Reflections on Solidarity with Latin America

cla-2017-poster-englishVisiting people in Latin America and the Caribbean, being in solidarity with them, fills me with such joy and hope. As I encounter countless moments of solidarity and fraternity each time I visit a community that receives funds from the Collection for the Church in Latin America, I am grateful to be part of so many stories of pastoral care and community building.

In Cuba, a catechist named Alice wanted catechisms to share with parish members. Through American Catholics’ generous contributions to the annual collection we were able to send her the catechisms she needed. The woman who delivered the books said to me: “You should have seen the joy Alice expressed when she saw the catechisms. She even cried of happiness!”

When I visited another group in Nicaragua, I met a woman whose daughter is deaf. The mother struggled with the reality that learning about the faith and Jesus Christ would be a challenge for her daughter. The mother shared that her concern was not only to ensure her daughter would grow up and have an education and a job, but also how the family would share their faith in Jesus with her.

And so she asked in her parish if there was any ministry for deaf children. There wasn’t.

This mother asked the parish leaders if one could be started—and said that she would be happy to be the first volunteer and lead it! Almost fifteen years later, she is still involved in that ministry and her daughter is now a catechist to other young deaf children.

With your support to this collection, we have been able to provide the funds needed to train over 200 ministers to support the deaf community throughout that archdiocese!

These women in Cuba and Nicaragua had such an amazing will and trust in God! I was moved to see the joy and fulfillment they exuded!

The solidarity that made this possible is not new or shallow. In a letter congratulating the USCCB on the 50th anniversary of the collection last year, Pope Francis said “this [is an] outstanding sign of communion and solidarity with the Church in South America and the Caribbean.”

The collection continues to be this excellent expression of American Catholics’ communion and solidarity with the Church in Latin America. Through it we stand together with our brothers and sisters in the region in many ways – through visits to these communities, through prayers, or through financial support.

Our solidarity with these communities helps us share the faith and shows that we as the Body of Christ do what Jesus says about his ministry: “the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” (Lk 7:22)

 The USCCB Collection for the Church in Latin America will be taken up in parishes nationwide on the weekend of January 21-22. Learn more at http://www.usccb.org/latin-america.

Fr. Juan MolinaFr. Juan Molina, OSST is Director for the Church in Latin America at USCCB.

Promoting Peace in Northern Ghana

kris-crs-nov-2015

Kris Ozar, Country Representative for Catholic Relief Services in Ghana

In Pope Francis’ statement for the 2017 World Day of Peace, he notes that “the Church has been involved in nonviolent peacebuilding strategies in many countries, engaging even the most violent parts in efforts to build a just and lasting peace.”

At Catholic Relief Services (CRS), our peacebuilding work often tries to anticipate conflicts and to defuse them before they explode into violence. A good example is an ongoing project in Ghana leading up to this month’s Presidential and Parliamentary elections.

You might not think Ghana, known as a beacon on stability in West Africa, is a country that needs peacebuilding work, but its northern regions are particularly troubled where a significant number of recurring conflicts that have at times erupted into violent clashes with fatal consequences. The country’s stability can be threatened when elections exacerbate simmering political, religious, and ethnic tensions.

Ghana’s youth constitutes about a third of its 26 million people. For this reason, the CRS peacebuilding project, dubbed “Promoting Peace in Northern Ghana,” is focused on helping people between the ages of 15 and 25 understand and act out their role as agents of peace. Working with partners, including three dioceses in Northern Ghana, during the several months leading up the election, CRS trained approximately 675 youth in peacebuilding and preventing electoral violence. In addition, 30 youth leaders, called Young Peace Ambassadors selected from communities particularly prone to violence have been implementing community-based peace advocacy activities to promote peaceful elections in December 2016.

For much of the next year, efforts will focus on further strengthening the role of youth as productive citizens and positive contributors to the Ghanaian economy by continuing to work with youth leaders and building up the peacebuilding capacity of diocesan units.

