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US bishops on COP28: Decarbonization is ‘preeminent environmental challenge’

The U.S. bishops added their voice to calls for the United Nations climate summit to usher in a decisive and accelerated transition away from fossil fuels toward clean energy, describing decarbonization of global economies as « the preeminent environmental challenge faced by all nations. »

The Nov. 29 statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops offered prayers for the leaders and participants, upward of 70,000, gathering in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, for COP28. The latest session of the annual U.N. climate change conference opened Thursday in Dubai.

The statement was issued by Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia and Bishop A. Elias Zaidan of the Maronite Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon, chairs of the U.S. bishops’ committees on domestic justice and human development and on international justice and peace, respectively.

Gudziak and Zaidan referenced Pope Francis’ recent apostolic exhortation, Laudate Deum, which the pope focused on climate change. « The climate crisis is an opportunity to reconfigure international relations toward the common good » where countries and communities can work together to « achieve ‘a decisive acceleration of energy transition,’  » they wrote, quoting Laudate Deum.

« Despite the tremendous growth of renewable energy worldwide, the global economic system remains largely powered by fossil fuels. Decarbonization of the economy — through the replacement of fossil fuels with secure, reliable, affordable, and clean energy — is the preeminent environmental challenge faced by all nations, » the two bishops wrote.

The 13-day climate summit, hosted by the oil-rich UAE, is expected to see intense debates about the future of fossil fuels, while a « global stocktake » process will show nations well off track from meeting the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Developing countries, alongside many faith-based organizations, civil society groups and climate activists, have called for nations in Dubai to commit to a full phaseout of coal, oil and gas. Burning these fuel sources releases heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions that are the primary driver of climate change.

But fossil-fuel-producing countries have instead proposed a « phasedown » or phaseout of « unabated fossil fuels. » Such terminology would allow continued use and production of the carbon-emitting fuel sources alongside the development of carbon-capture-and-sequestration technologies to pull emissions from the atmosphere. So far, the technology remains expensive and hasn’t been deployed at large scale.

In their statement, Gudziak and Zaidan said they were encouraged by recent decarbonization efforts in the U.S., including those initiated through the Inflation Reduction Act, the largest-ever climate legislation. The bishops supported the legislation, which is investing upward of $300 billion to transition the nation to clean energy.

Under the Paris Agreement, the U.S., the largest historical emitter of greenhouse gases, has pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 50% to 52% below 2005 levels by 2030.

Still, the bishops said that any efforts to decarbonize and shift to renewable sources won’t be successful if they significantly increase energy costs for middle- and low-income citizens.

« In other words, climate goals must represent both the ‘cry of the earth’ and the ‘cry of the poor,’ and include the financial support by developed nations for adaptation, resilience, and recovery of the most vulnerable, » they wrote.

In his own statement, Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego urged COP28 to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels — estimated at $7 trillion globally — and for debt relief to be offered to economically poor nations in exchange for funding climate adaptation and resilience measures. Catholic Climate Covenant has advocated such debt-for-climate swaps with the Biden administration.

McElroy added that while the pope will no longer attend the summit due to illness, his leadership on environmental justice and in calling all nations to a stronger response on climate change « will be front and center. »

McElroy said that Francis, in Laudate Deum, « makes clear his thesis: ‘This is a global social issue and one intimately related to the dignity of human life … The whole of the created order, which is the gift of God to all of humanity, is at risk.’ « 

Catholic Relief Services, the international humanitarian and development organization of the U.S. bishops, will have a delegation in Dubai at the climate conference. The CRS delegation will include staff from some of the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

In a statement, CRS said its team will seek to advocate for progress on climate finance — including fulfillment of long-promised $100 billion annually for developing countries’ mitigation and adaptation efforts — and for the loss and damage fund established last year at COP27 to be operationalized. Other priorities include a comprehensive framework and doubling of financing for climate adaptation and inclusion of sustainable agricultural practices.

« The climate crisis requires a global response with the United States taking a lead role in that response, » Gina Castillo, CRS policy adviser on climate change, said in a statement. « At COP28, we will be pushing United States negotiators to advance policies that address immediate needs and pave the way for a sustainable and equitable future for all. »

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Ailing Pope Francis holds weekly audience, but aide reads his remarks

Pope Francis presided at his weekly audience with the public at the Vatican, but he said that he’s still unwell and asked an aide to read his remarks for him on Nov. 29, a day after canceling an overseas trip.

