Syria Reality

Posted on 16. May, 2015 by .

Here is the text of an address given Tuesday by Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart of Aleppo, Syria, regarding the plight of Christians in the country. The talk was given at the Edward Cardinal Egan Catholic Center at New York University:
In my country Syria, Christians are caught in the middle of a civil war and they are enduring the rage of an extremist jihad. And it is unjust for the West to ignore the persecutions these Christian communities are experiencing.
Syrian Christians are in grave danger; we may disappear soon. We hope that men and women of good will, in this Great Nation, listen to our call and give their brothers and sisters in faith a helpful hand in relieving their miseries.
Let me to give you an idea about what is happening in my part of the world:
For the past four years there has been much talk about the war in Syria. We have heard about the strategic consequences, the geopolitical influences in that region, and the violence afflicting the innocent population. Though I do not underestimate the political stakes of what is going on in my country, I must draw attention to the fate of Christians who are caught in this turbulence.
For the Church, what is most important is that peace be restored! And that, through peace, a non-confessional and pluralistic democracy is established, that guarantees all Syrians their God-given rights to live as full-fledged citizens in the country where they were born and where their ancestors are buried.
The realities in my country and in the region are complex and interwoven with many historical, social and religious nuances. Let me touch on one of the core problems which torment Christians and their pastors in Syria.  Some are wondering how it is that religious leaders and bishops were not the first ones to support the rebels, who, apparently, are fighting for freedom and democracy for their country? If this were the case, it is undeniable that the Church would have been the first to become an ally of the unrest and the leader of those asking for substantial reforms in political governance, leading to a democratic transition.
But the moderate opposition never really had a chance, despite the best of intentions. As a result, hence as Christian leaders in Syria are appealing for reconciliation and peace and openness, radical Muslim factions are calling for jihad and exclusion, a kind of apartheid for all non-Muslims.
       For decades Syrian Christians lived peacefully in a society alongside a Muslim majority which was tolerant.  There was a cordial atmosphere of mutual acceptance and friendship.  This is no longer the case. Syrian Christians are disoriented by the implosion of a way of life that was once quiet and safe.
They are afraid to leave their houses, they avoid going out of their cities or villages, or do so only to move to other regions where they hope to find a safe refuge.  In dangerous zones like Aleppo and villages close to Turkey, what terrorizes the population more than the fighting and the bombing, are the kidnappings, the snipers, car-bombs, the shelling and the looting… all this culminating in the manifestation of ISIS.
Christians are victims of a war of destruction led by a certain foreign element staking advantage of unrest. They have promoted a brother versus brother war. They have injected arms, money and tens of thousands of fighters, jihadists, fundamentalists, foreigners and mercenaries, recruited from many different countries.
I do not know whether or not Aleppo has yet been designated as a “disaster zone” by international powers.  But what I do know is that Aleppo is truly a disaster zone:  a human disaster zone, a material and economic disaster zone.  The citizens of this great and beautiful city, with its seven thousand years of history, find themselves after four years of senseless war, in a desperate situation.  The prosperity which Aleppo enjoyed and which placed her among the most important cities of this region is lost.
Innumerable attacks—most recently the bombing of the Christian quarter over Easter weekend—have destroyed its churches, its factories and its flourishing industry, its infrastructure and social and administrative institutions, its commercial area and its legendary souks, its ancient homes, schools, and hospitals.
The result: Syria has lost one of its main sources of economic growth.
Then there are the countless frustrations which the people of Aleppo have had to endure because of the siege, particularly shortages of food and other essential supplies. In a word, my flock has suffered and has been the innocent target of a war that is unjust and devastating.
Since 2011, more than one-third of Aleppo’s Christians—some 40,000 people at least—have left the city. They are among the 3 million Syrians (both Christians and Muslims) who have fled to Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey; or they have joined the nameless ranks—6.5 million strong—of Syrians displaced in their own country.
Since the beginning of this senseless war, the Church—while encouraging the regime to enact the reforms desired by the majority of citizens—has called for an end to armed conflict and has called for negotiations  to achieve a political solution to this crisis. The Assembly of Bishops of my country, along with the Pope, has not ceased to call believers to prayer, the fighters to lay down their arms, and nations to cease military interference.
Of course, we are grateful that a large coalition of nations is committed to stopping ISIS. I hope and pray that this fight will be won; nevertheless, at the present time, in both Syria and Iraq, Christian communities—along with other vulnerable minorities—are defenseless against ISIS assaults, especially when they are the prime target of the ‘caliphate’s religious cleansing campaign. If these defenseless people are to survive, the US and its allies must provide better protection and execute a more aggressive strategy.
