The Catholic Social Ministry Gathering: Inspiring, eye-opening faith-in-action

This past February was my first opportunity to attend the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, DC. Having recently begun working at the Catholic University of America as an assistant campus minister, I took several of our students to participate in the Young Leaders Initiative. We met with over one hundred other young people from college campuses across the country, all of whom are active in works of service and justice in their particular communities. It was a time to share ideas, learn new things, and be inspired by the many speakers and participants who are working for a better world in many different fields and in all different corners of the globe.

The opening mass set the tone for the whole conference. The room was packed, and Monsignor Ray East’s energy and liveliness woke us up to the strength and beauty of a faith lived through action. Songs and readings were done in languages from the Americas, Africa, and Asia, and the room of people of all ages and races were united by a love of God and love of justice. It was impossible not be touched by the Spirit moving in that room.

Sunday evening we were honored to meet several members of Living Hope Wheelchair Association. Founded by people with spinal cord injuries, they serve others with spinal cord injuries and wheelchair-confining disabilities. They told stories of how they were founded, how they have grown, and how they have fought to overcome obstacles both external and internal. Seeing people who are physically limited have so much strength and resilience, and who have done so much for others who suffer, helped us to have a more hopeful perspective. These people were truly shining examples of positivity and solidarity in a world more and more threatened by negativity and individualism.

Throughout the conference, we heard from many different speakers and participated in different discussions about social justice issues both domestic and international. One of my students has spent a lot of time tutoring low-income students in a predominantly black school, and he was able to learn more about racial inequality in our educational systems, criminal justice systems, and even in our own Catholic Church. One of my students is a social work major, and was able to learn more about affordable housing and the homeless population in the U.S. Another one of my students, who would be leading a group of his peers to the U.S./Mexico Border the following month, was able to learn more about immigration and the struggle of Latino immigrants. Having lived the last several years in Latin America myself, I was fascinated to hear speakers from Ecuador and Brazil, and attend presentations on Colombia and Cuba. The diversity and the expertise of the speakers and presenters was fantastic.

The final day of the conference was spent on Capitol Hill, meeting with Congresspersons and staffers, and advocating for those victimized by unjust policies and systems. This was the first time I, and most of my students, had lobbied on the Hill. Armed with the knowledge gained at the conference, and our own experiences, we united our voices to call for change.  Though it may be a drop in the bucket, civic participation is the responsibility of every citizen of a democracy, and the experience has spurred us on to continue advocating.

The CSMG conference was inspiring and eye-opening. It was an opportunity for growth, both for myself and my students, and something we will not soon forget. Let us pray that it was also an experience that will continue to move us to more action and a more authentic and lively faith.

Going Deeper!

Join us for the 2019 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering on Feb. 2-5. Registration is open until January 11, 2019!

Student leaders from colleges and universities and accompanying campus staff can participate in the Young Leaders Initiative (YLI) by filling out the YLI Interest form before December 12, 2018!

Harrison Hanvey

 

Harrison Hanvey is Assistant Campus Minister for Mission Trips and Community Service at The Catholic University of America.

Responding to the Clerical Abuse Crisis: A Season of Discernment at Holy Trinity Parish in Washington, D.C.

As members of the Christian Faithful, we stand with and for our sisters and brothers who have been deeply wounded by clerical sexual abuse.  We also know that the clerical abuse crisis has greatly shaken the faith of many in the Church.  Throughout the country, many have already taken prophetic action towards providing a space for the faithful to process, reflect, and pray, and we want to lift up some of the ways parishes and dioceses are responding to this crisis in an effort to build community and solidarity. The following post is part of an ongoing series that will highlight some of these efforts.

people-sitting-circle-counseling-87643809After the tumultuous Summer of 2018, with news of on-going revelations relating to allegations regarding an Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, as well as the numbing effects of the findings of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report and other assertions of clerical improprieties, hearts were truly burdened at many parishes throughout this Archdiocese, including those in Holy Trinity Parish in Georgetown. As Father Kevin Gillespie, S.J., Pastor of Holy Trinity, noted, the poetic words of Charles Dickens, from “A Tale of Two Cities,” may well be applicable to the crises afflicting the Catholic Church. As Father Gillespie, S. J. observed, we do seem to be experiencing one of the “worst of times.”  The question that became central in the life of the Parish was: what can one parishioner or one parish do?

