Always Walking, Always Acting with Justice

“Lord, who shall be admitted to your tent and dwell on your holy mountain? He who walks without fault; he who acts with justice…” – Psalm 15:1-2

This past Friday, Monsignor Marvin A. Mottet, diocesan priest for the Diocese of Davenport, died peacefully. He was 86.

Monsignor Mottet established the Social Action Office in the Diocese of Davenport in 1969. Later, he served as the National Director of the Campaign for Human Development, which is now known as the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. He was instrumental in incubating four dozen projects which were spun off as autonomous service agencies still active today. He would walk with them to the point that they could do so on their own.

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In 2012, Msgr. Mottet received the Servant of Justice Award from the Roundtable Association of Catholic Diocesan Social Action Directors.

For the past seven years, while serving as the Director of Social Action for the Diocese of Davenport, I have benefited greatly from Monsignor Mottet’s wisdom, from his written words and legacy, and from his personal mentoring.

Shortly after beginning, I familiarized myself with The Two Feet of Social Justice, created by Monsignor Mottet, now known by many more in the United States as the Two Feet of Love in Action. I first learned of the combination of charity and justice as Monsignor described and was empowered to share with parishes groups across the diocese. It might seem a simple model, but it is no less powerful. And folks have shown they can go from their experiences of providing for immediate needs to looking at ways to make systemic change.

And Monsignor Mottet supported and encouraged my development as a diocesan director by encouraging me to attend week-long, faith-based community organizer training. He stated his belief that every diocesan director should go through training in order to learn how to affect change, how to empower the disenfranchised, how to teach about power so that it is understood as meaning the ability to affect change. Learning about and in turn teaching others about the benefits of mutual self-interest is at its very core a means of showing dignity and respect to the life of the other, so very necessary in pursuing peace and justice.

Even during his last years, after he was no longer joining us on legislative visits, at rallies and protests, he still attended office team meetings, still wanted to get updates over meals. He continued on with phone calls and emails to elected officials on a variety of justice issues. And most importantly, he supported us and encouraged us on our team.

During his last few days, as people came to visit him, he began to leave each individual with a similar message; as long as you are breathing, use your power and do the work. It was never Monsignor’s work, but rather God’s work walking with both feet towards justice. To honor his legacy, we now continue our walk with his/our Two Feet.

Kent Ferris is Social Action and Catholic Charities Director in the Diocese of Davenport.


 

Msgr. Marv, Friend of the Poor, Companion to the Oppressed

Last week, like many people, I paused, shed a brief tear, offered a prayer, and then found myself with a big smile. So many people were saddened to hear of the death of Msgr. Marv Mottet, my predecessor as Director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. I shed a tear at the loss of such a champion for the poor who worked most of his 86 years on behalf of those in need. He was always one with quick wit and charm. But he was also one who would swiftly challenge systems that oppressed and kept poor people down. His embrace of the Gospel was synonymous with his embrace of “the other.” He could not separate the two. Monsignor had a way of correcting, confronting and instructing a person in way that neither demeaned or degraded. I stand as a beneficiary of his strong affirmations and his quick and appropriate admonishments. He had a way of doing both with Christian love. His humility led him to live in Catholic Worker houses and homeless shelters, and to eat at soup kitchens; not because he couldn’t do better but because he placed high value of encountering the poor and looked for creative ways to embrace them and understand their stories.

He once shared with me that one of his proudest moments was when he had the audacity to invite Martin Luther King Jr. to receive the Diocese of Davenport’s Pacem in Terris Award. Msgr. Marv, in his humble manner, called up MLK, told him about the award and asked him when he would be arriving in Iowa to receive it. Dr. King, taken aback, told him that despite a busy schedule, he was honored. In a cassette tape Marv shared with me of the award presentation, Dr. King remarked “Who would believe that a Black Baptist minister named Martin Luther would be receiving an award from a Catholic priest?”

Upon hearing of Msgr. Marv’s death, I also had to smile. Just thinking of Marv’s smile, I could not help myself. Smiling within my grief. I recalled the joy he shared and the contagious laughter he so often freely offered. He has been a wonderful gift to me and countless others. I had to smile because I know what has been promised to those who live lives like Msgr. Marv Mottet. Those who care for the poor, those who pursue justice, those who walk humbly. Rest in Peace Msgr. Marvin Mottet, Good and Faithful Servant.

