Thursday, December 12, 2013

Human Rights Week

During the liturgical year, the Catholic Church of Korea has set aside three weeks for intensive reflection: the week beginning with the second Sunday of Advent (Human Rights Week), the week beginning with Holy Family Sunday (Sanctification of the Family Week), and the last week of the liturgical year (Bible Week). During this time the Church wants us to mull over and understand in more detail the Church's teachings on human rights, the family, and the Bible, making them an integral part of our daily life. The Church has acknowledged a deficiency in responding clearly to these areas of life and intends to remedy the situation.

Human rights, the first of the three special weeks, is a problem for many because of the tendency to separate the truths of religion from the often harsh realities of secular life. Many Catholics would prefer that religion concern itself only with prayer, good deeds and the spiritual life. When the Church talks economics or gets involved in social issues, Catholics tend to feel uncomfortable. It's helpful to remember that the society into which Jesus was born, a theocracy, was very different from the modern society. Jewish society was seen as both religious and secular, there was no separating the two. That is not our reality today. We do not separate our bodies from our souls, and neither do we want to compartmentalize or privatize our religious life, closing off our secular life. So during this week devoted to the dignity of our humanity, let us reflect on the declaration of human rights.

The Peace Weekly columnist writing on current events recommends that we spend some time reading the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, proclaimed  by the United Nations in 1948. He mentioned that although Korea at that time, after liberation, was trying to establish a new government amid the chaotic conditions prior to the Korean War, they were prepared and eager to support the declaration with ceremonies in the temporary capital of Pusan, despite being a divided country.

He mentions that there are few that remember the role of the Church in drawing up the articles of the declaration. Reading the U.N. document today, one can easily see the similarity in the wording of the articles and Catholic social teaching that found its way into the declaration, both directly and indirectly, Those that drew up the declaration, the columnist says, were familiar with Pope Leo 13's Rerum Novarum (1891) and Pius 11's  Quardragesimo Anno (1931).

The Church's influence on the declaration was more indirect than direct, according to the columnist. In 1947, the year prior to the passage of the declaration, the Catholic laity and  bishops of the United States issued a Declaration of Human Rights which was handed to the chairwoman of the human rights commission of the United Nations. Composed of 50 articles, in more detail than what was ultimately agreed upon by the U.N., the Church document, nonetheless, bore a striking resemblance to what was finally accepted. This should not be surprising, the columnist says, since one of the prominent drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the Thomistic philosopher Jacques Maritain.

The columnist goes on to say he doesn't want to give the impression that it was only Catholic social thinking that was considered, but that without Catholic teaching the U.N. document would not have been the same declaration. The balance between rights and duties, the individual and  society, corresponds well with Catholic social teaching. That the declaration was accepted by non-Christians  and non-Western countries shows that human aspirations are the same the world over. The Church in the work of protecting human dignity, says the columnist, using the words of Pope Francis, is to  serve as a field hospital. He wants us to reflect on these words during Human Rights Week.

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