There is a sour mood moving across this country. There is a great cloud of indecisiveness that hovers over the entire nation. There are certainly plenty of reasons for negative thinking – the Iraq war that won’t end; the conflicts in Afghanistan is now the longest war in American history; spiraling debt that threatens our economic future; the national government blocked by extraordinary divisiveness; a sluggish economy that holds us down.
One underlying cause that has been getting a lot of study of late is what is described as a broad crisis of authority. Our most important institutional structures and the powerful people who run them are experiencing a solid wall of distrust and lack of confidence. A recent Gallup poll reported near record distrust of the medical system, the criminal justice system and organized religion. Less than half of the respondents were willing to say that they trusted religion a great deal. Close to the bottom in all such surveys is the United States Congress. Half of those answering stated that they trusted Congress very little or not at all!
In my opinion, one of the underlying reasons for this distrust is because we citizens know so much more information about these institutions than we ever did in the past, and a great deal of that is personal information about the leaders involved. I cannot definitively analyze just how good a job Governor Schwarzenegger did in California as Governor since last week he was on three different networks pushing his book about his various misdeeds and foibles. In Texas, we have all gotten to know a great deal more about Governor Rick Perry than we ever could have about any governor of the 1920’s.
While we know a great deal about the personal attributes of our leaders, and so much of it is uncomplimentary, heads of corporations, governors and senators do not go around attempting to tell the rest of us how to live. Church leaders do! The Church’s mission is to present, at least to its own members, the life and actions of Jesus Christ and to place Jesus before us as a model. Of course, if you are preaching to others, the preachers themselves must make every effort to achieve as near identification of that model as is possible. We fail!
This inability of some religious leaders to achieve the standards that they present to the rest of the community constitutes a very heavy drag on our evangelization efforts.
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A few centuries back when the Catholic Church enjoyed (suffered?) tremendous power, that power was frequently misused and abused. Those desiring to push the anti-Catholic agenda are quick to draw historic images of the Crusades, the Inquisition, and even the obvious wealth of the Church today, a wealth that is most obvious in buildings and real estate, which frequently are far more of a liability than an asset.
Putting all that aside, however, it is necessary that Christians should become more sensitive to the fact that they are an oppressed people, not in the West, but across much of the globe. The Catholic relief agency (Aid to the Church in Need) estimates that 150,000 Christians die for their faith every year in locales ranging from the Middle East to Southeast Asia to sub-Sahara Africa and parts of Latin America. This means that every hour of every day roughly 17 Christians are killed somewhere in the world either out of hatred for the faith or hatred for works of charity and justice that their faith compels them to perform.
Look at Iraq for example. Prior to the first Gulf War, there were more than 2 million Christians in Iraq, the vast majority being Roman Catholic while today, there are between three and four hundred thousand. This is a tragic loss on the world scene and no one seems to be paying much attention to it.
Catholics should endeavor to ease up on their inner family conflicts between liberals and conservatives, and rekindle the missionary thrust that is so much a part of its essential nature. Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. Yes, that is true. But his coming greatly depends on the missionary element of his Church.
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A few weeks ago, Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies made a determined effort to put a price tag on our wars up until the present moment. Naturally, a precise figure is not possible but Brown estimates that to date the costs have been $3.7 trillion and possibly as high as $4.4 trillion. Those are ghastly figures when it comes to wasted and dissipated resources, resources that are so sorely needed in other areas of our life. The horror of the high numbers is nothing compared to the human toll that has been involved.
Others are attempting to assess the cost of war. A few months ago, the Congressional Research Service reported a lower figure than what was mentioned above. The Congressional Budget Office projected costs at $1.8 trillion. Obviously, different people are counting different ways.
Forget the money for the moment. The agony of these wars is the human suffering that has been caused by them. Hundreds of thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan and thousands of killed and wounded Americans. And how do you estimate the pain and suffering among all of the families that are involved? It totals out suffering, suffering, suffering. And the cost goes on and on. Studies show that when these veterans return home they are more likely to die in suicides and automobile accidents than if they had not gone to war.
Onward through this very dense fog.
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Once the President of the United States leaves public office, what is he to do with himself? If the last fifty years is any indication, it seems that there is almost an unwritten law as to how he should move forward. First, comes the book and then comes the library. Bush’s book, Decision Points, is now in the bookstores and the library is on its way. The former president has worked hard at selling the book and the first press run was for 750,000 copies. He gave media interviews to Oprah Winfrey, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Jay Leno, Matt Lauer, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, FOX, CNN and CBS. He said, “I want to sell books!”