At CRS, we know from experience that violence can be contagious. But so can peace. Projects like this one in Ghana are like stones tossed in a pond, rippling far beyond those directly affected.

As Pope Francis said, “in 2017 may we dedicate ourselves prayerfully and actively to banishing violence from our hearts, words and deeds, and to becoming nonviolent people and building nonviolent communities that care for our common home. ‘Nothing is impossible if we turn to God in prayer. Everyone can be an artisan of peace.’”

Kris Ozar is Country Representative for Catholic Relief Services in Ghana.


Going Deeper

Read Pope Francis’ message for the 2017 World Day of Peace. Join with Catholics Confront Global Poverty to advocate with others to change the conditions that prevent peace globally.

Providing Welcome and Creating Hope for Child Migrants

©istockphoto.com/Joel Carillet

©istockphoto.com/Joel Carillet

On this “World Day of Migrants and Refugees,” we are called by the Holy Father to draw attention to child migrants, who “in a threefold way are defenceless: they are children, they are foreigners, and they have no means to protect themselves.”

Inspired by the journey of the Holy Family, which fled the violence of King Herod as many refugees flee violence today, the vision of Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is “creating a world where immigrants, refugees, migrants, and people on the move are treated with dignity, respect, welcome, and belonging.” MRS serves as a leader in the protection of migrant and refugee children providing them foster care and family reunification services through culturally-appropriate programs nationwide since 1980.

Providing refuge and hope to migrant and refugee children fleeing for their lives is crucial at this time where we are witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record. An unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from their homes– nearly 34,000 people every day.

As a member of an inter-faith, interagency delegation to Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan in April of 2016 I visited informal settlements of Syrian refugees. One of the dwellings I visited in Lebanon was an abandoned building occupied by 180 Syrian refugee families, totaling 1,000 people.  Approximately half were children.  The building bordered a busy road, next to which children played, barefoot, on a concrete courtyard.  The floor of one of the common rooms, a thruway to other rooms, was covered with about one inch of water, including raw sewage.

When we asked a group of about 25 children, most under 13 years old, who attended school, two raised their hands. The rest had to work to support their families.  For many migrant and refugee families, child labor is necessary for economic survival, particularly in countries where adult refugees are not allowed to work legally, such is the case in Lebanon, where refugees are at risk of detention and deportation to Syria if they are caught working.  Children can more easily evade labor and migration enforcement than adults.   The younger and more vulnerable a child is, the more earning potential they have as beggars, and the more at risk they are to exploitation and human trafficking.

Identifying children in need of protection is a challenge in many regions of the world where refugees reside. The result is that children who are in need of protection are not proactively identified, resulting in harm, sexual assault or rape, recruitment into criminal organizations, and in the worst cases, death. Children who are unable to access protection may take upon themselves pursuit of protective measures and migrate to safety themselves in what is often a perilous journey with uncertain consequences and results.

For children who are able to access protection, that is just the beginning. The path to a durable solution is a narrow, winding road. Durable solutions for unaccompanied children include integration into countries of first asylum, repatriation to their country of origin, or resettlement. Integration and repatriation are, in most cases, not realistic options, and although unaccompanied refugee minors make up about 3-4 percent of the world’s refugees only less than half of one percent are resettled.

For a small number of children, MRS makes that hope a reality, providing durable solutions for unaccompanied children through refugee resettlement, reunification with families, and placements in foster care programs.  In 2016, MRS resettled 10,000 refugee children who arrived with family members, reunified with families 2,000 migrant children who arrived to the United States alone, and for another 500 unaccompanied children secured safe housing in a variety of settings, from small-scale shelters or group homes to foster care families.  Embodying the MRS vision, a MRS foster parent to six unaccompanied children (from Nepal, Liberia, Honduras, the Congo, and Eritrea) said, “We didn’t just welcome them into our house, we welcomed (them) into our family.”

