Persecution: Solidarity in Suffering

Persecution of Christians and other religious minorities is not a abstract concern for me. It is deeply personal.

Two years ago in Erbil, Iraq, I looked out the window of my hotel to see tents packed together on the grounds of a chapel.  Christian families, displaced from Mosul, now lived in tents.  I remember strolling through the narrow, mud-caked paths among the tents.  Families, many with young children, shyly peered out from their tents. In one tent there were 2 families and 11 persons.

In a “deluxe” camp for displaced Christians, families lived in “caravans” (small trailer homes).  I remember seeing blankets and mattresses neatly stacked in a corner, a silent testimony to the family members who shared one room.  A mother broke down in tears as she described their night flight from Mosul from the Islamic State (ISIS).  They fled with only the clothes on their backs.

In Dohuk, north of Erbil, I met a 34-year-old Yezidi policeman.  His family of 8 fled on foot to Mount Sinjar where they spent 12 days with little food in scorching summer conditions, hiding from ISIS.  Kurdish fighters rescued them.  They now lived in one room in a nearby village; 5 other families were in the same house.  He hoped to return to his ancestral village when security allows. He was in Dohuk for a Catholic Relief Services distribution of kerosene heaters, kitchen kettles, carpets, and blankets to get them through the cold winter.

A year ago in Jordan, I met an Iraqi Christian family, mother, father, and three young adult daughters.  They too had fled ISIS in the middle of the night.  On the road to safety they saw young women being kidnapped and thanked God that they were able to flee safely with their daughters to Erbil and later Jordan.

A young male student from the University of Mosul wanted to continue his studies, but he needs to leave Jordan because he cannot work.  I wonder if any country accepted him as a refugee.  I worry that our nation is closing its doors to many such fine young men.

It is important that we pray and work for persecuted Christians and other religious minorities. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Oscar Cantú, Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, have designated Sunday, November 26, as A Day of Prayer for Persecuted Christians that initiates “Solidarity in Suffering,” a Week of Awareness and Education.

USCCB is collaborating with the Knights of Columbus, Catholic Relief Services, CNEWA and Aid to the Church in Need on this project.  There are resources available to assist parishes, schools and campus ministries in observing this Day of Prayer and Week of Awareness at  www.usccb.org/middle-east-Christians.  There you will find homily notes, intercessions, recommended aid agencies, prayer cards (in English and Spanish), logos for local use (in English and Spanish) and much more.  For social media, we are using the hashtag: #SolidarityInSuffering.  I hope you will join us in this effort.

As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has said, “To focus attention on the plight of Christians and other minorities is not to ignore the suffering of others. Rather, by focusing on the most vulnerable members of society, we strengthen the entire fabric of society to protect the rights of all.”  Persons of all faiths suffer persecution.  In the Middle East, Christians, Yezidis and Shia Muslims suffer from ISIS.  We must express solidarity in suffering with our brothers and sisters.

Stephen M. Colecchi is director of the Office of International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Inspired by Christ to Counter Indifference through Advocacy

A delegation from the Archdiocese of New Orleans visited their government representatives to lobby for issues important to Catholics in Louisiana and across the nation at the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering.

Pope Francis frequently points to a “culture of indifference” that exposes our tendencies to forget the people in this world that we need to remember most.  This reveals a shocking reality that we must grasp about ourselves.  Instead of being attentive to those who lie on the “peripheries,”  we often choose to turn our hearts and minds from the discomfort of suffering and avoid thinking about both global and local problems. We refuse to realize that the suffering of our brothers and sisters is not just on nightly news—it’s also in our own backyard.  Sometimes, however, experiences of encounter open our eyes to these realities. Once we have the courage to see this reality, there are two ways we can respond: with generous hearts, or with stubborn indifference.

When we, the faithful of the Church, see suffering and despair in the world, we have a distinct advantage as we seek to respond.  As isolated individuals, we might flounder in despair at the gravity of the issues we see in society.  But when we gather as the Body of Christ, we can discover that we are not isolated in tackling these tough issues.  Our faith provides us with a moral framework for facing these issues, influenced by the lives and witness of the holy men and women we now call saints, , sacred Scripture, and the development of the teachings of the Church in her wisdom.