I have not read the book but I did read a review by one of my heroes, Colman McCarthy (no relation regretfully) of the National Catholic Reporter. According to that McCarthy, nowhere in the book are there expressions of sorrow or remorse for the loss of life in Iraq and Afghanistan civilians. McCarthy alleges that Bush’s lack of sensitivity of American death as well and that in his eight years in office the president never attended a funeral at Arlington Cemetery!
The Iraq war may have been the worst tragedy in American history other than possibly our own Civil War. The country is devastated, unmanageable, no one knows how many Iraqi civilians were killed but certainly far more than 100,000. More than 5,000 young Americans lost their lives and 25,000 were wounded. Virtually everyone agrees that the war was a terrible, tragic mistake. May God forgive us.
President George Bush is still a young man and may live for many years. Let us pray that he can do something to be remembered by other than the agony of Iraq and those terrible statistics.
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While news reports, both on TV and in the newspapers, continue to accent Afghanistan, the tragedy of Iraq does not go away. Killings and clashes continue to take lives every week, and the future of the country is a long way from being the stable democracy that we have claimed as one of our principal reasons for being there.
Let’s hope and pray that things work out and that stability and success is achieved. But if that wonderful thought were to become reality tomorrow, the agony and suffering of yesterday will hover over the people of that battered country for decades and decades to come.
Understandably, we Americans kept careful count of our own losses. Tragically, due to the complexity of life on the ground or to our lack of concern, we have failed to keep an accurate count on civilian deaths that occurred solely to activities directly related with the war. Because there is no official count, various groups have developed very differing methods of coming up with some type of trustworthy total of losses. Ronald Osborn, the author of Anarchy and Apocalypse, wrote recently in America magazine that after extensive research he was convinced that “the best evidence we currently have suggests that the number of Iraqis who have died as the result of the U.S. invasion and the sectarian violence it unleashed is probably more than 400,000. A very high percentage of those deaths are civilian deaths.” On the American side, the 2,977 victims of 9/11 and the more than 4,000 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq will be honored, remembered and not forgotten. However, for every one of them dozens of Iraqis, killed in an unjust war, will not be remembered. We did not even count them!
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For much of 2010, the media has been informing us that things are really getting better in Iraq. Iraqi defense forces are in charge of the country. The police are providing calm and security on the streets. Al-Qaeda has been weakened and the U.S. forces are being withdrawn. Peace is at hand!
Would that it were true. Six Catholic churches were bombed last summer and other Christian institutions have been attacked. A bishop and other clergy have been murdered for the crime of being Christian. Al-Qaeda is obviously reasserting itself all over the country. Violence between the diverse Muslim groups continues unabated. The “Islamic State of Iraq” has warned that Christians would be extirpated and dispersed from Iraq. “We will open upon them the doors of destruction and rivers of blood.” This is a tragic and agonizing situation and with American influence greatly diminished in the country there is very little that those of us over here can do other than pray for our brothers and sisters in faith.
While the Church is not able to do much about the issue of the shooting, it can at the very least expand the amount of aid available to the suffering Catholics of the Middle East, especially in Iraq. May God help them all. May God give us the virtue of generosity.
Most American Catholics are not aware that the Church in this country has had a wonderful aid program dedicated to helping the Christians of the Middle East for many years. It is called the Catholic Near East Welfare Association that provides a wide-range of assistance to Catholic dioceses, churches and individuals throughout the Middle East and they can use a great deal of help. Their address is: 1011 First Avenue, New York, NY 10022-4195, Tel: (212) 826-1480, Fax: (212) 838-1344, www.CNEWA.org
If you have an extra $50.00, how about helping a Catholic family in Jordan or Iraq? Think about it.
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Nearly three weeks ago, President Barack Obama spoke to the nation and announced the ending of the American combat mission in Iraq. He stated, “We have met our responsibility. Now it is time to turn the page.” Although that was good news, there was no roll of drums, no blare of trumpets, no celebration whatsoever. The reaction by the president and the nation as a whole was the right one, somber.
Our invasion of Iraq was a terrible, costly mistake taking the lives of 5,000 American men and women, wounding more than 20,000, taking 100,000 Iraqi lives and costing trillions of dollars. It would be great to be able to turn the page but we can’t.
Twice last week there were stories about American soldiers continuing military action. The incidents were small but there is every reason to think that they will be ongoing for a long time. In the meantime, Iraq still does not have a well-established government, the tensions between the religious groups are still deep and bitter and the possibility of one or another type of economic or social disaster is very much before us.
We pray for a lot of things and frequently pray for peace. Let’s hope that all of us will pray fervently that the agony of Iraq is winding down. While its future is uncertain, the United States, which caused so much of the problem, must still stay involved to help this battered, wounded nation get on its feet with finality.
When we pray for peace let’s pray especially for true peace in Iraq.
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