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.

On 50th anniversary of MLK’s assassination, praying for healing and grace

On this fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., join us in praying for healing and grace to reject the sin of racism in our hearts, communities, and structures.

Prayer to Address the Sin of Racism

We pray for healing to address
The persistent sin of racism
Which rejects the full humanity
Of some of your children,
And the talents and potential You have given.

We pray for the grace to recognize
The systems that do not support
The dignity of every person,
That do not promote respect
For those who are seen as other,
Who bear the legacy of centuries
Of discrimination, fear, and violence.

We pray for graced structures
So children of color in Flint, and all children,
Have access to clean water and health care.

We pray for graced structures
So children of color in Mississippi, and all children,
Have quality education that will allow them to develop their gifts.

We pray for graced structures
So children of color in Camden, and all children,
Have homes where families can live in dignity and security.

We pray for graced structures
So children of color in Chicago, and all children,
Can grow up without fear, without the sound of gunshots.
Lord of all, we ask you to hear and answer our prayers.
Give us eyes to see how the past
Has shaped the complex present,
And to perceive how we must create
A new way forward,
With a new sense of community
That embraces and celebrates
The rich diversity of all,
That helps us live out your call to reject
The sin of racism, the stain of hate,
And to seek a compassionate solidarity
Supported by Your grace and Your love.

We ask this through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.


Oración para abordar el pecado del racismo

Oramos para que la sanación aborde
El persistente pecado del racismo
Que rechaza la plena humanidad
De algunos de tus hijos,
Y los talentos y el potencial que les has dado.

Oramos por la gracia de reconocer
Los sistemas que no apoyan
La dignidad de cada persona,
Que no promueven el respeto
Por los que son vistos como otros,
Que soportan el legado de siglos
De discriminación, miedo y violencia.

Oramos por estructuras de gracia
Para que los niños de color de Flint, y todos los niños,
Tengan acceso a agua potable y atención médica.

Oramos por estructuras de gracia
Para que los niños de color de Mississippi, y todos los niños,
Tengan una educación de calidad que les permita desarrollar sus dones.

Oramos por estructuras de gracia
Para que los niños de color de Camden, y todos los niños,
Tengan hogares donde las familias puedan vivir con dignidad y seguridad.

Oramos por estructuras de gracia
Para que los niños de color de Chicago, y todos los niños,
Puedan crecer sin miedo, sin el sonido de disparos.

Señor de todos, te pedimos que escuches y respondas nuestras oraciones.
Danos ojos para ver cómo el pasado
Ha dado forma al presente complejo,
Y percibir cómo debemos crear
Un nuevo camino a seguir,
Con un nuevo sentido de comunidad
Que abarque y celebre
La rica diversidad de todos,
Que nos ayude a vivir tu llamado a rechazar
El pecado del racismo, la mancha del odio,
Y buscar una solidaridad compasiva
Apoyados por Tu gracia y Tu amor.

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.

 

Going Deeper

This prayer, a new Prayer Service for Racial Healing in Our Land (also en Español) and other materials are available on the USCCB Racism webpage.

The Good Samaritan Challenges Us to Live Out the Resurrection

“Jesus himself is the model of the Good Samaritan; by imitating his love and compassion, we show ourselves truly to be his followers.” –Pope Francis

Lent is a time of preparation for the Resurrection. During these 40 days, we have an opportunity to walk with Jesus and reflect on his suffering, and the suffering of so many communities worldwide. How do we respond?

The Good Samaritan is moved with compassion at the sight of seeing his neighbor in need. In his compassion, he suffered with—and we are called to do the same when we encounter another person who is suffering. Whether the man in the parable or so many of our brothers and sisters in need around the world, we can follow the Samaritan’s example. The Church always challenges us to show compassion particularly for those who are most vulnerable. As we look out at our world, we see countless refugees, migrants, women, men and children on the move, fleeing violence, economic hardship, persecution and climate injustice. These are some of the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters.

