CRS Student Ambassadors: Inspired to be Light in the World

young brunette woman in a blue floral dress

Rita Marino, CRS Student Ambassador at Villanova University

In life, it is so easy to turn a blind eye to the plight of others. Perhaps our lives appear too hectic or the issues too large. However, despite distance, race or circumstance, we are all brothers and sisters—part of God’s family. Our everyday decisions impact both the people and the environment around the globe.

It is when we disconnect from the consequences of our actions that the world suffers. It is when we fail to curb our material consumption, ignore the cries of those in pain, and worry only about ourselves, that we fall out of harmony with each other.

July 24, 2016, marked the beginning of a special multiday event where almost 120 students and staff, representing 47 colleges across the nation, united in Baltimore for the Catholic Relief Services Student Ambassador Leaders Together, or SALT, summit.

During the conference, ambassadors and advisors learned more about CRS’ primary concerns for the year—climate change, human trafficking, and migration, while indulging in fair trade coffee, and receiving training to strengthen collegiate chapters.

As a participant in the conference, I cannot shake the feeling of global interconnectedness, after hearing presentations about displaced Syrian families seeking resettlement, farms in Indonesia yielding miniature-sized corn because of climate change, and battered young women being coerced into sex trafficking. I realize just how connected we are as human beings.

In the words of CRS President and CEO Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo, who spoke at the summit, “You are too young to be hopeless.” The world’s problems may appear too big of a hurdle, but it is our responsibility as Catholics—and as human beings—to approach both people and the land with love and respect.

One of the most important aspects of our hope is that although it may exist abstractly in our hearts, it is expressed tangibly in our actions. Ambassadors and staff possess the knowledge and conviction to not only hope for a better world, but also to actualize it. This was demonstrated on the last day of the summit when students met with U.S. senators and representatives to advocate for policies that support solidarity.

On my campus at Villanova University, we are living solidarity through efforts to combat climate change and help Syrian refugees. During the 2015-2016 school year, Villanova Ambassadors collected hundreds of advocacy letters for climate change during the Theology Colloquium, cosponsored the 3rd annual interfaith prayer vigil to benefit Syrian refugees, and organized a “5k run for refugees.” We look forward to seeing how we will incorporate the three issues of climate change, human trafficking, and migration into our work in this coming school year.

Through education, courage and our voices, positive change arises. May the year 2016-2017 school year be filled with strength and love.

Rita Marino is a CRS Student Ambassador at Villanova University. She is a fall 2016 intern for the CRS Northeast and Mid-Atlantic office and a blogger for the CRS University blog.

The Catholic Relief Services SALT Summit brought together college and university student leaders and advisors July 24–26 to learn how to organize and engage their campuses to work for global solidarity through CRS. Watch this video from Catholic News Service to learn more about their efforts:

Through the CRS Student Ambassador program, CRS trains chapters of student leaders to mobilize their peers and bring to life the mission of global solidarity on campus.

5 Ways You Can Cultivate Peace and Work for Racial Justice

USCCB president, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, recently announced a Day of Prayer for Peace in our Communities, to be celebrated in faith communities across the country on September 9.

In interviewing numerous faith communities in preparation for this day about their responses to violence, racial tensions, and systemic racism, we have encountered amazing stories of deep faith, persevering hope, and effective action to build peace and counter racism.

nbc1In West Baltimore, St. Peter Claver Catholic Church was on the front lines in responding to unrest that followed the death of Freddie Gray. Parishioners continue to build on efforts begun four years ago to address neighborhood safety and improve community-police relations. They also participate in Bishop Madden’s prayer walks in neighborhoods plagued by violence.

In Ferguson, MO, parishioners at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta are engaging a “Lean In” listening process across cultures and raising awareness about racial issues. Children at the parish school study saints of various cultures to reflect on how they can imitate these heroes by engaging in efforts for dialogue and peace. All around St. Louis, MO, parishes are joining with congregations of other denominations so that people of faith can have Sacred Conversations on Race (+ Action), which challenge participants to encounter one another and discuss the uncomfortable topic of racism.

In Dallas, TX, Holy Trinity Catholic Church is working with other faith groups to improve police-community relations and work on racial and economic justice. Because of the interfaith group members’ long work to build relationships with law enforcement, Holy Trinity and others were prepared to respond immediately when the recent shooting of police offices occurred. They now seek to address problems with housing, healthcare access, and payday lending that are connected to racial disparity.

Other stories of hope abound—in Minneapolis, New Orleans, Savannah, Springfield, and countless other cities.