In the case of the fighting in northeastern Syria, the capture of several hundred Assyrian Christians could have been prevented had the US started its bombing raids earlier. The recent coordinated effort, that included Kurdish troops on the ground, proved effective in turning back ISIS, but for many Assyrians this help came too late.
Church leaders in the region have welcomed the Vatican’s call for an appropriate military response to ISIS and other extremist groups threatening Christians and other vulnerable minorities—in accord with Pope Francis’ insistence that the use of force is “legitimate [when used]… to stop an unjust aggressor.”
The Episcopal Conference of the Bishops in Syria, in plenary session last March, issued an appeal to all nations to stop supporting the terrorists in any way and to ensure special protection for Christians so that they may be safe and continue to live in peace in their own country.
Across the region, as the fight is taken up against ISIS, the US and its allies must be aware that Christians and other minorities are often caught up in the fighting, facing calamities as they are displaced, without any provisions for shelter, food, and medical assistance. The emergency needs of vulnerable populations must be seriously considered.
Just recently, disaster struck the peaceful and quiet population of the city of Idleb in northern Syria, where Christians have been executed by ISIS, many people have been displaced and the parish priest Father Ibrahim Farah has been kidnapped. And then there was the April 19 release of a video showing ISIS slaughtering 30 Ethiopian Christians in Libya.
What horrors must ISIS commit before the world will take greater action to stop the murderers?
Once—God-willing—ISIS is defeated and a measure of peace is restored to the lands, Christians must be able to count on the US and its allies for continued, long-term military protection.
There has to be a kind of iron-clad system in place so that the tragedies of the past four years are not repeated.
To ensure political stability, it is essential that Christian leaders, both lay and religious, are given a voice and presence at the negotiating table. Christians bring forth a vision—inspired by democratic and humanistic values; they can act as bridge-builders between Shiites and Sunnis, and they can help develop a political system that ensures the rights of all citizens.
Last but not least, Christians—like other people whose lives have been overturned by years of fighting—need practical, financial help to rebuild their lives, especially their professional lives.
If Christians are not given the means to earn a living, there is no way they can remain in Syria or Iraq. The hierarchy’s lamenting of mass emigration can do little good if the Churches do not give their flock concrete means to rebuild their lives. Christians in Syria need to feel secure and they want to know that they will not be left alone in the days and years to come.
By God’s grace, and with the help of organizations like Aid to the Church in Need, we have been responding to humanitarian needs of our people, sometimes with great difficulty. But we need your continued help to look beyond the crisis at hand.
That is why I am calling for the creation of “Build to Stay,” a Christian social initiative that needs to be supported by a “Solidarity Fund.”  This fund will allow workers—carpenters, plumbers, teachers, lawyers, craftsmen and others—to re-establish themselves professionally, to buy the equipment and supplies they need to get started again; to rebuild the city of Aleppo and their own lives.
If this initiative works in Aleppo, the model can be applied throughout Syria and beyond. When God grants us peace and stability, this program will gather many people and volunteers to build the future of our community. This initiative will transform Aleppo back into the vibrant commercial hub of Syria and the Middle East at large.
The support of our Christian brothers in the West is extremely needed.  Are they willing to hear our desperate appeal? We will be eternally grateful if they do!
However, if the war continues and if peace is not restored in the streets and in our hearts, all hopes may be lost, for all Syrians, Christians and Muslims alike.
If the civil war in Syria is prolonged, violence and chaos will inevitably take hold in neighboring countries.  You can imagine the cruel picture ahead with the tragic consequences to the Christian presence in Syria and in surrounding countries.
I am convinced that Christians’ first task is to struggle for peace in our land and in our region. That is my task as a successor of the Apostles, to keep the Church alive in the land of its birth, a land made holy by the blood of countless martyrs, past and present.
It is my fervent prayer that my fellow bishops in the US and around the world—they, too, successors of the apostles—join me in accepting this shared responsibility and making the fate of the persecuted Christians in the Middle East a real priority, and not treating it merely as one cause among many. That is because the suffering of my people is a wound to the entire Body of Christ.
We know the task is difficult but we Christians also know that He in whom we have put our trust is faithful and never abandons His own—He who came to stay with His own, will never leave them to fend for themselves.
                                              Aleppo, April 23, 2015                        +J-C. JEANBART 