 

Ralph McCloud is Director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Celebrating a Victory for Racial Justice

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Cheryl Sommer

In his encyclical, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis notes: “[Business] can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the areas in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (no.129).  Francis echoes our longstanding Catholic social teaching tradition which urges all of us, including those responsible for creating jobs, to seek the common good and promote human dignity.

In Metro-East St. Louis, people of color found themselves dealing with another longstanding practice, that of often being shut out of good job opportunities including those in the construction trades. Years of racial bias, exclusionary practices of both businesses and unions, as well as other individual actions combined to create an unjust system preventing people of color in the region from having access to employment.

Faith communities that serve low-income populations see the impact of this unjust system firsthand. Reflecting on the congregation’s charitable efforts, one pastor commented, “These people don’t want to be given coats. They want a good paying job to buy their own coats!”

This is where United Congregations of Metro-East (UCM), an interfaith group consisting of Catholic Churches and other congregations which addresses unjust systems in the region, comes in. With funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) and the support of Belleville Bishop Edward K. Braxton, UCM has been training Catholics and non-Catholics alike to change unfair employment systems.

UCM found hope in the announcement of the building of a new Catholic hospital in the area.  Catholic leaders in UCM believed that a Catholic institution would want to use the construction of its new hospital as an opportunity to open the construction trades to people of color. Hospital leadership initially pledged to work with UCM on this. For reasons not completely understood, it didn’t happen. UCM learned that the hospital had a minority hiring goal of just 8% in a region with a minority population near 40%.

Knowing of Bishop Braxton’s strong support of their work through CCHD and of his pastoral letter on The Racial Divide in the United States, UCM approached him for help. Bishop Braxton called an immediate meeting with hospital leadership, UCM, and Bruce Holland, the general contractor for construction.  Holland was himself a Catholic. Braxton firmly stated that a Catholic hospital should do better in breaking down systems of exclusion in construction jobs.  He instructed everyone to continue meeting to improve the situation.

Holland, a long-time respected business leader, opened up his office for the meetings, which were tense due to the fact that construction contracts had already been signed.  It seemed evident that there were only going to be about 8% people of color working on the hospital construction. But with Bishop Braxton’s constant encouragement and the willingness of everyone to stay at the table, understanding began to be reached. Holland was moved to offer his help to mentor fledgling non-white businesses in finding success in the construction industry.

On September 1, Holland hosted a reception at his office which was attended by 32 minority business representatives and other people of color who wanted job opportunities.  Relationships were built and minority business owners were given tips for successfully bidding for construction jobs.  Contractors were given specific people who would follow-up with them for ongoing assistance.  Some were given a promise of work very soon.

A system of exclusion from jobs for people of color still exists.  However, because of Catholics who support CCHD, the unwavering encouragement of Bishop Braxton, the tenacity of men and women who want to work, and a Catholic business owner who stepped forward with his expertise and influence to mentor others, a system of inclusion is one step closer.

Cheryl Sommer lives in the Diocese of Belleville and has worked in parish religious education for over 30 years. Cheryl is a long-time volunteer with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and with United Congregations of Metro-East (UCM).

Going Deeper

Reflect on racial justice with Bishop Edward K. Braxton of the Diocese of Belleville, IL, in his pastoral letter on The Racial Divide in the United States.

Visit the USCCB Racism page to discern how your faith community can work for racial justice.

A Public Witness for Peace in Our Community

 

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Ray Kelly

It was already 90 degrees at 9:00 am on this Saturday morning, not the ideal day for a clean-up effort. The forecast was for a heat index of 115 that afternoon. None-the-less, we were on a mission and we had a job to do. I am the Co-Director of a community advocacy group in West Baltimore called the No Boundaries Coalition. We work to break down the boundaries of race, class and neighborhood within the eight diverse neighborhoods that surround Baltimore’s (in)famous Pennsylvania Avenue.