Jesus tells the Parable of the Good Samaritan in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” That question applies to us, too, and the answer must include these individuals on the move. As we encounter them on life’s roads, do we allow ourselves to be moved with compassion, as the Good Samaritan was? Ultimately, this Lent, we prepare for the joy of the Resurrection. That joy is something we are called to share; it is a way of living.

How does this joy guide our acts of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, especially where refugees, migrants and others suffering are concerned? How will you prepare for the coming of the Easter season as a time to imitate Jesus’ self-sacrificing love?

Find this video and all of CRS Rice Bowl’s Share the Journey tools for reflection here.

Eric Clayton works at Catholic Relief Services. He holds an MA in international media from American University and a BA in international studies and creative writing from Fairfield University. He currently lives in Baltimore with his wife, daughter, and pet hedgehog.

What’s Below the Surface is Affecting Your Ministry

Patti Gutiérrez, Diocese of Owensboro

Early on as a Pastoral Associate in a multicultural, rural parish I often found myself bumping up against unwritten rules of interaction and I couldn’t figure out what was going wrong.  For example, my default way of communicating about an upcoming activity was to post a blurb in the bulletin, make an announcement from the pulpit at the end of Mass and send out a mass text message via an automated service.  For our European American parishioners this worked fine, but for the growing number of Hispanic parishioners it proved completely ineffective.  We weren’t getting a good response.  Many times, I assumed it was because no one was interested.

The problem is that when people of different cultures are interacting there are dynamics at play that may not be obvious on the surface.  This is when the workshop and practical guide that was created by a task force of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) called Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers (BICM) can be extremely helpful.  In Module 2, Seek an Understanding of Culture and How It Works, we learn, “Intercultural Competence is the capacity to communicate, relate and work across cultural boundaries” (BICM, p. 9).   In order to cross these cultural boundaries better, we need new knowledge, skills and attitudes.

To provide new knowledge, Module 2 begins with an explanation of culture.  Culture can be thought of like an iceberg—there are parts you can see, but most of it is below the surface.  For example, we can see how a certain cultural group acts; we can hear their language and see their dress, their food, their dances and other cultural expressions.  But the bulk of what makes up our culture, our way of seeing the world, is unseen.  This can include our values, our beliefs, our assumptions, our perceptions and other invisible things that affect our behavior.  When we interact with others, sometimes our cultural icebergs are crashing below the surface and we are unaware of the dynamics at play.

One way to analyze culture is by looking at the dimensions defined by the Hofstede Model.  The five dimensions described in BICM can be thought of as spectrums with two extremes.  A given culture will fall somewhere along the spectrum, closer to one end or the other.  These spectrums are: 1) Collective vs. Individualistic, 2) Hierarchy vs. Equality, 3) Low vs. High Tolerance for Ambiguity, 4) Masculine vs. Feminine Gender Roles, and 5) Lived Experience vs. Abstract view of Time.  Learning more about these dimensions can help us better navigate intercultural interactions in ministry.

By learning about the collective vs. individualistic dimension, I could see how our different cultural icebergs were affecting the way Hispanic parishioners experienced my communication.  I come from New England of European American descent.  The culture I was raised in taught me to communicate directly, quickly and concisely and emphasized independence.  My culture falls on the individualistic side of the spectrum.  However, the majority of those I was communicating with were recent immigrants from rural Mexico and Guatemala, most of whom belong to an indigenous culture group.  Their culture taught them to communicate indirectly in order to emphasize respect, harmony and unity above independence.  Their culture falls on the collective side of the spectrum.  Understanding this cultural dimension helps me to communicate more effectively between cultures.

I came to understand over time that I needed to focus more on my relationships with our Hispanic parishioners as well as harness the power of working collectively.   I also came to see that there were informal hierarchies that had formed in the different sub-groups in our parish.  So, I began to foster better relationships with those who were key leaders and funnel information through them.  Now, ten years later, when there is an upcoming event I make sure that I give those key leaders all the information in a personal way and encourage them to invite their group to participate.  By using this collective method and informal line of communication, we have seen a much better response.