Francis, who will turn 87 on Dec. 17 and had part of one lung removed as a young man, coughed near the end of the hourlong audience in a Vatican auditorium as he made some final comments, then stood up from his chair on the stage to give his blessing.

With a soft voice, barely above a whisper, Francis told the public that « since I am not well, » his reading of his speech wouldn’t sound « pretty. » He then handed the printed speech to the aide.

But Francis did speak at the end of the audience, voicing his contentment over the truce in fighting between Israel and Hamas, and saying he hopes it continues « so that all the hostages are released and access necessary to permit humanitarian aid » to reach Gaza is provided.

« They lack bread, water, the people are suffering, » Francis said.

On Tuesday, the Vatican announced that doctors had asked the pope, who has a lung inflammation causing breathing problems, to skip a three-day trip to a U.N. climate conference, known as COP28, in Dubai. The trip would have begun on Dec. 1 and have seen the pontiff return to Rome on Dec. 3.

The Holy See’s announcement of the canceled trip also said that his medical condition had improved, but noted that the pope had the flu and « inflammation of the respiratory airways. »

The pontiff, who has made caring for the environment a priority of his papacy, wants in some way to participate in the discussions in the United Arab Emirates, according to the Holy See. It was unclear if Francis might read his address to the climate conference by videoconference or take part in some other form.

The Vatican said the pope had acquiesced to the doctors’ request « with great regret. »

Before the pope came onstage for the weekly audience, he met with members of Celtic, a soccer team from Glasgow, Scotland, which has strong Catholic roots.

« Excuse me, but with this cold, I cannot speak much, but I am better than yesterday, » Francis told team members.

While he let a priest read his remarks, at the end, the pope praised the « beauty of playing together. » The pontiff, an avid soccer fan from Argentina, told the players that he would greet them one by one.

« It doesn’t matter if we have won or haven’t won, » Francis told the team, which was eliminated Tuesday night from the Champions League, Europe’s elite soccer competition, after losing 2-0 to a Rome team, Lazio.

Toward the end of the Nov. 29 audience, circus performers came on stage to entertain the pope with an acrobatic act. Francis looked amused as he watched the performers, including acrobats and a juggler. He posed with the group for a photo.

« I want to say thanks for this moment of joy, » Francis said, adding that the circus expresses the human dimension of « simple joy, » and asking the audience to applaud.

Francis was hospitalized earlier this year for three days for intravenous treatment with antibiotics of what the Vatican then said was bronchitis.

The Vatican said the pontiff in his current illness was receiving antibiotics intravenously. In a televised appearance on Nov. 26, a cannula for intravenous use was visible on his right hand. A CT scan, performed at a Rome hospital on Nov. 25, had ruled out pneumonia, according to the Vatican.

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Russian drone damages Kyiv’s Catholic cathedral

Russia’s extensive drone attack on Kyiv Nov. 25 damaged the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ.

Russia launched close to 75 Iranian-made Shahed drones at Ukraine’s capital, as Ukrainians marked Holodomor Remembrance Day, which commemorates the 7 million to 10 million victims of an artificial famine waged by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin from 1932-1933 against Ukrainians.

No fatalities were reported, but five individuals were injured.

The assault was Russia’s largest drone attack on Kyiv since the start of the full-scale invasion in February 2022. Ukraine’s forces said 74 of the drones had been successfully eliminated. Kyiv remained under an air raid alert lasting more than six hours.

One Shahed drone was shot down in the Dniprovskyi district of Kyiv, beside the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ and the residence of Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, or UGCC.

The debris impacted doors and shattered windows within the cathedral. A nearby multistory building sustained even greater destruction, according to the UCGG information department.

The UGCC reported that « six windows in the basement of the Patriarchal Cathedral were damaged, » as « the blast wave shattered the glass panes.

« The hardware on four cathedral doors was damaged, and door locks were torn off, » said Vasyl Bukatyuk, director of the Construction Directorate at the UGCC Patriarchate.

Bukatyuk said that Shevchuk’s residence also suffered damage.

« The hardware on three doors was affected at both the Patriarchal residence and the Patriarchal curia, » he said.

Slight damage to the cathedral facade also was documented, and fragments of varying sizes from the drone were gathered on its grounds.

« In return for gifts from St. Nicholas, we’ll be receiving unique souvenirs, » said Shevchuk.