More/Leave a Comment

United Farm Worker Movement Rallies

Posted on 25. Apr, 2015 by .


unnamedOur very own Bro. Mark Schroeder and Bro. Tommy King (pictured right to left respectively) along with other of their Franciscan brothers gathered in San Francisco on Caesar Chavez Day. They joined other UFW supporters to get the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to pass a resolution supporting the dignity of farmers. This resolution calls on Gerawan Farming to obey the law and implement a contract with its workers!

What a success!

Also, if you live in the Washington D.C Area, join a UFW rally on May 5th! View this flyer for more details.

More/Leave a Comment

Equal Pay in the United States

Posted on 21. Apr, 2015 by .



Tuesday April 14th was Equal Pay Day. Based on the fact that on average women earn 78 cents to every white man’s dollar, women would have to work from Jan. 2014 to April 2015 to earn on average what white men earned from Jan. 2014 to Dec. 2014. Here are some not-so-fun facts about equal pay (or the lack thereof) in the United States:

On average white women earn 77 cents per every white man’s dollar.

It is worse for women of color:

African American women earn 64 cents on average

Latina women earn an average of 54 cents

However, Asian American women earn 90 cents on average.

For more information, read this article from the Huffington Post!

More/Leave a Comment

The Pope Calls For An End to the Death Penalty

Posted on 11. Apr, 2015 by .


The following article is from the Vatican Radio:

The Holy See on Wednesday declared “bloodless means” are capable of defending the common good and upholding justice, and called on States to abolish the death penalty.

Speaking to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, urged countries to use a “more humane” form of punishment.

“As for those countries that claim it is not yet feasible to relinquish this practice, my Delegation encourages them to strive to become capable of doing so,” Archbishop Tomasi said.


The full text of Archbishop Tomasi’s intervention is below


Statement by His Excellency Silvano M. Tomasi

Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva

at the 28th Session of the Human Rights Council

Item 1 – Biennial High-Level Panel on

“The Question of the Death Penalty”

4 March 2015


Mr. Chairman,

The Delegation of the Holy See is pleased to take part in this first biennial high-level panel discussion on the question of the death penalty and joins an increasing number of States in supporting the fifth UN General Assembly resolution calling for a global moratorium on the use of the death penalty.  Public opinion and support of the various provisions aimed at abolishing the death penalty, or suspending its application, is growing. This provides a strong momentum which this Delegation hopes will encourage States still applying the death penalty to move in the direction of its abolition.

The position of the Holy See on this issue has been more clearly articulated in the past decades.  In fact, twenty years ago, the issue was framed within the proper ethical context of defending the inviolable dignity of the human person and the role of the legitimate authority to defend in a just manner the common good of society.[1]  Considering the practical circumstances found in most States, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, it appears evident nowadays that means other than the death penalty “… are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons.”[2]  For that reason, “public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.”[3]

Political and legislative initiatives being promoted in a growing number of countries to eliminate the death penalty and to continue the substantive progress made in conforming penal law both to the human dignity of prisoners and the effective maintenance of public order are moving in the right direction.[4]

Pope Francis has further emphasized that the legislative and judicial practice of the State authority must always be guided by the “primacy of human life and the dignity of the human person.”  He noted as well “the possibility of judicial error and the use made by totalitarian and dictatorial regimes… as a means of suppressing political dissidence or of persecuting religious and cultural minorities.”[5]

Thus, respect for the dignity of every human person and the common good are the two pillars on which the position of the Holy See has developed. These principles converge with a similar development in international human rights law and jurisprudence. Moreover, we should take into account that no clear positive effect of deterrence results from the application of the death penalty and that the irreversibility of this punishment does not allow for eventual corrections in the case of wrongful convictions.