As mentioned in a column by the Pastor in the Holy Trinity Parish Bulletin soon after the crisis intensified, it was decided that the Parish should enter into a Season of Discernment whereby hundreds of Holy Trinity parishioners would be engaged in a series of listening sessions to respond to the anguish and anger prompted by the new allegations. Holy Trinity turned to a process of Ignatian discernment, which has roots in our Catholic tradition and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, to help process and respond to the current crisis. In this way, Holy Trinity was responding from its charism as a Jesuit-sponsored Parish.  In the Ignatian tradition, discernment involves paying attention to our experiences to understand whether they lead us toward God (authentic spiritual consolation) or away from God (spiritual desolation).

Participants’ responses during the listening sessions, as well as feedback received from emails to staff, phone calls, and a form on the Holy Trinity website were recorded, a dedicated team organized them into six thematic categories.  One category was, “What is heaviest in your heart?” which included the feelings parishioners expressed in response to recent revelations.  The other five were action-oriented categories:

  1. Church Structure
  2. Transparency and Accountability
  3. Role of the Laity
  4. Support of survivors and their families
  5. Prayer

The responses, arranged into these categories, were made available on the Holy Trinity website. As a way of following up on the listening sessions, the parish offered a Prayer Service for Healing and Reconciliation on October 17, 2018. A Parish Pastoral Council meeting, open to all parishioners, was held to discuss further appropriate next steps. As a result, all parishioners were invited to attend a Parish Open Forum in the Parish’s Trinity Hall on Sunday afternoon, November 4, 2018, from 2:30-5:00 p.m. Parishioners were invited to join one of the groups arranged by the thematic categories to plan for possible actions and follow-ups.

On November 4, 2018, the Parish Open Forum led by members of the Parish Pastoral Council and the Restorative Justice Ministry started with prayer and guidance on how to determine the best path in response to the challenges of this crisis, and how to respect the insights of all participants in this dialogue.

Facilitators invited participants to select one of the above categories and to join an associated breakout group to engage in a smaller group discussion focusing on specific plans and next steps. The breakout groups used the suggested outcomes as a starting point for their discussion, but also provided members the opportunity to weigh the merits of different approaches and to amend or expand on the outcomes. The next step in the forum was a plenary session in which individual spokespeople for each of the groups presented a brief report to the larger whole of attendees.  They suggested action items that included learning more about church structure, being laity who are empowered by Vatican II, initiating collaboration with other parishes, supporting priests of integrity, being welcoming and supportive to survivors, and ongoing prayerful discernment. To close the Forum, the facilitators led the participants in a reflection on what were the moments during the discussions when they experienced spiritual desolation or spiritual consolation—a prayer known in the Ignatian tradition as the Examen.

Based on the discussions and proposals for further action explored at the Parish Open Forum, the breakout groups have developed detailed recommendations for further review, consideration, and action by parish participants. Each parishioner is encouraged to continue to collaborate in this engagement, by offering reflections on the merits of specific proposals and calls to action. In this way, the views of the parish community will be reflected in concrete recommendations that will serve the Church as we face this crisis, in positive and constructive ways. As an individual parishioner, this process has accorded each member of the parish community an opportunity to channel feelings of betrayal and disillusionment into fruitful expressions of faith and hope for the authentic reform of Church structures and practices.

RichardColl

 

Richard Coll is a parishioner at Holy Trinity Church in Washington, D.C., and a member of its Parish Pastoral Council.

A Life Unlike Your Own Can be Your Teacher

SCWhat the world needs from the Church now more than ever is its missionary mindset. By that, I do not mean a new evangelization program. I mean a deeper commitment to the Incarnation.

We often think of the Incarnation as God making Himself known to us, but the opposite is also true. As Mike Gable, Director of the mission office for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, says: “Before he set off for his own ‘mission trip’ to build God’s reign, Jesus spent 30 years learning how to humbly listen and befriend widows, lepers, and Samaritans. He reflected long and hard on his own cultural experience in prayer with God and his friends before acting.”

Even during his public ministry, we can see Jesus’ attitude of humble listening in action. In his exchange with the Canaanite woman in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ initial remarks to her are harsh, but he genuinely listens to what she has to say and, ultimately, allows himself a change of heart (Mt 15: 21-28). By hearing out the plea of a desperate mom looking to save her sick child, Jesus crossed the cultural divides of his day.

Jesus’ missionary attitude has inspired countless missionaries after him, including St. Columban and the missionary society named after him.

St. Columban (c. 550 – 615) was an Irish missionary who left his home country to preach the good news to continental Europe. First arriving in what’s now modern-day France, he clashed with the local community over thorny cultural differences and rebuked political powers for their immoral conduct. Those powers forced him into exile. He died in Northern Italy on November 23rd, now his feast day.

Former Irish president, Mary McAleese, says of St. Columban: “[he] transcended ethnic, confessional, and political divides by embodying the Christian message that we are all pilgrims on a journey to another homeland . . . [he] was a man who crossed borders—literally and figuratively.”

