U.S. State Department’s Opinion on Moroccan Religious Freedom 

On August 10, 2016, the U.S. Department of State released its latest annual report on religious freedom in every country in the world for 2015. Here are the key points of what it said about Morocco.[1]

The Report on Morocco

Morocco with its population of 33.3 million people (July 2015), estimates that 99% are Sunni Muslim and 1%, Shia Muslims, Christians, Jews and Bahais.

“The constitution declares the country to be a sovereign Muslim state and Islam to be the religion of the state. The constitution guarantees freedom of thought, expression, and assembly, and says the state guarantees the free exercise of beliefs to everyone.”

“The law grants recognition to Sunni Maliki-Ashari Muslims and Jews as native populations free to practice their religion without any specific requirements to register with the government. The law requires [all other] religious groups not recognized as native, which includes non-Maliki-Ashari Muslims (i.e., Shia) and Christians, among others, to register before they are able to undertake financial transactions or conduct other business as private associations and legal entities.”

“Registered churches and associations include the Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, French Protestant, and Anglican Churches, whose existence as foreign resident Churches predates the country’s independence in 1956 and which operate within the officially registered Council of Christian Churches of Morocco (CECM).”

“The constitution states the king is the protector of Islam and the guarantor of freedom of worship. It prohibits political parties, parliamentarians, and constitutional amendments from infringing upon Islam. The criminal code prohibits the use of ‘enticements’ by non-Muslims to try to convert Muslims to another religion. The minister of justice reaffirmed the freedom to change religions as long as no coercion was involved, but said Christian evangelism remained prohibited because missionaries had offered material inducements to the poor to convert them.”

“The government reportedly detained and questioned Moroccan Christians about their beliefs and contacts with other Moroccan Christians, including incidents in Rabat and Fes. The government also continued to deny registration to local Christian, Shia, and Bahai groups. Representatives of minority religious groups said fears of government surveillance led adherents of the Christian, Bahai, and Shia faiths to refrain from public worship and instead to meet discreetly in members’ homes. The government allowed foreign Christian communities to attend worship services in approved locations. The Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs (MEIA) continued to control the content of sermons in mosques, Islamic religious education, and the dissemination of Islamic religious material by the broadcast media. The government continued to restrict the distribution of non-Islamic religious materials, as well as Islamic materials it deemed inconsistent with the Maliki-Ashari school of Sunni Islam. The government arrested several individuals for eating in public during Ramadan.”

“Although Jews said they continued to live and worship in safety, participants in a pro-Palestinian rally in Casablanca in October staged a mock execution of individuals dressed as Hasidic Jews. Christians reported pressure to convert from non-Christian family and friends. Two Muslim actors received death threats for appearing in a U.S.-made movie about the life of Jesus. Members of the Shia community said in some areas they were able to practice their faith openly, but most members of the community practiced discreetly. Bahais reportedly practiced their faith discreetly and avoided disclosing their religious affiliation.”

“The U.S. government promoted religious tolerance in its bilateral strategic dialogue [with the Moroccan government]. The Ambassador, embassy and consulate general officers, and visiting U.S. government officials met with senior government officials, including the minister of endowments and Islamic affairs, to discuss tolerance of minority religions. The Ambassador and embassy officers also met with Muslim religious scholars, leaders of the Jewish community, prominent Christian visitors, Christian foreign residents, leaders of registered and unregistered Christian groups, and other local religious groups to promote religious dialogue.”

Conclusion

With Sunni Muslim as the state religion under Morocco’s constitution and 99% of the population’s being Sunni Muslims, it would appear to this non-Moroccan Christian outsider that it would be easy and non-threatening for the Moroccan government to allow virtually unfettered religious freedom to all others (Shia Muslims, Christians, Jews and Bahias). However, Morocco does not do so. Therefore, I believe the U.S. government, while observing all diplomatic niceties, should endeavor to persuade the Moroccan government to provide more religious freedom to the other religious groups.

Any U.S. efforts at attempting to persuade Morocco should refer to Morocco’s ratification or accession in 1979 to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which provides the following in Article 18: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”

  1. “No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.”
  2. “Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.”
  3. “The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.”[2]

That U.S. effort should also mention that under the ICCPR, Morocco as a state party has submitted periodical reports regarding its implementation of the treaty to the U.N. Human Rights Committee, which after review and consultation with the party issues its Concluding Observations on that implementation. The last such Concluding Observations by this Committee, which were issued on December 1, 2016, said the following about freedom of religion in Morocco:

  • “39. The Committee is concerned by reports that restrictions are placed on the practice of religions other than the official religion. It is also concerned about provisions in the Criminal Code that criminalize actions contrary to the Muslim religion and the introduction of new offences to the draft Criminal Code that further extend the limits imposed on freedom of religion and expression (arts. 18 and 19).”
  • “40. The State party should eliminate any legislative provision or discriminatory practice that is in violation of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and ensure that the draft revised Criminal Code now under discussion is fully in accordance with article 18 of the Covenant.”

