Former Vatican Ambassador Thomas P. Melady died yesterday at the age of 86. His passing is a significant loss for the Catholic community in Washington and anyone who cares about public service. Tom was a true gentleman who believed in civility, building bridges across ideological divides and finding common ground with Catholic progressives like myself. A moderate Republican from Connecticut, he served his country and the Catholic Church by carrying himself with a gentle dignity that is all too rare in a city of strutting partisan peacocks.
While almost 50 years separated us, Tom became a friend because of our love for the Catholic Church and the conviction that serving the common good means a lot more than whether you voted for Mitt Romney or Barack Obama. At times the politics of the Catholic Church can feel even more polarized and nasty than the battles waged on cable news and Capitol Hill, but Tom never let labels or blind partisanship stop him from reaching out to progressives. He even joked with me a few times that he was willing to take heat from his friends on the right for his eagerness to make common cause with more liberal Catholics.
Tom was a man of integrity and clear moral vision. He spoke up as a pro-life Catholic who opposed abortion but also called the scourge of gun violence a sanctity-of-life issue. While some conservatives and a vocal minority of bishops argue pro-choice Catholic elected officials should be denied Holy Communion, Tom rejected turning a sacrament into a political bludgeon. He joined other Christian leaders to denounce Uganda’s shameful efforts to dehumanize gays and lesbians. He spoke out for comprehensive immigration reform. He challenged the powerful and all of us not to forget the growing ranks of the poor and hungry. Tom knew that politics could be a noble calling, not simply a blood sport for the self-serving and ambitious.
I will miss his stories over lunch at The Army-Navy Club and his impromptu phone calls to talk about politics or the Church. Our country will miss his spirit of service.
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DeSales University organizer Kristen Snyder meeting with Rep. Charlie Dent to lobby for immigration reform.
In coordination with the Fast for Families group fast on the National Mall, Catholic college students across the country have organized rolling, on-campus fasts, eating no food and drinking only water to call for a vote on comprehensive immigration reform to be held.
Creighton University in Omaha began fasting on Nov. 11th, and students and faculty organized nightly prayer services throughout the week.
At DeSales University in Center Valley, Pennsylvania, students and faculty fasted the week following and led a lobby visit with Rep. Dent to call for immigration reform.
Loyola New Orleans hosted Nuns and Friends of Immigration Reform on Nov. 23rd, where 80 nuns and women religious gathered with DREAMERs and other speakers, despite drizzling rain, to put out a call for immigration reform. The week following, students and faculty fasted.
The first week of December, as the Fast for Families fasters on the National Mallcome into their third week abstaining from food, Saint Joseph’s University, Gonzaga University, Regis University, University of Dallas, St. Edwards University in Austin, Loyola University Chicago, Notre Dame University, Misericordia University (PA), Cabrini College and Villanova University all have fasting teams on campus made up of students and campus ministry and other administrators.
Next week, University of San Diego students are leading a campus fast and other Catholic colleges continue to add fasters to this national movement to call for comprehensive immigration reform.
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Advocates begin 21st day of fasting today, urge Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform
Prominent Catholic leaders – including the president of Catholic Charities USA, Catholic university presidents and former U.S. Ambassadors to the Vatican – released a statement today offering encouragement to immigration reform advocates now starting their 21st day of a water-only fast to dramatize the moral urgency of passing comprehensive immigration reform.
“We are hopeful that your sacrifices and determined stand in the face of Congressional delay will awaken the consciences and break open the hearts of elected officials to the human suffering caused by an immigration system that tears families apart,” the leaders write. “Your courageous example reminds us all that the issue of immigration reform is not about partisan politics or narrow ideological agendas. This is a profound moral issue, as old as the Hebrew prophets and the Gospel, that calls into question the kind of nation we aspire to pass on to our children.”
The core group of fasters include Eliseo Medina, former international Secretary Treasurer of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Dae Joong Yoon of the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC) and Cristian Avila, 23, of Mi Familia Vota in Phoenix, the son of Mexican immigrants. As of today, more than 5,000 people across the country have fasted in solidarity for one or more days and hundreds have joined nightly community meetings at the fasters’ tent to offer support. This week, students on 11 Catholic university campuses are fasting in solidarity. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the retired archbishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, will visit the tent tomorrow to offer spiritual support and prayers as the fasters continue a national week of solidarity, prayer and action.
Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez joined a group of civic and labor leaders last week to announce a 24-hour fast between December 1-3 in solidarity with the Fast for Families. “Everyone knows our immigration system is broken,” Archbishop Gomez said in announcing the fast. “But our leaders don’t seem to feel enough urgency to fix it. So we offer our fasting today as a prayer — in the hopes of moving the hearts of our national leaders in Washington.” Bishop Blase Cupich of the Diocese of Sopkane, WA. last week sent fasters a letter saying their efforts are a “cause of great inspiration to me personally.” Bishop Cupich added: “I have been working with elected officials directly and through other community leaders to spur action on achieving comprehensive immigration reform. You motivate me to enhance those efforts.”