Our coalition came about when, after serving in just about every ministry in my parish since birth, St. Peter Claver/Pius V Catholic Church in the Sandtown/Winchester neighborhood of West Baltimore, I realized that while the work we were doing in faith formation, evangelization, and youth outreach was important, it wasn’t necessarily bringing faith into dialogue with the root causes of issues that face our community. And, no one really believed in themselves; our community had lost hope.
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Since then, St. Peter Claver/Pius V and the No Boundaries Coalition have worked to break down boundaries and build hope. After the riots which occurred after Freddie Gray’s death, we conducted a listening campaign because in the midst of the media attention, our residents didn’t feel heard or felt forgotten. We also created the West Baltimore commUNITY Commission to document instances of police misconduct and published a report that was later used by the Department of Justice in their investigation into policing in Baltimore. Recognizing that one reason our voices weren’t being heard was because of low voter turn-out, we launched a Get out the Vote effort, which we called “Double Up 21217”—which ended up recording the highest voter turnout in the history of polling place 015-018 (Gilmore Elementary School) in Sandtown/Winchester. At the same time, the Archdiocese of Baltimore created the Racial Justice Circle, which facilitated an open conversation about white privilege and systemic oppression. The parishes involved became some of our biggest supporters and volunteers and still are to this day.

nbc-greeningWhich leads us back to our clean-up effort on a too-hot day in July. By eleven thirty, the heat index was 100 degrees, and we had been through 160 trash bags, but our volunteers, social action team members, and Archdiocese Racial Justice Circle participants were working hard. We were out together, with brooms, shovels, trimmers and mowers, being “visible” and proving we are capable of changing things for the better. When our work was finally complete, we partied together like it was a family reunion. There was music, dancing and so much love in laughter, as we picnicked in a park that a few years ago was surrounded by vacant houses, and near corners that are usually overrun with drug activity. We felt proud that this was our home.

The by-product of all of these efforts is the re-introduction of hope in a community that gave it up decades ago. Once again, the power of God is igniting the power within our hearts and our community.

Ray Kelly is Co-Director of No Boundaries Coalition, in West Baltimore, and a life-long member of St. Peter Claver/Pius V Catholic Church.

Going Deeper
Learn more about efforts for peace in West Baltimore, including the work of St. Peter Claver/Pius V with No Boundaries Coalition, and Bishop Madden’s peace walks. Watch this recorded YouTube Live event about how three faith communities, including St. Peter Claver/Pius V, in West Baltimore, are taking action.

Visit the USCCB Racism page to find out more about how communities of faith can work together for peace and racial justice.

 

Reflections for the Day of Prayer for Peace in our Communities (Sept. 9)

Deacon Al Turner, MTS

Deacon Al Turner, MTS

We as Christians know that we are called to “love our neighbor as our self.” If we want peace we must work for justice – and peace does justice. The way of the world is to seek and hold on to power, to dominate the “other.” The racial strife we are now experiencing is about superiority. One group has made another group a threat to its privileged status. One group is in fear of the other. This otherness can be culturally, class, or racially based. No matter. If power is not used for the good of those under that power, peace cannot follow. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

Power, if it is justly administered, must be done out of love. So love is the answer. If we are to have peace in our communities, we Catholics must be among those who are engaged in the struggle. “How?” you may ask. First and foremost, we must live our lives as though we believe in the Gospel. We must love one another as Christ loves us; love all of our neighbors as ourselves, regardless of our station in life, our race, our culture, or our religion. We must work with ministries and agencies which promote the equality of and equal opportunities for human beings. Be part of the solution. Be an “accepting” person. We live in a very culturally diverse society. We must accept this new reality. Intolerance is a learned behavior. It is learned at a young age. So, it is important that our efforts begin early on. Scripture is full of teaching on the merits of loving one’s neighbor. As the faithful, we should lead the way, by example.

There are programs which teach us how to develop this quality. Recent studies have shown that acceptance education is most effective between the ages of four and nine years of age, and several programs have been developed to help educators teach students how to relate to others from different backgrounds and cultures. One such pilot project Mix It Up at Lunch Day by the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division, which has begun in elementary, middle, high schools, and colleges nationwide. It encourages students to identify, question, and go beyond the restrictions of social boundaries.

For adults in ministry, ordained and lay, there are opportunities to obtain the skills to minister in a tolerant and loving manner to the diverse people of God. The Catholic bishops have developed programs which fall into the category of living out our call to embrace the other and make them our brother and sister. The Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers program teaches from the Catholic perspective the skills which are essential to bringing about peace and doing justice to all.

That is what our Lord has commanded of us: to “love one another as I have loved you.” These programs and many more can assist us in living out our lives as witnesses to Christ, the Prince of Peace and the author of justice for the entire world. We can be part of the solution.