Finally this outsider also suggests that discussions with the Moroccan government on this subject should refer to the January 2016 Declaration of Marrakesh about religious minorities in Muslim majority countries that was discussed in a prior post.

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, International Religious Freedom Report for 2015: Morocco (Aug. 2016). The annual reports on the same subject by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom do not comment on every country in the world and Morocco is one such country that is not covered. (U.S. Com’n Int’l Religious Freedom, Annual Report (April 2017) (Morocco is not on list of countries covered by report, pp. iii-iv).

[2] The ICCPR and other international instruments regarding religious freedom were briefly reviewed in International Law Regarding Freedom of Religion, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 1, 2012).

U.S. State Department Statement on Cuban Religious Freedom  

   

Shaun Casey
Shaun Casey

On July 6 and 7, Shaun Casey, the U.S. Special Representative for [the Office of] Religion and Global Affairs at the State Department, visited Cuba to explore religious life on the island.[1]

After visiting with the leadership of the Cuba’s Roman Catholic Church, other churches (Baptist, Evangelical, Presbyterian, Mormon, Assemblies of God, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Santeria, and Protestant house churches) as well as Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist faiths, Casey said he had witnessed “firsthand the vibrancy, dynamism, and diversity of the country’s religious communities.”

These rich conversations had “helped broaden the State Department’s understanding of the religious history, dynamics, demographics, and growth trends, as well as continued challenges in Cuba.” He learned “that the religious climate in Cuba has improved over the past decade and a half,” that some “challenges still exist for Cuban religious communities,” but that “change is a process that will not happen overnight, . . .[and] progress is happening.”

Casey also was impressed with Cuban appreciation of the re-establishment of U.S.-Cuban diplomatic relations and eagerness “for people-to-people connections to continue to strengthen and flourish between their country and the [U.S.].”

At the same time, Casey observed that “the U.S. government remains convinced that religious groups would be best served by a genuine democracy that includes an ability to freely profess and practice a religion (or no religion at all).”

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[1] Casey, Religion in Cuba: Diverse, Vibrant, and Dynamic, DipNote (July 19, 2016).  This blog has frequently commented on religious freedom in Cuba. (See “Cuban Freedom of Religion” in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: Cuba.)

Resumption of Spanish Criminal Case Over 1989 Salvadoran Murder of Jesuit Priests?                      

As discussed in a prior posts, Spain’s National Court in 2008 commenced a criminal investigation of the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador. In May 2011 the Spanish court issued the equivalent of an indictment of 20 former Salvadoran military officials for their alleged involvement in those murders.[1]

In December 2011 Spain requested extradition of 13 of them who were in El Salvador and two who were believed to be in the U.S. (Two of the others could not be located, another two were in the process of cooperating with the Spanish judge in the case and another had died.) In May 2012, however, the Supreme Court of El Salvador denied extradition of the 13 on the ground that the country’s constitution prohibited extradition of its citizens while one of those was in the U.S. in U.S. custody on criminal charges (Inocente Orlando Montano Morales). As a result, it appeared that the Spanish case had been road-blocked

Now there are signs in the U.S., Spain and El Salvador that the case will be resumed.

U.S. Court Approves Extradition of a Salvadoran Suspect to Spain

On April 8, 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a complaint for U.S. extradition of Montano to Spain. A hearing on that complaint was held on August 19, 2015, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kimberly Swank, U.S. District Court (Eastern District, North Carolina).[2]

On February 5, 2016, the Magistrate Judge issued her decision upholding the requested extradition. She agreed with the Spanish evidence that showed that Mr. Montano was present at a meeting of the military high command that ordered the murders, which were carried out by an elite Salvadoran unit trained by the U.S. military. “A government official who acts in collaboration with others outside the scope of his lawful authority,” she wrote, “may reasonably be considered a member of an armed gang under the Spanish terrorist murder statute.”[3]

The key conclusions of the decision were: (a) “There is currently in force an extradition treaty between the United States and Spain;” (b) Montano “was charged in Spain with extraditable offenses under the terms of the extradition treaty between the United States and Spain, namely the terrorist murder of five Jesuit priests of Spanish origin and nationality;” and (c) “Probable cause exists to believe [Montano] committed the charged offenses of terrorist murder.”

Therefore, the Magistrate Judge concluded that Montano was subject to extradition and certified this finding to the U.S. Secretary of State as required by 18 U.S.C. § 3184.

The Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA), which has supported the extradition of Montano, said that this decision was “thorough, erudite and sweeping in scope [and] turns on a central legal ruling: As a government official, Montano collaborated with others to carry out the murders, acting beyond the scope of his official authority.  As such, Montano can be considered a terrorist. This finding is a vindication of the years of struggle of the Salvadoran people against a repressive military which tried to turn reality on its head by calling anyone who defied it – including the Jesuits priests – terrorists. It is gratifying that a US court has recognized the true reality and named its leaders, Montano one of the most powerful, what they were – terrorists.”  CJA added: “The Assistant U.S. Attorney was persuasive in all aspects of his arguments, ably representing the interests of Spain in the U.S. judicial process.”

