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TRANSFORM Mar-31-2008 (920 words) xxxn

Love of Christ can transform people, society and world, say panelists

By Angelo Stagnaro
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) -- The love of Christ can help people transform themselves, society and the world, said panelists who participated in a discussion in New York on "Creating a Culture of Peace."

The March 26 discussion was hosted by the Holy See's Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations and the Knights of Columbus, the world's largest Catholic fraternal organization. Moderated by the Philippines U.N. ambassador, Hilario G. Davide Jr., the event was held in the Dag Hammarskjold Library at U.N. headquarters.

The panel was prompted by the release of Supreme Knight Carl Anderson's book, "A Civilization of Love: What Every Catholic Can Do to Transform the World," published by HarperOne.

The three panelists included Anderson; Rwandan genocide survivor Immaculee Ilibagiza, the author of "Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust"; and retired Capt. Alfredo N. Fuentes of the New York Fire Department, a survivor of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

Both Ilibagiza and Fuentes recounted moving and, at times, terrifying stories of the horrors they experienced and also spoke of the love they said has permeated their lives as a result of grace and a conscious decision to no longer hate. Both related their experiences to Anderson's book.

Fuentes talked of the "selfless acts of love" he was "honored to witness" in the aftermath of the terrorist attack.

All firefighters embody a "commitment to humanity," according to Fuentes.

"This is our most solid foundation; it is truly what defines us," he said. "This commitment to humanity or 'commitment to love' is what enables these rescuers to perform acts that are greater than themselves, and many times at an enormous personal sacrifice."

This is what enabled the firefighters to rescue more than 25,000 people at the trade center "at great personal risk," he said, noting that many firefighters and "countless unknown civilian good Samaritans made the ultimate sacrifice."

About 3,000 people perished in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks; besides the two planes that hit the trade center, a third hit the Pentagon and a fourth crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.

If love and selflessness became a part of everyone's daily lives and actions, Fuentes said people could "begin to transform our world into a civilization of love and resist hatred, anger and the dangers of man-made catastrophic disasters."

In 1994, Ilibagiza, then 22, survived the genocide in her country by hiding in a Hutu pastor's bathroom with seven other women for 91 days. "The pastor didn't even tell his own children because then, no one knew who they could trust," she said. Her Catholic faith shored her up.

"These people who committed these atrocities did so because they believed they loved ... their nation. ... They were clearly wrong," she said. "I lost 98 percent of my family but despite this evil, I can't hate. If I did, the hatred would have caused me even greater pain. I chose to give up the hatred so that I might live."

Anderson said his main inspiration for writing his book was the sacrifice and heroism of those who suffered so much on Sept. 11. He drew heavily on Pope John Paul II's theology of love and peace, quoting him liberally throughout his presentation. In the book he also quotes many of the words of Pope Benedict XVI.

The book's subtitle specifically refers to what Catholics can do to help change the culture, but Anderson said he would have preferred it if the publisher had used a wider appeal for those of all faiths and those with no faith.

The author offers a "concrete proposal for action which offers the possibility of turning away from gridlock and stalemate" and a "human rights initiative open to all."

Each chapter of Anderson's book ends with a section on "suggestions for contemplation and action."

For example, in one chapter he urges the reader to think about how he or she "genuinely showed love for someone else." In another he tells the reader to make a commitment to perform a loving act for someone, preferably one that is "unnoticed by anyone else." In still another chapter he urges the reader to make a list of his or her talents and how they are used throughout the day.

The book applies Catholic social values to the biggest issues of the day, including immigration, business ethics, globalization, abortion, euthanasia and the role of the family.

Christ's command to love each other was "based upon the most profound vision of love -- love of God and love of neighbor," Anderson said. "If we are to take seriously his command to love our neighbor as ourselves, what type of society is adequate as an expression of this other than a civilization of love?"

Anderson remarked that Fuentes and Ilibagiza had "beautifully witnessed to the words of St. Paul: 'Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.'"

Davide pointed out that despite its almost 60 years of existence, the United Nations had "avoided the consideration of the role of religions in the attainment of its lofty goals until the General Assembly adopted ... in 2004 a resolution introduced by the Philippines on interfaith dialogue as another option in reaching a durable peace."

Peace and love, Davide explained, are "cornerstones in the work of the United Nations itself. ... We cannot have peace and security without love."


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