I’m concluding with a plea from the Holy Father, “The Church too needs you and supports you in the generous service you offer. Do not tire of courageously living the Gospel, which calls you to recognize and welcome the Lord Jesus among the smallest and most vulnerable.”

Click here for information on how to help refugee and migrant children.

kristyn-professional_sept-2014Kristyn Peck is Associate Director of Children’s Services, Migration and Refugee Services, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

A Letter from the Heart of an Undocumented Immigrant

In recognition that this is National Migration Week and at the invitation of the National Council of the United States Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Voice of the Poor Committee, for the first time I am telling my story of coming to the United States as an undocumented immigrant.

Our two children, Lizza and Alfonso Jr., and I were born in Tijuana, Mexico, next to the southwest border with USA. My husband, Alfonso, was born in a small town in the State of Jalisco, México.

Margarita with her husband and children in the 1970s

Margarita with her husband and children in the 1970s

As soon we got married in 1973, he, as a lawful permanent U.S. resident (green card holder), filed a visa petition for me. In those days, the waiting period of time was 12 years.

At the time, we lived in Tijuana. Every day at 2:30 AM, Alfonso crossed the border to work in the fields in the United States, picking tomatoes, chilies, and strawberries.  He worked 10-11 hours a day, 6 days a week, and spent one and a half hours commuting each way to work and back home.

In the beginning, Alfonso worked in different, very demanding jobs – as a janitor; in factories and canneries; construction; as a laboratory technician; and so on – until he started to work in an aerospace company, first as a carpenter, then as mechanic, electrician, and welder, and now as a lead man of the maintenance department. I am sharing this with you because I need to make a point – he always worked hard, long hours and different shifts.

While he worked in the United States, I worked in a Social Security Hospital in the Human Resources Department in Tijuana, and, at the same time, took care of two children. Alfonso did everything possible for the children to have a strong father presence in their lives; it was hard for him and for us.

Several years passed, and we were told that the waiting time to become a permanent resident had increased to 14-17 years. So, Alfonso made the hard decision to resign his Mexican citizenship to become a US citizen.  In those days, it was not like today where you can have dual citizenship – you had to surrender your citizenship in your own country.  Alfonso also needed to speak English well and go to school for the U.S. citizenship classes.

Can you image when he could find time to attend the daily two-hour English and Citizenship classes?

We needed to move to the United States, because it was the only way he could have time to attend his classes and have a little more family time. It was a hard decision – to continue in the same pattern or try to be a real family.  We decided to come to live here.  In the mid-1980s, my two small children and I came to the United States without permission to reside here.  My husband had a resident card so he had the right to live and work here. Thanks to God, we did not come through the desert, a tunnel, or in a car’s trunk.  We had short-term visitors’ visas to come and visit the United States and we were supposed to stay no more than three days and keep within a certain area.

I started to feel bad about myself, as if I was not good enough, because I was not able to work or have a driver’s license or walk freely on the streets. I had always worked.  I needed to be productive and was worried about how I could help support the family financially, too.

I started to help working mothers with the care of their children after school for a small fee. In the evening, I went to learn English as a second language at my children’s school.  But I did not like those classes.  They were too slow, and I need to learn a little faster.  In order to do this, my English teacher told me to go to a community college, but she did not know that I did not have the proper documents.  I attended community college briefly, but since I was not a resident, I did not qualify for reduced tuition.  Instead, I would have had to pay full foreign student tuition, even though we paid taxes for community schools.  I could not afford full tuition and still help my husband provide for the family.

From the time he started working in the United States, Alfonso paid taxes to the IRS. Once we moved to the United States, we saved some money, with family help we eventually bought our house, and we paid property taxes. I always lived in fear of deportation and the consequences for my family. Our children were in a household where our status was a secret; you did not want anyone to know it, because it was dangerous. For most undocumented immigrants, fear, and the stress that comes with it, is a constant part of life.  We had to keep our situation a secret from nearly everyone we encountered, afraid to be reported and sent back to Mexico

It was time full of frustration, learning, adapting, and growing in many ways, but mostly full of joy because we were together.