Carlos Martín Baró, the plaintiff in CJA’s Jesuits Massacre Case in Spain and brother of Father Ignacio Martín Baró, S.J., one of the murdered priests, said: “My brother had a broad desire to help people. When he encountered the poverty and inequality of El Salvador, he realized the problem was deeper, and he dedicated his entire life to helping the people of that country.  The fact that the Colonel Montano may face trial in Spain won’t heal the pain but is a victory for all people who seek justice.”

Under the previously mentioned U.S. federal statute (18 U.S.C. § 3184) the Secretary of State “shall issue his warrant for the commitment of the person so charged to the proper jail, there to remain until such surrender shall be made.” This statute on its face does not appear to grant the Secretary the discretion to deny the request for extradition. Moreover, since the U.S. Department of Justice brought the prosecution of Montano for immigration fraud and then for his extradition, it appears exceedingly unlikely that Secretary of State John Kerry would not provide the necessary warrant for extradition.

Now we wait to see if Montano exercises his right under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73 (c) and Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a) to appeal this decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit within 30 days “after entry of the judgment or order being appealed from,” which presumably is February 5.

 Spain and El Salvador’s Apparent Cooperation on Extradition of Other Suspects

 In August 2015, in an unrelated case, the Constitutional Chamber of the Salvadoran Supreme Court ruled that, according to a treaty on international cooperation in criminal matters to which El Salvador is a party, an INTERPOL red notice requires both the identification of the location of the defendants and their arrest and detention pending an additional filing, such as an extradition request. This decision appears in direct conflict with the Court’s May 2012 ruling against extradition in the Spanish case over the Jesuit murders.[4]

In response to this recent ruling, on November 16, 2015, the Salvadoran Human Rights Ombudsman, David Morales, petitioned the country’s Supreme Court to review its 2012 decisions refusing to arrest and order the extradition of 11 former military officials who were subjects of the INTERPOL arrest warrants,[5]

The Ombudsman also issued a resolution asking Spanish authorities to re-issue the arrest warrants, for extradition purposes in the Jesuits Massacre Case. This request was endorsed in the Spanish case by CJA and the Spanish Association for Human Rights (APDHE).

On January 4, 2006, the Spanish court’s Judge Velasco honored that plea by requesting INTERPOL to re-issue the international arrest warrants for all the Jesuit Massacre case defendants who reside in El Salvador for their extradition to Spain to face the charges.

On January 6, the Salvadoran government said it will cooperate in the execution of those warrants and the extradition of 17 former Salvadoran military officials and soldiers (one of whom is the previously mentioned Montano in the U.S.), but that the country’s Supreme Court would make the final decision.

On the other hand, a former Salvadoran Defense Minister, Humberto Corado, who was not involved in the killings, has requested support for those subject to the INTERPOL arrest warrants from the ARENA political party because their party members were the government officials in charge at the time of the killings and issued orders that the military carried out. He also argued that the country’s amnesty law should prevent the Spanish case from proceeding further,[6]

On February 5 and 6, 2016, Salvadoran police detained four of the 17 former military officials. The police also are looking for the other 12 (excluding Montano). This is despite some earlier police reluctance to do so. These arrests and searches are seen as a first step towards extradition. These actions were endorsed on February 6 by President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, who stressed that the country was “committed to comply with international standards” and that there were INTERRPOL red notices calling for arrest. He also urged those subject to arrest to comply for decision on extradition to be made by the Supreme Court.[7]

Conclusion

There now appears to be some hope that those accused of complicity in the murder of the Jesuits will face criminal charges in Spain. The main obstacle now is the Salvadoran Supreme Court, which will have to decide whether the new arrest warrants and request for extradition will be honored.

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[1] Prior posts that were tagged “Jesuits” covered the marvelous ministries of these Jesuit priests and their university (University of Central America or UCA); the circumstances of their horrible murders; the Salvadoran military’s attempted cover-up of their involvement in these crimes; the flawed Salvadoran criminal prosecution of a few of the military personnel so involved and their absolution by a Salvadoran amnesty law; the investigation and report on these crimes by the Truth Commission for El Salvador; other legal proceedings regarding these crimes; the Spanish criminal case over these crimes; El Salvador’s 2012 denial of Spain’s request for extradition of most of the suspects in the case; and the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Jesuit martyrs in November 2014.

[2] Prior posts that were tagged “Montano” discuss the U.S. prosecution, conviction and imprisonment of Montano for U.S. immigration fraud and the proceedings for his extradition to Spain. See also CJA, U.S. Extradition of Montano; Drew, Unusual extradition fight plays out over priests’ slayings, Yahoo News (Aug. 18, 2015); Hodge, Former colonel faces extradition for charges of plotting Jesuits’ slayings, Nat’l Catholic Reporter (Aug. 24, 2015).