1,300 years later, his spirit was reimagined as the Missionary Society of St. Columban, a congregation of priests and lay missionaries formally established in 1918. Originally conceived as a mission to China, over the decades it has journeyed to 17 other countries. Today we serve in parishes, but also organize humanitarian projects and work for justice.

One of our Society’s oldest commitments is to migrating people. “Because missionaries move from their own country and culture into another society and culture,” says Columban Fr. Sean McDonagh, “Columbans have been very sensitive to the plight of migrants in the contemporary world.”

While Columbans are intentional migrants, our closeness to forced migrants has been a hallmark of our history. Our early experiences in China were shaped by the devastating floods of the 1920s, which caused massive internal displacement, and World War II, which caused massive continent-wide displacement. In the 16 countries where we currently serve, migration has been an ongoing phenomenon for one reason or another for the last 100 years.

The particular sensitivity that Fr. McDonagh talks about has become a defining feature of our charism. Every day we try to make the empathic leap that Jesus himself made when we encounter the Canaanites of our time. It’s our way of making real an attributed teaching of St. Columban: “a life unlike your own can be your teacher.”

Border wallWe put this teaching into practice across the world in a number of ways. In the United States, in particular, 30 years ago we decided to walk alongside the people of the borderlands. In the face of violence, we’ve worked with local communities to create parishes of peace and refuge. In the face of economic exploitation, we’ve petitioned governments and organized protests.

Several years ago, we decided to invite others to participate in our border mission. We created the Columban Mission Center to host groups from all over the world to stand in solidarity with migrating people and the front-line communities that welcome them.

One participant said of her experience: “I learned to open myself to God and to open my mind and try to understand the situation of immigrants.” At the border, each of us is invited to follow the example of Jesus speaking with the Canaanite woman. The Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, located in Washington, D.C., makes this invitation especially to policymakers in Congress and the presidential administration.

But we do not need to physically visit the border to let a life unlike our own be our teacher. The Columbans encourage people of faith to be missionaries wherever they are. One way you can do this in relation to the borderlands is to download our Border Solidarity Toolkit and engage in its activities for prayer, education, and action.

The world today badly needs a renewed spirit of cross-cultural exchange. We need to be more like the Church’s great missionaries. Not only do cultural differences enrich us and lead us closer to God, but they also allow us to transcend the trivial factionalism that even St. Columban encountered.

“For we are all joint members of one body, whether Gauls or Britons or Irish or whatever peoples [we come from],” St. Columban said, refashioning the words of St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 12: 12-27). If you replace Gauls, Britons, and Irish with Americans, Hondurans, and Syrians, this truth won’t look any different.

Wesley Cocozello

Wesley Cocozello is the Communications and Programs Coordinator for the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach (CCAO), a ministry of the Missionary Society of St. Columban in the United States. CCAO works for structural change within the US and is guided by the Gospels, Catholic Social Teaching, and the experience of Columban missionaries standing in solidarity with marginalized communities and the exploited earth.

 

All quotations featured in this article, unless otherwise noted, are taken from Saint Columbanus: Selected Writings compiled by Alexander O’Hara (2015).

My CCHD Internship Helped Me Respond to Christ’s Call

CCHD postGrowing up in the South Valley of Albuquerque, NM, I was blessed to have been able to incorporate my Catholic faith into everyday life due to the extensive Catholic community in my neighborhood.  My parents taught me at a very young age about Catholicism, and I practiced best as I could. As I grew up I became more involved with my parish’s youth group and Confirmation leadership team. Since beginning to pursue my masters in social work, I’ve learned that my Catholic faith and social work ethics tie had in hand, so it has become clear that my faith has drawn me towards social justice.

When I decided to apply for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe’s Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) internship, I was nervous because I applied once before and to no avail, I wasn’t picked, but I still knew that it was in my best interest to try again.  In the spring of 2018, my best friend sent me the internship description, and the same day, my mom sent me the same intern job announcement that was posted in our Archdiocese’s magazine, the People of God, so it definitely felt like God was speaking to me through those around me.

As you might be able to tell, I was chosen to be the Archdiocese of Santa Fe’s office of Social Justice and Respect Life’s CCHD intern, and I couldn’t be more ecstatic. Through the office I am working out of, I have been able to meet and work with Pastors, priests, deacons, CCHD funded groups, community organizations, youth ministers, Confirmation teachers, Catholic school superintendents, Catholic school teachers, and many Catholic individuals and families that are a part of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.  I have made many great contacts here in the Archdiocese, and I have been able to contact these groups through email, phone call, and even local community meetings, which has given me a great step up in starting to get the word out about CCHD, the annual national collection, as well as giving informative presentations.  The topics I have been presenting on are Catholic social teaching, the two feet of love in action, sacraments and social mission, living the gospel through being disciples, an overview of CCHD, Catholic charities, and poverty awareness.