According to the Ukrainian Institute for Religious Freedom, some 500 religious sites in Ukraine have been « wholly destroyed, damaged, or looted by the Russian military » between the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022 and January 2023. That number has only increased since then, according to Religion on Fire, a nongovernmental project headed by several Ukrainian religious scholars.

On July 23, Russia launched an X-22 anti-ship missile that struck the Ukrainian Orthodox Holy Transfiguration Cathedral (Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral) in the port city of Odesa. The missile directly hit the central altar, as a result of which the cathedral building and the three lower floors were partially destroyed, while the interior and icons were significantly damaged.

Since launching its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 — which continues attacks begun in 2014 — Russia has killed more than 10,000 Ukrainian civilians (including 510 children) and injured some 18,500, while committing close to 113,525 documented war crimes. From 2014 to 2021, some 14,400 Ukrainians were killed and 39,000 injured in Russian attacks, according to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

At least 2.5 million Ukrainians have been forcibly taken to the Russian Federation, and close to 19,600 children are being held in Russian « re-education » camps, with the actual number for the latter feared to be much higher.

Currently, there are an estimated 5.1 million individuals internally displaced within Ukraine, according to the International Organization for Migration, part of the United Nations network. More than 6.2 million Ukrainians have sought safety abroad since the start of the full-scale invasion.

In a July 2023 joint report, New Lines Institute and the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights reiterated their May 2022 conclusion that Russia has violated the 1948 Genocide Convention through its atrocities in Ukraine.

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Evangelization includes care for the poor and the Earth, pope tells conference

An effective proclamation of the Gospel must speak with hope to the real-life problems of the poor, to the need to protect the Earth and to the ability of people of goodwill to change the social and financial systems that harm the poor and the environment, Pope Francis said.

« Ten years after the publication of Evangelii Gaudium [‘The Joy of the Gospel’], let us reaffirm that only if we listen to the often-silenced cry of the earth and of the poor can we fulfill our evangelizing mission, live the life Jesus proposes to us and contribute to solving the grave problems of humanity, » the pope wrote to a conference marking the anniversary of his first exhortation.

The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development organized the conference Nov. 24, the anniversary of publication of the exhortation, which was widely described as outlining Francis’ vision for his pontificate.

In his message to the conference, the pope said the proclamation of the Gospel today — like it was for the church of the first centuries — « requires of us a prophetic counter-cultural resistance to pagan, hedonistic individualism, » resistance « to a system that kills, excludes and destroys human dignity, resistance to a mentality that isolates, alienates and limits one’s inner life to one’s own interests, distances us from our neighbor and alienates us from God. »

Being a « missionary disciple, » he said, means working for the kingdom of God by struggling for justice, providing food to the hungry and working for a fair distribution of goods.

Putting the poor at the center of one’s concern, the pope wrote, « is not politics, is not sociology, is not ideology — it is purely and simply the requirement of the Gospel. »

The practical implications of that requirement could vary, depending on whether one is a government leader or a business owner, a judge or a labor union worker, he said, « but what no one can evade or excuse themselves from is the debt of love that every Christian — and I dare say, every human being — owes to the poor. »

Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the dicastery, told participants that the « joy of the Gospel » comes « from the encounter with the risen Lord who, passing through the humiliation of the cross, takes upon himself the sin, weakness, miseries and poverty of the human race, so that all might share in his victory over death. »

The joy of the Gospel, the cardinal said, gives Christians and the whole church the grace, motivation and strength « to go beyond referring to its own self and move toward the margins, in order to look right at that suffering humanity often considered as mere ‘waste,’ as inevitable and acceptable ‘collateral damage,’ as ‘necessary sacrifice,’ as an ‘offering’ owed to the idols of consumption. »

Juan Grabois, founder of the Confederation of Popular Economy Workers in Buenos Aires, Argentina, told the conference about how he moved away from the church in adolescence and young adulthood believing the church to be « reactionary, hypocritical, accommodating and distant from the serious social problems of my country and the world. »

Then, about 20 years ago, he heard the archbishop of Buenos Aires, the future Pope Francis, give a homily supporting the rights of the « cartoneros, » the people who lived off collecting paper and other objects for recycling.

The pope, he said, has always advocated « for the poor, the excluded and the oppressed, be they individuals, groups or peoples. »

« This aspect of his personality remained when he was elected pope, » Grabois said. « Francis has continued to advocate for the poor just as before, but with more strength, with a strength that did not slacken, and his voice is heard all over the world. »

Living in a way that cares for the poor and for the Earth will mean sacrificing some material comforts, he said, « but Francis tells us that if we fulfill this Christian mandate, if we fulfill it well, we will be happy, that this is where we will find Jesus again, that this is the wellspring of faith, that this is where the joy of the Gospel is to be found. »

« He proposes that we exchange well-being for joy, » he said.

