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POLICE AND JUDICIAL ABUSE OF LAW AND FREEDOM: a Public Statement by the Parliament of the World’s Religions


A Public Statement by the Parliament of the World’s Religions

Recent and recurring events across the United States that have raised questions about the role and responsibilities of the police and judicial officials and the permissible latitude of their actions within the law should be cause for serious reflection, including religious reflection, on how both order and freedom must be honored in contemporary society.

Law as an operative principle and expression of order serves an essential role in both sacred and secular realms, just as freedom plays a key function on behalf of change in these spheres. In both religious and civic life, order and freedom have a universal character, which assumes an equality of application. The breaking of law and the abuse of freedom invite disruption and even disintegration in the lives of individuals and societies.

Those entrusted with the provision of law enforcement and the protection of freedom, therefore, play extraordinarily important functions for human beings and in human communities. The duties assigned to judicial and police officers include not just the enforcement of the law but also the provisions for public safety, the promotion of peace, and the protection of individual and group rights. In carrying out these fundamental functions and often times dangerous duties, these public servants deserve respect and compliance.

But public agents of law and freedom cannot themselves engage in the violation of laws or the excesses of freedom and still expect to receive respect and compliance. These public agents cannot be permitted to be exceptions to the provisions of laws and freedoms that apply universally to those they are called to serve. More importantly, such violations and excesses by public agents of law and freedom have disastrous consequences for the social order, for the common good, and for human flourishing in its many forms.

The recent events of this kind in the United States must be addressed by both religious and civic communities. This is especially the case when the violation of laws and the excesses of freedom by public agents continue to be directed against members of groups who have historically been subject to abuse by overt actions or neglect.

Besides the growing number of individual incidents of injury and death by police officers against persons of color, a recent media report told of a million and a half African American men who were missing in the United States because of early deaths and incarceration.

The Parliament of the World’s Religions decries this condition of abuse and neglect across the world and in the United States. The Parliament calls on people of faith and conscience everywhere to join together in interfaith movements committed to the universal and equal protection of just laws and human freedoms and to a non-violent mobilization for justice, compassion, and peace.

Parliament Indigenous Task Force Chair to Lead Alberta, Canada Aboriginal Committee for New Government

Parliament Trustee Lewis Cardinal will chair the aboriginal people’s committee of the provincial government of Alberta Canada following the victorious election of the NDP party. Cardinal is also leading the Indigenous Task Force of the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions. Photo credit: Facebook

The Parliament congratulates Board Trustee Lewis Cardinal on his appointment to Chair the Aboriginal Committee for the Provincial government of Alberta, Canada following a victorious election of the NDP party.

Cardinal tells the Parliament he is “so excited to help bring the ideas and strengths of the indigenous peoples of Alberta together more prominently into government.”

Advocating for the rights of First Nations in Edmonton, CA and beyond has long been Cardinal’s passion both professionally and at the Parliament, where he is currently chairing the 2015 Parliament Indigenous Task Force.

Predicting a rise in aborginal voter turnout across Canada, Cardinal shared his insight with the Edmonton Journal before the election that tapping into the concerns of indigenous peoples common to Canada’s general public would be a main driver for an increase in aboriginal voters visiting the polls. Further, more aboriginal names on the ballot helped inspire a greater interest.

The Parliament is encouraged that greater opportunity for aboriginal communities is increasing not just within the political system, but within civil society as well.

Lewis Cardinal has spent most of his professional life in public service. As a communicator and educator, he has dedicated his work to creating and maintaining connections and relationships that cross cultural divides. His long track record of public service includes his involvement with many, many, Human Rights and Social Advocacy Boards. Lewis is also the owner of Cardinal Strategic Communications, a consulting company that specializes in Education, Governance, and Communications. He recently received Canada’s highest Aboriginal recognition award the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Public Service, as well as receiving the Distinguished Alumni Award from Grant Mac Ewan University, the Anti-Racism Award from the Centre for Race and Culture, and the Alberta Centennial Medal for his work in Human Rights and Diversity.



Religion and Women’s Dignity and Human Rights at the #UNCSW59

Reflections, Prayers and Remembrances at the 59th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women

by Phyllis Curott, Vice-Chair of the Parliament of the World’s Religions Board of Trustees, Chairwoman of the Parliament Women’s Task Force

“Thank you for doing this – this is is just what we needed.” This was the reaction expressed, and what we had hoped for, as we concluded our women’s interfaith service organized by the Women’s Task Force and the Interfaith Center of New York as a special sponsored event for the 59th Session of the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women.