As the CCHD intern, I have been able to promote the CCHD collection and teach youth, and adults about what the Catholic Campaign for Human Development is and what it stands for, Catholic Social Teaching, and poverty awareness.  So far, I have given presentations to youth groups, youth conferences, Confirmation groups, and to adult faith formation groups.  I have seen a growing impact in the Archdiocese and a growing awareness of social justice that affects each group to whom I present.  As the CCHD collection approaches (November 17-18, 2018), I have been active in outreach and giving presentations to ensure that not only priests are aware of the collection and important work of CCHD, but Catholic parishes as a whole, including the youth, are informed and given the opportunity to could learn more about those living in poverty, as well as ways they can help if they are unable to donate to the collection.

A hope of mine as I continue my presentations and outreach to parishes, schools, and faith formation groups is to educate my fellow Catholics on why and how our faith ties hand in hand with social justice. Catholic Social teaching is the epitome of who Jesus Christ calls us to be. If I could have people understand this, I would be thankful to God for giving me a hand in molding His people to become socially aware to help those who are vulnerable and living in poverty.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development has offered me a great opportunity to continue growing in my own faith and to help people learn, grow, and act in their Catholic faith so they can also become stewards and advocates for those living and overcoming poverty.  What makes my job a tad bit easier is knowing that I can rely on my fellow CCHD interns in dioceses throughout the country, as well as the resources that CCHD and USCCB provide me to ensure that my presentations and outreach are productive and are making a difference.

If I can offer one piece of advice for anyone considering being a part of CCHD, whether by becoming an intern, donating, participating in a CCHD funded group, or supporting CCHD on social media, I would say DO IT! As Pope Francis stated in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), “The poor person, when loved, ‘is esteemed as of great value’, and this is what makes the authentic option for the poor differ from any other ideology, from any attempt to exploit the poor for one’s own personal or political interest. Only on the basis of this real and sincere closeness can we properly accompany the poor on their path of liberation” (no. 199).

Going Deeper: 

This weekend, November 17-18,  is the CCHD Collection! Be part of the effort to break the cycle of poverty in the United States. Learn more about how to give!

Rachel Baca_CCHD Intern Photo

 

Rachel Baca is a masters of social work student currently fulfilling an internship in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe’s Office of Social Justice and Respect Life as the Catholic Campaign for Human Development intern.

 

We Need YOU! Add Your Voice to the CSMG through the Diversity Outreach Initiative.

The Catholic Social Ministry Gathering (CSMG) has been bringing a collective voice on issues of poverty, war, injustice, and the promotion of human life and dignity to Capitol Hill for over three decades.  Since its beginning, offices within the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have joined forces with over a dozen Catholic ministry partners, including Catholic Relief Services; Catholic Charities, USA; Catholic Climate Covenant; Society of St. Vincent de Paul; and the National Catholic Partnership on Disability (which I direct) to sponsor this important annual gathering of social justice leaders from throughout the United States.  Through networking, plenaries, and workshops, participants gain an understanding of possible social, political, and cultural transformations and inevitably grow stronger in their Catholic faith as they put it into action.

The Diversity Outreach Initiative (DOI) was established over a decade ago when CSMG planning leaders recognized that important voices were missing from the gathering and visits to Capitol Hill.  These leaders decided to take action to ensure that the CSMG would more fully reflect the rich diversity of the Church. Thanks to the DOI, the Church’s social ministry has been strengthened as we reach out to Catholic ethnic, racial, and disability communities, encouraging members to lift up their voices and share the richness and diversity of their gifts to further our mission.  As part of the commitment to ensure the participation of diverse communities, the DOI offers scholarship funds which cover registration and housing expenses. Since its establishment, the DOI has enabled people of all ages and backgrounds to participate in the gathering, including students, young professionals, and seasoned advocates.

Each year brings more opportunities for DOI participants to enrich the full gathering as they serve as speakers or panelists for plenary sessions, experts in workshop sessions and in various liturgical roles.  Over the years, DOI participants have shared reflections from their experiences during morning prayer.  Several of these past reflections stand out to me:

  • Last year, Adelson Da Silva (Korá is his indigenous name), a tribal leader, offered a traditional ritual prayer that witnessed to the sacredness of creation and our common responsibility to protect it.
  • A student from an Illinois university, David, who has cerebral palsy and uses a motorized wheelchair, offered a reflection on the story of the paralyzed young man who was lowered down to Jesus through the ceiling, noting the creativity and commitment of the friends to create the access needed to bring their friend to Jesus. Of course, he urged us to go forth and do likewise!
  • The experience of Dreamers has been shared in panels, along with reflections by African-American pastoral leaders working in inner-city
  • Another year Renee, a pro-life disability advocate who also lives with cerebral palsy, focused on the richness of our Catholic social teaching which recognizes and upholds the dignity of every human person, including those which society tends to marginalize through lack of community-based services or even to eliminate through abortion and assisted suicide.

