Share the Journey on World Refugee Day

In his 2018 World Day of Migrants and Refugees message, Pope Francis exhorted all members of the human family to recognize that, “Every stranger who knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ, who identifies with the welcomed and rejected strangers of every age (Matthew 25:35-43).” This encounter is practically expressed, he goes on to say, in acts of welcoming, protecting, promoting, and integrating migrants and refugees which place no conditions or restrictions on our accompaniment.

On June 20, the international community will observe the 19th annual UN World Refugee Day to remind ourselves about the ongoing and life-threatening struggle of migrants and refugees and, at the same time, celebrate the multitude of gifts they bring to the receiving nations and host communities that become places of rebirth and new hope. Refugees like Walaa Ali, whose peaceful life was turned upside down in July 2007 when she was forced to flee her beloved homeland of Iraq. Her story epitomizes the courage and resiliency of all refugees, like the Holy Family, who undertake a perilous journey of survival.

The two-year Share the Journey global migration campaign launched by Pope Francis in September 2017 under the auspices of Caritas Internationalis, a worldwide confederation of Caritas and Catholic Charities agencies, comes at a particularly opportune moment in the history of the global migration phenomenon. Sadly, we’re witnessing the tendency of nations including our own to turn inward and seal their borders in the name of security and out of fear against the enormity of the plight of our desperate brothers and sisters, fully 80 percent women and children, who seek only protection and a place of peace for themselves and their families.

This campaign offers a multitude of personal and organizational opportunities to raise awareness of, advocate for, and be of service to some of the most vulnerable persons we’ll ever encounter. Here are just a few examples:

  • Celebrate a multicultural Mass or prayer service in your parish on or around World Refugee Day and focus the readings and prayer intentions on the scriptural migration narrative
  • Organize in-district Congressional member visits to advocate on behalf of migrants and refugees
  • Present Catholic teaching on migration to parish and school groups
  • Volunteer to assist newcomers in the initial stages of their journey to the U.S. through a Catholic Charities agency
  • Join the Share the Journey and Justice for Immigrants campaigns to learn more about migration and refugee issues and available resources
  • Participate in a local pilgrimage/solidarity walk to raise awareness and present a visible witness to the plight of migrants and refugees
  • Host a parish or community potluck meal with newcomers in your community and invite them to share their stories

How will you share the journey? In the words of the Holy Father, “The Lord entrusts to the Church’s motherly love every person forced to leave their homeland in search of a better future. This is a great responsibility, which the Church intends to share with all believers and men and women of good will, who are called to respond to the many challenges of contemporary migration with generosity, promptness, wisdom, and foresight, each according to their own abilities.”

May we heed this call with open hearts and open minds.

Jim Kuh

Jim Kuh is the Senior Director of Immigration and Refugees Services at Catholic Charities USA in Alexandria, VA.

Remarks from Fr. Matthew O’Donnell, the 2018 Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award Winner

On June 13th the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) presented the 2018 Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award to Fr. Matthew O’Donnell, the pastor at St. Columbanus Parish in Chicago, IL. Fr. Matt was honored for his exemplary leadership as his parish works to address the poverty and violence in their community. To learn more about the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award, please see the USCCB press releaseFr. Matt’s remarks offer reflections on the call to work for justice and peace in our communities:

Good evening to Bishop Talley, your eminences and excellencies, Ralph McCloud, and all that are gathered here this evening. Pope Francis, in reflecting on the Beatitudes in his recent Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, wrote “We need to be artisans of peace, for building peace is a craft that demands serenity, creativity, sensitivity, and skill. Sowing peace all around us: that is holiness” (Par. 89). These words speak deeply about the ministry I share in with the people of St. Columbanus Church on the southside of Chicago. The reflections of the Holy Father are a call to action for Christians, and all people of good will, around the world. They are more than words or reflections, for they are an invitation for each of us to grow in holiness.

My ministry is one that often makes me feel that I stand in the crossroads of life and death. This year there have been over 1,100 shootings in the city of Chicago, resulting in the deaths of nearly 200 individuals. Chicago is not alone though in facing the epidemic and sin of violence in our country. The violence in our country is not from guns alone. We know all too well the stories of our people who experience the pain and trauma from domestic violence, economic disparities, racism, unemployment and underemployment, underperforming school systems, lack of affordable housing, and the increasing hostility to the sacredness of life. The life and story of each victim of violence in our country is far more than the act of violence that either harmed them or ended their life. They are men, women, and children that come from every part of our country. They are our parishioners and neighbors, they are the people that come from our dioceses and communities, they are the ones entrusted to our pastoral care.