If you feel as inspired by these stories as we do, then take that as a sign of encouragement from the Holy Spirit to discern how your own community might be called to respond.

Here’s how you can get started.

  1. Pray Together. Use these prayers from the USCCB during Eucharistic celebrations. Gather to pray and reflect. Many faith communities are using the bishops’ letters on Brothers and Sisters to Us and What We’ve Seen and What We’ve Heard, as well as Bishop Braxton’s The Racial Divide, as starting points for reflection and discussion. You can access all of these on the USCCB racism page as well as a video, other reflections materials, and more. The WeAreSaltAndLight.org diversity and racial justice page also contains some excellent resources for reflection.
  2. Reach Out Together. Create intentional opportunities for members of your faith community to listen to the stories and experiences of people of ethnicities, languages, and cultures different from their own. This resource on Building Relationships, Creating a Culture of Encounter through One-to-Ones can help guide your efforts for encounter. Another fantastic resource for facilitating encounter between different ethnic groups within a faith community is PICO’s Year of Encounter with Pope Francis program.
  3. Bring what you’ve learned through reaching out to pray and reflect on the hard questions. Gather with other representatives, including decision makers, in your faith community and ask the hard questions: Does the leadership of our institution reflect the diversity of those we serve? Are the many faces of the diverse body of Christ represented in decision-making processes? How are we inviting and forming leaders? Who is missing around the table? In our worship together, and in activities of our community, do we cultivate welcome, hospitality, and participation for people of all cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds? How do we invite our members to reflect about and understand racism? Privilege? The dignity of all people? Whose untold story do we need to listen to? Are we preaching on, and praying together about, these difficult issues? How are we currently working to change perspectives and address the causes of racism?
  4. Learn Together. Make an effort to learn more about racial disparities and the causes of racial tension. Learn about the historical struggle for racial justice in the United States and some of the challenges that remain. In recent years, there has been ample media coverage on disparities in education, housing, employment, the justice system, and other areas. Use the Process for Group Discernment to draw from your experiences of prayer, reflection, encounter, and study to discern what action the Holy Spirit might be calling you to take as a community.
  5. Act Together. Some of the faith communities highlighted above chose to reach across faith traditions, joining ecumenical and interfaith efforts to work together on racial and economic justice. You can discover what efforts might already be happening in your community at the PovertyUSA.org website. Other communities felt called to commit to practical changes in the ways they practice hospitality, cultivate leaders, and celebrate cultural traditions. Others are just beginning, but are engaging in important encounter and dialogue that can lay the groundwork for future efforts.

What is the Holy Spirit calling you to do, together with your family, neighborhood, parish, school, or other faith community? What will be your first step?

Forming Our Children to Go Forth

“Families should not see themselves as a refuge from society, but instead go forth from their homes in a spirit of solidarity with others. . . A married couple who experience the power of love know that this love is called to bind the wounds of the outcast, to foster a culture of encounter and to fight for justice. God has given the family the job of ‘domesticating’ the world and helping each person to see fellow human beings
as brothers and sisters.” 

–    Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, nos. 181, 183

Jacob, Matthew, and Sarah still hold my hand when we walk to school.  For now, it’s an instinctual reflex for them.  I extend my hand and their little hands swing up to meet mine.  This probably won’t last much longer, but I hope it does.

As I think about it, the metaphor of walking together about sums up how my husband Jay and I try to foster a culture of encounter within our family. Pope Francis’ latest exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, affirms the role of the family—the domestic church—as a “vital cell in the transformation of the world” (AL 324).  To be relevant in the world, the road must be made by walking.  Remarks like “they grow up so fast” may sound cliché but with two of our three children in middle school beginning this fall, we realize how quickly time passes and just how small a window we parents have to help form our children into reconcilers, rebuilders, and restorers in God’s world.

Our deepest prayer for our children is that each one knows they are loved by God—hopefully first experienced by the love and acceptance they find at home.  We hope and trust that they are able to extend that love to others.  Maybe with God’s grace andfamily at basilica their discerning hearts, they will even desire to discover what call God has placed uniquely on their hearts.

We see our primary role in parenting of our children as encouraging Jacob, Matthew, and Sarah to engage the world around them—confronting injustice, witnessing hope in action, experiencing joy, asking for forgiveness, displaying compassion, showing empathy, and loving even in the midst of anger or fear.