The well-attended service at the Chapel of the Church Center for the United Nations offered a chance for UNCSW attendees to gather and reflect, pray and meditate, share insights and strengthen hope, to offer their gratitude and honor our co-workers who have passed from this life.

A remarkable and diverse group of women religious leaders spoke: the Chaplain of the CCUN Chapel Rev. Dionne Boissiere opened the service with a warm welcome and was followed by former Trustee and founder and President of the International Academy for Transcultural Cooperation, Audrey Kitagawa who filled the sacred space with chanting before sharing reflections on Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai.

Kusumita Pedersen offered the historic and pressing context for the service, reading from the Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world, Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom…”

To embrace the park, Grant Park,
with Ribbons
is to hold those gathered to hear the Dalai Lama,
is to hold those gathered together
after an event called The Parliament of the World’s Religions,
is to hold them within the Hope and Love of the stitches, paint strokes, weavings
of those who could not come.
To embrace the park, Grant Park, with Ribbons
is to send a message to those boats along the shore
those people walking on the hot sidewalks around the park,
is to send a message to those gathered inside the pieces of fabric
and those watching from a distance - to see and to know
that others from around this beautiful and tortured Earth
wait in Hope
pray with Love
that the event held within the Parliament of the World’s Religions
will grow beyond these few days in a place called Chicago
will grow to embrace the Earth
with the Hope
the prayers
the Love.
Justine Merritt | May 1993

She also honored the memory of several remarkable women including Tonya Frichner, founder of the American Indian Law Alliance and Advisor to the Women’s Task Force. Heartfelt and moving reflections were also shared by Indigenous leader Murial Borst, who worked closely with Tonya, Aisha al-Adawiya, founder and Chair of Women in Islam, Dr. Uma Mysorekar, President of the Hindu Temple Society of North America, the Reverend Chloe Breyer, Episcopal priest and Executive Director of the Interfaith Center of New York and Monica Willard, United Nations Representative of United Religions Initiative, who read a poem by Justine Merritt, founder of the Ribbon International Project to eliminate nuclear weapons that began with the 1993 Parliament in Chicago.

Dozens of women stood and shared, honored and remembered women who had inspired their lives and expressed why it was important for them to share their reflections. It was particularly moving that two young women from the Church of Latter Day Saints participated and expressed their commitment to supporting the Women’s Initiative and the Parliament by organizing homestays for visiting participants.

After the event, Kusumita Pedersen said, “It brought us together in a special way, strengthened us and we learned from each other. ‘Speaking from the heart’ is much needed, as many said and we proved. It also turned out to be entirely appropriate for the CSW.”

We are women of many faiths who have faith in women. And we have faith in what happens when women speak from their hearts. This is how we reclaim the heart of our humanity and we hope that you will join us in speaking from your heart at the Women’s Assembly beginning at 9 AM on October 15th, and during the Women’s Program Initiative throughout the Parliament from the evening of October 15th through October 19th, 2015.

There will be panels and presentations, workshops and conversations, and a Women’s Sacred Space available throughout the Parliament for spiritual gatherings, reflections, religious observances, prayers, meditations, rites and celebrations that express the great diversity, strength, wisdom and beauty of women’s spirits.

We invite you to share your reflections on what it means to be a woman of faith and what it means to have faith in women at #FaithInWomen

We invite you to submit a program proposal, spiritual or religious observance or celebration at:

We invite you to join us at the Women’s Assembly on October 15 and the Women’s Program Initiative and the Parliament of the World’s Religions October 15 – 19.

With love and gratitude,
Phyllis Curott



Ms. Phyllis Curott

Phyllis Curott is an attorney, author and Wiccan priestess. An interfaith activist and advocate of religious liberties for minority faiths in the courts and media, Jane Magazine honored her as one of the Ten Gutsiest Women of the Year, New York Magazine described her as one of the “culture’s most intellectually cutting-edge thinkers,” and Beliefnet has featured her in their video series Preachers and Teachers. Curott is founder and president of the international Temple of Ara and president emerita of the Covenant of the Goddess.

Announcing the Inaugural Women’s Assembly for Global Advancement and Program Initiative at 2015 Parliament

The Parliament Proudly Announces the

You asked, we listened.

The Women’s Task Force of the Parliament of the World’s Religions invites YOU to the Inaugural Assembly for Women’s Global Advancement, Oct. 15 and Program Initiative at the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions, Oct. 16-19, 2015 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Join with women of diverse faiths and spiritual traditions to:


To participate in this historic gathering at incredible discounted rates, register today for the deepest 2015 Parliament discounts. When registering please write “Women’s Assembly & Program” in the interest section. More details will follow.