Stories such as these remind me daily of the great mission that Jesus Christ calls me to as I seek to live as a priest in our fractured world. We are invited to be artisans in our ministry that minister from a place of creativity to respond to the many challenges that we face. Our story, as the People of God, is one that teaches that God is love and that ultimately we are created in love, to love. It is when we live the Beatitudes we can help others to “Rejoice and be glad” (Matthew 5:12). How lucky we are as pastoral ministers, baptized believers, to be entrusted with the sacred ministry of listening to stories, encountering one another, and spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Church’s work for peace and justice is truly a ministry of hospitality and action.

Serving as a priest in Chicago allows me to hear the stories of so many individuals that inspire me to see the beauty and the hope that is alive in my city, in our country, and in our world. At St. Columbanus, we are committed to working to eradicate poverty. In 2017, our parish’s Food Pantry distributed 2.5 million pounds of food to our neighbors in two zip codes of Chicago. Our charitable work to feed the hungry is an important ministry of our parish, but we want to do more! Last year we established a Community Service Center that has several components. One program, Project Chance, offers skills training and part-time employment in our parish. From this, we have been able to offer our first full-time position for a custodian in our church and school. We will begin GED classes this fall and we are working diligently to open a coffee shop in our neighborhood. Our coffee shop, which we plan to name Holy Grounds, will focus on economic development in our community by providing several jobs, and it will be a place of hospitality that our neighbors can use for community meetings and programming. All of this reminds me, that we must strive with even greater zeal to make disciples, build community, and inspire witness.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development has been an important part of my life since 2005 when I served as the CCHD intern for the Archdiocese of Chicago. I recall visiting housing projects with Cardinal Francis George, sitting with residents at kitchen tables and listening to their stories. I remember reviewing grant applications and visiting community organizations committed to justice. I was inspired to be a part of a cohort of other young Catholics who desired to spread the message and work of CCHD as interns.

It was during my time as a CCHD intern that I discerned my vocation to the priesthood. The stories of people, the witness of priests, and the commitment of the Church in the United States to eradicate poverty allowed me to finally accept God’s invitation to explore my desire to become a priest. As a priest serving in the Black Catholic community of Chicago I am reminded daily of the important and sacred work that God calls me to. I would be nothing as a priest if it were not for the witness of faith shown to me by the people I am blessed to serve. At St. Columbanus it is part of our mission to be “an inclusive, welcoming, and loving community.” Our mission as a parish is rooted in the ministry of Jesus Christ and fortified in a spirituality that is “Authentically Black and Truly Catholic.”

I believe that a Gospel commitment to the poor can only come from authentic encounters with the poor. Such encounters require our presence and commitment to remain present with those who are hurting. This is something Cardinal Blase Cupich reminds me, and all in the Archdiocese of Chicago, of consistently. As the leader and shepherd of our local Church, he stands with the poor, even coming to St. Columbanus to distribute food to our neighbors, and calling for all of us to put in the hard work to foster stronger bonds of community. I hope the leadership I bring to my parish community is one that shows others what it means to live the Beatitudes.

Tonight, it means so much to me to be the recipient of the 2018 CCHD Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award. Cardinal Bernardin was my Archbishop growing up and his lessons on the consistent ethic of life inspire me to work harder to build a culture of life in Chicago. Cardinal Bernardin’s example is lived by so many of the Bishops gathered here this evening, and for that I am grateful. There are so many in the dioceses across our country who work tirelessly to show that every human person is created in the image and likeness of God. It is when we work together, following faithfully the call to holiness that God places upon each of our lives, that we have the power to eradicate injustice and build the Beloved Community that God desires us to be.

Thank you to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the staff of CCHD for this award. Thank you to Cardinal Blase Cupich and the Auxiliary Bishops of Chicago who support me in my ministry. Finally, thank you to the people of St. Columbanus Church who have loved me and formed me as a pastor. May we all be reminded that sowing peace all around us is holiness. Thank you.

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Fr. Matthew O’Donnell is the pastor of St. Columbanus Parish in Chicago, IL and the winner of the 2018 Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award.

 

Cultural Clashes During Meetings and What to Do about Them

Are you part of a shared (multicultural) parish?  Over the past several months, several posts have explored the modules of Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers (BICM), a resource from the USCCB.  As I noted in my last post, we all have our own cultural icebergs.  When parishes and ministries become more culturally diverse, we need intercultural knowledge, skills and attitudes to work together successfully.  Module 3 of BICM explores how different cultures communicate, conduct meetings and handle conflict.

What’s the difference?

I quickly learned the differences in meeting styles when I was living in Ecuador.  I was part of the young adult group at the local parish.  I was raised in the prevailing culture in the U.S. where meetings start at the agreed upon time and if you come in late you creep in, make a hand gesture to apologize and quietly try to figure out where the group is on the agenda.  In Ecuador, the meetings did not start until a good portion of the group was there.  Then, every single time a new person arrived, everyone would stop talking, the person would make their way around the entire room, greeting everyone individually (with a kiss on the cheek) and the meeting would continue.  This happened over and over as people continued to trickle in.  After what we learned in Module 2 of BICM we can name the dynamics at work here—a collective culture following explicit rules for social interactions, valuing relationships and harmony.   Although this dynamic is less pronounced with Hispanics living in the U.S., it is still very much present.