Not long after my children and I came to the United States, my husband applied for citizenship. He passed the test, and, in three months, he became a U.S. citizen.  He next petitioned for our under-age children, Lizza and Alonso Jr., to become U.S. citizens, and in 6 months they were.  It was not easy for us to pay in a single year the very expensive fee for the three of them to become U.S. citizens.  So again, Alfonso needed to work overtime to afford the house payment and all the immigration fees.

Several months passed before we could change the status of my first petition which, when it was filed back in 1973, was done by my husband in his then-status as a U.S. resident. As a U.S. citizen, he could file an updated petition on my behalf and the waiting period would be shortened.  Finally, that was accepted, and I was granted an official U.S. resident card.  Then I had to wait three more years to be able to apply and pay more fees for the U.S. citizenship process.  Eventually, I was able to apply for it.  I passed the test, and finally, after all the risks, tears, frustrations, low self-esteem, and 20 years, thanks to God, I became a U.S. citizen in 1994 – Hurray!!!

For us, it was extremely important to work hard. I really appreciate this country and its people.  We made a real pledge to making this country our home.

Margarita, her husband, Alfonso, and their extended family at Christmas 2016

Margarita, her husband, Alfonso, and their extended family at Christmas 2016

On the other hand, we continue to maintain strong relationships in our birth country. We are the lucky ones to have had the opportunity to access the best from both countries and to celebrate both cultures – not assimilate the USA culture, but to blend both.

I believe we need to share our stories. Some, like mine, are relatively easy, but others are very hard, sad, and dangerous.

We are human beings, created in the image of God, too, with dreams and hopes like every other person. We simply wish to be able to do better for our family, our communities, for the poor, and for our country.

Margarita Galindo is Vice-President for Hispanic Involvement at the National Council of the United States Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Become an ally for our immigrant brothers and sisters

national-migration-weekAs we celebrate National Migration Week from Jan. 8-14, let us bring to the forefront the most pressing issues immigrants face and support them in their efforts to overcome those challenges.

The theme for this year is “Creating a Culture of Encounter,” based on an appeal by Pope Francis which calls us to “look beyond our needs and wants to those of others around us.”  Justice for Immigrants’ toolkit features many ways to support migrants, including prayer cards and event ideas.

Here are a few more tips to continue supporting immigrants all year long.

One of the best ways a community member can help their immigrant neighbors is to partner with a local immigration services program. There are many non-profit legal service providers that are willing to give workshops and informational sessions, but often lack the space or volunteers to do so. Community partners can help by offering available meeting space, time to volunteer, or assistance with outreach. To find a local immigration service provider, visit https://cliniclegal.org/directory.  Paola Marquez, CLINIC’s Legalization Outreach Manager, focuses on building strong relationships between legal service providers and the communities they serve and can help you brainstorm new ways to be an ally. For more ideas on how you can help immigrants have access to legal services, you can reach out to her.

Another way to help is to ensure that your community is a welcoming one. CLINIC offers a number of resources on Catholic social teachings and the ties between Catholic values and immigration.  For example, CLINIC recently created a free resource inspired by Las Posadas Navideñas for communities to use during the holiday season. A celebration around Las Posadas provides an excellent opportunity for dialogue, but you don’t have to wait until next Christmas to hold such an event.  Consider using any of CLINIC’s resources on Catholic social teaching to inspire community-building events: https://cliniclegal.org/cst.

We should also seek to raise awareness about immigration issues. Consider hosting a movie screening or inviting a prominent lecturer on immigration to come speak at your next event. Plan or participate in a vigil for immigrants being held in detention.  Reach out to both your Catholic Conference and local community leaders to see if you can participate in or host an event.  Above all, do not be afraid to engage in a constructive dialogue with people who may disagree with you- CLINIC has you covered.