Evangelii Gaudium is a document on evangelization, but it also advances Catholic social teaching, several participants noted. It shows the inextricable bond between the church’s mission and care for the poor that goes beyond charity.

« There is nothing more anti-Christian, anti-Catholic, than the divorce between spirituality and social liberation, » Grabois said. By his words and example, Jesus taught that Christians must love their neighbor and care for the poor.

Czerny said that if one were to print out everything the pope has said and written in the past 10 years and weighed them, « I suspect that the spiritual, theological, ecclesial content is heavier than the social, » but the media tends to focus on his pronouncements on social issues without highlighting how they are connected.

Dominican Sr. Helen Alford, president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, told the conference that St. John Paul II was the first pope to teach that Catholic social teaching was part of Catholic moral theology — highlighting how faith has implications for the way a believer must live and act in society and not only in one’s personal life.

« With St. John Paul, you get this idea [of social teaching] really coming into the center of the church’s evangelizing mission. And not everybody’s understood that yet, » she said. By calling his exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, she said, Francis is continuing to give a central place to the connections between faith and life, especially as they impact the poor.


Christ the King

(Solemnity of Christ the King-Year A; This homily was given on November 25 & 26, 2023 at Saint Augustine Church in Providence, Rhode Island; See Ezekiel 34: 11-17 and Matthew 25:31-46) 

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An archdiocese in Kenya advocates for river conservation among local communities

The impacts of climate change and intense human activity threaten a river owned by a Catholic archdiocese in Kenya. Through better informing local communities and farmers about what causes the river to dry up and become polluted, the Catholic Archdiocese of Nyeri hopes to aid in protecting the Kalondon River and its surrounding land. 

Made in 1902 by Consolata Missionaries who had settled in Mathari, the small river in Kenya has been flowing ever since. The missionaries needed water for their domestic use and to generate electricity for a missionary hospital and school, so they were given the land by the colonial government. When the missionaries left the country, the Archdiocese of Nyeri started the process to formalize its ownership by acquiring a title deed for the river and the land it passes through.

The aim of ownership was to serve as a means of conserving the water and land and assuring its continued existence in the future. According to church management, the river has been of great benefit to the church, schools and surrounding communities, but they say some locals disagree with them about how the river should be used. 

Recently, the river has been facing numerous challenges, including logging upstream, waste dumping from locals and illegal tapping. Farming activities near the river lead to soil erosion, siltation, illegal irrigation and the dumping of toxic chemicals. Some farmers along the river are using four-inch diameter pipes for irrigation, which goes against the irrigation act in Kenya.

Archbishop Anthony Muheria of the Nyeri Archdiocese has been at the forefront of pleading with locals to protect the river by shunning illegal dumping and problematic methods of farming around bodies of water.

The bishop expressed concern over the damage of forests and the dumping of solid and liquid waste not only in the Kalondon River, but also other water sources in the country, which he said spells doom in the future.

« People must take care of water sources not only in Kalondon, but all water sources, and practice sustainable use of water if they expect to continue benefiting, » he told EarthBeat.

The Kalondon River splits from the Murungato River toward Mathari. It gets its water from the Aberdare Ranges, among the largest of Kenya’s water towers. The river flows to Nyarungumu, a densely populated village in Nyeri County in the central Kenya region, covering two acres before returning to its source through Nyeri Hill Farm, which is also owned by the archdiocese.

According to Nyeri-based priest Fr. John Githinji, parishioners in collaboration with surrounding communities occasionally conduct cleaning that protects river banks from erosion, but illegal tapping and tilling of the land that comprises the banks remains a threat to this vital ecosystem.

« We usually do some cleaning once in a while and reforestation along the banks to protect the river, but unfriendly activities continue. As a church we cannot take somebody to court to protect the river, but we will continue doing what we’ve been advised to do by our leaders, » he told Earthbeat in Nyeri.

Another threat to the river is the growing of eucalyptus trees along the banks by farmers who try to sell the trees for timber. Experts say they require a lot of water and contribute to the decreasing water level. In other countries, the government has banned eucalyptus trees along river banks. Some even cut the trees down without informing the owners.