If you attend intercultural meetings, you may have run into the same issues that have challenged me when leading our Hispanic Committee meetings at the parish where I have served for many years. As Module 3 of the BICM resource explains, meetings in an individualistic culture tend to be more focused on accomplishing tasks, moving through an agenda and making decisions, often with a vote.  On the other hand, meetings of a collective culture prefer to focus on building or maintaining relationships and working together.   It is important to have a sense of harmony before the meeting begins and not end until it is re-established.  At times I can feel myself very frustrated at the slow pace of our meetings and not getting through the agenda.  But I can also recognize that once the entire group has processed the issue together, everyone has had a chance to talk, and a collective decision is made, then look out!  There is no stopping our Hispanic leaders once they’ve decided on a project.  Everyone comes together, lends a hand, and things that I would have stressed out about how to plan for weeks are done within hours.

How can we come together?

If you have a group of leaders from different cultures that want to have effective meetings, consider taking some time to talk through the five parameters of culture from Module 2.  Many of us don’t realize how much our upbringing shapes the way we do things.  Sometimes we assume everyone else’s iceberg looks like ours underneath.  Just sharing a little about the invisible parts of our icebergs can go a long way to creating understanding and cooperation between people of different cultures.

If your goal is to make a meeting of European Americans more open to a collective culture, here are some ideas:  1) Consider having a social time before the usual meeting time to share some food and talk about each other’s families in order to create a sense of community.  2) During the meeting, when an important discussion point is brought up, invite the elder from the collective culture to address the issue first.  3) Remember, those from a collective culture may need someone else to invite them to give their opinion.  4) Consider the power dynamics in the group and remember that it would be considered disrespectful for many cultures to directly contradict what an elder has said, so pay attention to clues in the conversation that may be more indirect ways of communicating.

A little bit of background work and mindfulness during a meeting can go a long way to successfully working together across cultural differences!

Patti Gutiérrez, Diocese of Owensboro

Patti Gutiérrez has led ministry at the diocesan and parish levels in the Diocese of Owensboro for 13 years. This post is adapted from her blog where she shares resources and practical advice for other intercultural.

Analyzing Catholic and Muslim relations

“Today I wish to emphasize that the problem of intolerance must be confronted in all its forms: wherever any minority is persecuted and marginalized because of its religious convictions or ethnic identity, the wellbeing of society as a whole is endangered and each one of us must feel affected,”

– Pope Francis’ Address to the Delegation from the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

My ancestor, Christian Schmidt, was a German immigrant, arriving in the United States with permission neither from his home nation nor his adopted one. His immigration was not the only challenge he and many more like him faced in the United States.

With the onset of World War I, anti-German sentiment in the United States spread like wildfire, spurred on by the president, governors, and citizens alike. Thousands of Germans were interred in camps with no due process. Per the Smithsonian, nearly half a million immigrants of Germanic descent were required to register, carry registration papers on them at all times, and could be detained and interrogated on a whim. Over half a billion dollars’ worth of finances and property were confiscated, most often on scant to no evidence of wrongdoing. In the State of Iowa, German and other foreign languages were prohibited from use over the telephone and in public places, even in church services. Churches were spied on and Christian ministers attacked who did not comply. As many as 18,000 Midwesterners were arrested under the “English only” laws during WWI. German was even banished from being taught in schools and resulted in book burnings of German texts.

The Catholic faith of so many immigrants did not help make their presence any more hospitable. Americans saw Catholics as foreign invaders owing allegiance to a foreign prince, the pope, adhering to a foreign rule of law with canon law, Roman customs, and the like.  How could Catholics possibly be trusted? They were considered incompatible with American values, according to the greater society.

This was the reality into which my own grandpa Eddie Schmidt was born in 1917. A world at war and a war at home against his people. My loved ones were guilty by association and considered enemies by the larger society.

I am reminded of these stories of my own family and German ancestors when I hear of reports about proposed laws that would outlaw the religious attire of Muslims, require Muslims to register with the government, government spying in mosques, and the many stories of fear, hate and violence directed at our Muslim brothers and sisters. There have been reports of women and girls having their headscarves torn off, women in the hijab being set on fire, and sadly, a Muslim college student was beaten to death in Wisconsin. A good friend of mine has shared with me over the years the many times he has himself experienced Islamophobic hate-speech, harassment and violence, even by public officials. Much of this stems from a lack of understanding and a great deal of misinformation about Islam and Muslims.