[3] Certification of Extraditability & Order of Commitment, In re Request By Spain for the Extradition of Inocente Orlando Montano Morales (No. 2:15-MJ-1021-KS, U.S. Dist. Ct., E. D. N.C., N. Div. Feb. 5, 2016); CJA Press Release, Judge Grants Extradition of Salvadoran Colonel Accused in Jesuit Massacre (Feb. 5, 2015); Malkin, U.S. Judge Approves Extradition of Former Salvadoran Colonel, N.Y. Times (Feb. 5, 2016).

[4] CJA, Spanish Judge Re-Issues Request for the Arrest of Military Officials, CJA (Dec. 2015); Dalton, Spain calls for arrest of 18 soldiers accused of killing priests in El Salvador, El Pais (Dec. 23, 2015); Reuters, El Salvador will cooperate in arrest of 17 former soldiers accused of killing priests, Guardian (Jan. 6, 2015); Labrador, Spain orders again capture Jesuit Salvadoran military case, elfaro (Jan. 5, 2016).

[5] Human Rights Ombudsman asks extradition slaughter of Jesuits, El Mundo (Nov. 16, 2015).

[6] Serrano, They asked military support of ARENA and right before the event of murdered Jesuits, LaPagina (Jan. 6, 2016).

[7] President recommends involved in Jesuit case to be delivered, Diario CoLatino (Feb. 6, 2016); Labrador, Captured soldiers accused in the Jesuit case, Elfaro (Feb. 5, 2016); PNC Accused Military Capture Jesuit Case, DiarioLatino (Feb. 5, 2015); Labrador, Police are still resisting capture by military Jesuit Case, Elfaro (Jan. 25, 2016).

Pope Francis’ Message for World Peace

Pope Francis
Pope Francis

Pope Francis renewed his calls for peace and goodwill throughout the Earth on Friday, New Year’s Day, the Solemnity of the Mother of God and the World Day of Peace. The Holy Father’s appeal came from the window of his study at the Apostolic Palace before and after the Angelus prayer with pilgrims and visitors gathered in St. Peter’s Square. Here are extracts from his remarks.[1]

“The biblical blessing continues: “[The Lord] give you peace” (v. 26). Today we celebrate the World Day of Peace, whose theme is: “Overcome indifference and win peace.” The peace that God the Father wants to sow in the world must be cultivated by us. Not only [cultivated], it must also be ‘conquered.’ This involves a real struggle, a spiritual battle that takes place in our hearts. Because the enemy of peace is not only war, but also indifference, which makes us think only of ourselves and creates barriers, suspicions, fears and closures [of mind and heart]. And these things are the enemies of peace. We have, thank God, much information; but sometimes we are so inundated with news that we are distracted from reality, from the brother and sister who needs us. Let us begin this [new] year to open our hearts, awakening attention to our neighbor. This is the way to win the peace.”

“I express gratitude for the many initiatives of prayer and action for peace organized all over the world on the occasion of today’s World Day of Peace. . . .  Dear friends, I encourage you to continue your commitment to reconciliation and harmony.”

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[1] The words of the Pope at Angelus (Jan. 1, 2016); Pope Francis: Angelus appeal for peace, Va. News (Jan. 1, 2016); Povoledo, Pope Francis Urges Overcoming ‘Indifference’ to Attain Peace, N.Y. Times (Jan. 1, 2016).

 

 

Pope Francis’ Christmas Message 

Pope Francis
Pope Francis

At the midnight Christmas Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, Pope Francis delivered a moving homily. Here are extracts of that homily.

“Tonight . . . the light of Jesus’ birth shines all about us. . . . . Joy and gladness are a sure sign that the message contained in the mystery of this night is truly from God. There is no room for doubt; let us leave that to the sceptics who, by looking to reason alone, never find the truth. There is no room for the indifference which reigns in the hearts of those unable to love for fear of losing something. All sadness has been banished, for the Child Jesus brings true comfort to every heart.”

“Today, the Son of God is born, and everything changes. The Saviour of the world comes to partake of our human nature; no longer are we alone and forsaken. . . . The true light has come to illumine our lives so often beset by the darkness of sin. Today we once more discover who we are! Tonight we have been shown the way to reach the journey’s end. Now must we put away all fear and dread, for the light shows us the path to Bethlehem. We must not be laggards; we are not permitted to stand idle. We must set out to see our Saviour lying in a manger. . . . The people who for two thousand years have traversed all the pathways of the world in order to allow every man and woman to share in this joy is now given the mission of making known ‘the Prince of Peace’ and becoming his effective servant in the midst of the nations.”