An exciting aspect of the DOI and CSMG is what happens when people return to their homes with a renewed commitment and heightened understanding of how to effect change in their local communities.  We hear back from students who organized events at their universities to raise awareness and advocate for systemic change.  We learn that anti-poverty advocates challenge the lack of affordable and accessible housing, armed with the resources and lessons learned at the CSMG.  We appreciate the feedback we receive from participants, such as Lauren who shared what attending CSMG meant for her: “I was fortunate to participate in the CSMG as a diversity candidate. It was extremely beneficial to me personally and to my Diocese. Not only did I learn so much about the Church’s position on important issues, but I was able to network and collaborate with my colleagues to plan for more effective dissemination of this information to the people we serve in eastern North Carolina.” – Lauren Green, Director of African Ancestry Ministry & Evangelization, Diocese of Raleigh.

Make plans now to join us for the CSMG 2019 from Saturday, February 2 through Tuesday, February 5 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C.  Join the conversations on racism and restorative justice, advocacy with Asian and Pacific Island Catholics, restoring a just economy, engaging and accompanying migrants, affordable housing, ending poverty, assisting women in unplanned pregnancies, and ending the death penalty.  Learn more about CSMG here.  If you are a member of a diverse community served through the DOI, consider applying for a scholarship before November 26, 2018!

It is time to Act!  Time to Learn! Time to raise your voice for justice!  Join us for CSMG 2019!  We need YOU.

Janice Benton

 

Janice Benton, OFS is the executive director of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD) in Washington, D.C. and a professed Secular Franciscan.  

Oscar Romero: A Saint for Our Days

444px-Oscar_Romero_by_puigreixachAs Catholics, we believe that our Church is guided by the Holy Spirit. For many, the shortcomings and failure of our Church leaders to protect the most vulnerable in our communities have undermined that bedrock belief. Yet, in the midst of this chaos, the Holy Spirit has made His presence evident through the timely canonization of Saint Oscar Romero. With Romero’s canonization, the Holy Spirit is lifting for the entire Church a model of Christian leadership that is needed in our Church today.

Most people are familiar with the narrative of Romero’s life. A conservative priest then bishop who had a powerful transformation that led him to become a voice for the poor and marginalized in El Salvador. That transformation is often attributed to the assassination of Romero’s good friend, Father Rutilio Grande. While the event had a significant effect on the new archbishop, Romero’s transformation was rooted in his experience as Bishop of the Diocese of Santiago de María. This diocese, a poor and rural region, brought Romero in direct contact with the suffering people of El Salvador.

It was in Santa María where Oscar Romero encountered Christ in the suffering and persecuted people to whom he ministered. It was here where he came into contact with the repression and violation of human rights experienced by the farmers under his pastoral care. This closeness with the suffering of his parishioners made him sensitive to the day-to-day needs of the people in El Salvador. Here he learned to listen with the heart and to speak without fear. He learned to accompany the abandoned, the despised, the vulnerable. It was his ability to do these things that made Oscar Romero the archbishop that the people of El Salvador needed.

Today, we are in need of such leaders. Our Church needs leaders who take the time to encounter Christ in those who are suffering, those who are hurting, and those who have been regarded as disposable. Romero, through this encounter, was moved to speak and act on behalf of those on the margins. It was this experience of accompaniment that also fed him the prophetic words that touched the souls of those living through the repression.

Our situation here at home is in no way comparable to the dire situation of El Salvador in the 1980s. However, today we have communities that live in fear. Families that are being separated at our southern border. People fearing for their lives can no longer see the U.S. as a place where they can “breathe free.” In this environment, prophetic voices are needed. These prophetic voices won’t be elevated until all of us–clergy and lay leaders—immerse ourselves in the lives of our brothers and sisters on the margins. Only by going to the margins will we be able to acquire the language of love that can move others to action.

Young people who have come to distrust most institutions are looking for the modern-day Romeros. They want to be inspired by the holiness of this man, and they will only be convinced if you and I decide to imitate Romero. The Holy Spirit has lifted up a saint we desperately need in our Church and world today.