When such misunderstanding and lack of trust are so prevalent in our society there is no peace in our own nation, let alone our world. It is important for us as Catholics to recognize our relationship to our Muslim brothers and sisters, our neighbors. It is true that we have a very different understanding of God but the Second Vatican Council reminds us:

“The Church has also a high regard for the Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth (Cf. St. Gregory VII, Letter III, 21 to Anazir [Al-Nasir], King of Mauretania PL, 148.451A.), who has spoken to men.”

Pope Francis, at Holy Thursday in 2016, washed the feet of people of various faiths, including a Muslim and reiterated the church’s teaching that we are all “children of the same God.”

Not only children of the same God, but Muslims have been a part of our nation’s history since its inception, even serving in the United States military in every war that America has been engaged in, including the Revolution and the current wars on terror. Though there are people committing heinous acts of terror in the name of Islam, Muslims themselves are not to be feared simply because they are Muslim.

Pope Francis in August 2016 said the following: “I don’t like to speak of Islamic violence, because every day, when I browse the newspapers, I see violence, here in Italy… and these are baptized Catholics! … If I speak of Islamic violence, I must speak of Catholic violence … I believe that in pretty much every religion there is always a small group of fundamentalists … I do not believe it is right to identify Islam with violence. This is not right or true.”

Each human person made in the image of God is capable of great love and devastating evil, for we are fallen creatures. Even now there are Christian terrorists slaughtering innocents in the Central African Republic. We also recently heard the Rwandan Catholic bishops apologize for the church’s participation in the Rwandan genocide that happened a few decades ago. This allows us perspective when it comes to violence by Muslims.

Where is the violence coming from, then, if not from Islam itself? Islam is not a hierarchical faith like the Catholic Church with one single authority at the top. Islam is more closely related to rabbinical Judaism or evangelical Christianity than the structure of the Catholic Church. There is no universally accepted Muslim Magisterium. Much of the ideology of those who commit terrorism in the name of Islam is traced to an 18th century figure who sought to present a version of Islam that would serve the purpose of raising up a new dynasty on the Arabian peninsula. Over time, with the backlash against colonialism and shifting political realities, this new interpretation of Islam was manipulated for political ends by a small group and gaining adherents and becoming more militaristic. Even so, these strains of terrorism are in the minority within the Muslim world and are condemned throughout the world by Muslims, Sunni and Shia alike, not least of all because the overwhelming majority of victims from these groups are Muslims themselves.

Though not well reported here in the United States, Muslims are leading the call against terrorism. Muslims across the world have repeatedly denounced violence in the name of Islam. After Sept. 11, the people of Iran held a candlelit vigil in Tehran in solidarity with Americans and those lost to terrorism. Government leaders, religious leaders, and the Muslim faithful have condemned terrorism in the name of Islam time and again.

Let us help to build peace in our communities with our Muslim brothers and sisters by going out of our own comfort zones and meeting them in theirs. Many mosques and Islamic centers offer tours and invite guests to come and learn about their faith from the perspective of those who practice it, not filtered through uncharitable propaganda. Perhaps, attend programs like those that have been organized in the Dubuque area called “Children of Abraham” which has the goal to bring Christians, Jews, and Muslims to mutual respect and understanding. Reach out in charity to coworkers or others around you who practice Islam and get to know them on a personal level, then engage in discussion about faith with an open ear and heart. Stand up against speech and actions that attack people of different faith traditions when you encounter them, offer companionship to someone who may be attacked. In doing some of these things we can dedicate ourselves to ensure that our brothers and sisters who practice faith traditions besides our own, particularly our Muslim and Jewish brothers and sisters who share our lineage in Abraham, know that they are welcome in our communities, know that they are loved by us, know that they are our brothers and sisters.

Mark Schmidt is Director of the Office of Respect Life and Social Justice in the Archdiocese of Dubuque.

This post was adapted for ToGoForth and posted during the holy month of Ramadan celebrated by our Muslim brothers and sisters around the world. Read the original version at The Witness.


Going Deeper!

Visit WeAreSaltAndLight.org for resources on reaching out and collaborating with other faith traditions. Learn how Catholic faith communities are encountering our Muslim brothers and sisters through prayer and action, dialogue, and pen-pals relationships.

To Celebrate Mother’s Day, Keep Families Together

Every Mother’s Day we honor the mothers in our lives and celebrate the vital role they play in our families. It is an opportunity to come together and remember the blessings of family and to reflect on how important it is, not only to ourselves but to the fabric of our society. Unfortunately, we know many children have been unnecessarily separated from their mothers – and fathers – while trying to seek protection at our southern border; these children will be spending this holiday alone.

Over the past year, the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection has increasingly chosen to separate children from their parents and legal guardians at the U.S./Mexico border. Since October 2017, over 700 children have been separated from their parents and rendered “unaccompanied,” including over 100 children under the age of four. We expect this number to drastically increase with the recent “zero-tolerance” policy.