The message of solidarity released today will be delivered to the fasters’ tent on the National Mall, which in recent days has attracted a stream of elected officials, civil rights and religious leaders – including President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, Jessie Jackson and Bishop John Wester, the Roman Catholic bishop of Salt Lake City. The statement of support is signed by among others Rev. Larry Snyder, President of Catholic Charities USA; Thomas P. Melady, retired U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See under President George H.W. Bush; Miguel Diaz, former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See under President Barack Obama; the presidents of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities; the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas and Sabrina Burton Schultz, Director of Life Ministry in the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Fla.
The full statement with signatories can be found below and here.
We are deeply moved and personally inspired by your prophetic witness that demonstrates the moral urgency of comprehensive immigration reform. We are hopeful that your sacrifices and determined stand in the face of Congressional delay will awaken the consciences and break open the hearts of elected officials to the human suffering caused by an immigration system that tears families apart. Your courageous example reminds us all that the issue of immigration reform is not about partisan politics or narrow ideological agendas. This is a profound moral issue, as old as the Hebrew prophets and the Gospel, that calls into question the kind of nation we aspire to pass on to our children.
As Pope Francis said when he visited the island of Lampedusa to honor migrants, we are all complicit in a “globalization of indifference” when we fail to confront the personal and political realities that undermine human dignity. Thank you for your moral leadership. Please know that you are in our prayers.
Rev. Larry Snyder
Catholic Charities USA
Thomas P. Melady
U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See (retired)
President Emeritus, Sacred Heart University
Former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See
University Professor of Faith and Culture
University of Dayton
Rev. Michael J. Sheeran, S.J.
Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities
Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities
Rev. Stephen Privett, S.J.
University of San Francisco
Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M.
Mexican American Catholic College
Sister Ann Scholz, SSND, PhD
Associate Director for Social Mission
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas
Sabrina Burton Schultz
Director of Life Ministry
Diocese of St. Petersburg
Sister Simone Campbell, SSS
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Interfaith Worker Justice
National Advocacy Center
Sisters of the Good Shepherd
Rev. Frederick L. Thelen
President, Action of Greater Lansing
Pastor, Cristo Rey Church
Rev. Joseph Nangle, O.F.M
Susan M. Weishar
Jesuit Social Research Institute
Loyola University, New Orleans
Christopher G. Kerr
Ignatian Solidarity Network
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Yesterday Pope Francis issued a devastating moral critique of our economic system, saying in part:
Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.
This inequality is alive and well in our own backyard. For example, Walmart — the nation’s largest employer — pays their American workers an average wage low enough to qualify for SNAP benefits for a family of three. Employees at a Walmart in Ohio even collected holiday food donations for the store’s own poverty-wage employees this month. Meanwhile their shelves are stocked with products manufactured in life-threatening conditions by workers trapped in abject poverty, and the company founder’s family is the richest in the world.
Walmart is by no means alone. Squeezing the vast multitude of workers while racking up huge profits and doling out staggering salaries to a tiny corporate elite is a feature, not a bug, of the entire economic order. Human beings are treated as if they exist to serve the system, rather than vice versa. It’s a crisis of values.
There are hopeful signs that alleviating the suffering is becoming a higher priority in Washington. For example, the Senate will vote next month on raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10. Don’t get me wrong – this is just one step towards a pro-familiy economy that truly values the dignity of work.
And in a sorely needed break from the bipartisan obsession with fiscal austerity that has gripped Washington in recent years, Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently took to the Senate floor to call for expanding Social Security benefits instead of cutting them like leaders of both parties proposed earlier this year. At a time when one-third of Americans near retirement age have no retirement savings to fall back on, Warren is 100% right about the need to change the debate instead of succumbing to false choices. As Francis argued yesterday, it’s a matter of life and death that demands our concern and action.
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Ever since his election just eight months ago, Pope Francis has brought a season of renewal and hope to the Catholic Church with his emphasis on personal humility, engagement with the broader culture and focus on economic justice. His warnings that an isolated Church grows “sick” when it fails to be “in the streets” and headline-grabbing comments that Catholicism must not be known exclusively for obsession with a few hot-button issues is breathing new life into the Church’s efforts to evangelize in a culture often indifferent and frequently hostile to institutional religion.
Today, Pope Francis released a major document, Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel), that expands on core themes articulated in his previous sermons, interviews and reflections. Building on his frequently articulated desire for a more inclusive Church defined by mercy and compassion, Pope Francis writes that the Church must be “the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone.” In an earlier interview Pope Francis described the court mentality not uncommon at the Vatican as “the leprosy of the papacy.” He now calls for a “conversion of the papacy” that includes a less top-down approach to Church governance – a “sound decentralization” in his words.
Most relevant to timely political debates, Pope Francis offers a bold message about economic justice that especially needs to heard by Catholics in positions of power. While House Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Paul Ryan slash billions from nutrition programs and are daily communicants in the church of free-market fundamentalism, Pope Francis rejects trickle-down economics as a moral and practical failure. He writes:
Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.
As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems.
In many ways, this is traditional Catholic teaching about economic justice that builds on the foundations laid in the first social encyclical about capital and labor released in 1891 by Pope Leo XIII. But to contemporary American ears accustomed to hearing full-throated Catholic arguments only when it comes to abortion and same sex marriage, this unequivocal economic critique of unfettered markets packs a punch.
“I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor,” Francis writes in tones both mournful and hopeful.
It looks like elected officials who take great pride in claiming to represent family values and traditional religious principles while undercutting lifelines to the poor have some sober reading to do over the Thanksgiving recess.
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