Italy Mourns; a Look at Depression

Cardinal McCarrick Extends Condolences

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By Delia Gallagher

ROME, NOV. 20, 2003 ( Italy was in mourning this week for the 19 young peacekeepers killed in a suicide bombing in Iraq on Nov. 12.

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, at the precise moment when the state funeral was being held in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington was scheduled to speak at a Vatican conference on migration.

The cardinal thus prefaced his remarks with an expression of condolence: «As an American archbishop I am very conscious of the sacrifice of these young men. They were men who were away from home and so are a part of our discussion here. On behalf of other Americans present, I offer my deepest sympathy. Italy’s loss is great as is ours.»

After the conference, I chatted for a few minutes with the cardinal about his remarks. In these sad days in Italy, there has been an underlying sentiment of «we wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for you,» and the cardinal’s remarks were significant in this context.

As we spoke, the cardinal pulled a small piece of paper out of his briefcase on which he had written, in his tiny scrawl, two paragraphs that morning. It was a statement he had released to the press.

There is nothing unusual in formal statements of condolence given by cardinals or heads of state on such occasions; indeed, one expects them.

What surprised me about Cardinal McCarrick’s was that he did not rely on any official statement from the bishops’ conference or a carefully crafted document from his press people, but showed courage and humility in scratching out a few simple words at this sore time in Italy, when many Americans are lying low.

The conference at which the cardinal spoke is sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, headed by newly named Cardinal Stephen Fumio Hamao.

It is a weeklong meeting, held every five years, which includes talks by Cardinal Paul Poupard of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Christian Unity’s president Cardinal Walter Kasper, Cardinal Geraldo Majella Agnelo of Brazil, outgoing Vatican secretary for relations with states Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, and Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Brussels.

Representatives from the United Nations, the Anglican Communion, the World Lutheran Federation, the Ecumenical Council of Churches and those working with migrants and refugees on five continents are also attending.

The phenomenon of migration is not a new one, Cardinal Hamao pointed out in his opening remarks to the conference. But «today’s reality, including the world of migrants and refugees, is beset not just by any evil. As the Holy Father once affirmed, we are before Evil with a capital E,» said Cardinal Hamao.

According to statistics, the United States heads the list of 15 countries with the largest immigrant presence (35 million). Russia is second with 13.3 million. The other countries are Germany (7.3 million), Ukraine (6.9), France (6.3), India (6.3), Canada (5.8), Saudia Arabia (5.3), Australia (4.7), Pakistan (4.2), United Kingdom (4), Kazakhstan (3), Ivory Coast (2.3), Iran (2.3) and Israel (2.3).

Migration can of course include those who move for reasons of work or tourism. The Council for Migrants and Travelers is concerned mainly with those who emigrate for reasons of war, religious persecution or famine.

For these last, Cardinal McCarrick spoke of a basic right, «which is always understood but rarely articulated … the right for an individual to remain at home. By this I mean the right, ‘to grow where you are planted.»

For the many who cannot enjoy this right, the Catholic Church comes to their aid, said the undersecretary of the migrants council, Father F. Michael Blume.

«Although refugee camps are not ideal places, there are some pastoral teams and even normal parishes, that make them more livable,» he said. «Someone is certainly at their side — a priest, a nun, a lay person, a catechist — and listens to the dramatic experience of their past, assists them as people, offers them the strength and consolation of the Word of God and the sacraments and respects them.»

«Unfortunately,» Father Blume added, «this is a moment in which many local Churches feel overwhelmed by daily problems and impoverished by the lack of personnel and resources.»

The financial strain is felt not only in poor countries but also in the United States, where the bishops’ conference will soon meet to address the issue, an American participant told me.

Involvement with refugees naturally brings Catholic priests and nuns into contact with the politics of immigration, said Father Blume.

«Many times the local Church speaks also in defense of refugees, that their human dignity is respected,» he said. «Pastoral activity therefore puts the Church in contact with humanitarian and also political questions that refugees must confront. So, often, pastoral workers become qualified champions of their cause. They can, therefore, invite political institutions to respect international law, to interpret it in the best way, to use their moral authority to confront questions of racism, xenophobia, prejudice and discrimination. The social doctrine of the Church is the fundamental support of this activity.»

The politics of migration is complex, starting with the question: Who is an immigrant?