Many of these immigrant families are fleeing from violence and persecution in their home countries, and seeking safety and protection for their children here in the U.S. While separation can be appropriate when there are trafficking or abuse concerns, more often such separation is occurring in the absence of such justifications. For example, a mother and her 3-year-old son Daniel* fled from Guatemala to the U.S. to escape persecution by the local gangs. Upon their arrival at the U.S./Mexico border Daniel was separated from his mother by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents, deemed “unaccompanied,” and placed in a separate ORR facility from her. It seems that CBP agents were confused as to the nature of their relationship and believed Daniel to be traveling with his aunt. While their parent/child relationship has since been confirmed, Daniel’s mother continues to be held in an immigrant detention facility. As of today, both mother and toddler have still not been reunited with each other.

Separation from a parent or legal guardian can have extremely adverse effects on children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, separating families is extremely frightening and stressful to children, and their research has shown that even short periods of separation can cause psychological trauma and long-term mental health problems.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is very concerned about the increasing number of cases of family separation. Catholic Social Teaching underscores the importance of the family and its essential role to the individual and society. When families are ripped apart and children separated from their parents for no reason, something must be done to right this wrong. We must work to ensure that all immigrant families and children who are detained are not needlessly separated from one another and that they are treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve. So, this Mother’s Day while many of us are celebrating with our families, we encourage you to remember children like Daniel who are unable to do the same with their parents.

*Client name changed to protect confidentiality.

Sara Hoff is currently serving as an intern for USCCB Migration and Refugee Services. Reposted with permission from Faces of Migration on JusticeForImmigrants.org

Pray with Pope Francis: Show Us Your Face

In Gaudete et Exsultate, or Rejoice and Be Glad, Pope Francis asks us to respond to Christ’s invitation to holiness by encountering Jesus’ face in those of our brothers and sisters. This prayer based on Gaudete et Exsultate can be found on the USCCB website in both English and Spanish. You can also purchase copies of Rejoice and Be Glad from the USCCB online store.

Show Us Your Face
Prayer based on Rejoice and Be Glad [Gaudete et Exsultate]

 “Amid the thicket of precepts and prescriptions, Jesus clears a way to seeing two faces, that of the Father and that of our brother. He does not give us two or more formulas or two or more commands. He gives us two faces, or better yet, one alone: the face of God reflected in so many other faces. For in every one of our brothers and sisters, especially the least, the most vulnerable, the defenseless and those in need, God’s very image is found. Indeed, with the scraps of this frail humanity, the Lord will shape his work of art.”

– Pope Francis, Rejoice and Be Glad [Gaudete et Exsultate], no. 61

Father and Creator,

Show us your face reflected in the faces of our brothers and sisters, especially the least, the most vulnerable, the defenseless, and those in need.

In refugee families fleeing violence or war, show us your face.

In those suffering from hunger, show us your face.

In children not yet born, show us your face.

In those enslaved by drug addiction, show us your face.

In parents who work two jobs but still struggle to get by, show us your face.

In those on death row, show us your face.

In young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, show us your face.

In those aging and alone, show us your face.

In all faces, we know that your divine image is reflected. Help us to recognize always that image.

Help us to work together to protect the dignity of all people—each one created in your image.

Lord, in our families, communities and world shape your final work of art with the scraps of our frail humanity (cf. GE, no. 61).

We ask this through Christ our Lord, Amen.

__________________________________________

Muéstranos tu rostro
Oración basada en Alegraos y Regocijaos (Gaudete et Exsultate)

“En medio de la tupida selva de preceptos y prescripciones, Jesús abre una brecha que permite distinguir dos rostros, el del Padre y el del hermano. No nos entrega dos fórmulas o dos preceptos más. Nos entrega dos rostros, o mejor, uno solo, el de Dios que se refleja en muchos. Porque en cada hermano, especialmente en el más pequeño, frágil, indefenso y necesitado, está presente la imagen misma de Dios. En efecto, el Señor, al final de los tiempos, plasmará su obra de arte con el desecho de esta humanidad vulnerable”.

—Papa Francisco, Alegraos y Regocijaos [Gaudete et Exsultate], no. 61

Padre y Creador,

Muéstranos tu rostro reflejado en los rostros de nuestros hermanos y hermanas, especialmente los más pequeños, los más frágiles, los indefensos y los necesitados.

En las familias de refugiados que huyen de la violencia o la guerra, muéstranos tu rostro.

En los que sufren de hambre en todo el mundo, muéstranos tu rostro.

En los niños aún no nacidos, muéstranos tu rostro.

En los esclavizados por la adicción a las drogas, muéstranos tu rostro.

En los padres que tienen dos trabajos pero aun así luchan por sobrevivir, muéstranos tu rostro.

En los que envejecen y están solos, muéstranos tu rostro.

En todos los rostros sabemos que se refleja tu imagen divina. Ayúdenos a reconocer siempre esa imagen.