SUBMIT A PROGRAM – All women’s voices, wisdom and ways are welcome. Submit your proposal here! 





Register • Submit Proposals • Exhibit • Sponsor 

Imam Mujahid Congratulates Rabbi Saperstein

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, preaches at a Washington, D.C., service in 2002. He says the Ten Commandments continue to be featured artistically in synagogues. Photo courtesy of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

The Parliament of the World’s Religions Board Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid extends congratulations to Rabbi David Saperstein on his nomination by President Obama to lead the United States Department of State Office of International Religious Freedom. Saperstein who serves as Director and Counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism would become the first non-Christian to take the office now vacant for nine months.

Board Chair Mujahid welcomes the unprecedented move of the Obama Administration to advance a Jewish Rabbi to lead the office first established by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

Mujahid’s congratulatory letter highlights Saperstein’s “admirable record of touching humanity through faith-based justice,” and commends his expert leadership as an example of how progress can be achieved through engaging the guiding institutions.

In addressing the interfaith movement at the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia, Saperstein hosted an engagement session entitled “The State and Religious Freedom,” and was featured prolifically on panels including:

  • Poverty Must No Longer Be With Us with Huruhisa Handa, Jim Wallis, Katherine Marshall, Dr. A T Ariyaratne, Tim Costello, Sulak Sivaraksa and Sr. Joan Chittister
  • Democracy and Diversity in Global Perspective with Anwar Ibrahim, Pal Ahluwalia, Bishop Peter Elliott, Dr. M Din Syamsuddin, and Dr. Barabara McGraw
  • The Role of Religion and Spirituality in the Public Discourse with Archbishop Philip Freier

Designated in Newsweek’s 2009 list as the most influential rabbi in the country and described in a Washington Post profile as “the quintessential religious lobbyist on Capitol Hill,” Rabbi David Saperstein represents the national Reform Jewish Movement to Congress and the Administration as the Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. The Center not only advocates on a broad range of social justice issues but provides extensive legislative and programmatic materials to synagogues nationwide, and coordinates social action education programs that train nearly 3,000 Jewish adults, youth, rabbinic and lay leaders each year.

Read more about Rabbi David Saperstein.




Women’s Task Force Urges Attention to Woman Lawyer and Rights Under Threat for Pursuing Honor Killings of Two in Pakistan

Via Asian Human Rights Commission

9 June 2014 – The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that the life of a lady lawyer and human rights defender is under threat for pursuing the murder case of two women who were killed in the name of honour. The murderers quickly tried to bury the bodies claiming that they both committed suicide after the exposure of their illicit relations. The local politicians from the ruling party used high police officials to stop the court order of the exhumation of the bodies. The lawyer was threatened to keep away from the case.

The killers have made several attacks on the lawyer’s chambers and threatened that if she pursues the case she and her children will not be spared. The killers told her that killing one more woman would not increase the sentence for killing two already. The police and courts have ignored the threats to the lawyer.

Ms. Munaza Bukhari, advocate and prominent human rights defender of Pakpattan, Punjab province, is under threat of death by the alleged killers of the two women who were killed on the pretext of honour on the accusation of having illicit relationships out of wedlock. The government, courts and police have been informed, but it looks as if the authorities are biding their time and waiting for the attempt to kill her. This is similar to the case of Mr. Rashid Rehman, a human rights defender fighting the case of a professor who was accused of Blasphemy. He was shot dead in his chambers. Mr. Rehman had received threats to his life in a court room before the judge. The judge and the authorities ignored the threats.

Whenever there has hearing of the case in different courts, Ms. Bukhari was threatened in the court premises themselves, that she would be killed in the same manner as the two women. On more than three occasions the alleged killers attacked her chambers and boasted that they were not afraid as the sentence for three women would be the same as that for killing two.

The details of the case which resulted in the threats to her life are as follows:

On 24 February, two young women Ms. Parveen Bibi, 26, and Ms. Shakeela, 17, resident of Chak No. 77/D, Malka Hans, district Pakpattan, Punjab were allegedly poisoned to death on the pretext of hounor killing. They were suspected of having illicit relations out of their marriage.

Ms. Parveen Bibi, the mother of three children, was married to Mansab Ali six years ago while the other woman Ms. Shakeela was the sister of Mansab Ali and married to her cousin just eight months earlier. The husband of Bibi and the closed relatives of the deceased women claim that both the women were having illicit relations with two men, causing shame for the family honour, and at the disclosure of their illicit relations and accusation; they confessed and then committed suicide because of the shame.