Going Deeper:

Pray with St. Oscar Romero and discern how you can work for justice in your community. Looking for some ways to get involved? Check out these tools and resources that will help in your advocacy with our brothers and sisters on the margins.

web021716_BustamanteJavier_002

Javier W. Bustamante, Director of the Center for Cultural Engagement, is responsible for implementing, coordinating and supporting a comprehensive program of social, cultural, intellectual, spiritual, governance and community service programs that complement the academic mission of The Catholic University of America. 

 

A Treasured Encounter: Honoring the Stories of Fair Trade Month

cross-670244_960_720October is Fair Trade Month, a time when we are invited in a special way to reflect on and lift up the dignity and rights of workers throughout the world.  While we are called to make ethical purchases throughout the year, Fair Trade Month provides us with the opportunity to share the stories and the people behind the products. Recently, I was able to hear one of those stories and was reminded of why supporting Fair Trade products is so important.

I was finishing set-up for my display of Fair Trade crafts and chocolates at the Annual Convention of the Palm Beach Diocesan Council of Catholic Women when I placed a sign that read: “My work makes me very happy because it has enabled me to send my daughter to school.”  The sign had a photo of Etia and her daughter, a picture I had taken from the tag of the pond critter planters made in Bangladesh.  Most Fair Trade products from SERRV have a tag that shares a story about the artisan that made it. “I have never met Etia,” I said to myself as I wished that someday I would have the opportunity to meet one of the many artisans who create the products sold in the CRS Ethical Trade/SERRV catalogs.

At that moment, I looked up and I saw a man walking by my booth. For an instant, I thought he was going to be my first customer, but he continued walking as if taking a panoramic view of my display. Then he left.  After a few minutes, he came back and walked from one end of my table to the other end and then walked away again.  Since this was a women’s conference, I gathered he must have been someone’s husband who had come to drop off his wife. But he came back again.

“My father used to make those crosses in Bethlehem,” he said, pointing to an olive wood cross from the West Bank displayed at my table. In disbelief, I asked him: “Your father made crosses in Bethlehem?”  “Yes,” he answered. “My father made crosses like that one.”  “Are you from Bethlehem?” I asked.  “Yes, I was born in Bethlehem,” he said. “My name is Tariq Hamad.”

Tariq then proceeded to tell me how a woman named Barbara, who came from SERRV, would come by his father’s shop in Bethlehem every year and buy a large number of crafts from him.  “This helped our family survive financially,” he said. Tariq was in high school when Barbara first came, and she continued to come back every year even while Tariq was in college.  “When I went to study at the Aristotle University in Greece, my dad was able to send me money each month and this helped me to continue my studies,” he added. Tariq emigrated from Greece to the United States after he finished his education. He now resides in Miami where he has his own religious gifts shop named “Bethlehem Treasures.” He was present at the Conference of Catholic Women this day as an exhibitor.

I have been the CRS Diocesan Director in Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Palm Beach since 2011.  From the beginning, I was sold on the principles of Fair Trade that protect the rights of workers and empower the poor and vulnerable by guaranteeing fair wages that allow them to send their children to school. In 2013, I was a member of a Delegation from the United States that visited several CRS programs in Rwanda, including a coffee cooperative that put Fair Trade principles into practice. During this experience, we met the coffee farmers and heard their testimonies, but I had never met someone whose family had been a beneficiary of the crafts that I sell at the CRS Ethical Trade sales.  I never imagined that I would ever meet a beneficiary of Fair Trade whose father could say:  “My work makes me very happy because I have been able to help my son continue his studies at the university.”  This indeed was an encounter that I will treasure and will further motivate my involvement with CRS Ethical Trade for years to come.

As we continue to celebrate Fair Trade Month, learn more and discover how you can support workers, farmers, and artisans like Tariq and his father:

Elena Muller Garcia

 

Elena M. Garcia is Director of Parish Social Ministry and CRS Diocesan Director at Catholic Charities Diocese of Palm Beach.

Four Reasons You Should Participate in the Young Leaders Initiative at the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering

yli-at-receptionThe Young Leaders Initiative at the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering was created to give a voice to the emerging leaders doing important works of justice around the country. The Catholic Social Ministry Gathering recognizes the critical role young leaders play in shaping the future of the Church and thus wants to provide both space and a training ground for the next generation of leaders to hone their skills, make connections with others, and deepen their understanding of the ways Catholic Social Teaching informs anti-poverty work in the Church.