Activities such as bathing, doing laundry and sand harvesting also have been identified as threats to the river’s health, according to Githinji. These are small things that can be controlled if communities are better informed on the issues.

The church has been educating locals on the importance of sustainable river use that serves community needs without causing damage to the source. They are trying to raise this awareness not just in churches, but also in the surrounding villages and with local farmers by showing them more effective ways to use water from the river without negatively impacting it.

Though some community members have organized themselves into small groups to support conservation measures along the river, Githinji said the awareness they’ve been raising to save the river needs more support from the community, non-governmental organizations and the government.

Elias Waweru, a Kikuyu community elder in Nyarungumu village who has been at the forefront of spreading awareness against illegal dumping in the river, said that they are working hard to curb illegal activities along the river, but sometimes things go beyond their powers.

« Some farmers along the river are not ready to listen to us and they just do things deliberately knowing that we’ve nowhere to take them » to hold them accountable, said Waweru.

Waweru said the river serves over 100,000 households but only a fraction of them understand the importance of river conservation. He and other locals have planted more than 5,000 Indigenous trees along the river, but the majority of the trees they have planted have disappeared due to overgrazing and encroachment.

In the Aberdare Ranges, the Kalodon River’s source, logging and encroachment is getting intense, which along with climate change impacts, like prolonged droughts, also decreases the river’s water level. 

Reuben Maina, an environmental activist in Nyeri County, said if something isn’t done soon, the river might vanish. He expressed concern about lifting a ban on logging in the country, saying that the move will worsen climate vagaries.

« We’re already experiencing a climate crisis in this country and I am very saddened by the government move to lift the ban on logging. A river like this one will not survive. It is already struggling due to massive logging upstream, » said Maina.

He noted that there used to be creatures in the river, which was a sign of clean water. But nowadays there are none because the water has been polluted, making it difficult for any organism to survive. 

Judith Mwangi, a farmer along the river, cautioned all those using banned pipe sizes and cultivating their land up to the river banks to stop. 

« If the communities and farmers would like to continue benefiting from the river, then everybody must take responsibility to protect it and practice sustainable use of its water, » said Mwangi.

Vie de l'église

Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe: See through a different lens

Shortly before convening the synod on synodality — arguably the most important Catholic Church gathering since Vatican II — Pope Francis visited Mongolia. Mongolia? Situated precariously between Russia and China, the ancient home of Genghis Khan boasts a total of some 1,450 Catholics midst a population of 3 million.

Why on earth would an aging pope who would be welcome in many powerful nations with huge Catholic populations bother the hardship traveling to such an insignificant spot? Could he have found a smaller Catholic population anywhere in the world? (Well, yes. Vatican City’s population is just over 500, so Mongolia beats them by numbers if not by percentage, and there are a few others as well.)

Unlikely as it seems, Mongolia, with a national population less than half that of Mexico City, has a cardinal — Giorgio Marengo — the church’s youngest and a member of the synod on synodality.

What was the point? It seems that this was one more opportunity for Francis to demonstrate what he thinks it means to be a shepherd. 

Today we celebrate the « Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. » That’s a mouthful! Pope Pius XI established the feast in 1925 to recall that Christ should reign in the hearts and will of humankind. 

The readings for the day, different in each year of our three-year liturgical cycle, orient and describe the celebration better than its grandiose title.

The centerpiece today is Matthew’s scene of the judgment between sheep and goats (an unfortunate disparagement of the poor old goats who are generally smarter, albeit feistier, than sheep). Michelangelo gave us a vivid image of this scene in which Christ’s arm is raised in judgment, the saints are rising and the damned are pitifully drifting into the abyss. Such works vividly depict a fearsome last day.

Jesus’ parable offers a different interpretation of the end. In Jesus’ parable, the end is ever-present. The coming of Christ is not some future event, but an everyday occurrence and not at all like the Sistine Chapel. 

If we want artistic renditions of Matthew’s depiction of judgment, we might better read Charles Dickens or study the photography of Dorothea Lange. 

Rather than talk about an apocalyptic end, Jesus claimed that the king appears in the guise of every needy person and that we judge ourselves in our response to them. Along these lines, Diego Rivera’s painting « El Cargador de Flores » probably reflects this parable more truly than Michelangelo’s « The Last Judgment. » 

Rivera depicts a peasant on his hands and knees. His wife struggles to help him stand up under the weight of an enormous basket of flowers to take to market. 

