks about what it means to take one’s faith into the public square,” says Jesuit Ronald O’Dwyer, currently studying theology at Boston College and one of the event’s organizers. “Just being in Washington sparks these conversations.”

Patrick Grillot, president of Students for Life at Saint Louis University, says the March for Life creates an opportunity to promote the importance of valuing human dignity with fellow students before, after and during their trip.

“At SLU, we are especially committed to supporting pregnant and parenting students and have raised about $100,000 for our endowment. I believe this holistic, consistent life ethic approach is gaining steam across the country. One of the major critiques of the pro-life cause has been that its supporters do not value life after a child’s birth; we cannot allow this belief to exist in perception or reality.”

That consistent ethic of life is exactly what the Society of Jesus has been advocating for, working to restore a respect for all human life. In their statement on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Jesuits vigorously affirmed their opposition to abortion and their support for the unborn:

“As all human life is sacred and should be protected by law, the Society of Jesus believes in a consistent ethic of life from conception to natural death, an ethic which includes our opposition to the death penalty and assisted suicide and our support for improved palliative care. All human life deserves dignity and respect, and all of God’s children, particularly the most vulnerable, must be protected and supported by the laws and policies of our nation.”

Students at the March for LifeMatt Cuff, policy associate for the Jesuit Conference, which is organizing the event, says, “Our students know that coming to the Mass and rally isn’t enough, nor is opposition to abortion enough.  We need to be advocates for programs that improve the lives of mothers, especially in low-income neighborhoods.  In today’s political environment that means opposing cuts to government programs that serve low-income mothers as vigorously as we oppose abortion.”

Mass Information:

January 25, 2013
Mass starts at 9:30 am
St. Aloysius Church
19 I St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001

The Jesuit March for Life Rally begins immediately following Mass.

The rally features student speakers from both Jesuit high schools and universities. There will also be reflections from Jesuit Father Stephen Spahn, director of Ignatian Programs at Georgetown University, and Mary Peterson, founder and executive director of Maggie’s Place, a community that provides housing for expectant women who are alone or on the streets.

Jesuit Ministers to City Coping with Record-Breaking Violence

Jesuit Father Jeff Putthoff

Jesuit Father Jeff Putthoff (right) with a cross planted for a Camden, N.J., homicide victim.

Jesuit Father Jeff Putthoff ministers in Camden, N.J., a city that experienced a record-breaking number of homicides in 2012. “I have learned that poverty is not pretty, nor is it romantic. The traumatic experiences of violence, abuse and endemic poverty deeply wound the people of Camden,” says Fr. Putthoff.

Fr. Putthoff founded and runs Hopeworks ‘N Camden, which trains youth in technology and helps them get back to school and away from the violence that plagues their hometown.

Among the 67 killed in Camden in 2012, 34 were younger than age 30; 11 were teenagers; one was 2 years old and another was 6 years old. Fr. Putthoff was one of the organizers of a new group, Stop the Trauma, Violence and Murder, which has a Facebook page documenting both the ongoing violence in the city and activities to bring attention to the problem, including painting and planting of crosses for victims.

“Camden is a place that is very bloody and disfigured, and it bothers us fundamentally to look at it because if we acknowledge it as disfigured, then we have to do something about it,” Fr. Putthoff told the National Catholic Reporter. “The alternative, what most do, is avert our gaze and find ways to justify it. We either make it invisible or we blame people for it.”

Fr. Putthoff and the staff of Hopeworks understand that changing lives go beyond teaching new skills. It also means they must help the youth to see possibilities that would have been previously unimaginable.

Fr. Putthoff  said that even many from the program who “succeeded,” by moving on to college or to good jobs, often sabotaged that success by acting out inappropriately under stressful circumstances.

Crosses for murder victims in Camden, NJ“What’s important is recognizing that even if we had no crosses, we’d still be saying, ‘Stop the trauma,’ because people are living an existence that is only about survival and not thriving,” Fr. Putthoff said. “They learn a whole set of behaviors to help them survive, but lamentably, those behaviors don’t help them thrive.”

The Hopeworks staff is currently undergoing a two-year training program to be certified in “trauma-informed delivery of services.”

“We believe that we’re operating more and more out of a model of trauma where our youth basically have a form of PTSD and their survival mechanism doesn’t allow them to actually move forward,” Fr. Putthoff said.

For more on Fr. Putthoff’s ministry in Camden, visit the National Catholic Reporter and the Jesuit Curia’s Social Justice blog.

Jesuit Says Real Issues Must Be Addressed in Wake of Newtown Shooting

Jesuit Father Greg BoyleIn the aftermath of the Newtown school shooting, Jesuit Father Greg Boyle cautions against looking at the tragedy from too distant a perspective. Looking at this from “an aerial view of nonviolence oddly keeps us from solutions,” Fr. Boyle told the National Catholic Reporter.

“In the same way the [Connecticut] governor said, ‘A great evil visited this community today,’ well, actually, armed mental illness visited your community that day. This is what keeps us from addressing actual issues,” said Fr. Boyle, who has worked with gang members in Los Angeles since 1988 through his Homeboy Industries ministry, which is the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program in the U.S.

“When we take our views lower, we know we need to address guns and we need to address mental illness,” Fr. Boyle said. “The elephant in the room is mental health, which is something I see more and more with the gang population with whom I work.”

Fr. Boyle also told the National Catholic Reporter that the nation’s mental health care system is in desperate need of rehabilitation. According to Fr. Boyle, because of national, state and local government budget cuts made in recent years, today’s health care system is essentially the same as it was in 1850.

Fr. Boyle said mental health facilities have one bed for every 7,000 patients, and as a result the nation’s prisons, skid rows and homeless shelters are filled with the mentally ill.

“The largest mental health facility in the world is the Los Angeles county jail,” Fr. Boyle said. “These are examples that show we are not actually dealing with the real issues.”