As a campus minister at The Ohio State University, I brought a group of students to the Young Leaders Initiative at the 2018 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering. My students and I were able to leverage that experience to have a profound impact on their work back on campus. Check out some of the ways the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering (CSMG) can be a touchstone for you, your students, and your leadership organizations to move from passionate understanding to concrete action.

taking-notes-concentrating

1) Deepen your commitment to justice: Finding and connecting with peers from colleges and universities across the country is a powerful motivator for students. It’s helpful to know that they aren’t the only ones struggling to make their voices heard or make a difference in their community. Right then and there at CSMG students are empowered to make their voices heard in the halls of Congress to protect and support people suffering the impacts of poverty and injustice.  Mary Chudy, a 2018 Young Leaders Initiative (YLI) participant from The Ohio State University wrote, “CSMG showed me that a student’s voice mattered to legislators. I had never done a full legislative visit before (especially not in D.C.). Being in Columbus, it especially showed me how imperative it was for me to be more involved with advocacy and legislative visits, and that my story mattered.  It was also a great opportunity to interact with and advocate alongside inspirational advocates of peace and justice from both the national and international spheres. It gave me lots of creative ways to approach further programming on my own campus, through being part of the leadership team for the CRS Student Ambassador Chapter on Ohio State’s campus. CSMG gave me the tools and connections I needed to create impactful programming for entire Newman Center community, including a social justice-centered Stations of the Cross, Simple Solidarity Meals, and a Candlelight Vigil on the evening of Holy Thursday in solidarity with migrants and refugees.”

4-young-women

2) Making connections is key: CSMG provides opportunities to make long-lasting, professional connections that can go on to benefit both students and campus ministers alike. Because of the wide variety of Catholic organizations all present at CSMG, students have the opportunity to see the many ways there are to put faith into action and effect real change in local and national organizations. Learning about the breadth and depth of the Catholic Church’s commitment to putting Catholic Social Teaching into practice is like adding fuel to the fire for students already committed to justice. Introducing the systems and organizations by which we put the Gospel call into action, is a powerful tool in connecting the teachings of Jesus to the work we do every day.

csmg-yli-photo-2

3) Engage in our call to ADVOCACY: This one is so important it warrants ALL CAPS. Doing the work of charity and direct service is obviously important. But we are called to more. The invaluable advocacy training that happens at CSMG puts a frame around the Gospel call to justice. Justice requires we speak out against systems of oppression. At CSMG our voices are awakened and re-energized to utilize this opportunity to share the stories we’ve heard and the experiences of poverty and injustice we know firsthand. We are given both the tools to lobby and the time to meet with our legislators and implore them to make some important changes. Despite the cynicism about government today, constituent visits and calls still make up the most important factors for legislators making a decision on a bill. This is a real tool where students can learn by doing and a central part of CSMG is mentoring others into this role. Imagine the impact you could have on your local legislators after opening the door to advocacy.

conversation-with-coffee

4) Takeaways for your ministry: Do you have a project you want to launch this year? CSMG will give you the space, time, and tools to craft the why and how of launching a new project. On Ohio State’s campus, we saw several new initiatives grow out of the work we started together at CSMG. Cella Masso-Rivetti, an Ohio State student leader states: “Sending several of our Catholic Relief Services Student Ambassadors to the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering as part of the Young Leader Initiative bolstered our chapter’s confidence and dedication to bringing social justice to campus. Through Lent of 2018, our group worked to bring our Newman Center and Ohio State campus community to a close encounter with our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters.  After Holy Thursday Mass, our chapter led a Vigil Walk, in which we held placards with the message ‘We Stand With Our Brothers and Sisters who are Refugees and Immigrants’ and carried candles through the dark in a solemn procession around campus.  CSMG gave our chapter the social justice expertise, tools, and support to carry out this event and other events aimed at Lenten Encounter through the semester.”

Interested in learning more about YLI and CSMG 2019 in general? Check out this webpage learn more and complete the interest form. Scholarships are also available for students from diverse communities through our Diversity Outreach Initiative. Contact Emily Schumacher-Novak (enovak@usccb.org) for more information!

Austin

Austin Schafer serves as Pastoral Associate for Campus Ministry at St. Thomas More Newman Center on The Ohio State University’s campus. He is also the co-chair for the Young Leaders Initiative at the 2019 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering. Austin wrote about how influential attending CSMG was for his student leaders on campus.

On Labor Day, a call to lift up the Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers

Volunteer with intelectual disability working at Bakery WorkshopIn his 2018 Labor Day statement, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, calls for all persons to work together for just wages, which are necessary for families to flourish. A just wage is one that “not only provides for workers’ financial well-being, but fosters their social, cultural, and spiritual dimensions as individuals and members of society.”