“[L]et the Child speak. Let us take his words to heart in rapt contemplation of his face. If we take him in our arms and let ourselves be embraced by him, he will bring us unending peace of heart. This Child teaches us what is truly essential in our lives. He was born into the poverty of this world; there was no room in the inn for him and his family. He found shelter and support in a stable and was laid in a manger for animals. And yet, from this nothingness, the light of God’s glory shines forth. From now on, the way of authentic liberation and perennial redemption is open to every man and woman who is simple of heart. This Child, whose face radiates the goodness, mercy and love of God the Father, trains us, his disciples, as Saint Paul says, ‘to reject godless ways’ and the richness of the world, in order to live ‘temperately, justly and devoutly”’(Tit 2:12).”

In a society so often intoxicated by consumerism and hedonism, wealth and extravagance, appearances and narcissism, this Child calls us to act soberly, in other words, in a way that is simple, balanced, consistent, capable of seeing and doing what is essential. In a world which all too often is merciless to the sinner and lenient to the sin, we need to cultivate a strong sense of justice, to discern and to do God’s will. Amid a culture of indifference which not infrequently turns ruthless, our style of life should instead be devout, filled with empathy, compassion and mercy, drawn daily from the wellspring of prayer.”

“Like the shepherds of Bethlehem, may we too, with eyes full of amazement and wonder, gaze upon the Child Jesus, the Son of God. And in his presence may our hearts burst forth in prayer: ‘Show us, Lord, your mercy, and grant us your salvation’ (Ps 85:8).”

 

Interfaith Worship Service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church

On Thanksgiving Day, November 26, a moving Interfaith Worship Service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church was organized and conducted by clergy from the Downtown Congregations of Minneapolis.[1]

This service was the perfect incarnation of a message given that same day by Pope Francis at a meeting of religious leaders in Nairobi Kenya. The Pope said there was a profound “need for interreligious understanding, friendship and collaboration in defending the God-given dignity of individuals and peoples, and their right to live in freedom and happiness”. Indeed, said the Pope, “ecumenical and interreligious dialogue is not a luxury . . . [or] something extra or optional, but essential, something which our world, wounded by conflict and division, increasingly needs.”[2]

Calls to Prayer

There were three Calls to Prayer at the Minneapolis service. Cantor Barry Abelson of Temple Israel sang one in Hebrew. The Westminster Choir in English sang “God Be in My Head” by Gwyneth Walker.[3] Muezzin Elijah Muhammad of Masjid An-Nur (Mosque of the Light) sang his Call to Prayer in Arabic.

Voices Around the Table

The participants in the service then gathered around a common table in the front of the Sanctuary for the reading of passages of sacred and other texts from their different faiths. In addition to those mentioned below the participants were Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen, Westminster’s Senior Pastor; Rev. Phil Boelter, Vicar of Gethsemane Episcopal Church; and Rev. Judy Zabel, Lead Pastor of Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church.

Rev. Dr. Carla Bailey, the Senior Minister at Plymouth Congregational Church, read these excerpts from “A Litany of Thanksgiving” by Howard Thurman, an influential African-American theologian, educator and civil rights leader (1899-1981):

  • “Today, I make my Sacrament of Thanksgiving.”
  • “I begin with the simple things of my days:
    Fresh air to breathe,
    Cool water to drink,
    The taste of food,
    The protection of houses and clothes,
    The comforts of home.”
  • “I finger one by one the messages of hope that awaited me at the crossroads:
    The smile of approval from those who held in their hands the reins of my security;
    The tightening of the grip in a single handshake when I feared the step before me in the darkness;
    The whisper in my heart when the temptation was fiercest and the claims of appetite were not to be denied;
    The crucial word said, the simple sentence from an open page when my decision hung in the balance.”
  • “I pass before me the mainsprings of my heritage:
    The fruits of the labors of countless generations who lived before me, without whom my own life would have no meaning;
    The seers who saw visions and dreamed dreams;
    The prophets who sensed a truth greater than the mind could grasp and whose words could only find fulfillment in the years which they would never see;
    The workers whose sweat watered the trees, the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations;”
  • “I linger over the meaning of my own life and the commitment to which I give the loyalty of my heart and mind:
    The little purposes in which I have shared with my loves, my desires, my gifts;
    The restlessness which bottoms all I do with its stark insistence that I have never done my best, I have never dared to reach for the highest;
    The big hope that never quite deserts me, that I and my kind will study war no more, that love and tenderness and all the inner graces of Almighty affection will cover the life of the children of God as the waters cover the sea.”
  • All these and more than mind can think and heart can feel,
    I make as my sacrament of Thanksgiving to Thee,
    O God, in humbleness of mind and simplicity of heart.”

