Father Ted’s Legacy
Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., popularly known as Ted, who died on Feb. 26, was one of the pre-eminent public figures of American Catholicism in the late 20th century, noted for his devotion to his twin vocations as a Holy Cross priest and a university educator.
During his 35 years at Notre Dame (1952–1987), he was a pioneer in stressing academic achievement, making the university coeducational and, most important, stressing greater lay participation in the university’s governance. In 1967 he and other presidents of Catholic universities issued a statement at Land O’Lakes, Wis., that committed Catholic universities to standards of excellence and academic freedom that would equal those of any secular school. At Notre Dame, Father Hesburgh accomplished those goals and then some, while remaining committed to the importance of Catholic identity and scholarship.
His initial involvement in national affairs began when President Eisenhower appointed him a charter member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. He long held the view that university presidents must be involved in national affairs and lamented the dearth of such influence among educators in recent years.
Notre Dame’s current president, John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., hailed Father Hesburgh as “a steadfast champion for human rights, the cause of peace and care for the poor.” As William J. Byron, S.J., former president of the Catholic University of America, noted in an appreciation, Father Hesburgh wanted to be remembered among his colleagues for his friendship toward them and because he tried, “on our forward march,” to be “fair and tried to make the place better.” There could be no more fitting obituary than that.
The price of a barrel of oil is not the only thing in free fall in Venezuela. Standards of living are falling; employment is falling; hope is falling. On the rise are urban crime and how long Caracas residents have to wait for basic services, medicines and foodstuff. At stake is democracy itself. On Feb. 19 the embattled president, Nicolás Maduro, threw the mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, into jail, denouncing him as a golpista—a participant in a purported U.S.-led conspiracy against the “Chavist” government.
Indeed, some in the region see U.S. machinations at work in the remarkable decline of the economy and the Maduro administration’s decreasing capacity to govern. But the Obama administration insists that the socialist regime is simply looking for someone to blame. Those lingering anti-Washington sentiments have so far inoculated President Maduro from having to give a full accounting for his leadership, which is pressing Venezuela into political and humanitarian collapse. If the United States is scheming in Venezuela, it is failing. Maduro’s challengers have yet to win over poor voters despite the economic and security chaos.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church in Venezuela has been engaging in full-throated denunciations of the Maduro government. Archbishop Roberto Lückert of Coro called the arrest of the mayor “proof” of dictatorship. Fair enough under the circumstances, but the church is already estranged from the government in Venezuela. A clear alignment with the opposition will obliterate any hope that it could play a mediating role. Venezuela’s problems—and the cast of characters leading the nation—are not going away soon, and Venezuela’s bishops should consider toning down the rhetoric and reaching out more to help get the nation through this crisis. Another state teetering on the brink of an abyss is the last thing this hemisphere needs.
Deliver Them From Evil
“First of all, I thank God Almighty. I thought I would never be safe. God has saved me,” said Alexis Prem Kumar, S.J., freed in late February after eight months in captivity. Before his abduction by the Taliban, the Indian Jesuit priest had served as the country director for the Jesuit Refugee Service team in Afghanistan.
Father Prem exemplifies the commitment and courage of the many bishops, priests, sisters and brothers who regularly face danger in their daily ministries. While the mainstream media may focus on heroic individuals working with secular aid organizations in harm’s way, the heroism of those who work with religious organizations often goes unsung. Yet the threat to religious workers may be greater, given increased religious tensions worldwide. Today Catholic sisters work in refugee camps amid fierce ethnic rivalries; brothers minister on the borders between warring countries; priests choose to stay with their parishioners rather than flee the threat of violence; and bishops speak out against oppression and terrorism—all aware that they could be beaten, kidnapped or killed. In 2013, for example, another Jesuit priest, Paolo Dall’Oglio, S.J., was abducted from the city of Homs in Syria. He is still missing. That same year, the Greek Orthodox Bishop Boulos Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim, both leaders of their churches in Aleppo, Syria, were also kidnapped.
Let us pause and pray for all these men and women, whose day-to-day ministries include the possibility of offering up their lives for the sake of the Gospel.