Deacon Al Turner, MTS, is the former Director of the Office of Black Catholics for the Archdiocese of Washington and is currently assigned to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Largo, MD.


Going Deeper

Join faith communities around the United States to celebrate the Sept. 9 Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities.

Visit the USCCB webpage on Racism for a prayer card, Prayer of the Faithful, study  materials, and real stories of how faith communities are working for peace and racial justice.  You can also participate in the Sept. 14 YouTube Live event on Racial Justice.

A prayer for creation

Contemplating the sunrise when we crossed the Tyrolean Alps

Contemplating the sunrise when we crossed the Tyrolean Alps

Let me begin with a little known story about the Pope. When Pope Francis was a young priest in Argentina, he was appointed rector of the Jesuit seminary. One of the first things he did was to convert the seminary grounds into a farm where “students collected honey, milked cows, and cleaned out the pigsty [and] where they often met the rector in his plastic boots.” For young Fr. Bergoglio caring for the farm meant learning humility, being in touch with the poor, feeding the hungry, and finding an ideal space for prayer and contemplation – a place where the word of the Gospel became flesh. One could make the case that the Pope’s encyclical Laudato si’ and integral ecology were already taking shape in his farm experiment. The experiment worked: the seminary boomed and there was a huge increase in vocations.

The idea that Christian prayer must be connected to the created world is also central to Pope Francis’ message for the “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation”, whose one-year anniversary we celebrate today. Quoting Laudato si’ the Pope reminded us that “the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature” and that Christians are called to a profound “spiritual conversion… whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them.” Doesn’t this sound like something the Pope could be teaching the seminarians at the farm?

More important than the farm itself is the ideal that lies behind it, which has to do with the relationship between prayer and creation. I will call this ideal “prayer in the flesh”, taken from the title of a talk by Fr. Bergoglio. His point was that some Christians are unaware that they suffer from a modern heresy he calls ‘neodocetism’ and that we need to bring prayer to the level of concreteness, to the level of our bodies. We can pray when we touch the hands of a beggar, walk on trails, clean a pigsty, eat with the hungry, milk a cow, look at the sky, etc. Jesus is present in these moments when our flesh engages everyday reality. As in Bergoglio’s farm, care for creation can serve as a locus for us to live ‘a spirituality of the flesh.’

This summer I took this ideal of ‘prayer in the flesh’ and decided to put it into practice. I invited three young men and a guide to undertake a pioneer pilgrimage for the Year of Mercy. In May we left from Rome on foot and walked to Krakow for World Youth Day on July 25th. We walked every day for two-plus months covering over 2000 km (about the distance from Washington, DC to Dallas, TX) along a ‘scenic route’ through Italy, Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, and Poland. This pilgrimage was certainly an experience of prayer for creation: we prayed together and alone, during the day as we walked and stopped at shrines, during Mass and adoration. But we also prayed in creation: through the beauty of landscapes, incredible churches, and art– and prayed in the flesh: through blisters, injuries, weight loss, sores and muscles, and even the in gratitude for the incredible food.

What did I get out of this experience of ‘prayer in the flesh’? So many things which I cannot fit into a short blog post. But I can share one important lesson I learned: patience. You just have to learn patience on a trip like this because everything just takes so long! It would take about two days by car and two hours by airplane to cover the same distance we walked in two months. Impatience, resentment, complaints, weakness, stoicism, grumbling, and long faces don’t really get you any further any faster. All you can do is put on a good face in the morning and walk your ‘today’ until tomorrow comes. If it rains, you take a break. If it rains all day, you get wet. If you go without dinner, you try to get a big breakfast the next morning. You learn that God is in charge and He doesn’t always give us what we want, but always gives us what we need. And this… requires… patience. A long pilgrimage like this is a masterful lesson in patience that is learned because it is lived in the flesh.

The day I arrived in Krakow I gave a presentation about Laudato si’ and our pilgrimage for the Year of Mercy. I was lucky to have a brief chat with a cardinal, and he asked me only one question: “So what did you learn about mercy?” After bumbling around for an answer a word came forth from the inside: “patience.” Mercy takes patience, the kind of patience of the father who is waiting, for years, for the prodigal son to arrive. “Merciful like the Father” is also “Patient like the Father” – not anxious or stressed waiting, but hopeful waiting. It’s not the impatience of the prodigal son, nor the resentful and fake patience of the older brother. These are not the rhythms of mercy.