Ayúdanos a trabajar juntos para proteger la dignidad de todas las personas, cada una de ellas creadas a tu imagen.

Señor, en nuestras familias, comunidades y mundo plasmamos tu obra de arte final con el desecho de nuestra vulnerable humanidad (cf. GE, no. 61).

Te lo pedimos por Cristo nuestro Señor. Amén.

Copyright © 2018, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved.  This text may be reproduced in whole or in part without alteration for nonprofit educational use, provided such reprints are not sold and include this notice.

How encounter and dialogue can transform our families, and politics

Michael Jordan Laskey, Diocese of Camden

In the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, Dave and Anita Tanzola were arguing a lot. A longtime married couple with three adult children, they found themselves on opposite sides of the political divide, having circular debates about challenging topics like immigration that didn’t do anything but crank up the stress level. They wanted to break out of the destructive cycle and do something positive together that would help bring them closer again. After prayer and reflection, they had an idea. Although they disagreed about immigration policy, they both had a sincere desire to help immigrants in their community. What if they could get involved together in some sort of ministry of welcome and support to immigrants and refugees who were arriving to live near their own home in South Jersey?

That’s when I heard from Dave for the first time. He’d asked his pastor for some ideas and got my name. As the social justice director for the diocese, could I point him in the right direction? So Dave and I sat down for a chat in our diocesan office’s lunchroom in Camden, NJ. He wanted to know every possible way he and Anita might get involved with migrants and refugees. We talked for a long time, I suggested ways they could get involved, and I also took him to my office and pulled six or eight books on Catholic Social Teaching off my bookshelf for he and his wife to study together. Dave’s energy, curiosity, and deep spirituality blew me away. I thought about what I was witnessing: What would I do if I had big political disagreement with my spouse or someone else close to me? I’d be tempted to ignore it and hope it’d go away. That wasn’t Dave and Anita’s approach. They tackled the conflict head-on and are doing something new.

Well, some things new, more accurately. Since that first chat, Dave and Anita have connected with the social justice committee at their parish, serving as immigration/refugee point people of a sort. They organized a refugee welcome card campaign and a panel discussion at the parish featuring migrants and refugees and those who serve them. They are volunteers with our diocese’s refugee resettlement program, participating in activities like a Christmas toy giveaway to families who have come to South Jersey from Syria, Iraq, Myanmar, Colombia, and other countries.

Dave and Anita’s zeal reminded me of a message Pope Francis tweeted last summer. “Love requires a creative, concrete response,” he wrote. “Good intentions are not enough. The other is not a statistic, but a person to take care of.” That’s what I’m seeing in my friends: creativity. They said “no” to simply rehashing the same arguments, “no” to pretending their differences do not exist, “no” to the easy way out. They said “yes” to the encounter that has helped them know migrants and refugees and their stories by name, and “yes” to hard work together that has helped them discover new energy and open their hearts. Do Dave and Anita now see totally eye to eye on immigration policy? Not exactly. But their hard work and encounter, with one another and with migrants, has helped make smaller the gap between their perspectives, and their common experience is an important foundation to their continued discussion. Imagine if Dave and Anita’s model of encounter and hard work together in the face of disagreement could be imitated in thousands of families and communities across the country.

This July, the Roundtable Association of Catholic Diocesan Social Action Directors, in partnership with the USCCB, Catholic Relief Services, and Catholic Charities USA, will hold its 31st annual Social Action Summer Institute, with a theme inspired by a Pope Francis tweet. Entitled Cultivating Creativity in Social Justice Ministry: “Love requires a creative, concrete response.”—Pope Francis, the four-day gathering, at St. Joseph’s University, in Philadelphia, is for Dave, Anita, and all Catholics who, like them, are interested in overcoming polarization and division in order to engage the issues that divide us in new and creative ways.

As we dive deep into social justice ministry and Catholic Social Teaching with a dynamic array of workshops, keynote addresses, experiences of creativity and site visits to some of Philly’s most inspiring social justice organizations, we hope that the creative energy which has propelled Dave and Anita to new ways of encounter and dialogue, will be our experience as well.

If you’re a diocesan social justice director or a parish volunteer just getting started or somewhere in between, prayerfully consider joining us in Philly from July 15-19. You can get more information and register here. See you this summer!

Michael Jordan Laskey is Vice Chancellor for the City of Camden and Director of Life & Justice Ministries, in the Diocese of Camden.

 Catholics Make a Clear Impact Toward Death Penalty’s End

Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, Catholic Mobilizing Network

Ending capital punishment in the United States is within reach.  We are living in a moment in history when it is possible to both glimpse the death penalty’s downfall and experience its cruel grip at the same time.  The movement to end the death penalty is steadily growing and Catholics have the power to significantly embolden it in the United States.