This framework is what we call Catholic Social Teaching (CST).  It serves as an aid, a way forward, and a guide for those of us who seek to shed the light of our faith on those problems which face our brothers and sisters on the peripheries.

Every year, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops hosts the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering (CSMG) in Washington, D.C. to unite the Church in the United States in her work to address many of the social issues our country faces.  The gathering brings together the people of the Church who wish to unite their voices to address the concerns of those on peripheries.  CSMG delegations meet with lawmakers to advocate for policies reflecting the God-given inherent dignity of the human person.

I attended CSMG as a sophomore in college as part of the Young Leaders Initiative.  During my visit to D.C., I saw courageous men and women bring the rich teachings of our Church to bear on the most difficult issues that our world faces.  They do so with joy and determination because their work is inspired by the Gospel.  When I saw that, I was inspired to do the same.

Since my time at CSMG, I have worked to feed the hunger inside myself to love the Lord and love his people.  I take advantages of opportunities on and off campus to serve the poor and advocate for and with those in poverty.  Students from across the country take part in the gathering to learn and grow as advocates, forming the next generation of advocates for those on the margins, whom Christ loves.

When I am discouraged, I remember all the good work that I learned about at CSMG, and I know I am not alone.  Most importantly, I look to our crucified Lord as the ultimate source of strength when wrestling with the great challenge of Pope Francis’ call.

Alexander Mingus is a Senior at the University of Dayton, pursuing a B.A. in Political Science and a B.A. in Human Rights Studies. 

Going Deeper

Invite colleges and universities in your diocese to participate in the Young Leaders Initiative, which facilitates participation of student leaders in the upcoming Catholic Social Ministry Gathering on Feb. 3-6, 2018.

Keeping Housing Affordable For Generation After Generation

A photo of playful parents holding sons's hands in new house. Happy and playful family are with cardboard boxes. They are in casuals.Earlier this year, Proud Ground was invited to attend the U.S. World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, CA. During this event, people from all over the world came together to discuss and brainstorm ways that they can work together to heal the many ills that exist in this world. Some of the attendees were faith leaders, and others, like the Proud Ground, were representatives of non-profits focused on social justice issues.

Unaware of what the event would fully entail, Proud Ground was quickly and thoroughly struck by the motivation and determination of the hundreds of people ready and willing to join together to help bring about social justice. For Proud Ground, specifically, this means a continued commitment to addressing the inequitable housing conditions by providing permanently affordable homeownership opportunities to those most impacted and displaced by the affordable housing crisis.

Proud Ground provides affordable homeownership opportunities to working families through its Community Land Trust model – a proven model that helps homes remain affordable for generation after generation, despite the fickle up and downs of the for-profit housing market. In the Greater Portland metropolitan area, Proud Ground has educated and counseled 340 first-time homebuyers and provided grants that reduce the down payment amounts required on homes that would otherwise have been unaffordable.

Through Proud Ground, families like Nicole and Joshua Patrick have found family stability for themselves and their son who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and needed stability in his home, school, and community. Prior to owning a home through Proud Ground, the family’s housing situation was precarious, constantly having to move from unit to unit as rental prices displaced them. With every move, the family’s overall stability was negatively impacted. Now, they receive peace of mind knowing that they can put down roots in their community.

Proud Ground also serves single-parent households like the Macfie family, who faced housing insecurity before their Proud Ground home. After years of uncertainty, Paula Macfie is now able to provide a stable home for her two daughters and has actively participated in the lives of others within her community by volunteering with local organizations and being more involved with her children at school. No matter what the family make-up, Proud Ground is committed to breaking down barriers for the families that need it most in our communities.

Proud Ground’s success goes beyond our own efforts and can be attributed to our partners and supporters – from other non-profits and grantors to individual donors and activists. For example, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development has provided indispensable support to Proud Ground throughout the years through its grant making. Anyone, no matter what their ability, has the opportunity to join philanthropists like the Catholic Campaign for Human Development in supporting the organizations and good Samaritans that support our neighbors in need. There are a number of ways to give back – from contributing financially, testifying on behalf of the community at city hall, and even supporting a co-op or local Community Land Trust in your community.