The message for anyone who has eyes to see is that some people’s luxurious decor comes at the expense of the poor who cannot even see the beauty of what they bear on their backs.

This is where the vocation of the shepherd comes in. In a universe in which we have been given the ability to choose whether to advance the reign of God or to frustrate it, every follower of Jesus is called to be a shepherd. Every person has the ability to see what Dickens, Lange and Rivera point out, thus every one of us has a responsibility to respond.

Francis went to one of the smallest and least important churches in the world to help the rest of the world see through a different lens.

Francis’ missionary journey to Mongolia interprets the 3,000-year-old Psalm 23 with 21st-century symbolism. Francis refreshed the souls of people insignificant in the eyes of the world. That proclaimed one message to people who feel insignificant and another to those who don’t notice them. 

By making the Mongolians — and all whom they represent — more visible, Francis highlighted their right to enjoy the verdant pastures of our Earth. In the full sight of all those who disparage the small, he spread a lavish table and celebrated the Eucharist with almost every Catholic in the country.

We celebrate this Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, on the heels of the first session of the synod on synodality. The synod is calling us to learn how to journey together as church and as the people of the world. 

These two events combine to exhort us to recognize that what is truly important in our day is the life of the flower carriers — all those people burdened in a world that loves what they provide, but rarely, barely remembers that they are the ever-present representatives of Christ the King. 

When we learn to treat them as such, we will be on the right side of history — all the way to the end.

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Revolutionizing tradition with Kathleen Bonette’s book ‘(R)evolutionary Hope’

For years, I couldn’t shake the notion that St. Augustine was boring. Despite his profound influence on 1,600 years of theologians, ethicists and church leaders who’ve molded the Christian tradition, I couldn’t help but drift toward medieval mysticism or the spiritual guidance of 20th century luminaries such as Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. I routinely averted my gaze from course offerings in early Christianity, dismissing Augustine’s Confessions altogether whenever it came across my eye on the library shelves.

But Kathleen Bonnette took me on a theological journey, shedding light on how Augustine’s timeless questions continue to resonate and evolve in our modern era. Her book, (R)evolutionary Hope: A Spirituality of Encounter and Engagement in an Evolving World, weaves scholarly insights on this saint together with personal anecdotes that reflect her own evolving identity as a Catholic within the complex political landscape of the contemporary Catholic Church in the United States.

At the core of her book lies a vital narrative. Bonnette, an adult convert to Catholicism, shares her life as a theological scholar captivated by the rich intellectual tradition of the church. Simultaneously, she details her process of unlearning ingrained prejudices and attitudes around issues of race, gender, sexuality and — fundamental to all of these topics — structures of power. Shedding the hierarchical trappings that shape power within the church, Bonnette writes:

While it was Augustine’s influence that first drew me to the Catholic Church, my engagement with women religious in the work for peace and justice drew me more deeply into Catholic faith. … They expressed spiritual sensibilities that emphasized encounter and inclusion: their love was ordered, in practice, toward relationship before dogma. Through them, I learned to define Catholicism in terms of wholeness and interconnection, rather than hierarchy.

I loved this book for its pursuit of ecclesial wholeness. Bonnette defies our inclination to view the church as « a power struggle » where  » ‘our side’ wins — for the good of the church » and opts instead « to reflect Christ’s heart — a heart that is always open to encounter. » In today’s polarized political climate, this approach is more crucial than ever. Through the lens of Augustine, she masterfully delves into the potential of a Catholic imagination that challenges divisiveness. This provides a fresh perspective on spirituality and active engagement in our ever-evolving world.

While Bonette does share from her own life as she examines Augustine’s theological reflection and dialogues with contemporary figures, I found I desired a more comprehensive exploration of Bonette’s personal narrative. Everyday examples of balancing work and family life, for instance, come and go with brief detail. The book predominantly leans toward theological discussions on Augustine’s cosmology and reflections on original sin. Nevertheless, it’s evident that the book aims to deeply resonate within readers’ personal reflections through guided questions and the  stories we do glean from Bonette’s life. 