Glimpses of hope can be seen in the five people exonerated and released from death row in 2017, bringing the total number of exonerations to 161.  Last year for the first time since 1974, Harris County, Texas–the country’s most egregious user of the death penalty–neither executed nor sentenced anyone to death. Public support for the death penalty is on the decline and measuring at its lowest level in 45 years.  Death sentences and executions are among lowest in history.  The death penalty is on its way out.

But we aren’t there yet.  The death penalty’s dark shadow surfaced just last month when three states–Alabama, Florida, and Texas—for the first time in a decade scheduled executions on the same day.  Recent repeal efforts in Utah and Washington State failed. Capital punishment hangs on and snuffs out all possibility for restoration and redemption in the 31 states that have it.  We still have a lot of work to do.

Capital punishment won’t end in the United States without a persistent demand from Catholics that there is a better way.  Last October, Pope Francis reminded us that the death penalty “heavily wounds human dignity.”  During his historic visit to the United States in September 2015, Pope Francis shared inspiring words for working to confront our broken criminal justice system: “I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.”  The resurrection hope that our Holy Father speaks of is the strength we need to end the death penalty once and for all.

Catholics are playing a significant role in the declining public support for capital punishment.  Catholics are influencing legislators, speaking out in the media, and bearing public witness to end the practice.  At the beginning of 2018, when the Washington State legislature considered a repeal during its 60-day legislative session, Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg, from the Archdiocese of Seattle, offered a compelling testimony before the state legislature. A tireless advocate and inspiring activist in that state, Sr. Joan Campbell, mobilized her own grassroots network to contact key legislators and push for repeal.  Washington’s Catholic Conference and Catholic Mobilizing Network collaborated closely to mobilize thousands of Washington Catholics to contact their state legislators to urge repeal.  Washington State moved farther than ever in this year’s initiative and registered a clear advance toward state abolition.

The state of Louisiana is set to consider a repeal of capital punishment as its spring legislative session begins. Archbishop of New Orleans, Gregory Michael Aymond, recently released a short video calling on Catholics to join the work to end the death penalty. And pro-life directors from each of Louisiana’s 7 dioceses gathered for a briefing about how to educate and empower parishioners to advocate for passing the legislation.

Much progress has been made. But we’re not there yet. The work of ending the death penalty will take all of us, at every level in the Church.

 

Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy is Managing Director of Catholic Mobilizing Network.

Going Deeper

Catholic Mobilizing Network recently launched Faith and Action First Fridays, a simple tool developed to point Catholics to the areas where they can have the most impact in the death penalty debate.  As a way to bring Christ’s mercy to the broken system of capital punishment, each month CMN will feature timely and useful educational materials, prayers, and advocacy actions for that month.  Your prayers and actions will amplify the tens-of-thousands of actions made by people around the country who seek an end to the death penalty.

Earth Day and Laudato Si’: Catholics Rising to the Challenge

Dan Misleh, Catholic Climate Covenant

In 1970, people around the world celebrated the first Earth Day to demonstrate a shared commitment to care for our world. Forty-eight years later, Earth Day continues to be an occasion for people—including Catholics—to reaffirm their dedication to protect the systems and resources upon which we all depend.

CREATION AND CLIMATE CHANGE

The commitment to care for creation is nothing new for Catholics. It is as old as Genesis, where we learn that humans are to be stewards who “cultivate and care for” God’s creation (2:15).

Today, it is clear that we have not done a great job caring for our common home and we find ourselves despoiling the very home upon which we depend. Especially since Saint John Paul II’s 1990 World Day of Peace Message, the Church—including the U.S. Catholic bishops—has repeatedly emphasized that ecological degradation compromises our ability to protect human life and dignity, exercise a preferential option for the poor, and promote the common good. This is especially true when the effects of climate change—deeper droughts, epic flooding and rising sea levels—impact food and water systems and add to the migration of peoples. Sadly, these impacts are mostly born by those who have historically done least to cause the problem and lack adequate resources to respond: the poorest and most vulnerable people.

Humanity has a closing window of opportunity to act and avoid irreversible, runaway climate change that would radically alter civilization. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns that unchecked global warming could raise sea levels 10-12 feet by 2100—enough to submerge U.S. coastal cities like New York, Boston and Miami as this tool shows. The choices we make today, especially around energy use and conservation, will impact millions of people at home and around the world.

How Catholic Institutions Can Help

Climate change is a systemic challenge that requires systemic solutions. Imagine if all 70,000 Catholic-owned buildings in the U.S. —parishes, schools, hospitals, universities, etc.—dropped their energy use by 10%, a level that is easily within reach through common sense solutions: retrofit projects, efficiency initiatives and renewable energy.  The U.S. Catholic Church has tremendous potential to rise to the challenges of Laudato Si’ and re-shape not only American energy economics, but social attitudes leading to a greater awareness of and appreciation for our common home. These energy projects are quadruple-win programs: reduce energy, create jobs, save money, use the savings for mission-related activities.