Pope Francis reminds us, “Among us, who is above must be in service of the others,” and Proud Ground is committed to living up to this idea. As a result of the support of community members, faith leaders, and other organizations, we have been uniquely positioned to help others. What will you do?

Briauna McKizzie is Communications Coordinator at Proud Ground.


Going Deeper!

Learn about how the U.S. Catholic bishops are advocating for access to decent, safe and affordable housing for all.  See how community groups that receive funding from CCHD, the domestic anti-poverty program of the bishops, are working to protect basic human rights like housing.

Advocating and educating on the federal budget in a parish

The first paragraph of the U.S. bishops’ statement, Communities of Salt and Light: Reflections on Parish Social Mission, states: “The parish is where the Church lives…where the gospel is proclaimed…where believers are formed and sent to renew the earth. Parishes … are the heart of our Church.”

Catholics feel emotionally and literally connected to their parish. They come together as a community to be fed and to hear the Word. The primary setting at which the great majority of Catholics hear the Church’s teachings is at weekend Masses. That’s why homilies about Catholic teaching can have a great impact and directly influence actions by members of that parish community.

When the U.S. bishops sent a letter to Congress on May 19, 2017, expressing concern about the proposed federal budget and stating that a budget is a moral document, we at St. Francis of Assisi in Derwood, MD, wanted to make sure that parishioners were aware of the letter. We put a short quote from the letter into the bulletin and a copy of the complete letter as an insert in the bulletin. At the end of each Mass, an announcement from the altar invited people to sign a thank you note to the bishops in the gathering space as they leave. We had signature sheets available headed by a quote from the letter: “The moral measure of the federal budget is how well it promotes the common good of all, especially the most vulnerable whose voices are too often missing in these debates.”

Many readily signed while others wanted clarification about certain paragraphs in the letter, which led to interesting, in-depth conversations. It was an opportunity for people with varying viewpoints to have a civil discussion, unfortunately too rare these days. Although it was exciting collecting the signatures, the education component was most important. People went home with the bishops’ letter in hand so they could consult it as the budget debate continued.

People have heard the gospel mandate to protect those who have less (e.g. Matthew 25) many times. It resonates with them. They also realize that difficult budget decisions must be made. The letter reminded them that a budget is not just an accounting of money, but a document that has deep moral implications, because how we spend our money shows what we value. A budget should be guided by criteria that respect the life and dignity of the human person and promote policies that enable people to live a truly human life, such as the right to food, shelter, health care, education, etc.

This concern for the physical well-being of others has deep roots in Catholic teaching. Pope Francis in a papal audience (5/16/13) quoted the words of the fourth century bishop, St. John Chrysostom: “Not to share one’s goods with the poor is to rob them and to deprive them of life. It is not our goods that we possess, but theirs.”

We at St. Francis of Assisi parish put faith in action in various areas. We have a sister parish in Haiti. We have active ministries with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and Pax Christi. We promote the full inclusion of people with developmental differences, offer pregnancy outreach and assistance, help with refugee resettlement, and participate in many other ministries. Collecting signatures to thank the bishops for their leadership on the federal budget brought all these interests under one banner.

In an era when there are so many issues competing for attention, there can be a temptation to turn off the flow of information and retreat. This action, instead, emphasized ‘oneness’ in the Spirit. Our acts of justice and peace do not flow from any particular political philosophy, but from our identity as followers of Jesus Christ.

As the bishops said in their closing paragraph, they “stand ready to work with leaders of both parties for a federal budget that reduces future deficits, protects poor and vulnerable people, and advances peace and the common good.” We stand with them.

Marie Barry is a former Staff Associate in the Office of Social Development in the Archdiocese of Washington. A parishioner at St. Francis of Assisi in Derwood, MD, and St. Camillus in Silver Spring, MD, Ms. Barry holds a Master’s degree in Theology from Washington Theological Union.