We heard this call echoed in the readings this past Sunday. In the first reading from the book of Deuteronomy, the Israelites are reminded of the justice within God’s law, which included several parameters on work and economic justice (5:13-15, 14:28-29), and their duty to keep the demands of that law (4:1-2,6-8). In the second reading from the letter of James, we heard the call to “Be doers of the word and hearers only” (1:22), something Mark’s Gospel points out can be challenging to do in light of temptations towards greed, deceit, theft, and other evils (7:20-22).

As we reflect on the vision of Catholic teaching, and in the just laws of the book of
Deuteronomy about the treatment of the poor and workers, or James’ warning
not to simply hear the words of God without action, or Mark’s warnings against greed, we might ask ourselves: How can we help make God’s vision of justice a reality? How can we, in our families, institutions, and as a society, better respect the dignity and rights of workers and the well-being of their families?

As Bishop Dewane remarks in his 2018 Labor Day Statement, “First, we are called to live justly in our own lives whether as business owners or workers.  Secondly, we are called to stand in solidarity with our poor and vulnerable brothers and sisters.  Lastly, we should all work to reform and build a more just society, one which promotes human life and dignity and the common good of all.”

Watch this video resource for more on how Catholic Social Teaching invites us to uphold the dignity of work and rights of workers not only in regards to just wages but also to allow for the full flourishing of all people.

 

Going Deeper

Looking for more information on what Catholic teaching says about the dignity of work and rights of workers? Use this primer on Catholic Social Teaching on Labor or these quotes from Pope Francis on Labor and Employment to learn more.

Caring for Creation: A Vocation

When Pope Francis established the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation three years ago, he declared that this day would provide “individual believers and communities a fitting opportunity to reaffirm their personal vocation to be stewards of creation.”

volunteers with garbage bags cleaning park area

The word “vocation” in this context might sound strange to some, especially given the observations of the recent Vatican Document anticipating the upcoming Synod on Young People, which found that many people only associate the term with the priesthood and religious life. The truth is, however, not only that awareness of a vocational call is accessible to all people, but that there is also “a fullness to each vocation.” In other words, it is not a one-and-done decision to enter the priesthood or married life, for instance, but a multilayered reality that is continually revealed by God throughout one’s life.

In this sense, Pope Francis sees this day as an opportunity for everyone to come to a deeper understanding of our call from God to care for creation. “Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork,” Pope Francis states in Laudato Si’, “is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience” (no. 217).

From my perspective, this is not the way that most people think about creation care. It is often reduced to a few discrete actions: recycling, turning off lights, using a reusable water bottle, etc. It is not uncommon to see lists of “5 Easy Ways to Go Green,” as if living in harmony with the natural world is something we can do in our spare time after dinner and then be forgotten.

Pope Francis is calling for something much more radical. The nature of the ecological crisis necessitates a complete transformation in perspective and a “profound interior conversion” (LS no. 217). Seeing caring for creation as a vocation, causes one to view every action, thought, and prayer through the lens of one’s relationship with creation and the Creator.

Given that “everything is connected,” an increased awareness of this reality can quickly become overwhelming (LS no. 117). One begins to see how each individual is entangled in a vast web of consumption beyond one’s control.  This makes it extremely difficult to reduce one’s impact on the environment and others, or even to know one’s true impact. The simple decision to buy a cup of coffee, for instance, leads to a myriad of questions about how the beans were grown, processed, and transported, how the workers were treated, how the paper cup was produced, and so on.

Realizing the systemic nature of social and environmental problems can be paralyzing and disheartening. Yet seeing our response to these issues as a dimension of our vocation can make things simpler, since our most fundamental vocation is the call to holiness: “A Christian cannot think of his or her mission on earth without seeing it as a path of holiness” (Gaudete et Exsultate no. 19).

As Pope Francis advises us: “Always ask the Spirit what Jesus expects from you at every moment of your life and in every decision you must make, so as to discern its place in the mission you have received” (GEE no. 23). The systemic problems we face cannot be solved by individual spiritual growth alone, but the above guidance serves as a useful roadmap for the profound spiritual conversion we must undergo.

On this World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation and throughout the Season of Creation, then, let us pray that we become more aware of the place we inhabit within the web of life and hear how God calls us to live in greater harmony with all creation.

bio photo

 

Matt Jones serves as the Environmental Policy Assistant for the Environmental Justice Program of the USCCB. Learn more about the USCCB’s work on the environment.

 

 

Going Deeper

September 1 is the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation and the beginning of the “Season of Creation,” which lasts until October 4th, the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology. For ways to celebrate the Season of Creation, check out this handout created by the USCCB or this reflection resource created by the Catholic Climate Covenant. You can also download the Catholic Climate Covenant’s Feast of Saint Francis program for your parish, which this year focuses on the intersection of climate change, refugees, and migration.