By BISHOP EDWARD J. BURNS
A BISHOP’S PERSPECTIVE in the Juneau Empire
The beginning of 2015 affords us the opportunity to look back on the blessings of the past year and gear up for the challenges and hopes of the New Year. A couple of items quickly come to mind as I reflect on 2014.
First of all, Pope Francis concluded the first year of his pontificate this past March. The Holy Father’s impact on the world includes a passion for the poor and has challenged everyone to look at human dignity as something sacred — especially when addressing concerns for the unborn and immigrants. A few short months after becoming Pope, our Holy Father went to Lampedusa in Italy to see firsthand the place where immigrants were arriving — at least those fortunate enough to survive the trip — and to offer prayers and solidarity for those who struggle for a better life. Pope Francis has asked people to have the courage to welcome them into their homeland.
This past year we also addressed the issue of the minimum wage. The Alaska minimum wage increase, Ballot Measure 3, passed and this year raises the minimum wage from $7.75 to $8.75. For those committed to upholding human dignity, a minimum wage increase is essential to help families stay strong. Minimum wage earners are people who work, yet many times they find it difficult to afford rent, food or leisure time. Many of these workers need two or three jobs to support their families. No one who works full time should be poor.
One quick trend of 2014 that brought forth media attention was the Ice Bucket Challenge, which brought awareness of ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease). This good cause came on strong, with news reports from around the country. In fact, it hit the news so fast that some weren’t sure what it was all about. At one pastoral council meeting in the Diocese, a member said, “What’s with this ice bucket challenge craze? Water is poured over your head so that you can help others and you try to get others to do the same — well, we’ve been doing that for centuries — it’s called baptism!”
As we gear up for the challenges and hopes of 2015, there are a couple of areas that I find of particular interest.
Some Southeast Alaska representatives will attend the World Meeting of Families in September in Philadelphia. This will be Pope Francis’ first visit to the U.S. since his papal election. This gathering will come just before the Catholic Church holds a General Synod on the Family in October. These two major events will call on people and entities in the Church and beyond to view “the family, with its new challenges and great resources, as good news about divine love, which is proclaimed to those who live the fundamental, human and personal, experience of the couple and of communion open to the gift of children, that is the community of the family.” The basic teaching on marriage will be presented and offered in a communicative and effective way so it reaches hearts and transforms them in ways that are good for members of the church and for all humanity.
Another great challenge of 2015 will be our continued concern for our brothers and sisters who come to our country looking for security and stability for themselves and for their family members. Since January 2014 an estimated 50,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended on the Mexican border, mostly along the Rio Grande in Texas. Migration and Refugee Services of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops estimates that that number will grow to 60,000. The children who have been coming north through Mexico to the United States are mostly from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. These countries, which are still struggling to overcome the devastating effects of the state violence and civil wars of the 1980s, are now experiencing unprecedented levels of criminal violence and coercion by transnational drug cartels and gangs that exert increasing control over everyday life. When Pope Francis addressed the world during his visit to Lampedusa, he asked that our culture of comfort not make us insensitive to the cries of other people.
On the local level, it seems that construction will continue to be a part of life. Much work has been done to the Dr. Walter Soboleff Center, the Alaska State Museum and the Alaska State Capitol. In addition to this, the Diocese of Juneau will begin renovation of the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the corner of 5th and Gold streets From my perspective, I see these as wonderful signs of progress that point to great things happening in our community.
While every New Year will bring its challenges and hopes, it also affords us a chance to look back, to learn and to give thanks. And as we look back on 2014, let us gain wisdom, for Scripture tells us that with wisdom in our soul, we will have a future. (Prov. 24:14)
• Burns is the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Juneau and Southeast Alaska.