However the neighbors and the local community of the same village believe that Mansab Ali, in connivance with other family elders killed his wife and sister by administering them poisonous pills as they doubted their honour. They also informed the police about the death of two women in mysterious circumstances.

The family members of the deceased women were in a rush to bury them in the village graveyard silently but the news of alleged murder spread out. The Deputy Superintendent of Police, Muhammad Akram rushed to the village along with the Station House Officer (SHO) of Malka Hans and started inquiring about the incident. During the initial inquiry and investigation of the police the accused husband, Mansab Ali, and other family members were unable to provide satisfactory reason and cause of death. On the suspicious grounds, the police stopped the burial without postmortem.

When the accused and his family felt that the police were not satisfied with the answers provided they panicked. The husband, along with other family members, approached the local politicians from the ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League (N) and some landlords of the area to seek help against the police interference into the matter. The local politicians used their influence and stopped police to further investigate. Later, the police let the family to bury both women without a postmortem.

Meanwhile, after the burial, on the basis of having strong reason of suspicious death of the women, Ms. Munaza Bokhari, the lawyer, intervened and demanded the exhumation of bodies. On the fear of being exposed, the Malka Hans police reported the matter in their daily register on 27th Feb, three days after the murder.

On March 2, Ms. Munaza Bokhari, herself became the complainant and filed a writ petition before the court of local Magistrate Mazhar Fareed for exhuming the bodies and registration of an FIR against the alleged killers. The complainant pleaded to the Magistrate and sought permission for the exhumation of the bodies as she believed that the Deputy Superintendant of Police, Muhammad Ikram and former Station House Officer of the Malka Hans police station, Ashfaq Husain were concealing facts by converting the double murder into suicide. Interestingly, later the the police, just to save itself, also filed a writ petition at the local court for a post-mortem of the bodies.

On 8 March, the court of Magistrate accepted the plea and gave the orders for opening up of the graves on13 April. In the meantime, the police and legal heirs of the two deceased women forced the court that in Islam exhumation of the graves of women is prohibited therefore stopped the exhumation. The lawyer, Ms. Bukhari, after observing the pressure from the politician of the ruling party and the police tilt towards the perpetrators, also filed a petition before the Session Court of Additional Judge Mr. Bashir Choudry, for the exhumation of the bodies to get the cause of the death. The Additional Sessions Court also ordered for exhumation of the graves and fixed the date on April 22 for excavation of the graves. On the date of exhumation all arrangements were made and the magistrate and other court staff and technicians from the government were present at the graves. However, just before the exhumation, the main accused person, Mansab Ali and 19 others filed a petition before the bench of Justice Syed Iftikhar Hussain Shah of the Lahore High Court to grant a stay order against the exhumation of the graves. The court without hearing the point of view of other party immediately granted the stay order and the exhumation was stopped until the vacation of the stay order. The High Court single Bench fixed the date of next hearing on April 28, but on the date judge postponed the next hearing for left over, which means when there would be time available from the court’s ’cause list’ the case would be heard.

The lawyer, Ms. Munaza Bukhari, is being followed and whenever she comes in contact with killers they threaten her that if she comes to the next hearing she would be killed.

The alleged killers have no fear of the law and they know how to manipulate with courts and police. They have not only used the police but also obtained help from the High Court as it is commonly known that judges are biased against women in general. Therefore it is an easy matter to get relief from the courts by taking the shelter behind Islam.


The case of Ms. Munaza Bukhari, advocate, is no different from the case of Mr. Rashid Rehman, the lawyer and prominent human rights defender, who was gunned down by unknown persons at his chambers at 8.45 p.m. He had been receiving death threats from the Muslim fundamentalists since February. In the month of April he was threatened in court during the proceedings before the judge by a lawyer, Zulfiqar Sindhu and two other complainants and was warned that from the next hearing he should not defend a Muslim lecturer of Bahawalpur University in a case of Blasphemy. Sindhu actually stated before the judge that Mr. Rehman would be eliminated. The presiding judge remained silent and took no notice of the threats by the bigots who were forcing the judge to sentence the lecturer to death.

The judge of the anti terrorist court totally ignored the threats given from the lawyer before him, the same attitude was shown by the local authorities and police that allowed the killers the freedom to kill in the name of Islam.

In the case of Rashid Rehman the killers knew how to get impunity from courts, police and authorities and they were successful. Until now no one has been arrested and even the Multan district bar association has not taken any action against the lawyer who threatened to kill Rehman before the judge.