Hamdy Dr. El Sawaf, the Senior Iman of the Islamic Community Center of Minnesota and the Masjid Al-Iman (Mosque of Faith), read the following passages from the Holy Qur’an in Arabic with the following English translations by Maulana Muhammud Ali:

  • “Blessed is He Who made the stars in the heavens and made therein a sun and a moon giving light!” (25:61)
  • “And He it is, Who made the night and the day to follow each other, for him who desires to be mindful or desires to be thankful.” (25:62)
  • “And We have enjoined on man concerning his parents — his mother bears him with faintings upon faintings and his weaning takes two years — saying: Give thanks to Me and to thy parents. To Me is the eventual coming.” (31:14)
  • “So he smiled, wondering at her word, and said: My Lord, grant me that I may be grateful for Thy favour which Thou hast bestowed on me and on my parents, and that I may do good such as Thou art pleased with, and admit me, by Thy mercy, among Thy righteous servants.” (27:19)
  • “And He it is Who made for you the ears and the eyes and the hearts. Little it is that you give thanks!” (23:78)
  • “And certainly We established you in the earth and made therein means of livelihood for you; little it is that you give thanks!” (7:10)
  • “O people, keep your duty to your Lord and dread the day when no father can avail his son in aught, nor the child will avail his father. Surely the promise of Allah is true, so let not this world’s life deceive you, nor let the arch-deceiver deceive you about Allah.” (31:33)
  • “Surely Allah is He with Whom is the knowledge of the Hour, and He sends down the rain, and He knows what is in the wombs. And no one knows what he will earn on the morrow. And no one knows in what land he will die. Surely Allah is Knowing, Aware.” (31:34)
  • “Even as We have sent among you a Messenger from among you, who recites to you Our messages and purifies you and teaches you the Book and the Wisdom and teaches you that which you did not know.” (2:151)
  • “Therefore glorify Me, I will make you eminent, and give thanks to Me and be not ungrateful to Me.” (2:152)

Senior Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman of Temple Israel read Leviticus 19: 9-18 in Hebrew from the Hebrew Bible with the following English translation:

  • “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.”
  • You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord.You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning.”
  • “You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.”
  • “You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor.You shall not go around as a slanderer[a] among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood[b] of your neighbor: I am the Lord.”
  • You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

Rev. Laurie Feillle, Senior Pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) read this passage from the Christian Gospel (Matthew 6:25-33) in English:

  • “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?  And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Sermon

The Sermon, “Gratitude for Dreams,” was delivered by Rev. Peter Nycklemoe, Senior Pastor of Central Lutheran Church. Here is a summary of his message.

The above passage from Matthew stresses personal piety, almsgiving, prayers and calls for forgiveness. The text also tells us not to worry. But often being told not to worry just makes the situation worse. Matthew, however, points the way forward: “strive first for the kingdom of God.”

A helpful understanding of the kingdom of God comes from Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian pastor and author, who said:

  • “If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to born both within ourselves and within the world; we would know that the Kingdom of God is what we all of us hunger for above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for. The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it.” [4]

We all are homesick for hope in this world, and the gathering at this common table of representatives of three great religious traditions is a sign of that hope.

The words of Leviticus that were just read by Rabbi Zimmerman also are important: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien.”

These words from the Hebrew Bible reminded Rev. Nycklemoe of a celebration organized by one of his congregants in the State of Washington, Olaf Hanson, who owned an apple and potato farm. After harvesting what he needed, Olaf hosted a Gleaning Day for his guests to gather the gleanings of the fruit and vegetables and put them in paper bags for the poor and needy.

We too need to share our longings, our lostness, our need for love and the gifts of one another.

Responding in Gratitude

The solicitation of offerings to support the work of the Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness was provided by The Very Rev. Paul Lebens-Englund, the Dean of St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral.

Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations

President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Proclamation Establishing Thanksgiving Day was read by Fr John Bauer, Rector of The Basilica of Saint Mary, Here are its words:

  • “The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.”
  • “Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.”
  • “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”
  • “It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
  • “And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.”

President Barack Obama’s 2015 Presidential Proclamation was read by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church:

  • “Rooted in a story of generosity and partnership, Thanksgiving offers an opportunity for us to express our gratitude for the gifts we have and to show our appreciation for all we hold dear.  Today, as we give of ourselves in service to others and spend cherished time with family and friends, we give thanks for the many blessings bestowed upon us.  We also honor the men and women in uniform who fight to safeguard our country and our freedoms so we can share occasions like this with loved ones, and we thank our selfless military families who stand beside and support them each and every day.”
  • “Our modern celebration of Thanksgiving can be traced back to the early 17th century.  Upon arriving in Plymouth, at the culmination of months of testing travel that resulted in death and disease, the Pilgrims continued to face great challenges.  An indigenous people, the Wampanoag, helped them adjust to their new home, teaching them critical survival techniques and important crop cultivation methods.  After securing a bountiful harvest, the settlers and Wampanoag joined in fellowship for a shared dinner to celebrate powerful traditions that are still observed at Thanksgiving today:  lifting one another up, enjoying time with those around us, and appreciating all that we have.”
  • “Carrying us through trial and triumph, this sense of decency and compassion has defined our Nation.  President George Washington proclaimed the first Thanksgiving in our country’s nascence, calling on the citizens of our fledgling democracy to place their faith in “the providence of Almighty God,” and to be thankful for what is bequeathed to us.  In the midst of bitter division at a critical juncture for America, President Abraham Lincoln acknowledged the plight of the most vulnerable, declaring a “day of thanksgiving,” on which all citizens would “commend to [God’s] tender care” those most affected by the violence of the time — widows, orphans, mourners, and sufferers of the Civil War.  A tradition of giving continues to inspire this holiday, and at shelters and food centers, on battlefields and city streets, and through generous donations and silent prayers, the inherent selflessness and common goodness of the American people endures.”
  • “In the same spirit of togetherness and thanksgiving that inspired the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag, we pay tribute to people of every background and belief who contribute in their own unique ways to our country’s story.  Each of us brings our own traditions, cultures, and recipes to this quintessential American holiday — whether around dinner tables, in soup kitchens, or at home cheering on our favorite sports teams — but we are all united in appreciation of the bounty of our Nation.  Let us express our gratitude by welcoming others to our celebrations and recognize those who volunteer today to ensure a dinner is possible for those who might have gone without.  Together, we can secure our founding ideals as the birthright of all future generations of Americans.”

