By Catherine Smibert
ROME, NOV. 23, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Sports have often been a language to cross cultures and continents. So that would make the main language of Italy, and its capital, soccer.
It is also a predominant language in the New York Fire Department. And it was one reason why the New Yorkers played against the firefighters of Rome last Saturday in a local stadium. Another reason was to promote world peace.
The coach and manager of the FDNY soccer club, Lieutenant James Brosi, told me that his team’s objective is to “travel, share camaraderie, promote good will among fire services and through the sport of soccer — all the while fund raising.”
The money collected from their world tour matches goes toward providing educational scholarships to students who are playing soccer in the United States, many of whom are the sons and daughters of fallen firefighters.
The idea began when one of Brosi’s teammates, Sergio Villanueva, died after saving countless lives on Sept. 11, 2001.
“After those days we felt so helpless and hopeless,” Brosi recalled. “But since then, our goal has been to try to transform those feelings into ones of helpfulness and hopefulness. And we’ve tried to ensure that our friend has a legacy of life, hope and charity.”
Brosi said it is a miracle that he is alive after having been trapped under World Trade Center rubble that fateful day.
“I had already said my final prayers,” he said. “But I feel that it was the hand of God that saved my life that day. … He obviously had another plan for me. … I carry that in my work today and [that] has a lot to do with our aim today of finding good amidst tragedy and spreading it as far as we can.”
Brosi noted how these games give their participants a chance to share in the international mission for building fraternity.
He observed that “9-11 showed us just how small the world is and how we share in problems. It’s no longer a divided world. It’s very small and we need to work together using anything we have to offer at a common level in order to solve and deal with these problems through dialogue and unity.”
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A Vital Voice for Migrants
If there are any keys to solving migration problems, according to the head of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Church has them.
António Guterres spoke with me after his recent meeting with Benedict XVI.
“We often witness in the European debate the mixing of everything together, or a pluralistic approach to the migration issue,” he said. “Security concerns with asylum, migrants and refugees tend, then, to create an environment of fear that is negative to granting asylum.”
Apparently Europe is also suffering from a rising intolerance toward “the other,” said 57-year-old Guterres.
“We note pockets of xenophobic attitudes across the continent that need to be fought,” the U.N. official said. “In political life, in the media and some circles of public opinion, the social cohesion of societies feels threatened and therefore causes problems to peace in many areas.”
This is one significant aspect of the quandary the Church is aiming to eliminate.
“In our meeting,” this former prime minister of Portugal recounted, “the Pope and I discussed the importance of the Catholic promotion of tolerance and mutual respect in societies that are becoming multicultural, multiethnic and multireligious. It’s the best guarantee that asylum systems will be preserved worldwide.”
Church teaching also supports refugees by promoting their individual dignity and highlighting what they can bring to societies.
Guterres notes that the flow of people is required among certain countries that are grappling with low birthrates and high demand for workers.
“When we look at today’s world,” he said, “there are very solid reasons to believe that the migratory movements of populations will tend to grow, not diminish.”
“We have an isometric globalization,” Guterres continued. “Money moves freely across the world; goods and services tend to move more freely, even if there are still many obstacles. … However, it’s much more difficult for people themselves to move.”
Yet, Guterres observed, supply and demand tend to meet. “They meet legally if possible, but illegally if necessary,” he said.
This is where Catholic organizations within civil society can step in to help safeguard migrants’ dignity.
“They are our partners in many global zones and we recognize the importance of their work and cooperation with us,” said the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Such professional groups take on an active role in dealing with those displaced themselves, as well as representing them at a political level.
“It’s important that such complexities they bring to the table are debated in a serene and objective way,” Guterres added, “and that Europe defines a more effective strategy in relation to migration problems based on the unification of comprehensive individual laws.”
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Europe as Mission Territory
Once upon a time the disciples of Jesus traveled to Europe to spread the good news. Centuries later, Europe became a springboard for evangelization around the world.
Now, things have come full circle. Europe has become a significant mission territory once again, according to a conference held this week in Rome.
The 130 international participants at a congress, organized by the Salesian Society, discussed the religious demographics of the continent as well as pastoral proposals to respond to the changes.
The rector major of the Salesians, Father Pascual Chávez Villanueva, told me that “we mustn’t forget that nowhere in the world has Christianity permeated the culture as it did in Europe, even from the philosophical point of view.”
With this in mind, the conferees’ idea is to reach all associations, formators and pastoral directors engaged in the task of bringing back Europe’s soul, in a way that doesn’t reduce the importance of any country’s role.
During the four-day congress, the group had a chance to examine the Church programs that have, and haven’t, worked in the re-evangelization of Europe.
Father Emilio Alberich, a key speaker at the conference and a professor at the Pontifical Salesian University, called for a pastoral change and a return to an evangelization based on the process of primary proclamation of the Gospel and a methodology founded on the Catechism.
He thinks that the Christian community ought to concentrate not so much on preserving the “practicing faithful” as on fostering “believers” with a personalized faith on the way toward spiritual maturity.
“The essential foundation of evangelization is witness,” Father Alberich declared.
He urged the European community to come to a new understanding of the activities and signs of the evangelization process — such as charity-service, communion-fraternity, and celebrations that are clear expressions of vitality.
Each of the workshops favored a rethinking of pastoral objectives, aimed at preparing a new model of believer and Christian community in order to present a convincing model of the Church.
The general assembly of the congress also proposed a rediscovery of religious experiences as an essential element for young people so as to better unify faith and culture.
They agreed that a key “paradigm shift” is to not talk about youth as the “future” but youth as the “present,” stressing the need for education and a well-tailored ministry.
“Youth are, of course, at the heart of the Salesian charism,” Father Chávez said.
He believes we need courage to present Jesus Christ to them in an explicit way.
“It’s the young who primarily have to submit to the cultural models which are so secularized and so lacking in spiritual respite,” said the ninth successor of Don Bosco. “At times they are testament to a technological and economic development beyond comparison, but without a transcendent element they are unable to make sense of life.”
Thus the conference aimed at presenting “a witness of the fullness and beauty of a life in Christ as well as encouraging youth to express their thoughts and energy,” Father Chávez added.
In his concluding homily, the rector major invited those present to follow the example of the blind man at Jericho who used the gift of healing as a springboard to make a joyful proclamation of Christ.
“Let us help Europe, then, blinded by its self-sufficiency and plenty,” said Father Chávez. “Let us accompany the young people of Europe, deprived of so much light, on a voyage of discovery to meet the merciful Christ so that the continent and its youth may return to believing and following Jesus.”
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Catherine Smibert can be reached at [email protected].