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February 23, 2006 Edition

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Justice for immigrants:
Very much a Catholic issue

photo of John Huebscher

Eye on the 

John Huebscher 

Catholic leaders in many places are weighing in on the question of how laws and public policies should address the needs of men, women, and children who migrate from their native country to another one in search of a better life.

Pope Benedict spoke eloquently on the subject on January 15, the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. He reminded us that migration can be voluntary or forced, legal or illegal, or for work or study. He also noted that the church encourages overcoming every form of discrimination, injustice, and contempt of the human person, as everyone is an image of God.

On January 5, the Archbishop of Dublin reflected on the Epiphany's message of "a wider human family. "Perhaps recalling the treatment of many who migrated from Ireland to other lands, Archbishop Dairmuid Martin called on his nation to welcome immigrants. He endorsed the notion that those who have lived peacefully in Ireland for five years should be permitted to have their status "regularized."

Justice for immigrants

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is making a major effort on behalf of immigrants through its "Justice for Immigrants" campaign. The Committee on Migration is urging Catholics across the nation to press the U.S. Senate to back bi-partisan legislation authored by Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. This proposal provides a comprehensive approach to solving the ills of our current system.

Closer to home Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee affirmed the cause of justice for immigrants in a recent column. He expressed the hope that legitimate concerns for our security be accompanied by positive elements that provide for earned legalization, temporary worker programs, and reductions in visa backlogs.

He added that legislation that would make all undocumented individuals criminals, remove due process protections, and punish those who help them is "simply inhuman, un-American, and immoral."

Efforts at state level

In our state legislature, the Wisconsin Catholic Conference has registered opposition to a proposal to restrict access of undocumented immigrants to certain public benefits. A significant number affected by this bill are children. Some of these children are undocumented themselves. Others were born in the U.S., but their parents were not and will be fearful of seeking help.

None of the positions cited above assumes that nations should not control their own borders. Nor does anyone assert that unrestricted immigration is practical or desirable. But each of them exhorts us to remember that every immigrant, documented or not, is a human being with a dignity deserving of our respect.

Catholic witness on behalf of immigrants who lack legal status is not popular. It runs counter to the notion that those we help should be "deserving. "But we might recall that the God who speaks to us in John 3:16 sent His only Son out of the depths of his love, not after a calculus that we "earned" such a gift. That is why Catholic leaders throughout the church are taking up the cause of justice for immigrants.

John Huebscher is executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference.

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Theology and embryology:
Confused in public square

photo of Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk

Making Sense 
Out of Bioethics 

Fr. Tad 

Embryonic stem cell researchers typically marshal several arguments to encourage public approval and funding for their research, which requires the direct destruction of five to seven day old human embryos.

One argument runs like this: "Well, that's your feeling about embryos, your narrow religious viewpoint, and you shouldn't impose that on me. Your sentiments about embryos are different than mine, and we're all entitled to our own sentiments and opinions."

Pervasive argument

This pervasive argument has embedded itself in the modern American mind to a remarkable degree, and has been used quite effectively to justify embryonic sacrifice by many researchers. At its root, advocates take a scientific question and turn it into a religious one. Once it falls into the category of religious mystagogy, it can be dismissed out-of-hand as irrelevant to public policy and discourse.

Priest to speak in Madison

Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk will speak in Madison on Thursday, March 30, at 7 p.m. in the Bishop O'Connor Catholic Pastoral Center auditorium as part of the St. Thérèse of Lisieux Lecture Series. He will discuss "Stem Cells and Cloning: Understanding the Scientific Issues and the Moral Objections."

He is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Mass. As an undergraduate he earned degrees in philosophy, biochemistry, molecular cell biology, and chemistry. He also did laboratory research on hormonal regulation of the immune response. He earned a doctorate in neuroscience from Yale University, where he focused on cloning genes for neurotransmitter transporters expressed in the brain.

He worked for several years as a molecular biologist at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School. He studied for five years in Rome, where he did advanced work in dogmatic theology and in bioethics. He currently serves as director of education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, Pa.

The lecture is free and open to the public. No tickets are required.