Going Deeper

Read WeAreSaltAndLight.org’s recent feature story on St. Francis of Assisi’s budget advocacy. Join the U.S. Catholic bishops in taking action to ensure that the well-being of those who are poor and vulnerable is prioritized in federal budget policy.

 

A Place at the Table Turns Fifteen—Where are We Now?

November 2017 is the fifteenth anniversary of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ pastoral reflection, A Place at the Table: A Catholic Recommitment to Overcome Poverty and to Respect the Dignity of All God’s Children (also in Spanish).

The 2002 reflection uses the powerful symbol of the table—where we come together for food, where neighborhood, national, and global leaders meet to make decisions, and where we gather as Catholics to worship—to ask: Who is invited? Who is excluded?

Poverty and its causes, including unequal access to resources and to the “table” where decisions are made, are a “moral scandal.” Pope Francis has frequently echoed this conviction, arguing that the scandal of poverty can only be addressed if those impacted by poverty are invited to the table.

In A Place at the Table, the bishops call all Catholics to act, and point to “the essential roles and responsibilities” of four institutions, or legs, which must work together to overcome poverty: (1) families and individuals, (2) community and religious institutions, (3) the private sector, and (4) government.

The bishops note that the debate around how best to address poverty is often too narrow, focusing only on one or two of the “legs” to the exclusion of the others. They call all four legs essential: “a table may fall without each leg.” The Catholic perspective recognizes the complementary roles of each leg and urges a comprehensive approach. Supporting healthy families and assisting individuals to make good choices are important, but the positive role of government is also essential. Faith-based institutions are an integral community support, yet business institutions must also contribute to the common good through decent work, living wages, and good benefits.

This perspective, the bishops write, is based on the Biblical vision of God’s special concern for those who are vulnerable, Catholic social teaching’s emphasis on human dignity and economic justice, and the Church’s rich lived experience feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, and working for justice and peace.

A Place at the Table challenges all of us—parents, children, workers, owners, managers, consumers, investors, community members, and citizens—to work together to live out this vision and call. Through public prayer and private worship, we must anchor our weekday witness in love and solidarity. And our family, parish, and school formation must reflect Christ’s concern for those in need and equip us to confront structures of sin and work for greater justice in the world.

What is most striking about A Place at the Table is its continuing relevance today, fifteen years after its publication. We still have a long way to go in our faith communities and in society. Yet, there are countless examples of how faith communities are working, in inspiring and effective ways, to create “a place at the table.”

  • Catholic Charities in Metuchen, NJ models a unique response to poverty that includes organizing community members to influence local policy around wage theft, immigrants’ rights, housing, and other issues that affect families.
  • In Fresno, CA, a parish community of immigrants recently succeeded in a thirteen-year ecumenical effort to pass a new anti-slum ordinance which will improve living conditions for countless individuals and families.
  • A Catholic school in St. Paul, MN, is helping children invite their Muslim brothers and sisters to the “table” by facilitating a pen-pal relationships between Catholic and Muslim school children in their community.
  • Dioceses around the country are implementing the process of the V National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry (vencuentro.org), which is an invitation for all Catholics to reflect on the gifts, opportunities, and challenges around U.S. Hispanic ministry. The broad Church—not only Hispanic Catholics—are invited to get involved.

There are many ways we can build on these and other efforts. We can continue to ask questions about who is invited, and who is excluded, in policies, programs, and decision-making. We can work with others, through our parishes, schools, neighborhood associations, faith-based and secular networks, to put our faith in action. We can get involved in the V National Encuentro process. We can ensure that the many faces of our diverse body of Christ are included in our efforts and in leadership opportunities.

Together, let’s work to create “a place at the table” for everyone.

Jill Rauh is assistant director of education and outreach of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Ethical Consumerism and our Catholic Faith

Stephanie Rapp, Director of Marriage & Family Life for the Diocese of Columbus

Working with victims of human trafficking forever changed me. The immeasurable suffering of so many of our brothers and sisters broke my heart and it does still each time I think of them. It is unfathomable that human beings are seen as objects and then, are abused, exploited, bought, and sold.

