Letter To President Obama Regarding Syria
September 4, 2013
President Barack Obama
The White House
Washington, DC 20270
As our nation contemplates military action in Syria, we want to assure you and your Administration of our prayers. We know that the situation in Syria is complex and appreciate the patience and restraint that your Administration has exercised to date. We affirm your decision to invite public dialogue and Congressional review of any possible military action, and want to contribute to that discussion from our perspective as Catholic pastors and teachers.
We join you in your absolute condemnation of the use of chemical weapons in Syria. These indiscriminate weapons have no place in the arsenals of the family of nations. With you we mourn for the lives lost and grieve with the families of the deceased. At the same time, we remain profoundly concerned for the more than 100,000 Syrians who have lost their lives, the more than 2 million who have fled the country as refugees, and the more than 4 million within Syria who have been driven from their homes by the violence. Our focus is on the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Syria and on saving lives by ending the conflict, not fueling it.
We have heard the urgent calls of the Successor of Saint Peter, Pope Francis, and our suffering brother bishops of the venerable and ancient Christian communities of the Middle East. As one, they beg the international community not to resort to military intervention in Syria. They have made it clear that a military attack will be counterproductive, will exacerbate an already deadly situation, and will have unintended negative consequences. Their concerns find a strong resonance in American public opinion that questions the wisdom of intervention and in the lack of international consensus.
We make our own the appeal of Pope Francis: “I exhort the international community to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace in that country without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people. May no effort be spared in guaranteeing humanitarian assistance to those wounded by this terrible conflict, in particular those forced to flee and the many refugees in nearby countries.”
The longstanding position of our Conference of Bishops is that the Syrian people urgently need a political solution. We ask the United States to work urgently and tirelessly with other governments to obtain a ceasefire, initiate serious negotiations, provide impartial humanitarian assistance, and encourage efforts to build an inclusive society in Syria that protects the rights of all its citizens, including Christians and other minorities.
Please be assured of our prayers as your Administration faces the complex challenges and humanitarian catastrophe that have engulfed Syria.
Timothy Cardinal Dolan
Archbishop of New York
President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Most Reverend Richard E. Pates
Bishop of Des Moines
Chair, Committee on International Justice and Peace
When the man-of-the-people pontiff got a desperate letter from an Italian woman left pregnant and shunned by her married boyfriend, he outdid even the best of sob sisters — picking up the phone to give the woman spiritual and emotional comfort.
For good measure, the pope even offered to baptize the unborn child whom the dastardly boyfriend had ordered aborted.
“I recognized his voice and I knew right away that it really was the pope,” Anna Romano said of last week’s out-of-the-blue call.
“He said, ‘Hello Anna. This is Pope Francis.’ I was petrified,” Romano, 35, told Italy’s Corriere Della Sera newspaper.
“I would never have imagined that the pope would pick up a telephone and call me and speak to me as if I were a dear friend.
The papal phone call came several weeks after Romano wrote Francis, telling him about her devastating breakup.
“I have never been lucky with men; I married when I was young and then things didn’t work out and I got divorced,” Romano wrote in the letter.
“I then had a few brief relationships until I met a man who I thought was the man of my dreams.
“In June I discovered I was pregnant through him and when I told him, instead of being happy he told me he was already married, already had a child and to have an abortion.
“I told him that I would not have an abortion and told him to get out of my life.”
Romano said she addressed the letter to “His Holiness Pope Francis, Vatican City, Rome.”
She was on vacation with her family when her phone rang, from a Rome area code.
“He said he had read my letter and wanted to speak to me personally about it and reassure me that someone was worried about me,” she said.
Their conversation only lasted a few minutes, but “the call has changed my life,” Romano said.
When she told the pope she wanted to have her baby baptized, but was afraid parish priests might shun her, she said the humble pontiff responded, “There’s always me.”
Since being elected last March, the Holy Father has made several surprise personal pastoral phone calls, earning him the nickname the “Cold-Call” Pope. One of the calls was to a newsstand owner in his native Argentina to cancel his newspaper subscription after being elected pope.
A Vatican spokesman said he didn’t know about the call to Romano, but noted, “then again, we knew nothing of the others.”
HOMILY FOR YESTERDAY“Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
When Jesus started his ministry, a large crowd of followers were attracted by him, full of admiration for the great signs he showed. When Jesus called Peter and his brother Andrew, his first disciples, they were amazed by the amount of fish they got in that miraculous event. The other two important figures among the Apostles were James and John, who also at one point wanted to sit next to Jesus on his right and left, and probably their mother wanted to have a nice place in the kingdom as well, due to her children. Moreover, the rich man wanted to follow Jesus, that is to say, to become a Christian, a something of secondary importance, not as important as enjoying his comfortable and secure life. Indeed, there are well known passages in the Gospels where apparently quite ordinary people become disciples of Jesus because it was good to be with Him, to see the wonders he did and, in addition, to attain a privileged place in the kingdom that they could enjoy.
In today’s gospel it seems as if he wants to thin out the crowd, to put off those who were mere opportunity seekers. He started by telling them that they have to hate all those to whom they belonged, their entire family. Can you imagine if someone asks you, “What do I have to do to be a member of this parish”?, or better yet, “What do I have to do to be a Christian?” So I say, “Please turn to Luke 14.”
So, why would Christ do that? Well, Jesus had come to a decisive point in his ministry. He put this process of becoming a disciple in a different and less romantic light because he expects his followers to be committed to him in such a way that they would reject all self-seeking and replace it with a disinterested love for others, for Christ’s sake. But he still goes further, saying that anyone who wants to be his disciple has to be prepared also to die, to be crucified as Jesus Himself will be crucified. They had to prefer the will of God to any other more natural attachment. To love one’s mother, father, spouse, children and grandchildren certainly manifest the love of Christ Himself, but here we are called to prefer God, even to carry the cross and be crucified. This is no easy and attractive way to be a disciple, but it is the only way.
So, what does it mean for us to follow Christ? What are the costs that we need to take into account? Today’s scripture is so challenging that, perhaps, it would help if we were to look at it in a new way.
It is not easy to follow Jesus and being detached from the ones you love, especially when they become an impediment to our following Him. In other words, it is saying to us: “Don’t rush, think about it.” It is like planning to build a house or a tower. One needs to think about all aspects of the project, how much it is going to cost us to complete the plan.
To construct a Christian life is a more important and a more costing project than building a house. So, think carefully what it implies to live that life. Are you ready to pay what may be demanded of you, as the first apostles did? After that first fishing experience, Peter never thought of dying on a cross like his Master. It never crossed James’ mind to be the first to die among the Apostles. It is what Paul in prison shows us in the second reading. He did not imagine that the encounter with Jesus in the light on the road to Damascus meant that he had to follow Christ even unto death. So, Jesus is not asking for mere enthusiasm here, but for intelligence and realism and, above all, a generosity willing to give all. It implies commitment from the ones who genuinely want to be his disciples, as he found by the Sea of Galilee with Peter, James and John, and as he found in Paul on the road to Damascus.
The cost of being a Christian may be too high, and work may be too hard, because these words that Jesus addresses to us are harsh words to hear, but if we are going to be good disciples we need to act realistically about the situation in which we live, in order to build a life in Christ. This is the good news Christ brings. It is good news, because Jesus gives us an opportunity to do something great with our lives, to give our lives to something more important than ourselves. To turn our backs on cheap ways and avail ourselves of a costly grace, a grace full of meaning and depth.