We have found that ordinary everyday life presents our family with invitations to foster a culture of encounter.  For our little Murphy domestic church this means living inside the city where our neighbors, classmates and colleagues are diverse.   When Jacob comes home from school asking why so many classmates rely on free and reduced-price meals, we can talk about the dignity of the human person. When Sarah attends PTA meetings by our side, she sees her community coming together for the common good. When Matthew’s best buddies in school are from different religious and ethnic backgrounds, our family is enriched by authentic solidarity.

For our family, fostering a culture of encounter means watching the nightly news together and discussing what we see.  During the non-stop campaign coverage for this year’s elections, this means talking about what the candidates stand for and exploring what our faith has to say about the topics debated. One of the hardest things to explain is that while neither political party shares all of our Catholic values, we cannot simply retreat from political life and its respective duties.

Admittedly, this kind of parenting isn’t for everyone. From where we sit, the road to a culture of encounter is made by walking.

Pope Francis put it best in the last few words of Amoris Laetitia: “All of us are called to keep striving toward something greater than ourselves and our families… Let us make this journey as families, let us keep walking together.” Pope Francis, (no. 325)

Krisanne VaillancourtKrisanne Vaillancourt Murphy is the Senior Associate for National Catholic Engagement at Bread for the World.

 

Going Deeper
For some practical ideas about how families can practice solidarity with others, visit this page on WeAreSaltLight.org.

Working Together Towards Immigrant Integration 

 Where migrants and refugees are concerned, the Church and her various agencies ought to avoid offering charitable services alone; they are also called to promote real integration in a society where all are active members and responsible for one another’s welfare…

– Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. (2013)

The Catholic Church and its brethren are, in part, defined by a mandate to welcome the stranger. From schools to health care to voter registration drives to food assistance, and especially to parish life, the church has developed pathways for aiding the newest members of our communities. The Church and its entities cherish this role and continue to fine-tune its efforts at reaching the newest, and often the most vulnerable, among us.

As part of the church’s efforts, Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) has a 28-year history of supporting local Catholic institutions that aid immigrants. CLINIC sees the migration experience and subsequent immigration statuses (documented or otherwise) as early steps in the integration process. We know from focus groups that the journey and the engagement with U.S. immigration law and officials shape newcomers’ views of themselves in relationship to their new homeland.

We at CLINIC are doing a lot, and our network is doing a lot. But I believe we can do more to promote integration. As places of ministry and service providers, we must actively seek out what our immigrant neighbors would find most beneficial. It is especially important to involve newcomers in the decisions we make for our community and work together to create the integrated community we all desire.

This is no small task. For those of us working at charitable organizations, it is easier for us to decide ourselves what to offer our clients or members of our community, how best to help them, and what might make a difference in their lives. That’s our job, and it’s an important one. Imagine, though, what would be possible working with our clients and community members on integration. What could we do if we invited them into our office spaces and decision-making processes to decide, together, what the community collectively needs? What if we shared the power of the decision-making with our neighbors and worked together to make our community more welcoming for all?

There are many other ways to encourage immigrant integration within your community. Many of them involve reaching out to others and listening to and understanding their “joys and hopes, sorrows and anxieties.” This is part of the “culture of encounter” that Pope Francis has called us to promote.

Here are a few ideas to get started:

  1. Challenge unwelcoming remarks about immigrants in your community, at work and at home. Use facts and resources from nonpartisan sources, such as the Pew Research Center and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
  2. Invite a newcomer to your home for a meal and learn a few words in his or her native language.
  3. Volunteer to mentor English language learners or help with citizenship test preparation.
  4. Volunteer at a local refugee resettlement agency in your community to help newly arrived refugees learn English, find a job, and adjust to their new home.
  5. Ensure that members of the newcomer community are represented in leadership positions or decision-making entities at your parish, organization, or community group.
  6. Ask your local library, museum, and community center to include perspectives of immigrants in planned public events, classes that are offered, and resources that are purchased.
  7. Volunteer at a nearby Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program that serves lower-income immigrant (and nonimmigrant) families in your community.
  8. Consider organizing a potluck/town hall event where residents can break bread together.
  9. Write or call your Congressional representatives to encourage action on immigration reform.
  10. Work with your local community leaders/elected officials to pass a Welcoming Resolution in your community.

Immigrant integration is a beautiful, complex, on-going process that challenges us to reach outside of the known and familiar and purposefully embrace people who are on a migratory journey. By making integration a priority for our agencies and our service programs, we can encourage the development of communities that are welcoming places for all of us.

Leya Speasmaker, CLINIC

Leya Speasmaker, CLINIC

Leya Speasmaker serves as the Integration Program Manager at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. In this role, she develops CLINIC’s resources and provides technical support on integration. She works from Austin, Texas.