Realizing Religion’s Power to Champion Change

By Rev. Dr. Anne Benvenuti
Parliament Trustee, Co-Chair, Parliament Women’s Task Force

The following excerpt highlights the work of the Parliament and world leaders to recalibrate the religious contexts in which cultural practices carried out equate to human rights abuses. This section comes from the presentation, “Human Rights and Mental Health of Women in the Context of Religious Freedom.” delivered to the International Academy of Law and Mental Health in Amsterdam in 2013.

“What I hope and what I suggest is that religion is one of the great sources of the vision that produced the concept of human rights, that religion is one of the great mobilizers of human goodness and courage to realize visions of just and sustainable human societies, of many various cultural and religious forms. In the twentieth century, it was the charismatic religious leadership of Gandhi, of Martin Luther King Jr., and of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, that provided the impetus for major civil rights movements. “The arc of the universe,” said King, “bends towards justice.” Indeed, we hope that it does.

Today there are many religious voices standing up to the more regressive and intimidating movements in the world of religion; among these are Jimmy Carter, Mary Robinson, and Desmond Tutu, along with many programs of an interfaith nature, many movements within religions, and perhaps most touchingly, many people of faith acting in accord with their consciences.

The Parliament of World’s Religions and other interfaith organizations increasingly provide a forum for more progressive religious voices and the development of shared visions. In fact, Jimmy Carter gave a groundbreaking address to the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions at Melbourne, after very publicly leaving his own lifelong religious home, the Southern Baptist Convention, when that church revoked its blessing on women’s leadership and declared that wives must be submissive to their husbands.

In his address to the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Carter said, “This view that the Almighty considers women to be inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or tradition. Its influence does not stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue, or temple. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths, creating an environment in which violations against women are justified. The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions – all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views and set a new course that demands equal rights for women and men, girls and boys.”

In response to Carter’s address, and under the leadership of Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, the Parliament of the World’s Religions (of which entity I am a trustee) initiated a Women’s Task force, which I co-chair with Phyllis Curott for the purpose of “developing a multi-generational action plan to assure that the voices of women are heard at the vital nexus of women’s issues and religion.”

Speaking of the seemingly needless regression in the world of religion, Desmond Tutu commented on the obvious advantages of including women in leadership, “In my own church, which decided only in 1992 that women could be ordained as priests and bishops, it was quite a shock to realise how much we had diminished ourselves in our ministry when we saw the difference women made. In this volatile time, when there is so much distress and dissatisfaction, we are wasting a huge source of talent and wisdom by not including women as equals in all aspects of life – whether in politics, business or religion.”[20]

I remain convinced that we must engage the world of religion in every way possible, first by recognizing its considerable power to mobilize humans to act courageously to realize the best in us, but also by legislation that protects the freedom and dignity of women and men from bad religion; by interfaith conversation, but also by conversations between the secular and religious domains, and of course by conversations within religious traditions. With regard to this last element, I think it goes without saying that changes in the traditions, including interpretation of texts, must come from within those religious traditions, though conversations across traditional boundaries may well be enriching for all parties.

Because I see the power for both good and ill in the world of religion, I was ordained an Episcopal priest in 2009, and I serve as a Trustee of the Parliament. I want to illustrate this dimension of my own life with a story: in my very small town, I was recently invited by a Roman Catholic group to participate in their charity walk. I put on my clerical garb, my black shirt and white collar, and I walked thus in the California heat; it was my simple and direct response about women’s leadership to walk among them attired in the symbolic garb of my role of spiritual leadership. The question of the day was what to call me, since “Father” is obviously not the right thing. This is the slow work, and it simply has to be done, village by village, charity walk by charity walk, YouTube video by YouTube video. There is so much that can be done simply be engaging conversations instead of letting the opportunities to do so slip by. I have added to my public and casual vocabulary the expression, “Hmmm, that’s not how I see it…” and have found that what I thought would be both tedious and exhausting is often both enriching and empowering. I’ve learned that often people listen if I will speak my truth, and that people will speak if I listen. As I said, this is the necessary slow work.

The Arc of the Universe does bend toward justice, I think, but the weight of our collective human will, expressed by attention and by action is necessary to that bending.”

[19] Alexandra Toping, “Saudi activists face jail for taking food to woman who said she was imprisoned: Court finds women’s rights campaigners guilty of inciting wife to defy husband’s authority.” The Guardian, 5 July 2013

[20] Desmond Tutu. “Women, Religion, and Change,” The Elders Blog, 1 February, 2012.

Pope Pledges Better World in Message for Migrants and Refugees Day

On Friday, January 17 falls the 2014 observance of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees in the Roman Catholic Church. His Holiness Pope Francis sets the themeTowards a Better World for this year’s observance with the following statement. World Refugee Day as proclaimed in 2000 by the United Nations is June 20. 