Mr. Chairman,

My Delegation contends that bloodless means of defending the common good and upholding justice are possible, and calls on States to adapt their penal system to demonstrate their adhesion to a more humane form of punishment.  As for those countries that claim it is not yet feasible to relinquish this practice, my Delegation encourages them to strive to become capable of doing so.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, the Holy See Delegation fully supports the efforts to abolish the use of the death penalty. In order to arrive at this desired  goal, these steps need to be taken: 1) to sustain the social reforms that would enable society to implement the abolition of the death penalty;  2) to improve prison conditions, to ensure respect for the human dignity of the people deprived of their freedom.[6]

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

More/Leave a Comment

Homily On Restorative Justice

Posted on 11. Apr, 2015 by .


Franciscan School of Theology
March 2, 2015

Dear Alumni,
Please enjoy Fr. Joe Chinnici’s homily from February 27th.

Does the Gospel Make a Difference?
      My sister Rosemary has been involved in work for restorative justice for many years.  She is a sister of Loretto, a psychologist with a great commitment to justice for others  and compassion for those suffering.  Through a U.S. Justice Department program she was hired to interface between families of victims of a capital crime and prosecuting attorneys, trying to convince the members of the family who had lost a loved one not to push for the death penalty for the criminal; and to convince prosecuting attorneys sometimes trying to make a name for themselves to argue for a penalty commensurate with the crime but excluding death as a punishment.  Not an easy task, as you might note; but she is good at it.  One day a few years ago she came all excited into my office.  “I have just witnessed something really extraordinary!”  This was highly unusual since she would often come back from her court cases noting how difficult were the prosecuting attorneys and how injured were the family members.  I perked up–what had my sister seen?

      It turns out that for several months she had been working with a woman whose son had been violently murdered by another young man.  The mothers of both sons had gone to court to witness the proceedings:  the one doing her best to assimilate what her son had done and also trying to be faithful to him as belonging to her; the other mother coming to court every day to see that justice was done and that the murderer of her son would in fact lose his own life to justice.  Rosemary tried over time to get the offended mother to be open to the possibility of a punishment less than death.  She would not budge:  “He deserves to die.” The prosecutors also would not budge:  “We are not soft on crime.”  As the trial went on everyone got more intense, and the mother of the victim angrier and anxious.  Her son must at least be recognized as worth the ultimate price of another’s man’s life.  She spent much of the time just glaring at everyone. “I will never forget nor forgive what has happened.” Meanwhile, the mother of the criminal got more distraught and confused.

        One day, during a break, Rosemary, thinking she had completely failed in her task of reconciliation, stepped out of the courtroom to get a glass of water.  When she came back, something extraordinary was happening before her very eyes.  There in front of her she saw the mother of the victim embracing the mother of the criminal, each sobbing and holding the other in their arms.  Rosemary could not believe it.  The event was entirely unexpected and completely spontaneous.  She waited until the day’s sessions were over and asked the one mother what happened; Why had she done this?  The woman said, “Well, I am not sure what happened.  It just happened.  I was sitting there, as angry as ever, and all of a sudden it occurred to me:  ‘You know, I am not the only one who has lost a son during this whole thing; the mother of the criminal sits there, lonely and without friends, mourning.’  And I felt so sorry for her.  She is just like me.  And all of a sudden, there I was,  running over to her and embracing her and telling her, “We have both lost our sons this day.”  She is now my friend.

        “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees you shall not enter the kingdom of God.”  (Mt. 5.16)  These words that begin our Gospel this morning pick up a fundamental theme in Matthew’s narrative of the Good News.  “Righteousness”, deeply rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures and sometimes translated as “justice” or “holiness”or “uprightness”, captured how people were to be before God and neighbor. They were to do God’s will in the TORAH.  Joseph the husband of Mary– unwilling to shame his betrothed and open to the possibility of God’s work in another human being– was the epitome of the “righteous man.”  (1.19)  The meaning of righteousness comes up again in the scene of Jesus’ baptism. The Baptist protests:  It is not right that the higher should receive from the lower. But Jesus responds in all humility,  “Allow it now for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” (3.15)  Righteousness in the human sphere imitates the power of God’s humility.    The Lord also tells the crowd gathered on the mountain:  “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” (5.6)  Later on he will teach, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” (6.33)

        The Gospel today is a great invitation not to practice our own sense of justice but to enter into a much deeper knowledge and practice of God’s righteousness.  The Gospel calls us not only to teach by word but also by example; it challenges us to a practice of righteousness.  Real justice apparently is not a value but an action.  We are to remember and then act upon the fact that we are “children of our heavenly Father,” our God who makes his “sun to rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust…Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”  (5.44-48) The Gospel is not so much a critique as a great call to something really beautiful, becoming in this world, as much as possible, like God in whose image we are made.