We as Catholics know this is wrong. We know that each human person is created in the image and likeness of God and willed into being by Him. Pope Francis once said, “Things have a price and can be for sale. But people have dignity that is priceless and worth far more than things.”

So, does it matter what “things” we buy? Can our consumerism be directed for the betterment of others?

Let us look again to Pope Francis. In a speech delivered on January 1, 2015, Pope Francis called us all to honor God with our purchases, highlighting the fact that people are at the heart of every product we buy. His speech also brought awareness to the issue of human trafficking in the marketplace. Our pope encouraged us to “practice acts of fraternity towards those kept in a state of enslavement” and not to give in to the temptation to purchase items that may have been produced by exploiting others. He invited us to be socially responsible consumers, stating that “every person ought to have the awareness that purchasing is always a moral – and not simply an economic – act.” What we purchase, and who we purchase from, is important and linked to our faith.

The sad reality is that the exploitation of others may be involved in the production of everyday products such as coffee, tea, chocolate, jewelry, clothing, etc. In addition to trafficking, poor working conditions, unfair wages, child labor, and production methods that harm the environment, are common business practices. Yet, praise God, there are simple ways we can all help. One way is by supporting ethical trade!

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) defines ethical trade as “a transparent commitment by a company to treat its workers and suppliers fairly, care for the environment, and invest in the community.” There are many ethical companies that one can purchase from, including ones that partner with CRS. These companies go a step further and ensure that they are not involved in any practices that conflict with Catholic social and moral teaching.

So, what do we do with this information?

Do what the students at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish School in Grove City, Ohio did – take action! In the 2015-2016 school year, Denise Johns, guidance counselor for the school, introduced me to a group of students called Legacy Leaders. This group of students eagerly learned about ethical trade and immediately wanted to do something to educate others and promote justice. They made ethical trade their social justice theme for the school year, enthusiastically taking on many substantial projects including the following: holding an assembly for the student body explaining ethical trade in a child-appropriate manner, selling ethically traded products at a school craft fair, ensuring all teachers in the school had curriculums addressing ethical trade, and facilitated school-wide participation in Catholic Relief Service’s Rice Bowl Lenten Program.

Let us all be like the students of OLPH, raising awareness and using the power of their purchases to transform lives.

Here are some ways that Catholic Relief Services suggests we do this:

  • Pray;
  • Learn;
  • Buy only what you need;
  • Shop ethical companies;
  • Create community with ethical trade via a consignment sale, community order, coffee sale or CRS Fundraiser.

Stephanie Rapp is the Director of Marriage & Family Life for the Diocese of Columbus and a Fair-Trade Ambassador with Catholic Relief Services.

Reflecting on the Church’s teaching about immigration

Official logo for the “Share the Journey” campaign, a two-year program that Caritas Internationalis launched Sept. 27.

“We see, for example, how quickly those among us with the status of a stranger, an immigrant, or a refugee, become a threat, take on the status of an enemy. An enemy because they come from a distant country or have different customs…because of the color of their skin, their language or their social class…because they think differently or even have a different faith….And, without our realizing it, this way of thinking becomes part of the way we live and act…Little by little, our differences turn into symptoms of hostility, threats and violence. How many wounds grow deeper due to this epidemic of animosity and violence, which leaves its mark on the flesh of many of the defenseless, because their voice is weak and silenced by this pathology of indifference!” Pope Francis to the Consistory of Cardinals

Many of us have little to no personal experience of the experiences of marginalized groups mentioned by the Holy Father. Perhaps our only interaction comes through news, movies, music, or social media. I would like to share a few experiences of people whom I care about being marginalized whose “wounds grow deeper due to this epidemic of animosity and violence.”

A friend of mine sent me a text recently after her encounter with a person exclaiming anti-immigrant sentiments. “I was spit on,” she said. “I am too stressed and slightly scared to be outside in public.” Sadly, this was just one of several encounters she had over the course of a few days in the past several weeks. She is a Latina and has regularly been the target of such hate in her hometown of Dubuque. However, as has been reported across the nation, these unprovoked attacks on immigrants have come with more regularity in recent years.