Via The Vatican:


Migrants and Refugees: Towards a Better World

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our societies are experiencing, in an unprecedented way, processes of mutual interdependence and interaction on the global level. While not lacking problematic or negative elements, these processes are aimed at improving the living conditions of the human family, not only economically, but politically and culturally as well. Each individual is a part of humanity and, with the entire family of peoples, shares the hope of a better future. This consideration inspired the theme I have chosen for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees this year: Migrants and Refugees: Towards a Better World.

In our changing world, the growing phenomenon of human mobility emerges, to use the words of Pope Benedict XVI, as a “sign of the times” (cf. Message for the 2006 World Day of Migrants and Refugees). While it is true that migrations often reveal failures and shortcomings on the part of States and the international community, they also point to the aspiration of humanity to enjoy a unity marked by respect for differences, by attitudes of acceptance and hospitality which enable an equitable sharing of the world’s goods, and by the protection and the advancement of the dignity and centrality of each human being.

From the Christian standpoint, the reality of migration, like other human realities, points to the tension between the beauty of creation, marked by Grace and the Redemption, and the mystery of sin. Solidarity, acceptance, and signs of fraternity and understanding exist side by side with rejection, discrimination, trafficking and exploitation, suffering and death. Particularly disturbing are those situations where migration is not only involuntary, but actually set in motion by various forms of human trafficking and enslavement. Nowadays, “slave labour” is common coin! Yet despite the problems, risks and difficulties to be faced, great numbers of migrants and refugees continue to be inspired by confidence and hope; in their hearts they long for a better future, not only for themselves but for their families and those closest to them.

What is involved in the creation of “a better world”? The expression does not allude naively to abstract notions or unattainable ideals; rather, it aims at an authentic and integral development, at efforts to provide dignified living conditions for everyone, at finding just responses to the needs of individuals and families, and at ensuring that God’s gift of creation is respected, safeguarded and cultivated. The Venerable Paul VI described the aspirations of people today in this way: “to secure a sure food supply, cures for diseases and steady employment… to exercise greater personal responsibility; to do more, to learn more, and have more, in order to be more” (Populorum Progressio, 6).

Our hearts do desire something “more”. Beyond greater knowledge or possessions, they want to “be” more. Development cannot be reduced to economic growth alone, often attained without a thought for the poor and the vulnerable. A better world will come about only if attention is first paid to individuals; if human promotion is integral, taking account of every dimension of the person, including the spiritual; if no one is neglected, including the poor, the sick, prisoners, the needy and the stranger (cf. Mt 25:31-46); if we can prove capable of leaving behind a throwaway culture and embracing one of encounter and acceptance.

Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more. The sheer number of people migrating from one continent to another, or shifting places within their own countries and geographical areas, is striking. Contemporary movements of migration represent the largest movement of individuals, if not of peoples, in history. As the Church accompanies migrants and refugees on their journey, she seeks to understand the causes of migration, but she also works to overcome its negative effects, and to maximize its positive influence on the communities of origin, transit and destination.

While encouraging the development of a better world, we cannot remain silent about the scandal of poverty in its various forms. Violence, exploitation, discrimination, marginalization, restrictive approaches to fundamental freedoms, whether of individuals or of groups: these are some of the chief elements of poverty which need to be overcome. Often these are precisely the elements which mark migratory movements, thus linking migration to poverty. Fleeing from situations of extreme poverty or persecution in the hope of a better future, or simply to save their own lives, millions of persons choose to migrate. Despite their hopes and expectations, they often encounter mistrust, rejection and exclusion, to say nothing of tragedies and disasters which offend their human dignity.

The reality of migration, given its new dimensions in our age of globalization, needs to be approached and managed in a new, equitable and effective manner; more than anything, this calls for international cooperation and a spirit of profound solidarity and compassion. Cooperation at different levels is critical, including the broad adoption of policies and rules aimed at protecting and promoting the human person. Pope Benedict XVI sketched the parameters of such policies, stating that they “should set out from close collaboration between the migrants’ countries of origin and their countries of destination; they should be accompanied by adequate international norms able to coordinate different legislative systems with a view to safeguarding the needs and rights of individual migrants and their families, and at the same time, those of the host countries” (Caritas in Veritate, 62). Working together for a better world requires that countries help one another, in a spirit of willingness and trust, without raising insurmountable barriers. A good synergy can be a source of encouragement to government leaders as they confront socioeconomic imbalances and an unregulated globalization, which are among some of the causes of migration movements in which individuals are more victims than protagonists. No country can singlehandedly face the difficulties associated with this phenomenon, which is now so widespread that it affects every continent in the twofold movement of immigration and emigration.