«One of the most intricate ‘vexatae quaestiones’ of our times regarding asylum policies has been the accusation that asylum seekers are in fact economic migrants who take advantage of current legislation,» said the president of the International Catholic Migration Commission in Geneva, professor Stefano Zamagni.

«Indeed it is a mistake to compare poverty and insecurity. Fleeing hunger is not the same as fleeing persecution,» he said.

Asylum seekers can be students, diplomats and businessmen who may pay significant amounts of money to receive refugee status and «have clear preferences regarding the place in which they finally end up,» according to Zamagni.

A vicious circle arises from confusion about refugees. Western countries, the destination for many asylum seekers, tighten restrictive measures on immigration which leads to, «steady decline in standards of protection for refugees and on the other hand, money-making opportunities for professional people traffickers.»

«The view is that if the majority of them are not real refugees but economic migrants,» says Zamagni, «laws for refugees and asylum systems might as well be abolished because they no longer serve the purpose for which they were created.»

The very big political problem, says Zamagni, is the balance between each state’s sovereign right to grant or refuse asylum (affirmed at the U.N. Conference on Territorial Asylum in 1977) and the 1951 Geneva Convention which confirms that «refugee status neither derives nor depends on any formal recognition by a state,» and states in Article 1 that a refugee is «someone who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.»

«The Geneva Convention, however, does not stipulate the type of procedure to follow in determining refugee status,» said Zamagni, «each state has adopted those procedures that it considers most suitable for its administrative and constitutional structure. This explains the anarchy that still reigns in the sector today.»

While governments debate just how to handle the pressures that immigration places on housing, jobs and national resources, the Catholic Church is doing its part to assist those caught in the middle.

But the Church too is in need of assistance, both financial and moral.

«Perhaps it is time to ask the Holy Father for an encyclical on migrants,»
Cardinal McCarrick said at the end of his talk.

«I applaud Cardinal McCarrick,» said one European participant at the conference, «calling for an encyclical from the Holy Father shows that he understands just how important this issue is. It is just what we need.»

* * *

A Look at Depression

«The Vatican has always been suspicious of behavioral scientists,» American psychologist and Dominican Sister Donna Markham told me at the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers international conference on depression, held Nov. 13-15 at the Vatican.

«The most important thing about this conference is that you had behavioral scientists and theologians in a room together,» Sister Markham said.

And what happens when you put psychologists and theologians in a room together?

«We hope to deepen our understanding of what depression is,» said Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, and organizer of the conference, «then to understand it in light of the Word of God and finally to reach some practical conclusions about how to confront it.»

The theologians included Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, prefect of Congregation for Sainthood Causes; Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the Council for Culture; Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments; and Cardinal Ivan Dias, archbishop of Bombay, India.

The theologians focused on biblical examples of depression; Cardinal Saraiva quoted the Psalms and gave a modern interpretation of God’s revelation to Moses, «I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,» as meaning, «I am the God of the sick, the poor and the depressed.»

Cardinal Dias exhibited some of that Vatican skepticism about psychology as he lumped psychiatrists in with «quacks,» saying, «Never before in the history of humankind has there been such a proliferation of soothsayers and black magicians, of psychiatrists and quacks, of esoteric theories and healers.»

Undaunted, the psychiatrists, who came from all over the globe, presented their studies on depression in French, Spanish, English and Italian to their Vatican listeners.

«Depression affects about 150 million people worldwide,» said Dr. Benedetto Saraceno, director of the World Health Organization’s Department of Mental Health. «However, fewer than 25% of these receive effective treatments such as antidepressant medications or appropriate psychotherapy.»

In addition to the theologians and psychologists, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist experts were also invited to speak on their respective approaches to depression.

In India, Dr. Bharati Patil told me, 70% to 80% of the general population is depressed.

«For the Muslim who has depression,» recommended professor Kamel Ajlouni of Jordan, «he should: one, seek modern medical advice since it is the law of Islam that we should seek treatment for every illness because God created a medicine to every sickness except death; two, believe that God and only God will save him and bestows on him peace and tranquility; three, attachment to God and believing in him is the only prevention and protection from depression.»

The Buddhist, we learn from Buddhist nun Heng-ching Shih, should «go directly into his depression, to become one with it.» Meditation is also a central component for healing depression in Buddhism.

And the Catholic who is depressed?

The Pope responded to the question in his address to the conference by suggesting the reading and meditation on the Psalms, the recitation of the rosary, and participation in the Eucharist.

* * *

Readers may contact Delia Gallagher at

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