Take, for example, an anecdote she shares from her doctoral studies. After delivering a lecture on love and justice in Augustine’s theology, Bonnette advised a young woman who was both a Catholic campus minister and a lesbian. Bonnette stressed to her that the church’s institutional teachings labeling LGBTQ+ love as « intrinsically disordered » were essential eternal truths for personal flourishing. Bonette recounts the young woman’s response:

Her eyes, resigned, held the hurt of a wound torn open yet again, as she graciously but pointedly asked, « Shouldn’t our human experience have something to offer orthodoxy? »

To share this painful moment with us is a gift. We learn that this young woman’s question became a significant part of Bonette’s theological and spiritual journey. By sharing this moment with her readers, she reignited my own journey as a reader and a queer Catholic who, in my own theological studies and personal wounds, could have found myself in a similar situation to that young woman. It reminded me of the times when my experiences of love, including God’s love, were marginalized in the name of orthodoxy and truth by peers, professors and guest speakers. 

By this token, Bonette’s acknowledgment of « Augustine’s intellectual paradigm contributing to much violence, » along with her compelling reasons to counter that violence through his own words, alleviated my apprehension about delving into his theology through her lens. Where I once worried that Augustinian theology might be used to challenge my Catholic experiences and faith, I discovered in Bonette a guide who encouraged me to explore his theology with curiosity, safety and in the spirit of her own personal quest for knowledge. 

Kathleen Bonette shows how tradition can engage in meaningful dialogue with justice. When you delve into this book, especially if you’ve overlooked Augustine in the past, don’t expect to walk out with a comprehensive understanding of his theology. You will certainly gain a deeper understanding. But even more so, aspire to navigate her chapters by embracing the theological richness of your own human experiences, imperfections included, while contemplating God’s creativity. 

Vie de l'église

God calls some to bring his love, Gospel to everyone, pope says

A person hearing God’s call to follow him does not mean that person then belongs to a special or privileged clique of the perfect or the « elected, » Pope Francis said.

« The call is never a privilege. We cannot say that we are privileged over others, » the pope said Nov. 22 at his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

« No, the call is for a service and God chooses one in order to reach everyone, in order to love everyone, » he said.

Francis continued his series of talks about the « zeal for evangelization, » focusing on a few themes from his 2013 apostolic exhortation, « The Joy of the Gospel. »

The theme of his talk Nov. 22 was that the Gospel and the joy of God’s love are for everyone, quoting from his exhortation that everyone has « a right to receive the Gospel. Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. »

The pope said, « Let us distinguish ourselves for our capacity to come out of ourselves, to overcome every limit » and bring the Good News to everyone, with an « open and expansive » attitude that « comes from Jesus, who made his presence in the world a continuous journey, aimed at reaching out to everyone, even learning from some of his encounters.

He said the Gospel according to St. Matthew details Jesus’ refusal to cure the daughter of a pagan Canaanite woman. Jesus tells her he « was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel » and that « it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs. »

But the woman insisted, replying, « even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters. » This moves Jesus, who then says, « O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish, » the pope said.

This encounter with a foreign and pagan woman shows Jesus changing his mind, the pope said. « The Lord himself finds confirmation that his preaching should not be limited to the people to whom he belongs, but open to all. »

« Perhaps the greatest temptation » for Christians, the pope said, is to consider God’s call as being « a privilege. Please, don’t. »

« When God calls a person and makes a pact with some of them, » he said, it is always to elect the one in order to reach others.

The church as « catholic » or universal is also « to prevent the temptation of identifying Christianity with a culture, with an ethnicity, with a system, » he added. Christianity is not a « clique of the elected, of first class. »

« Let us not forget: God chooses some to love all, » Francis said, and « the Gospel is not just for me, it is for everyone. »

Vie de l'église

Israel agrees to hostage deal with Hamas; church leaders hope it will lead to end of war

The Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, expressed his happiness at the late-night hostage-exchange agreement reached between Israel and Hamas Nov. 21, and said he hoped it would lead to end to the war which broke out after an Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack on 22 southern Israeli agricultural communities along the border with Gaza.

« We are happy with the news and hope that this will lead to further positive development that will bring the conflict to a conclusion, » said Pizzaballa in a brief statement released to journalists in Italian and English.

The Israeli government said in a statement it was obligated to return all the hostages home and had approved the outline of the first stage of the goal.

According to the agreement, which was negotiated with the help of Qatar, at least 50 Israeli hostages — women and children — will be released over four days, during which there will be a pause in the fighting. The release of every additional 10 hostages will result in one additional day in the pause, they said.

The truce is aimed to begin at 10 a.m. Nov. 23. In the exchange Israel will also allow fuel, medicine and other humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip and will release up to 300 Palestinians — also women and children — held in Israeli prison.

President Joe Biden welcomed the deal to secure the release of hostages « taken by the terrorist group Hamas during its brutal assault against Israel on October 7th, » a Nov. 22 White House statement said.