It must also be emphasized that such cooperation begins with the efforts of each country to create better economic and social conditions at home, so that emigration will not be the only option left for those who seek peace, justice, security and full respect of their human dignity. The creation of opportunities for employment in the local economies will also avoid the separation of families and ensure that individuals and groups enjoy conditions of stability and serenity.

Finally, in considering the situation of migrants and refugees, I would point to yet another element in building a better world, namely, the elimination of prejudices and presuppositions in the approach to migration. Not infrequently, the arrival of migrants, displaced persons, asylum-seekers and refugees gives rise to suspicion and hostility. There is a fear that society will become less secure, that identity and culture will be lost, that competition for jobs will become stiffer and even that criminal activity will increase. The communications media have a role of great responsibility in this regard: it is up to them, in fact, to break down stereotypes and to offer correct information in reporting the errors of a few as well as the honesty, rectitude and goodness of the majority. A change of attitude towards migrants and refugees is needed on the part of everyone, moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization – all typical of a throwaway culture – towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world. The communications media are themselves called to embrace this “conversion of attitudes” and to promote this change in the way migrants and refugees are treated.

I think of how even the Holy Family of Nazareth experienced initial rejection: Mary “gave birth to her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Lk 2:7). Jesus, Mary and Joseph knew what it meant to leave their own country and become migrants: threatened by Herod’s lust for power, they were forced to take flight and seek refuge in Egypt (cf. Mt 2:13-14). But the maternal heart of Mary and the compassionate heart of Joseph, the Protector of the Holy Family, never doubted that God would always be with them. Through their intercession, may that same firm certainty dwell in the heart of every migrant and refugee.

The Church, responding to Christ’s command to “go and make disciples of all nations”, is called to be the People of God which embraces all peoples and brings to them the proclamation of the Gospel, for the face of each person bears the mark of the face of Christ! Here we find the deepest foundation of the dignity of the human person, which must always be respected and safeguarded. It is less the criteria of efficiency, productivity, social class, or ethnic or religious belonging which ground that personal dignity, so much as the fact of being created in God’s own image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26-27) and, even more so, being children of God. Every human being is a child of God! He or she bears the image of Christ! We ourselves need to see, and then to enable others to see, that migrants and refugees do not only represent a problem to be solved, but are brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected and loved. They are an occasion that Providence gives us to help build a more just society, a more perfect democracy, a more united country, a more fraternal world and a more open and evangelical Christian community. Migration can offer possibilities for a new evangelization, open vistas for the growth of a new humanity foreshadowed in the paschal mystery: a humanity for which every foreign country is a homeland and every homeland is a foreign country.

Dear migrants and refugees! Never lose the hope that you too are facing a more secure future, that on your journey you will encounter an outstretched hand, and that you can experience fraternal solidarity and the warmth of friendship! To all of you, and to those who have devoted their lives and their efforts to helping you, I give the assurance of my prayers and I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 5 August 2013


January 16th, 2014 at 1:01 pm

The Real Martin Luther King Jr. (…and what to honor on his day)

Our society has whitewashed the civil rights leader’s life and deeds. On Monday, we should remember his dream of beloved community and his commitment to activism.

By , President and columnist of EastBayExpress in Oakland, California. Published with permission.

On January 20, our nation will celebrate the American hero Martin Luther King Jr. Schools and post offices will be closed, giving many of us a three-day weekend — a welcome respite from our busy lives. But what will we be celebrating?

If we are to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. the man, we need a return to the real King, not to the tissue-paper-thin image of him devoid of meaning or historical accuracy. Tributes and celebrations are all too often marked by false remembrance, in which radical and transformational leaders and movements are cynically turned into bland narratives of fairness and justice. When applied to King, this process does a disservice to his work and the issues he held dear.

King was an activist and an intellectual whose courage shone during one of our nation’s most important moments. He was moved by religious faith and earthly fire. He was a believer in divine miracles and in progress through human endeavor. He was a religious figure and scholar who understood how the ills of society interconnect. He was a complicated man in a time in which the fundamental question upon which his activism began — justice for black Americans — was a simple binary. In the town where I grew up, Little Rock, Arkansas, there was one question with only two possible answers: Do you believe in segregation of the races — yes or no?

