Archive for the ‘War and Violence’ 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 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.”

Jesuit Father James Martin on Trying to Make Sense of the Senseless after Newtown School Shooting

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Jesuit Father James Martin offered this reflection on “The mystery of pain, the solace of faith” in the New York Daily News after the tragic Newtown school shooting on Dec. 14:

I write these lines within hours of hearing about the horrific shootings in Connecticut, and I write them from a retreat house in New England, a place of prayer. I also write them at the invitation of this newspaper.

The question on so many minds and in so many hearts is: Why?

It is an age-old question, one that believers have been asking, struggling with, raging at, and weeping over, for many centuries. Why would God allow something like this to happen? It is what theologians and saints have called the “mystery of evil.” It was asked in another form recently, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, when many lost their lives.

In this case, however, and in all cases involving children — especially the violent deaths of children — the question takes on even more poignancy and greater urgency.

As a believer I need to say this: There is no satisfactory or adequate answer to that question. It is, to use another ancient phrase, a mystery. That word is often used as way of avoiding complex problems, but in this case it is true, and the thoughtful believer knows this in his or her heart: There is no answer that will take away our grief or fully explain how a good God could permit this.

Anyone who tells you that he or she has an answer to that question (for example: it is a punishment for our sins; it is the result of a vengeful God; it proves there is no God; or it demonstrates meaninglessness in the universe) does not offer a real answer. For no answer will satisfy in the wake of such agony.

Yet, as a believer, I also need to say this: That it is a mystery does not mean that there aren’t perspectives that can help the believing person in times of tragedy and sadness. For me, there are two things have helped me in facing tragedy:

First, as a Christian, I believe that violence, suffering and death are never the last word. God promises us eternal life, and will give us that life just as he gave it to his Son, who also died a violent death. “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them,” is the prayer spoken at Catholic funerals. God, I believe, has already granted all those who were killed eternal rest and perpetual light.

This does not take away our sorrow, but it can offer us hope for those who have gone before us. It also offers us the hope of being reunited with our loved ones in the fullness of time.

The second thing, or person, I turn to is Jesus. We do not have a God who is removed from our sufferings. When Jesus went to the tomb of his good friend Lazarus, whom Jesus would soon raise from the dead, he wept. Why? Because he loved Lazarus, as he loved Lazarus’s sisters, Mary and Martha.

Jesus understands what sorrow is. Jesus understands pain. Jesus, I believe, weeps with us. Our God is not an intellectual abstraction or a philosophical theory, ours is a God who has lived a human life. This helps me during times of sadness. Jesus is with us in our pain, not standing far off.

The two perspectives are really one. The God who weeps with us also promises us eternal life. And the God who promises us eternal life weeps with us. For our part, we can work to end violence, to console those who remain and to build a more loving society.

For those who are not Christian but who are believers, like my Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters, I would not presume to offer a perspective, but I might still say that we all believe in a God who loves us, who is love, and who therefore weeps with us. On this we might begin to find some common understanding. For those who are not believers, I might say that in the wake of such horrendous tragedies, our hearts are called to compassion, to support the families and friends of the victims; and our sense of morality impels us to work for an end to such appalling violence.

There may not be answers that will satisfy, but for the believer there is God, who is sorrowful with us, who offers us eternal life, and who moves us, through our hearts, to build a more loving and compassionate society.

New York Daily News; image via Regis University