From an advocacy perspective, it is vital that we help immigrants become aware of their legal rights. Many immigrants are not aware that although they may be undocumented, they still have civil rights that are protected by federal and state laws. Share CLINIC’s Know Your Rights guides for students and workers with parishioners and neighbors. These resources also provide ways immigrants can report incidents they encountered at school and work.

Bolster this work by becoming an advocate for positive immigration policies. The lack of immigration reform at the federal level has encouraged state and local leaders to legislate their own solutions to what they see as a broken system. Many states legislative sessions will begin this January and, due to the current national debate regarding immigration, we anticipate that there will be an increased number of legislation attempting to limit immigrants’ ability to fully integrate. CLINIC has prepared a guide to help you follow your state’s legislative process and offer ways you can speak up for immigrants and urge local leaders to implement positive policies. Christy Williams, CLINIC’s Advocacy Attorney, supported several state Catholic conferences and CLINIC affiliates through legal analysis and suggested talking points to address how these issues impact immigrants and the programs that serve them during the 2016 state legislative session. In addition to online resources, you can contact her for direct support to help you address immigration-related legislation in your state.

Please visit CLINIC’s website for more resources to help you understand the challenges immigrants face. Be sure to sign up for our newsletters to stay up to date on pressing immigration issues and new ways to help.

 paola-marquez-croppedPaola Marquez is the Outreach Manager for CLINIC’s Legalization section. In addition to conducting outreach to parishes, Catholic schools, and immigrant communities, she also manages the Southeast Fellows Project. She can be reached via e-mail at pmarquez@cliniclegal.org.

 christy-williamsChristy Williams is an Advocacy Attorney at CLINIC who leads the State and Local Immigration Project. Christy monitors legislation in all 50 states that impact immigrants and provides advocacy support to state Catholic Conferences, Diocesan advocates and CLINIC affiliates in responding to these issues. She can be reached via e-mail at cwilliams@cliniclegal.org.

How can you help stop human trafficking? Turn on the Light!

crs_light_candle_studio_300dpiHuman trafficking is modern-day slavery. With 21 million victims worldwide, there are more slaves today than at any time in history.

Since human trafficking is a prevalent issue throughout the world, January has become Human Trafficking Awareness Month. It is during this month that Catholics Confront Global Poverty (CCGP), a partnership between USCCB and Catholic Relief Services (CRS), along with CRS Ethical Trade, have launched a campaign to bring light to this serious issue. Together we are telling everyone to “Turn On the Light” to human trafficking, so that the victims are no longer living in the shadows and can finally get the help that they need.

There are two simple ways you can help to stop human trafficking.

First, use your voice to let Congress know that it is important to you that human trafficking is stopped. There is an active action alert on the CCGP website ready for your participation. You can easily send an email to your members of Congress asking them to support much-needed legislation that would dissuade businesses and employers from creating environments in which human trafficking is encouraged or can be sustained.

Second, you can make a difference and support the victims of human trafficking by buying a fair trade candle from Prosperity Candle. These candles are handmade by women refugees trying to rebuild their lives in the United States. With every purchase a donation is made to support CRS programs, such as our anti-human trafficking projects, and you are supporting the creation of wages for refugee women.

Pope Francis said “Human trafficking is an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ. It is a crime against humanity.” Therefore, he has “call[ed] on all people of goodwill to take action against human trafficking and new forms of slavery.”

This year we can work together to answer Pope Francis’ call and make a difference for the millions of people who are living as slaves around the globe.

With every email to a member of Congress and every candle sold, there is another flash of hope for the victims of human trafficking.

Human trafficking is a serious issue and it is one that I have been passionate about ending since I first got a good look at its realities in college when I was working with CRS. I became aware of the situations society has created which allow modern day slavery to persist, and I knew I wanted to continue using my skills to put an end to it. CRS provides many great programs and is constantly working to create an atmosphere in which people can become educated and find ways to lend a hand. That is what we are doing through CCGP, and it is your help that is crucial to ending this plague on humanity.

