Here are some of features from the June 2014 issue of Long Island Catholic Magazine. To subscribe click here.
FAITH AND NEW WORKS
By Bishop William Murphy
Religious freedom and United States foreign policy
As we prepare to observe the third Fortnight for Freedom from June 21 to July 4 together with our brothers and sisters across our nation, I would like to share with you the story of an initiative of the Congress signed into law by President George W. Bush. The Commission for International Religious Freedom is the fruit of an act of Congress that is based on the conviction that religious freedom is such an important human right that the U.S. government and the U.S. State Department should integrate these concerns in the conduct of the foreign policy of our nation.
Nine Commissioners are appointed for a two year term. The President appoints three and the leadership of the House of each party choose three. When first I arrived here in Rockville Centre I had begun the second year of my two year term. For me it was a privilege to be able to serve my country in such an important area. Yet the demands of spending at least a day every month in Washington plus all the study and the trips to other countries brought me to refuse a second term when the president offered it to me because the pastoral work of being Bishop of Rockville Centre demanded my total commitment.
During those two years, the nine Commissioners assiduously studied the conditions affecting the exercise of freedom of religion around the world. Our discussions would lead us to concentrate on those countries where there exist particularly grave and systematic violations of religious freedom. With a very competent and dedicated staff we collected the best information possible. This at times meant going directly to the countries under investigation. With two other Commissioners, I made a fact finding trip to Russia and to Belarus which led to our making conclusions about the violations of religious freedom, especially in Belarus.
Our task, then, was to produce a report with our recommendations to the State Department. In it we offered the results of our work and indicated which of the nations were such flagrant violators of the religious freedom of its citizens that it merited to be designated officially as a “country of particular concern.” Once the State Department endorsed our recommendation, that fact would become a factor in the diplomatic and political discussion between our country and the leadership of that country. I recall the time when President Bush was planning to visit China. We received a request from the White House for information about the status of freedom of religious expression in that country. Once he had seen our report and our suggestions, we received word that the president would make our report part of his discussions with the leadership of China.
While these issues are not commonly the principal object of foreign policy and foreign relations, the fact that our government has by law made the commitment to pursue these issues with other governments is an important development in international relations and should be a cause for pride on the part of all Americans. In turn the Commissioners and their staff in Washington must bend to the task with seriousness of purpose and with a willingness to get the facts straight so that the conclusions will be just and truthful. For example, we debated some time about whether or not India should have been listed as a “country of particular concern.” At that time there was serious persecution of Muslims and Christians in the state of Gujarat. The governor of that state, Mr. Modi, seemed to have condoned violence against religious minorities on the part of the majority Hindu population. We decided against it because the Constitution of the State of India protects religious freedom of all faiths and religions. Therefore we placed it on a “watch list,” hoping that the national government would take notice and address the issues with Mr. Modi as governor of that state. This is the same Mr. Modi whose party won a majority in the recent national elections. He is in process of forming a new government for India as I write this.
Like all efforts of this sort, the Commission for International Religious Freedom is not perfect. It almost was shelved by the current Administration that wanted to cut off its funds. However, the originators of the proposal in Congress, Congressmen Frank Wolf and Christopher Smith, along with many groups including the U.S. Conference of Bishops, made a convincing argument for its continuance. To them and to all who have served on this Commission, including my brother bishops and several Catholic lay faithful, we owe a debt of gratitude. May the freedom of religion we as a nation want to promote in our international relationships be always maintained and promoted in our own beloved country!
THE CATHOLIC HOME
By Alice Gunther
While we have them home
Two of my daughters attend secular colleges. Not long ago, one of the girls joined a large academic club on campus. The subject of religion came up among the students at one of their meetings. “Mom,” my daughter told me later, “apart from one other girl, I was the only one there who believed in God or practiced any sort of religion.” Surprised by this bleak report, I remarked, “You must feel like you have a lot in common with the religious girl.” My daughter laughed and said, “She’s pagan.”
When I graduated college 25 years ago, it seemed like everyone at least believed in God. I remember one agnostic fellow, a thoughtful poetic type, and an abrupt, cranky young man who professed himself an atheist, but that was all. In only one generation, belief in God has been largely eradicated among the young. How and why this happened might be the subject of many hours of consideration, but the words of our Lord seem to apply to our own times, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on the face of the earth?”
June is a time when our children come home—whether from school or from college—or return for summer visits. It is also the month of the Sacred Heart, a time of particular grace and mercy. While they are all home, I am hoping to make the summer a retreat for them. Here are some thoughts I had while waiting for my younger girls to get out of ballet lessons:
1. Start with confession for everyone, the most important beginning to any plan.
2. Attend daily Mass with the children as often as possible.
3. Follow the advice in the excellent book The Little Oratory: A Beginner’s Guide to Praying in the Home (Sophia Press). This new work is the best book on family prayer and home atmosphere I have ever read. It should be in every Catholic home.
4. Share the faith on the college level. When my eldest daughters were little, we were always reading holy picture books or illustrated lives of the saints. How easy it is to stop teaching just when the children are most able to understand. This summer, we will be reading Humanae Vitae, Veritatis Splendor, St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and The Diary of St. Faustina.
5.Do not abdicate. My children are my personal mission field for life. At the moment, they range in age from 3 to 20. Each one needs me in a different way, but they all need me—the young adults perhaps more so than the little ones. I will never stop passing on the gift of faith.
A very holy priest told me recently, “If you plant the seed of faith deeply enough, eventually even children who have fallen away will come back.” June is a time to get out the garden tools and set to work.