Conversation Starters For a President Abroad

President Trump’s first foreign trip at the end of May was announced just after he signed the Religious freedom executive order. Ironically, three places he will visit – Saudi Arabia, Israel and Rome – are major hubs for the three great religions: Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

Saudi Arabia, according to official statistics, is close to 100% Muslim, predominantly Sunni.  Israel was established as a Jewish state this week in 1948. 

Rome has been a center of Christianity since Peter and Paul journeyed there in the first century and, subsequently, the Bishop of Rome was designated the Pope. 

As Citizen Sullivan, I suggest one topic for President Trump to raise in his conversation with each foreign leader.  Keeping with his preferred modality of policy communication, the President should update us by tweeting out the leaders’ responses.  

In Saudi Arabia, he should ask about religious freedom for non-Muslims. Maybe a simple question could be: Where can I go for Sunday Christian services?

In Israel, he should ask about refugees in the Palestinian camps. He might ask to visit one.

At the Vatican, he might want to, face to face, tell the Pope how great it will be when the new Mexican-paid-for-wall is built and how the Pope is wrong on immigration and refugee matters.  

I await the tweets.

Diversity Reigns

Catholic Charities is a the center of building a more just and compassionate society. We engage in a wide range of activities and interact with many different people.

Here’s a collage for this week –

  1. Twelve consul generals from Latin American countries meet at the Catholic Charities Community Services Immigration and Refugee Resettlement offices. (Top Left)

  2.  Evi Siskos from Telemundo was the MC for Astors Services Junior Gala at the Supreme Courthouse in lower Manhattan. (Top Right)

  3.  Zoe Saldana was taping her guest satellite radio appearance in the same Sirius studios that JustLove was taping.  Here’s a picture of her as she was leaving. (Bottom Left)

  4. Two talented Catholic Charities immigration attorneys from our expert legal team. (Bottom Middle)

  5.  On the same day as Pres. Trump’s Executive Order on religious liberty, the Becket Fund held its annual dinner.  This photo demonstrates the breathe of religious freedom issues in the United States. (Bottom Right)

Affordable Housing Needs the Catholic Community’s Continuing Partnership

Haven Plaza 2The topic of housing was covered extensively in the media this past week.  The focus has been the announcement of New York City’s plan to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing.

For those who work with low-income individuals and families, there is perhaps no more pressing need.  Families have the most difficult time finding decent housing they can afford.  Too many families are forced to make choices among essentials – food, rent, or medicine.

It was also good that the work of the Catholic Church over the past four decades in building and constructing affordable housing was recognized.  Of the many positive things the Church has done to help weave the fabric of NY and make our town more compassionate and just, housing may be one area under-recognized.  Arguably, our work with at-risk children and youth, our emergency food programs and immigrants, is better recognized.  However, this week housing was at the forefront.

I was fortunate to be able to hear the Mayor speak so positively about this work. I had the chance to say a few words about how the strength of this work has been the result of the diverse parts of the Church that have engaged in it – charismatic clergy, talented and expert laity, religious communities, parishes, community based organizations and Catholic Charities, in all five boroughs.  Sometimes this gets unwieldy, but when put together, it is a contribution flowing out of our common values that each person is made in the image of God, worthy of dignity and respect and having their basic rights met – and that housing is one of those basic human rights.

The ambitious, complex and critically needed plan of New York City to build and preserve affordable housing does need the continued partnership and energy of the Catholic community.  Once more this is a critically important role we play in building a more just and compassionate society.

It was good to hear the tremendous work of so many recognized this week, to spotlight some of it, and to express hope and commitment that this legacy continue and deepen into the future.

Religious Freedom – Not to Be Taken for Granted

DSCF3051Yesterday, President Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC.  Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to be part of deliberations on matters related to religious freedom and expression.

Three things in particular caught my attention:

It was a national prayer breakfast.

The President quoted Pope Francis and spoke about his upcoming meeting with him.

The issue of religious persecution was discussed by the President.

A number of years ago, I participated in testimony before a congressional  committee considering legislation that would include monitoring violations of religious freedoms as part of a broader focus on international human rights violations.  This legislation passed and now there are regular reports on these issues that raise awareness see most recent report:

The religious freedom we take for granted in the United States is not respected nor enjoyed worldwide.  We should give thanks for what we enjoy in our own country.   Also, we need to be vigilant to protect our religious freedom in this country that is continuously threatened in very different ways – many times very subtly, a few times with outward malice and sometimes unintentionally.  Both the establishment and free exercise clause of the first amendment are to be balanced in the public square.

I also had the honor to participate in a previous Presidential prayer breakfast at the White House with President Clinton in which he discussed various world issues on which religious leaders shared their perspective.  On that particular occasion the topic was Third World debt.

These are important parts of our country’s legacy of respecting religion’s role in the public square as one critical voice that informs just and compassionate policies.

Pope Francis continues to be a voice that is listened to throughout the world – including those who are not Catholic.  This is as it should be because his message, while steeped in our Catholic tradition, is meant to speak to a range of issues that impact humanity – not specifically or exclusively Catholics or Christians.  The encyclical Peace on Earth by John XXIII extended his opening salutation to all of good will.  The power of the message of life, justice, peace, compassion, dignity of the human person and so many more, rooted in the gospel speak to the best instincts of the human heart.   The world is listening.  We need to make sure that we who are Catholic are also listening.

 Read this article from the New York Times.