Turning a “contemplative gaze” toward our migrant and refugee brothers and sisters

Building on his September launch of the “Share the Journey” campaign in support of migrants and refugees, Pope Francis’ Message for the 51st World Day of Peace (Jan. 1) invites Catholics to embrace those who endure perilous journeys and hardships in order to find peace. He urges people of faith to turn with a “contemplative gaze” towards migrants and refugees, opening our hearts to the “gaze of faith which sees God dwelling in their houses, in their streets and squares.”

In his Message, Pope Francis echoes St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, pointing to war, conflict, genocide, ethnic cleansing, poverty, lack of opportunity, and environmental degradation as reasons that families and individuals become refugees and migrants.

Four “mileposts for action” are necessary in order to allow migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and trafficking victims the opportunity to find peace. These include:

  1. Welcoming, which calls for “expanding legal pathways for entry” and better balancing national security and fundamental human rights concerns;
  2. Protecting, or recognizing and defending “the inviolable dignity of those who flee”;
  3. Promoting, which entails “supporting the integral human development of migrants and refugees”; and
  4. Integrating by allowing migrants and refugees to “participate fully in the life of society that welcomes them.” Doing so enriches both those arriving and those welcoming.

How can we, as Catholics, respond to Pope Francis’ powerful words in this year’s message?  What are we called to?

Here are three ideas.

  1. Pray with a “contemplative gaze.” Pray for the grace to approach issues around migrants and refugees from a starting point of faith and prayer.
    .
    Encounter the stories of migrants and refugees on this handout and at ShareJourney.org and then pray for those families and individuals.
    .
    You may also try one of these prayer practices to enrich your experience of prayer for our migrant and refugee brothers and sisters.
  1. Learn. Visit ShareJourney.org to read the stories of families and individuals who are migrants and refugees and to learn how you can respond. Visit WeAreSaltandLight.org to learn how faith communities are answering the call to welcome migrants and refugees.
    .
  2. Act. Join tens of thousands of Catholics to advocate for policies that support migrants and refugees in the U.S. and those experiencing poverty or conflict around the world. For current action alerts, visit ConfrontGlobalPoverty.org and JusticeForImmigrants.org.

Together and with God’s help, we can seek peace for all people, including those who are migrants and refugees.

This text is excerpted from the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development handout for the World Day of Peace 2018, which is also available in Spanish.

Engaging in a ‘racial examination of conscience’

“Mindful of its duty to be the advocate for those who hunger and thirst for justice’s sake, the Church cannot remain silent about the racial injustices in society and its own structures. Our concern over racism follows, as well, from our strong commitment to evangelization…We would betray our commitment to evangelize ourselves and our society were we not to strongly voice our condemnation of attitudes and practices so contrary to the Gospel.”

—‘Brothers and Sisters to Us, USCCB’

In light of the need for our society to heal from the sin of racism, I want to offer a simple “racial examination of conscience” to help each of us reflect on how we may grow as persons and children of God in our hospitality, love, and mercy for all of our brothers and sisters, regardless of race or religion.

This “racial examination of conscience” is not intended to implicate anyone as a racist. It is not a “test” to see how racist you are or are not. It is offered in all charity and humility as an opportunity to reflect on our daily lives and how we may be unaware of the impact that our everyday decisions have on ourselves, members of our community, nation, and world. Just as an examination of conscience before going to the Sacrament of Reconciliation is not intended to demean or shame anyone, neither is this particular examination of conscience. When we approach the confessional it is through our honesty and our sorrow that we are offered mercy from God and help to restore not only our personal relationship with God, but to offer restoration to a world we have harmed through our actions, even those of which we are unware. Research shows that many of us act towards others based on implicit, or unknown, bias. Most of us believe in the equality of all people and assume that such a belief is enough. There are many studies done regarding implicit bias, one such study by researchers at Northwestern University show clear findings that implicit bias does shape how we act towards others especially when it comes to our perception of others as threats. This type of research shows us that even those of us who believe all people are truly equal, other factors, especially those unknown to us, can lead us to act in a way that does not truly reflect our personal beliefs. This list of questions is not exhaustive but may be a good start in discovering our biases in ourselves, bring them to the light, and then work to correct them so that our actions mirror our personal beliefs.

  • Do I interact with people who are different from me outside of work or school?
  • Do I read books or stories written by people of different ethnic or religious heritage than myself?
  • Have I taken the time to listen to the voices of others who don’t look like me or have a different background and life experience than me?
  • If in a supervisor role, have I included people of various cultural or ethnic backgrounds when developing professional guidelines and/or dress codes?
  • Have I ever said the following phrases or something similar: “she’s pretty for a black girl” or “he’d be handsome if he wasn’t so dark” or “that little girl would be cute if her mom did her hair” or other such judgments on beauty and acceptance?
  • Have I ever asked someone about their heritage or ethnicity by asking “so, what are you?”?
  • Have I ever seen someone on the street and made a judgement based on how they dress, how their hair is styled, how they walk, how they speak?
  • Have I ever participated in or laughed at jokes or comments that belittle or denigrate people who don’t look like me or practice a different faith than me?
  • Do I blame the victims who suffer poverty and/or oppression for their plight?
  • Do I try to come up with excuses for things I do or say that are perceived as racist or harmful by others?
  • Do I dismiss the concerns or observations of others as simply being “overly sensitive” or being “PC”?
  • Do I ask someone that I am an acquaintance with in social or professional settings to speak for their entire culture?
  • Do I use a friend or family member who is of a different background than my own to “prove” that I have said or done nothing wrong?
  • Have I ever said “I’m not racist, but…”?
  • Do I always speak to others from different backgrounds with respectful tone and language?
  • Do I automatically associate negative attributes to an entire group of people?
  • Do I use dehumanizing language about others, referring to people as “thugs, animals, illegals,” etc.?
  • Do I categorize other ethnicities into groups like “good” and “troublesome”?
  • When trying to show a broad ethnic representation for my community or institution, do I randomly place minorities in advertisements? Do I ask for input on how advertisements may be perceived outside of my own culture?
  • Do I take the time to learn and listen to the stories of others’ lives in order to better understand them and the challenges they may face that I do not?
  • Do I see Jesus Christ in each and every person I encounter every single time? Do I love each and every person regardless of their heritage, the choices they have made, their status in society, or the perception I may have of them?