Please join CCGP and CRS Ethical Trade and the thousands of people who have already taken action in this fight to end this modern-day slavery. You can get more information from our website on how you can help in this much needed effort.

clare-p-crsClare Pressimone is the Grassroots Advisor in the Advocacy Department of Catholic Relief Services. 


Going Deeper

Migration and Refugee Services/USCCB has developed a National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month toolkit, which features facts about human trafficking, ways to raise awareness about the issue, and a prayer card.

Opening Wide the Door of Gospel Nonviolence

Eli McCarthy, Director of Justice and Peace for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Eli McCarthy, Director of Justice and Peace for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Pope Francis continues to amaze. As far as I know, he has just issued the first high-level official Catholic statement focused on Gospel nonviolence in this year’s World Day of Peace message. The door has been opened for the Catholic Church to enter a deeper understanding and broader commitment to Jesus’ way of active nonviolence and just peace.

Francis said “to be true followers of Jesus today includes embracing his teaching about nonviolence.” Thus, we are to “cultivate nonviolence in our most personal thoughts and values,” i.e. develop the habit or virtue of nonviolent peacemaking. He pledges “the assistance of the Church in every effort to build peace through active and creative nonviolence.”

Like Jesus, we encounter stories of nonviolent peacemakers in this message, such as Gandhi, Khan, MLK, and Gbowee. These icons of nonviolent force realized that both constructive peacebuilding and nonviolent resistance were necessary compliments to sustainable conflict transformation.

Khan was a Muslim nonviolent leader in India who both developed schools for women and the first nonviolent peace army (80,000 members) to resist the ruthless British occupation. In a similar vein, today the Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) offers unarmed civilian protection in many violent conflict zones. For example, in South Sudan NP has reduced sexual assaults and rape by all armed actors from regularity to zero in the areas they patrol. They also directly saved 14 women and children from armed militia when they refused three times to obey orders from the militia to leave during an armed attack.

These models, which combine constructive peacebuilding and nonviolent resistance, represent a just peace approach. This approach offers a vision of human flourishing which includes a commitment to the social conditions that illuminate human dignity and cultivate thriving relationships. Drawing on specific criteria, virtues, and practices to guide our actions, it focuses on transforming conflict, breaking cycles of violence, and cultivating sustainable peace.

Key nonviolent practices that reflect this approach include, for example, addressing the root causes of violence, transforming the different dimensions of conflict, nonviolent resistance, restorative justice, unarmed civilian protection, interfaith collaboration, trauma-healing, and nonviolent civilian-based defense. Core virtues would include nonviolent peacemaking, mercy, solidarity, and humility.

Several just peace criteria within the broader approach would guide our action choices and apply at all stages of conflict. There are examples of a just peace approach to nuclear weapons, lethal drones, Syria, and ISIS.  

What if the Catholic Church were to make a shift to an explicit just peace approach consistent with Gospel nonviolence? Would it not be more consistent with Jesus’ way and help us recognize that all killing or lethal force is a form of violence? Would it not also liberate us more for nonviolent practices that would better build just peace, prevent war, limit ongoing war, heal after war, and even draw society away from war sooner as we more effectively live up to our “duty to strain every muscle to outlaw war” (Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes par. 81).

As Catholic leaders in our communities, we have a very unique opportunity to build on this movement of the Spirit.

Here are some suggestions:

1) share the World Day of Peace with your communities;

2) provide substantial education about active nonviolence in all levels of faith formation;

3) provide a regular Gospel-based training program in various nonviolent skills, as they have in the Archdiocese of Chicago;

4) join or develop a local peace team to deploy unarmed peacekeepers, provide nonviolent skill training, and scale-up restorative justice.

May God’s love and courage be with each of us as we walk further through the door of Gospel nonviolence.

Eli McCarthy is the director of Justice and Peace for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University.


Going Deeper!

For more resources, visit USCCB’s World Day of Peace webpage, where you’ll find a two-page handout in English and Spanish, past World Day of Peace messages, and other tools to promote peace.