Music

Interspersed throughout the Service were pieces of wonderful music.

The Preludes–“America the Beautiful” (Calvin Hampton for organ), “Variations on Simple Gifts” (Michael Burkhardt) and “The Promise of Living” (Aaron Copland)–were provided by Westminster’s Minister of Music & the Arts/Organist, Melanie Ohnstad, and the Westminster Choir directed by Dr. Jere Lantz.

Jon Romer on a Native American flute played two Ojibwe pieces—“Song of Welcome” and “A Song of Love.”

The choir and assembled people sang the following hymns: “O God, Show Mercy to Us;” “This Is My Song;” “ We Praise You, O God;” “Now Thank We All Our God;” and “O Beautiful for Spacious Skies.”

Conclusion

This was a powerful and meaningful worship service, especially in these days of too frequent expressions of hostility towards Muslims and Syrian refugees. This service was exactly what Pope Francis called for in his previously mentioned remarks in Kenya and on November 30 at the Grand Mosque of Koudoukou in the Central African Republic:[5]

  • “Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters.  We must therefore consider ourselves and conduct ourselves as such. . . . Those who claim to believe in God must also be men and women of peace.  Christians, Muslims and members of the traditional religions have lived together in peace for many years.  They ought, therefore, to remain united in working for an end to every act which, from whatever side, disfigures the Face of God and whose ultimate aim is to defend particular interests by any and all means, to the detriment of the common good.  Together, we must say no to hatred, no to revenge and no to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself.  God is peace, God salam.”

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[1] The bulletin for the service is available online,  So too is a video of the service.

[2] The Pope held the meeting at the city’s Apostolic Nunciature (diplomatic mission of the Holy See) with leaders of different Christian confessions (Anglican, Evangelical, Methodist, Pentecostal and others) and of other religions (Animist, Muslim). Holy See, Ecumenical and Interreligious Meeting: Address of His Holiness Pope Francis (Nov. 26, 2015); Interreligious meeting in Nairobi: service to the common good. News.Va (Nov. 26, 2015).

[3] A prior post discussed this anthem, its composer and its derivation from the Sarum Primer of 1514.

[4] Other references to Buechner are contained in previous posts: Honorary Degree (Aug. 14, 2011); My General Thoughts on Vocation (Feb. 6, 2014).

[5] Pope Francis visits Grand Mosque of Koudoukou in Bangui, News.Va (Nov. 30, 2015)

A Protestant Christian’s Reactions to the Roman Catholic Church’s Synod on the Family

According to media reports, on October 24 the Roman Catholic Church’s Synod on the Family concluded with the adoption of a document that reinforced church doctrine but appeared to give Pope Francis enough support to advance his vision of a more merciful church. It appeared to open church doors for Catholics who divorced and remarried without receiving an annulment of their first marriages and for those living together without being married, but it continued to oppose same-sex marriage even as the document said gay people should be treated with respect.[1]

This document is now submitted to the Pope for implementation. In his speech that same day to the Synod and in homily at mass the next day he made clear that he was still focused on making the church more merciful and that others in the Church needed to be reminded of this task.

Pope Francis’ Speech at the Synod’s Conclusion [2]

Pope Francis @ Synod on Family
Pope Francis @ Synod on Family

On the one hand, the Pope observed the doctrine of the Church by noting the Synod was “urging everyone to appreciate the importance of the institution of the family and of marriage between a man and a woman, based on unity and indissolubility, and valuing it as the fundamental basis of society and human life.”

On the other hand, said Francis, the Synod “was also about laying [aside] closed hearts. . . which frequently hide even behind the Church’s teachings or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families.” The Synod too “was about making clear that the Church is a Church of the poor in spirit and of sinners seeking forgiveness, not simply of the righteous and the holy, but rather of those who are righteous and holy precisely when they feel themselves poor sinners.”