Embryonic stem cell researcher Dr. Doug Melton at Harvard recently took exactly this tack when he spoke with the New York Times: "This is all about differing religious beliefs. I don't believe I have the right to tell others when life begins. Science doesn't have the answer to that question; it's metaphysical."

With that sleight of hand, he sought to transform embryology into theology.

Humanity of embryos

The fact is, of course, that the statement, "a human embryo is a human kind of being" does not depend on religion any more than the statement "a cow embryo is a cow kind of being" does.

Science, quite apart from any narrow, dogmatic religion, affirms dogmatically that human embryos are human beings, rather than zebra or cow beings. Science, quite apart from religious dogma, affirms dogmatically that every person walking around in the world was once an embryo. This scientific dogma admits of no exceptions and is absolute.

So while science makes it clear that human embryos are human beings, religion steps in after that fact to speak to the question of whether it is correct that all human beings should be treated in the same way, or whether it is okay to discriminate against some in the interests of others.

Yet even here, religion is not necessary to understand the real moral issue. For example, we don't need religion to understand that discriminating against some classes of humans based on their skin color is wrong. Similarly, we don't need religion to understand that discriminating against some classes of humans based on their size or young age is wrong. To grasp these truths, all we need is some honesty and a moment of clear thinking.

Our early beginnings

Embryos, of course, are remarkably unfamiliar to us. They lack hands and feet. They don't have faces or eyes for us to look into. Even their brains are lacking.

They look nothing like what we are used to seeing when we imagine a human being. But they are as human as you and I. When we look at a scanning electron micrograph of a human embryo, a small cluster of cells, sitting on the point of a sewing pin, we need to ask ourselves a very simple question: "Isn't that exactly what a young human is supposed to look like?"

The correct answer to that question doesn't depend on religion or theology, but on embryology. Embryos seem unfamiliar to us on first glance, and we have to make an explicit mental effort to avoid the critical mistake of disconnecting from who we once were as embryos.

I remember flying in an airplane one time, seated a couple of rows away from a mother who was holding her newborn baby as he was crying loudly. The pressure changes in the cabin seemed to be causing terrible pain in his ears, and despite his mom's best efforts, he continued to cry loudly and uncontrollably. He had a little four-year-old sister in the next seat, who was also trying to help her mom to calm the boy down, but again, to no avail.

After a few minutes, an agitated man across the aisle blurted out to the mother, "Isn't there something you can do to shut up that baby?" There was an awkward moment where the young mother started to blush, and didn't know what to say, when suddenly her daughter turned to the man and said, "Hey mister, you were once like him." The man seemed to be caught off guard by the little girl's logic, and he calmed down for the rest of the flight.

Her impeccable reasoning reminded him where he came from and put him in his place. It demonstrated how all of us, even in our weakest moments, are deserving of respect. After we landed, I heard him offer a brief apology to the mother for his outburst against the helpless baby. In debates about embryos, when apparently learned men like Dr. Melton at Harvard begin discussing these tiny, helpless human creatures, they would likewise do well to ponder the little girl's rejoinder: "Hey mister, you were once like him."

Protecting vulnerable

Even though it is a fundamental embryological truth that you and I were once embryos ourselves, the advocates of this research are eager to portray human embryos as different from the rest of us, unable to make the grade, and hence fair game for destruction by those of us lucky enough to have already passed through those early and vulnerable embryonic stages ourselves.

Will we permit radical injustices and ethical transgressions like these to become systemic and promoted as the societal norm? Will advocates be permitted to get away with confusing embryology and theology in the public square? Will the powerful like Dr. Melton be permitted to violate and instrumentalize the weak on our watch? These are questions with enormous implications for the future of our society.

Mr. Rogers, the famous children's TV personality, once gave a talk where he mentioned his favorite story from the Seattle Special Olympics. Here's how he described it: "Well, for the 100-yard dash there were nine contestants, all of them so-called physically or mentally disabled. All nine of them assembled at the starting line and at the sound of the gun, they took off. But not long afterward one little boy stumbled and fell and hurt his knee and began to cry. The other eight children heard him crying; they slowed down, turned around, and ran back to him. Every one of them ran back to him. One little girl with Down Syndrome bent down and kissed the boy and said, 'This'll make it better.' And the little boy got up and he and the rest of the runners linked their arms together and joyfully walked to the finish line.