« Jill and I have been keeping all those held hostage and their loved ones close to our hearts these many weeks, and I am extraordinarily gratified that some of these brave souls, who have endured weeks of captivity and an unspeakable ordeal, will be reunited with their families once this deal is fully implemented, » the president said.

« As President, I have no higher priority than ensuring the safety of Americans held hostage around the world, » Biden said. He said that the U.S. « national security team and I have worked closely with regional partners to do everything possible to secure the release of our fellow citizens. »

The president said the first sign of negotiations was releasing Judith Tai Raanan, 59, and her daughter Natalie, 17, on Oct. 20.

« Today’s deal should bring home additional American hostages, and I will not stop until they are all released, » the president said.

« Today’s deal is a testament to the tireless diplomacy and determination of many dedicated individuals across the United States Government to bring Americans home, » Biden stressed.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said Nov. 22 that the U.N. will « mobilize all its capabilities » to support the implementation of the Israel-Hamas truce.

« I welcome the agreement reached by Israel and Hamas. It‘s an important step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done, » Guterres said in a statement.

« They suffer so much. I heard how they both suffer. »

— Pope Francis

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On Nov. 22, Pope Francis renewed his appeal for prayers for people suffering due to wars in Ukraine and the Holy Land, saying « this is not war; this is terrorism. »

The Holy Father recalled his meeting earlier the same morning with two delegations: 12 members of the Israeli delegation at his residence in the Casa Santa Marta and Palestinian delegation in a room in the Paul VI hall.

« They suffer so much. I heard how they both suffer, » Francis said. « Wars do that, » he stressed, adding that the situation in the Holy land reminded that « here we have gone beyond wars. » « This is not war; this is terrorism, » he said.

The parents of Israeli hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin, 23, who was among those captured from a desert dance party near the Gaza border Oct. 7 and also holds American citizenship, met with the pope.

« I feel blessed and honored to have had that experience. He was very kind and empathetic, » said Rachel Goldberg, who is originally from Chicago. In a video posted on social media, she told the pope: « This is my son, » holding up her cellphone to the pope. « No arm — it’s been 47 days. »

An Israeli television channel read the possible names of hostages to be released Nov. 22, showing pictures of dozens of children — babies, toddlers and teenagers, who could be reunited with their families, but families to whom OSV News spoke say they were told that nothing is for certain until the hostages actually cross the border with Gaza. The list allegedly includes Abigail Mor Idan, the 3-year-old Israeli-American who saw her parents murdered, and was then taken hostage to Gaza.

Abigail’s father Roy Edan, 43, a photojournalist, and her mother, Smadar Edan, were murdered Oct. 7. « The one thing that we all hold on to is that hope now that Abigail comes home, she comes home by Friday, » the toddler’s aunt Liz Hirsh Naftali told CNN Nov. 21.

« Friday is her 4th birthday. We need to see Abigail come out and then we will be able to believe it. »

Hamas is believed to have taken 239 people as hostages into Gaza following their incursion. They are mainly civilians, including Israelis, dual-citizens, foreign workers from Thailand, Nepal and the Philippines and two international students from Tanzania.

Some 1,200 people, also mainly civilians, were killed in the terrorist attack — including Israeli Muslim citizens and foreign workers, which Hamas documented in gruesome videos released of that day’s atrocities from the terrorists’ bodycams.

The ensuing war which has included Israeli air, land and sea assaults has left Gaza virtually in ruins with over 14,100 Palestinians dead according to Hamas, which does not differentiate between civilians and Hamas casualties. Eighteen Christians were killed in an Israeli bombing of a Hamas target which caused a wall to collapse in the compound of the Greek Orthodox church.

In addition, according to the U.N., some 1.7 million people — nearly three quarters of Gaza’s population — have been displaced as Israel has continued its attacks for almost seven weeks with its stated purpose of rooting out Hamas and its leadership from the Gaza Strip. Some 386 Israeli soldiers also have been killed in action. Caritas confirmed Nov. 22 that one of its workers, 35-year-old Issam Abedrabbo, widower and father of three, was killed along with two of his children in Gaza. Only his 3-year-old daughter survived.

While some reports are heralding the truce as the first step toward the end of the brutal conflict, Israel has insisted that it will continue the war until all the hostages are returned and that it will « complete the elimination of Hamas and ensure that there will be no new threat to the State of Israel from Gaza. »