Anti-immigrant sentiment is nothing new to America. Irish, German, and Italian Catholics were depicted as violent, apish, uncivilized, dirty, and generally undesirable. Many of the same things said about undocumented and legal immigrants today were said about immigrants of the past.

According to family oral history, I am the descendant of an undocumented immigrant who boarded a cattle ship as a stowaway in Europe and entered the United States in the late 1800s. His name was Christian Schmidt. He rarely spoke about where he came from and how he got here because he was fearful until the day he died, even after becoming a naturalized citizen, that he would be sent back to an uncertain fate. He was here for decades, raised a family, farmed the land, passed on his Catholic faith, and helped to build up his adopted nation. His descendants became school teachers, farmers, social workers, priests, deacons, nurses, soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines— the very fabric of America. Even so, he and many like him were considered a “enemies,” threats to America, all because they came “from a distant country” with “different customs.”

The situation Christian found himself in generations ago is the same millions of migrants find themselves in today. His fears were the same as the fears of immigrants today. His desires and dreams were the same as those of immigrants today. His intrinsic dignity as a child of God, made in the likeness and image of our creator, was the same as that of the immigrants today.

How can we help change the narrative about immigrants, whether here with or without proper documentation? As the Psalmist says: “seek peace and pursue it” (PS 34:15) we ought to recognize that building peace does require action, we must actively pursue peace by turning away from the “pathology of indifference” of which Pope Francis speaks.

Pope Saint John Paul II spoke in particular about undocumented immigrants in 1996 stating we must consider the issue “from the standpoint of Christ, who died to gather together the dispersed children of God (cf. Jn 11:52), to rehabilitate the marginalized and to bring close those who are distant ….The first way to help these people is to listen to them in order to become acquainted with their situation, and, whatever their legal status with regard to State law, to provide them with the necessary means of subsistence.”

Christ calls us to seek compassion and understanding for our brothers and sisters who present themselves to us as Christ in our midst. Let us join our voices with those of Pope Francis and our bishops to promote a welcoming attitude towards all immigrants, including those without documentation and advocate on their behalf for comprehensive immigration reform that keeps families together, respects the human rights and needs of immigrants, reduces wait times for the immigration process, allows for earned legalization, restores due process for migrants, and allows for the nation to maintain safety for all. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also promotes: “increasing lawful means for migrants to enter, live, and work in the United States, law enforcement will be better able to focus upon those who truly threaten public safety: drug and human traffickers, smugglers, and would‐be terrorists. Any enforcement measures must be targeted, proportional, and humane.”

The recent recession, the largest refugee crisis since World War II, and some devastating acts of terror worldwide have shaped the discussion on immigration and security proposals in our nation. Though these are legitimate concerns on their own it is problematic to point to immigration as the source of these problems. Studies have shown that immigrants, whether here legally or undocumented, are far less likely to commit crimes than natural born citizens of the United States. Communities with higher numbers of immigrants, again regardless of immigration status, are generally more economically stable and successful than areas with lower migrant populations. It is also important for us to recognize that the net immigration from places like Mexico is nearly zero, meaning that the people who come from Mexico each year are nearly equal in number as those returning to Mexico in the same year. Undocumented immigrants also pay tens of billions of dollars’ worth of taxes each year and billions more into the economy with their commercial purchases. Understanding the facts about immigration can help us to promote policies that are not based on fear but on faith, hope, love and justice; making our nation stronger and building a greater culture of encounter and culture of life. Let us stand up in solidarity with the marginalized, opposing “animosity and violence” when we encounter it in speech or action, especially within our own spheres of influence. The immigrant is our brother, our sister, Christ in our midst.

For more information on the Church’s teaching and approach to immigration reform go to: www.justiceforimmigrants.org

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

This post was adapted for ToGoForth. Read the original version at The Witness.


Going Deeper!

Join Pope Francis’ two-year campaign to Share the Journey of migrants and refugees. Visit ShareJourney.org for stories of migrants and refugees, a toolkit for leaders, social media content, and more.