This was the lesson I learned through my ‘prayer in the flesh’ and the one God had in store for me. But Jesus has many lessons in store for each one of us. And, we don’t have to go on long journeys to distant places to find them, but only look at the concrete world around us in the circumstances and places we live, and make a decision to do something incarnate with our prayer: celebrating a meal with friends, gardening, spending an evening in the park with the family, cleaning the garage, or going for a walk. These of course must be accompanied by encounters with Jesus Christ at Mass, adoration, confession, biblical reading, prayer groups, etc. But the Pope’s emphasis lies in the invitation for us to bring our prayer into the flesh.

For this second World Day of Prayer for the Care for Creation the Vatican suggests the following prayers. And the Season of Creation we begin today is a wonderful time for us to bring this prayer into our daily lives.

ricardo simmondsRicardo Simmonds is the Environmental Policy Advisor for the Office of Domestic Social Development, within the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development of the USCCB.

10 Practical Ways You Can Care for Creation

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Yolanda Park, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Stockton

Here in the Diocese of Stockton, California, we are living out our call to care for God’s creation and God’s people. The Environmental Justice Program of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Stockton sees addressing our concerns about dangerous air quality, responding to our historic drought, and doing our part to fight climate change as essential to caring for the poorest and most vulnerable residents among us. These families contribute the least to environmental damage, but suffer from it the most.

You and your parish can respond to Pope Francis’ Call to Action. Here are 10 practical ways you can protect creation – it will benefit your wallet, your neighbors near and far, and hopefully your spirit as well.

  1. Turn off your engine rather than idling when you are stopped for more than a minute – when dropping kids off at school, waiting for a train, or chatting with the neighbors. This limits the emissions that pollute our air and cause respiratory illnesses like asthma.
  2. Use Fair Trade products to support local artisans and farmers and protect the environment. Learn about Catholic Relief Services Fair Trade and the impact it has on vulnerable communities around the world.
  3. Store food in reusable containers, not plastic wrap or foil, to cut down on your household trash. This kind of waste fills up landfills, litters neighborhoods, and contributes to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
  4. Avoid using Styrofoam at your parish functions. Styrofoam can rarely be recycled, and it takes 500 years to decompose in landfills! If you can’t use “real” dishes, opt instead for recyclable or biodegradable plates, cups, and utensils.
  5. Conserve water by shortening shower time, not letting water run when brushing your teeth or washing your car, and ensuring your sprinklers are watering plants, not the sidewalk or street. Consider landscaping that is drought tolerant or resistant to local pests – you’ll save water and limit use of pesticides.
  6. Recycle bottles, cans, plastic, paper, and old electronics. This can also be a great way to raise money for your parish, youth group, or mission trip. Make sure your electronic recycler does not ship e-waste overseas, where components are often dismantled in unsafe conditions or even by children.
  7. Do a home or parish energy audit. You will be able to identify where you can patch air leaks, switch out light bulbs, or improve insulation. You’ll conserve energy, reduce emissions that contribute to climate change, and save money!
  8. Start a parish or community garden. You will eat healthier and can donate the abundance to a local food pantry. This is especially meaningful if you live or worship in a low-income neighborhood, many of which lack access to fresh, healthy food. Compost the garden waste and you’ll have great nutrients to put back into the soil next year.
  9. Suggest and help organize an environmental awareness day at your parish, especially for the World Day of Prayer for Creation on September 1st, or as part of October’s Respect Life Month.
  10. Ask your elected representatives to support legislation that limits carbon pollution, protects natural resources, supports international efforts to fight climate change, protects environmental health, or promotes energy efficiency and renewable energy.

These actions may seem small compared to the threat of climate change, but Pope Francis reminds us that “many things have to change of course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change.” (Laudato’ Si, 202)

Yolanda Park is Environmental Justice Program Assistant at Catholic Charities, Diocese of Stockton. For more ideas, you can visit their website, follow them on Twitter, or find them on Facebook.


Going Deeper!

Join Pope Francis to care for God’s creation on Sept. 1. Numerous resources for this day are available on the USCCB environmental justice page and the WeAreSaltAndLight.org Laudato Si’ page, including prayers, discussion guides, individual action steps, and more.

CRS Student Ambassadors: Inspired to be Light in the World

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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.