"They all finished the race at the same time. And when they did, everyone in that stadium stood up and clapped and whistled and cheered for a long, long, time. People who were there are still telling the story with great delight. And you know why. Because deep down, we know that what matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves. What really matters is helping others win too."

This beautiful story of everyone turning around and looking after the interests of the weakest and the most vulnerable reminds us of exactly the kind of society God wants us to build, one where every life, even the weakest embryonic life, is embraced as a gift and treasure of infinite and irreplaceable value. With God's help and our determined efforts, that is the kind of society we must aspire to build in the future.

Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk earned his doctorate in neuroscience from Yale and did post-doctoral work at Harvard. He is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Mass., and serves as the director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia.

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Funeral: Plan for meaningful liturgy

photo of Tom Hanlon

Decisions Today 

Tom Hanlon 

Planning a funeral is not something everyone has had direct experience doing. Many have a general idea of what decisions need to be made but it isn't until the actual funeral arrangement that all the details surface.

For the Catholic, the most meaningful part of the funeral is the liturgy. On June 1, 1970, by order of Pope Paul VI, the Congregation for Divine Worship promulgated the Order of Funeral. And from All Souls Day, November 2, 1989, the English language version is mandatory in all dioceses in the United States of America.

It is through this liturgy, which is know as the Order of Christian Funerals, that the church "ministers to the sorrowing and consoles them in the funeral rites with the comforting word of God and the sacrament of the Eucharist" (Order of Christian Funerals).

When planning the liturgy Catholics need to be aware that these funeral guidelines are in place. They are very specific. And that brings us to the first step in arranging a funeral: the meeting with the pastor, associate pastor, or designated parish staff member.

Celebrating 'birth'

It is important for Catholics to understand that the Christian funeral is the church's celebration of the death and subsequent "birth" of one of its members. The funeral is not to "eulogize" an individual.

That is not to say that the church doesn't recognize the need to "remember" the individual; it does. The church allows for a brief personal reflection, by a family member or someone they would designate, after the liturgy and before the final commendation and farewell. A meeting with the pastor would lend a more clear understanding by the family of what would be expected in constructing a fitting "remembrance" of the deceased.

A meeting with the family would also give the priest an opportunity for personal insights into the life of the deceased. By knowing more about the person the priest could better minister to the bereaved members of the faith community.

Involved in planning

It is recommended that whenever possible family members be involved in planning the funeral rites. This can be done in advance of death. The choice of texts and rites provided in the ritual, the selection of appropriate music, and the designation of liturgical ministers can be arranged in advance.

The more reflection and time one puts into these matters, the more meaningful these parts of the liturgy will be for the community.

I use the word "appropriate" in describing the music selection because this is a part of the liturgy that needs to be better understood. "Danny Boy" may be very appropriate for personal reasons to the deceased. "The Wind Beneath My Wings" may be significant to the survivors.

But selections of popular music are not appropriate within the context of the funeral liturgy. The music should uplift and console the mourners but the texts should also " . . . express the paschal mystery of the Lord's suffering, death, and triumph over death and should also be related to the readings from Scripture" (Order of Christian Funerals).

Planning for meaning

Some parishes have planning guides available for the funeral liturgy. In these booklets can be found a number of offerings of readings and music from which to choose. It is highly recommended to get a copy of a pre-planning guide and spend time selecting texts and music.

The time invested before a need arises will produce a more meaningful funeral liturgy for the survivors and loved ones of the deceased.

Also, in these planning guides are pages that provide a place to record personal statistics such as financial, legal, and obituary information that the next of kin will find extremely helpful.

To embrace our mortality and celebrate our eventual return with Christ is a joyful undertaking. Yes, it is normal to fear the unknown but the unknown can become less fearful if we read sacred Scripture. And what better reason to read Scripture than to plan our reunion with the heavenly Father?

Tom Hanlon has been the director for the Department of Cemeteries for the Diocese of Madison since 1995. He has had a long career in funeral service.

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