Versions of this article were first published by the Catholic Legal Immigration Network on its website.  Please contact Leya Speasmaker, CLINIC’s Immigrant Integration Manager, atlspeasmaker@cliniclegal.orgfor more information on how to promote and encourage immigrant integration within your community.


Going Deeper

Learn more about creating a Culture of Encounter at WeAreSaltandLight.org and promoting immigrant integration initiatives at CLINIClegal.org.

New skills helped me engage my community on Laudato Si’

Valeria Fuentes

Valeria Fuentes

Last week, the Social Action Summer Institute took place in Chicago.  Last summer, I received a grant as an alumnus of the CCHD internship program, to attend the 2015 institute, held in Portland, Oregon. It was an amazing experience which helped me to develop new knowledge of Catholic social teaching, and new skills in education and advocacy.

When I returned from SASI, I worked, under the guidance of CCHD in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, to educate Latinos in Baltimore about Pope Francis’ encyclical on Laudato Si’, help them apply those teachings in their daily lives, and learn how they can advocate for environmental justice in their communities.

Because of these opportunities, I am now working on climate justice in Maryland with an organization that focuses on helping Latinos become more involved in environmental advocacy. I am working in my own Baltimore community to arrange informal house meetings and workshops called cafecitos, where Latino families and youth learn how to use their voices to protect and care for the environment. Through this work, I believe that I can help give a voice to those who often think they do not have a voice.

Valeria Fuentes is a former intern with CCHD and  Catholic Relief Services. She is a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art, where she also works as student program manager for the Office of Diversity and Intercultural Development.


Going Deeper 

Find out more about the CCHD Intern Program, which has provided leadership and training for over 350 emerging leaders to date.

Migration is not the problem

Migration has been a constant through human history. In recent years, there is a growing perception among policy makers and states that migration, especially of low skill migrants, is a problem, especially as  migration from Central America and Mexico to the United States continues in spite of efforts to “seal the border” both in the United States and Mexico.

Additionally, the Obama Administration’s deportations have reached record numbers. The Mexican and Central American governments, despite some efforts, have been unable to absorb a large number of deportees and to help them reintegrate in society.

But sealing borders and increasing deportation ignores the actual problems at the root of the migration crisis, such as poverty, lack of economic opportunity, and violence.

In the Northern region of the Americas there are important migration issues that deserve attention and analysis: (1) Migrants from the “Northern Triangle” (Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador) who continue venturing through the Migration Corridor in Mexico are exposed to multiple dangers ranging from violence from criminal gangs to abuses from immigration authorities. (2) Along the corridor there has been a growing number of humanitarian responses, many of them faith based, which advocate for and assist migrants along their journey.  (3) The deployment of military forces and migration officers along the U.S. border with Mexico and the increasing violence and activity of criminal gangs on Mexican territory make irregular crossings to the U.S. a daunting task.  (4) Migrants who have made it to the U.S. usually face challenges as they try both to acculturate and live under the radar as undocumented migrants.  None of these scenarios is exhaustive.

These serious issues are a call to accompany, serve, and advocate on behalf of these populations that are at the margins of our society.

Migration is a worldwide priority of the Society of Jesus and a focus area for advocacy at the Jesuit Conference in the United States. The Jesuit Conference has been sponsoring a five-week Migration Immersion Experience for Jesuits in formation.  The journey begins in Los Angeles with a three-day seminar to understand certain dynamics of migration and the type of experience we will have.  We then visit El Progreso, Honduras, to understand the context of origin.  We continue moving through the migrant corridor in Mexico visiting shelters that provide services to and advocate for migrants in transit.  We conclude by visiting the California Valley to understand destination contexts.

During this experience, we visit shelters, human rights organizations, parishes, and particular Jesuit projects that assist migrants. The goal is to offer Jesuits in formation a firsthand experience of the reality of migration, as well as to inform them of the political and pastoral challenges involved in it.

In 2015, I led the migration immersion experience for six Jesuit scholastics (four Americans and two Mexicans), with the sponsorship of the Social and International Ministries of the Jesuit Conference in the United States and the Mexican Province of the Jesuits.

We saw firsthand the phenomenon of migration through visits to the “Northern Triangle (Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras), the Mexican Migration Corridor, and some immigrant communities in the U.S. in order to understand migration from various viewpoints. It was also an opportunity to reflect on opportunities for ministry among migrants.

The experience was transformative for all of us. It allowed for a deep encounter with Christ at the margins; an experience where dynamics of our founder Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises became alive for all of us; and an experience of solidarity for the international Society of Jesus as we discover ourselves as “Jesuits being called together and being on mission.”