        It is a tall order–and the practice of Gospel righteousness does not mean that we simply forgive and forget,  as if The Lord was calling us to be wimpy and soft, squishy followers of a God who masks himself as some type of Caspar Milquetoast do-gooder (here the reference dates me, but I can’t help it, it was a phrase my mother used with both Rosemary and I; “What are you,” she would say when we would avoid some confrontation that needed to happen.  “What are you, some kind of Caspar Milquetoast”)? Justice and equity, even that which poor humans try to administer, are important in this world and sometimes we are called to administer it, much like the poor judge in Augustine’s great passage in the City of God (XIX).  Justice, as the scriptures tell us over and over again, will have its own way in the long haul: the Sanhedrin will exercise their duties, Gehenna is a possibility, brothers and sisters “will be liable to judgment.”  What goes around, comes around.

          Righteous action is important.  Still, we as followers of Christ in the tradition of our Franciscan inheritance, are called to an even greater righteousness, a quality of life that changes the administration of justice and affects its modality. We are called in the midst of all signs to the contrary to witness to the fact that the Kingdom of God already exists in this world, even if only in an inchoate way.  Bonaventure argues this point in his great treatise defending the evangelical life of the Franciscans.  He believes this call to a deeper righteousness is what differentiates the followers of Francis from other very good Christians.  By their practice of the virtues the brothers and sisters of this movement take to heart:  “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you shall not enter the kingdom of God.” It is a wonderful vocation we here at the Franciscan school have, called as we are in the midst of practicing our little justices to inject into this very practice the utter gratuity of God’s charity, compassion, forgiveness, patience, forbearance, respect, solidarity with those who are suffering.  It is this practice, which will require penance and self-mastery, that will enable the world to move closer to the life of its Creator.

        Knowing the difficulty, the Lord, in his wisdom, asks us to begin in a small way:  How do we use our tongues?  What are the terms in which we talk about our neighbors?  Does the resentment in our hearts spill over into our public ridiculing or demeaning speech:  “Raqa,” “fool.”  We need only to turn on the TV or read the papers or go the movies or examine social media to see the problem and to know the direction into which we are called.

          Even these small steps however cannot finally happen without grace.  As the mother in our story realized, even though my sister had worked at it for months and the mother had pondered the challenge for a long time, it finally happened spontaneously, without planning; almost as if a seed had fallen on good soil, planted itself in the heart, took root over time, and then  suddenly received water or light or heat or an activating energy from a place the participants did not anticipate.  Immediately the seed flowered as it broke through the hard surface of the procedures of law that had trapped all the court participants in the human ways of justice.  Something extraordinary had happened.

        Thanks be to God, in his knowledge of our weakness, our Lord gives us a means of rooting out our anger and making the extraordinary grace of true righteousness an ordinary dimension of life.    We are in the courtroom of life right now.  “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,” the apostle James writes.” (James 1.17)  That gift from above that plants true righteousness in our hearts is the grace of the Eucharist.  Jesus indicates the way it happens by telling us a story placed in the middle of our Gospel passage. It is about a person who does their homework and takes the gift they imagine they have to the altar. But, at the altar, their memory is activated:  At the altar the Lord breaks his own life for them, performing righteousness by bending down to be received by them, giving up his life for his friends and his enemies, raining his food down on the just and the unjust. “…this is the blood of the covenant which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sings” (26.28) he says, and hearing the words we recall not how we have been wronged but how we have wronged each other.  Remembering this, we  act upon it, go into the world, and practice reconciliation.  In the end, having practiced God’s righteousness, we  return to the altar with a different gift.  Now, having entered the kingdom we offer to God a great prayer of gratitude for his Son.  Empowered by his example we have placed ourselves in the hands of another, injecting into the world of courtroom justices an act of humility that forms a truly human community of forgiveness.  Anger flees, the communion of friendship arrives, and a small bit of peace comes to the world.    Amen.

More/Leave a Comment