It is in King’s extraordinary writings that we can find the man today. His “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” written to a hostile white southern clergy, is a classic of American prose. It should be read by kids and adults everywhere this week. King argued for the sacredness of the inclusive “beloved community” of our human species and the importance of all of us. He stressed notions of love, power, and justice and their relationship to the nature of social existence — a message echoed in progressive strains of Buddhism and Catholicism.

It was through his conception of beloved community that King led the Civil Rights Movement, maybe the most important movement in our country’s history. In this struggle, he also inspired a generation of activists. In response to the Vietnam War, he called our government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” The elite howled and The New York Timesexcoriated him for this “reckless” connection of racism and militarism. King died in 1968 while in Memphis supporting striking sanitation workers, yet many believed his decision to link war with racism led to his murder.

The realization of beloved communities of human joy, plenty, and safety, King preached, is frustrated by three things: poverty, racism, and war. On January 20, we should remember that these three evils still exist today. Last week, the US Census Bureau reported that nearly one in three Americans experienced an episode of poverty between 2009 and 2011, a scandalous proportion. As to racism, the legacy of the death of Oscar Grant remains with us, and the educational opportunities for black Americans continue to deteriorate, as our privileged starve the public education system in the guise of standing up to teachers unions. As to war, our culture of endless conflict continues to cost us dearly in lives and money. King fretted about the diversion of resources from human improvement to war. Last year, a Harvard researcher calculated that the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will eventually hit $6 trillion.

This Martin Luther King Jr. Day also comes on the heels of the death of Nelson Mandela, another hero who is being sanitized by contemporary culture. Mandela was praised by all the world’s leaders, yet, in his struggle against apartheid in South Africa, he was no pacifist. Despite tremendous pressure, he refused to condemn the actions of apartheid’s opponents — even when those actions included violence. Yet at his funeral, world leaders tried to remake him in the image of their sanitized version of Martin Luther King. Mandela’s funeral was surreal, as he was joyfully praised by leaders of nations who had branded him a terrorist and funded the apartheid system that kept black South Africans in slave-like conditions. Luminaries such as British Prime Minister David Cameron, a supporter of apartheid in his college days, and one of our American princes of impoverishment, Texas GOP Senator Ted Cruz, made the pilgrimage.

Whitewashing the misdeeds of the elite — and the responses of historical heroes — is nothing new, of course. It’s worth revisiting Tom Paxton’s satirical ballad “What Did You Learn in School Today,” which Pete Seeger sang at a historic Carnegie Hall concert fifty years ago. Paxton’s lyrics described what kids were being taught at the time.

I learned that Washington never told a lie. I learned that soldiers seldom die. …

I learned that war is not so bad. I learned about the great ones we have had. …

I learned that policemen are my friends. I learned that justice never ends. …

I learned our government must be strong. It’s always right and never wrong. …

An understanding of history and what to honor and what to remember is not an empty intellectual enterprise. As Guardian columnist Gary Younge wrote from the Mandela funeral, “The past has a legacy and the present has consequences: our understanding of how we got here and why is crucial to our decision about where we go from here next and how.” Understanding who our heroes really were and what they actually did is, indeed, critical.

The question is not whether to praise King; the question is what we commemorate. For me, it was his commitment to direct action with his eye always on the prize of a beloved community, a place where joy and a healthy life for all can be created. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” he wrote in his Birmingham letter. This is the message to be celebrated and taught to our kids.

INTERFAITH EVENT FRIDAY: Solidarity Circle for Father Solalinde and the Caravan Opening Doors to Hope

The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions in partnership with the DePaul University Office of Religious Diversity is convening a special one hour solidarity circle for interfaith leaders to meet Catholic priest, Padre Alejandro Solalinde, and his Caravan Opening Doors To Hope. 
Solalinde is traveling the U.S. with a large group of victimized migrants turned activists who have experienced human rights abuses in Mexico. The story of 70,000 Central American brothers and sisters disappearing over the last few years, while Solalinde has been imprisoned and arrested for his work operating a network of shelters is shocking. We are helping share this story and honor his bravery.

NOTE: This event is being produced to connect university-level Interfaith leaders with Padre Solalinde’s entourage, but we are inviting you as guests of CPWR.

In this hour we will…
-Hear words from Mexico’s 2012 Human Rights Award recipient
Watch a short film documenting the reality of the migrant train in Mexico
-Welcome Amnesty International to recognize the work of Padre Solalinde
-Share our blessings and offerings to the migrant activists
-Extend our wishes for peace and security to the caravan
-Personally connect Chicago’s young interfaith leaders with a hero to a humanitarian crisis

TO ATTEND: All are welcome, but for seat reservations contact

Cost: NONE