If you think that “cultural icebergs” may be affecting your ministry, check out Module 2 of USCCB’s Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers resource. It will surely help you like it did me!

Patti Gutiérrez has served in Hispanic Ministry for 13 years in the Diocese of Owensboro.  This reflection was adapted with permission from Patti’s eBook 5 Cultural Differences You Need to Know to Succeed in Hispanic Ministry.

Israel, Palestine, and Chasing Hope in a Valley

As our pickup crested the rock-strewn path and shuddered to a stop, I took in my surroundings. Up ahead, a cluster of tarp-covered encampments stood guard against the spitting rain, ungainly sights in an otherwise stunning landscape. Further away, a neat row of houses, jarring in their contrast, overlooked a broad sweep of valley. For a moment, our backseat sat in silence. Then, grinning through the rearview, our driver announced the words we now saw graffitied to a boulder: “Welcome to Susya.”

My journey to this rugged village had been an unlikely one. In August of last year, I began an internship with the USCCB’s Office of International Justice and Peace with the hope of test-driving a career at the crossroads of justice, research and advocacy. Five months later, I found myself accompanying ten American bishops to the Holy Land, where the bishops aimed to promote “peace with justice for the two peoples and three faiths of this Land [that] can only come through building ‘bridges, not walls.’”

Susya is not your typical Holy Land tourist destination. Nestled in the rolling hills of the southern Palestinian West Bank, this community of just a few dozen Muslim families has come to epitomize the politically-charged character of Israeli occupation in the West Bank; in the process, it has succeeded in attracting a number of international aid groups to its cause of self-preservation. Climbing out of our truck, I was led into one of these family’s tents, where over a traditional Bedouin meal, our group heard stories of the forcible and repeated displacement our hosts had experienced over the past 30 years.

After erecting a nearby settlement in 1983, the Israeli government designated Susya an archaeological site and expelled its long-time inhabitants. Since then, hoping to preserve their land, heritage and dignity, Susyans have built several tent-cities in the surrounding hills. Yet each time they attempt to rebuild, the Israeli government demolishes the structures, citing missing permits, insufficient infrastructure, and a litany of other violations in its reports.

Through Susyan eyes, these hurdles are a brazen attempt by the Israeli government to drive a native people out of their ancestral lands, thus paving the way for an eventual takeover of the West Bank. Such views are not as far-fetched as they may seem. Since 1967, the State of Israel has built 163 civilian communities (including the neat row of homes above Susya) on Palestinian lands, many of which are currently protected by Israeli soldiers, restrictive highway checkpoints and, when deemed necessary, demolitions of Palestinian homes.

The U.S. Catholic Bishops have long held that the ongoing policy of settlement construction, as well as its attendant injustices, erode the viability of a peace agreement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What is needed instead is a two-state solution: a secure and recognized Israel living in peace alongside a viable and independent Palestinian state. But as long as communities like Susya continue to have their basic freedoms trampled upon, this two-state possibility remains dim.

And yet hope springs eternal. Through prayer, pilgrimage, public advocacy and development projects, the USCCB persists in opposing unjust policies and violence on both sides, knowing that without justice, peace is ultimately unattainable. Our voices join the chorus of all those working toward a sustainable peace in the Holy Land, including Churches for Middle East Peace (which offers resources to help educate, advocate, and elevate regional voices), Catholic Relief Services (learn more about their work here), and local peacebuilding organizations.

I invite you to explore the resources above and join us in our work – for a just, peaceful and dialogue-driven solution to this age-old conflict. For an end to this world’s perennial cycle of vengeance and violence. And for others’ eyes to be opened just as mine were on that drizzly afternoon in a remote corner of Christ’s homeland.

Sam Pence served as intern for the Office of International Justice and Peace in the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development.