However, we know that facilities staff and key decision makers often do not pursue such projects because they lack the time, distrust vendors, or don’t believe they can afford it. The Catholic Energies program helps overcome these obstacles by providing comprehensive technical, financial and theological expertise to help Catholic institutions faithfully invest in energy efficiency projects to reduce energy waste; buy cleaner, cheaper energy; and install renewable energy and storage systems.

Catholic News Service reported on the pilot program launched in Cincinnati where Catholic Energies helped St. Teresa of Avila School, for example, install energy-efficient LED lightbulbs throughout its buildings. The program also worked with St. John Fisher Church to put LED lightbulbs in its parish offices and install a new, more energy efficient heating, ventilating and air conditioning unit.

In 1990, Saint John Paul II warned that the “’greenhouse effect’ has now reached crisis proportions as a consequence of . . . vastly increased energy needs,” and stressed that “the ecological crisis is a moral issue” (no. 6, emphasis in original). Nearly thirty years later, programs such as Catholic Energies can help Catholics act on their faith to care for creation, protect human lives and dignity, and save money which can be used in other areas of ministry. This year, Catholic Climate Covenant encourages you to implement our Earth Day program and deploy the Covenant’s Catholic Energies program in your parish or Catholic institution. By doing so, you can do your part to help care for our common home.

Dan Misleh is Founding Executive Director of Catholic Climate Covenant.

On “Pacem in Terris” Anniversary, Riding the Wave of Peacemaking and Human Rights

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

This April marks the 55th Anniversary of Pacem in Terris (1963), which was a remarkable encyclical and breakthrough in Catholic Social Teaching. Like Pope Francis today, Pope John XXIII was drawing the Catholic Church to a more pastoral approach. He was also expressing a key development: a deeper sense of our sacred, human dignity that legitimates a broader set of human rights. This shift to human rights corresponded with more appeals to Christian virtue, which set the stage for Vatican II’s call of all people to holiness. These important shifts were in part enabled by the Pope’s focus on peace. We are still living in the transformative wake of these shifts.

What insight does this encyclical offer us today? One significant element is the call to better ensure social and economic rights, such as a just wage, the right to form unions, racial justice, and pay equity between women and men. Pope John XXIII called “these rights and duties universal, inviolable, and inalienable” (no. 9). Thus, we should ensure that workers in our dioceses and our communities are getting a just/living wage in accord with the local cost of living. We can calculate the living wage for any county in the U.S. here. As we work to ensure these wages in policy, we can also encourage higher paid workers to express solidarity by sharing some of their income with lower paid workers to help them get closer to and achieve a living wage.

A second significant and interconnected element is the call to peace and away from armed force or violence. Pope John was very clear about this issue as he read the signs of the times. Disagreements, he wrote, “must be settled in a truly human way, not by armed force nor deceit or trickery” (no. 93). Further, he noted that “violence has always achieved only destruction, not construction; the kindling of passions, not their pacification; the accumulation of hate and ruin, not the reconciliation of the contending parties. And it has reduced us to the difficult task of rebuilding, after sad experience, on the ruins of discord” (no. 162). Thus, “justice, reason, and consideration for human dignity and life urgently demands that the arms race cease” (no. 112) because “peace depends not in equality of arms but in mutual trust alone” (no. 113). Therefore, he proclaims that “it is contrary to reason to hold that war is now a suitable way to restore rights” (no. 127). Today, Pope Francis has picked up these insights with his World Day of Peace Message in 2017, “Nonviolence: A Style of Politics” which called us to “embrace Jesus’ teaching of nonviolence,” and “become nonviolent people,” along with his more recent call to integral disarmament.

Some practical ways we can live out these insights include the following. We can equip our diocese, schools, families, and broader community in the habits and skills of active nonviolence so that we are better prepared for engaging conflict constructively. These might include training in nonviolent communication, active bystander intervention, unarmed civilian protection, restorative justice circles, nonviolent direct action, community organizing, etc. We can also educate these groups better in Gospel nonviolence, as St. Camillus parish in Silver Spring, MD is doing.

Another practical way to live out these insights is in the sphere of advocacy to change social structures. This can include direct advocacy and voting for candidates that will increase funding for peacebuilding (ex. Complex Crisis Fund) and restorative justice processes, as well as decrease our enormous Pentagon spending and end war. We can also advocate for police departments to require substantial, ongoing de-escalation training and to pilot some unarmed police units as they already have as the vast majority of police in Britain, Norway, Scotland, New Zealand, Ireland, Iceland, and 12 of 16 Pacific Island nations.

I hope we will sense Jesus’ heart calling us to participate in some of these and other creative ways. Peace be with you!

Eli McCarthy is the Director of Justice and Peace for CMSM and a professor at Georgetown University in Justice and Peace Studies.