Alejandro Olayo-Mendez, SJ is pursuing a DPhil in International Development at the Oxford Department of International Development (ODID). His research proposal is titled ‘Migration and Humanitarian Aid along The Mexican Migration Corridor.’


Go Deeper!

At WeAreSaltAndLight.org, read more stories about faith communities encountering migrants:

Love Must Win Out

Bethany Welch

Bethany J. Welch, Ph.D.

For nearly a year now, I have had the distinct privilege of accompanying two asylum seeking families from the Horn of Africa. When I look back at the appeal letter that I wrote to garner support for their arrival in South Philadelphia, I am both humbled by what has transpired since and embarrassed by how naive I was when the journey began.

I believe in the power of advocacy. I work on systems change. I go to protests to shine a light on injustice and I have made a career of helping urban neighborhoods build capacity to fight the effects of poverty.

What I have not done is let love prevail. Until this year. Which is why, now, I believe firmly that love sits at the intersection of mercy and justice. Not the love of paper valentines and heart shaped boxes of candy, but a radical, transforming love manifest to us in the Incarnation.

My part of the story begins in late August of 2015 when, in response to the call of Pope Francis to give shelter to migrants and refugees, St. Thomas Aquinas parish and the adjacent social justice center, which I direct, began to consider providing material support for specific families. This would be above and beyond the work that we already do as a community of immigrants and refugees around education, advocacy, leadership development, legal outreach, streetscape revitalization, and more.

As I wrote to donors then, the story of the two families that we did receive is a universal tale of struggle to find safety and a chance at a better life. They escaped torture and assault. They made their way from one country in Africa to the next, up on through South America and eventually to the Texas border. When these two single mothers and their young children landed in a detention facility in Pennsylvania instead of the wide open streets of a democratic America, it was compassionate pro-bono legal counsel who contacted me to discuss the prospect of finding a welcoming community to support them. It turns out that, while Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would not allow them individual freedoms while awaiting an asylum hearing, they could be “signed for” by a U.S. citizen with a valid address and be released to his or her care.

Fighting for justice, motivated by righteous anger, does not sustain you when the system is this broken. The flame burns you up and out. I have seen this happen to dear colleagues and I’ve suffered from it myself. The difference this time was that I took on the system in the context of a loving community of believers who proclaimed hope in the face of despair and I did so without a political agenda. There is a valiant and important movement to close the detention center where these families were held, but this round, that wasn’t where my efforts were focused.

Instead, I was asked to enter into the suffering of strangers by staying present with them, every day, rain or shine, for fun errands like shopping for Christmas dresses and in the profoundly raw moments of listening to a proud, beautiful 25 year old woman sob with the indignity of having to explain why she needed to find a long skirt that would cover the lacerations caused by the ICE issued ankle monitor bracelet, a condition of her release from the detention facility.

In 1977, a few years before he was murdered in the act of celebrating Mass, Blessed Oscar Romero said, “Let us not tire of preaching love; it is the force that will overcome the world. Let us not tire of preaching love. Though we see that waves of violence succeed in drowning the fire of Christian love, love must win out; it is the only thing that can.” This kind of love is what these two women and their children have demonstrated to me during our time together.

Love says goodbye to your parents and siblings in the hope that you can make more of a difference in their lives by leaving than by staying.

Love is months on the road, at the hands of smugglers, in order to extract your four year old from what will be a life of famine or military conscription by a corrupt government.

Love is not giving up on humanity when you ask for asylum from the nation held up as a model of a free and fair society and instead, authorities place you in a prison.

Love maintains a persistent, echoing cry for medical care when that four year old son is plagued by gastrointestinal viruses that rip through the close quarters of the detention facility in the same way cholera and dysentery take hold in a refugee camp in a developing country.

Love hopes all things, even when your court date for a preliminary hearing is postponed yet again.

For one of these families, love did win out. The first pair were granted asylum in late May, which situated them to receive refugee style benefits and we were able to match them with an affluent suburban parish to accompany them for the next year of life in America. For the second, the finish line keeps getting moved, even as they become more and more invested in the life of our parish and take on a larger part of my heart. While I continue to see my calling as one of fighting injustice through advocacy and innovative community building projects, I have learned that the work must be rooted in love, for this is the only force that will overcome the world.

Bethany J. Welch, Ph.D. is the founder of the Aquinas Center in Philadelphia, PA and recipient of the 2014 Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award granted by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Nominations for the 2016 awards are being accepted through July 31, 2016.