“The Synod experience also made us better realize that the true defenders of doctrine are not those who uphold its letter, but its spirit; not ideas but people; not formulae but the gratuitousness of God’s love and forgiveness.” Therefore, the “Church’s first duty is not to hand down condemnations or anathemas, but to proclaim God’s mercy, to call to conversion, and to lead all men and women to salvation in the Lord.”

Pope Francis’ Homily of October 25, 2015 [3]

Mass @ St. Peter's Basilica
Mass @ St. Peter’s Basilica

The next day, Sunday, October 25, Pope Francis delivered a homily at mass at St. Peter’s Basilica for the 270 bishops. His scriptural text was Mark 10:46-52:

  • “[Jesus and the disciples] came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.”

Francis said, “Today’s Gospel [shows that] Bartimaeus is freed thanks to Jesus’ compassion. Jesus has just left Jericho. Even though he has only begun his most important journey, which will take him to Jerusalem, he still stops to respond to Bartimaeus’ cry. Jesus is moved by his request and becomes involved in his situation. He is not content to offer him alms, but rather wants to personally encounter him.”

“He does not give him any instruction or response, but asks him: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ It might seem a senseless question: what could a blind man wish for if not his sight? Yet, with this question made face-to-face, direct but respectful, Jesus shows that he wants to hear our needs. He wants to talk with each of us about our lives, our real situations, so that nothing is kept from him. After Bartimaeus’ healing, the Lord tells him: ‘Your faith has made you well”.’ It is beautiful to see how Christ admires Bartimaeus’ faith, how he has confidence in him. He believes in us, more than we believe in ourselves.”

“There is an interesting detail. Jesus asks his disciples to go and call Bartimaeus. They address the blind man with two expressions, which only Jesus uses in the rest of the Gospel.”

  • “First they say to him: ‘Take heart!’ which literally means ‘have faith, strong courage!.’ Indeed, only an encounter with Jesus gives a person the strength to face the most difficult situations.”
  • “The second expression is ‘Rise!’ as Jesus said to so many of the sick, whom he took by the hand and healed. His disciples do nothing other than repeat Jesus’ encouraging and liberating words, leading him directly to Jesus, without lecturing him.”

“Jesus’ disciples are called to this, even today, especially today: to bring people into contact with the compassionate Mercy that saves. When humanity’s cry, like Bartimaeus,’ becomes stronger still, there is no other response than to make Jesus’ words our own and, above all, imitate his heart. Moments of suffering and conflict are for God occasions of mercy. Today is a time of mercy!”

“There are, however, some temptations for those who follow Jesus. Today’s Gospel shows at least two of them.”

“None of the disciples stopped, as Jesus did. They continued to walk, going on as if nothing were happening. If Bartimaeus was blind, they were deaf: his problem was not their problem. This can be a danger for us: in the face of constant problems, it is better to move on, instead of letting ourselves be bothered. In this way, just like the disciples, we are with Jesus but we do not think like him. We are in his group, but our hearts are not open. We lose wonder, gratitude and enthusiasm, and risk becoming habitually unmoved by grace. We are able to speak about him and work for him, but we live far from his heart, which is reaching out to those who are wounded.”

“This is the temptation: a ‘spirituality of illusion:’ we can walk through the deserts of humanity without seeing what is really there; instead, we see what we want to see. We are capable of developing views of the world, but we do not accept what the Lord places before our eyes. A faith that does not know how to root itself in the life of people remains arid and, rather than oases, creates other deserts.”

“There is a second temptation, that of falling into a ‘scheduled faith.’ We are able to walk with the People of God, but we already have our schedule for the journey, where everything is listed: we know where to go and how long it will take; everyone must respect our rhythm and every problem is a bother. We run the risk of becoming the ‘many’ of the Gospel who lose patience and rebuke Bartimaeus. Just a short time before, [the disciples] scolded the children (Mk. 10:13), and now the blind beggar: whoever bothers us or is not of our stature is excluded. Jesus, on the other hand, wants to include, above all those kept on the fringes who are crying out to him. They, like Bartimaeus, have faith, because awareness of the need for salvation is the best way of encountering Jesus.”

“In the end, Bartimaeus follows Jesus on his path (Mk. 10:52). He did not only regain his sight, but he joined the community of those who walk with Jesus.”

Conclusion

Once again Francis makes Biblically-referenced powerful comments to the Church’s leaders and to all of the rest of us. “Take heart!”

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[1] Goodstein & Povoledo, Amid Splits, Catholic Bishops Crack Open Door on Divorce, N.Y. Times (Oct. 24, 2015)

[2] Synod15 – 18ma Congregazione generale: Discorso del Santo Padre a conclusione dei lavori della XIV Assemblea generale ordinaria del Sinodo dei Vescovi, 24.10.2015.

 

[3] Santa Messa a conclusione della XIV Assemblea Generale Ordinaria del Sinodo dei Vescovi, 25.10.2015.