Once you finish praying and reflecting upon these questions I invite you to read “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity” a document by the US Catholic Bishops on our relationship with migrants and refugees in our midst.

Let us all seek peace and harmony in our communities and see each and every of our brothers and sisters as Jesus Christ in our midst. And let us pray to the saints to guide us and our nation towards healing.

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


Going Deeper!

Visit the USCCB Racism page for the U.S. Catholic bishops examination of conscience on racism and other materials to help you work for racial justice.

On Pope Francis’ Birthday, Celebrating His Words and Wisdom

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Today, December 17, is Pope Francis’ birthday!

The USCCB Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development maintains a Pope Francis Quotes collection, which is updated several times each year.  It highlights the Holy Father’s words on poverty, care for creation, migration, and many other issues, in order to inspire us to live and act as missionary disciples.

To honor Pope Francis on his birthday, we’ve selected a few favorites: three from Evangelii Gaudium, Laudato Si’, and Amoris Laetitia, and three from recent months:

“Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society” (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 187).

“A true ecological approach always becomes a social approach: it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (Laudato Si’, no. 49).

“Christian families should never forget that ‘faith does not remove us from the world, but draws us more deeply into it… Each of us, in fact, has a special role in preparing for the coming of God’s kingdom in our world.’ Families should not see themselves as a refuge from society, but instead go forth from their homes in a spirit of solidarity with others. In this way, they become a hub for integrating persons into society and a point of contact between the public and private spheres” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 181).

Hope is the force that drives the hearts of those who depart, leaving home, their homeland, at times their relatives and families — I am thinking of the migrants — in search of a better life which is worthier of them and their loved ones. And it is also the impulse in the heart of those who welcome: the desire to encounter, to get to know each other, to dialogue. . . . Hope is the force that drives us ‘to share the journey,’ because the journey is made jointly . . . . Christ himself asks us to welcome our brother and sister migrants and refugees with open arms, with arms wide open” (General Audience, Sept. 27, 2017).

“Poverty is not an inevitable misfortune: it has causes that must be recognized and removed, in order to honor the dignity of many brothers and sisters, after the example of the Saints” (Angelus, Oct. 15, 2017).

“The teaching of John XXIII remains ever valid.  In pointing to the goal of an integral disarmament, he stated: ‘Unless this process of disarmament be thoroughgoing and complete, and reach men’s very souls, it is impossible to stop the arms race, or to reduce armaments, or – and this is the main thing – ultimately to abolish them entirely’ (Pacem in Terris)” (Address, Nov. 10, 2017).

Let’s honor Pope Francis today by taking these words to heart, responding with prayer and action, and sharing them with others!

Going Deeper
To pray, reach out, learn and act together on these and other topics, visit WeAreSaltandLight.org.

Celebrating Our Lady of Guadalupe with Prayer and Action

In 1999, St. John Paul II made the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe a Feast day of the Church in all America.  Today, we reflect on this rich tradition and how it invites us to pray and act together.

On three occasions in December of 1531, Mary appeared to St. Juan Diego as Our Lady of Guadalupe. Appearing on the Tepeyac Hill in Mexico City as a beautiful young indigenous woman, Our Lady spoke to Juan Diego in his native Nahuatl tongue asking him to deliver a message to Bishop Fray Juan de Zumárraga. Mary told Juan Diego that she wanted a church built on the spot where she appeared so that people would have a place where she could show them her Son and where they could experience her compassion and help.

At first, the Bishop did not believe Juan Diego and demanded a sign. Juan Diego went back to Tepeyac Hill and implored the Virgin Mary to provide such a sign. Mary instructed him to gather the roses from the hillside, which is in itself surprising, since blooming roses are rare in December. Juan Diego filled his cloak, or tilma, with the roses, and returned with them to the Archbishop. Upon opening his tilma, the fresh roses fell to the ground, miraculously revealing an imprint of Our Lady’s image. A church was built on the site, and Juan Diego lived out his days nearby, helping others, praying, and doing penance.

Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared in Mexico at a pivotal time when the Spanish and indigenous groups, particularly the Aztecs, were in continual conflict. From her physical representation as a mestizo woman speaking Nahuatl, Our Lady of Guadalupe became an instrument of peace and unification. The image of Our Lady includes colors, patterns, and symbols that hold special significance for the indigenous community, conveying a message of compassion and love.

Now more than 500 years later, people continue to pray to Our Lady of Guadalupe for her intercession to protect and guide them. St. Juan Diego’s tilma is visited by numerous people every day at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Mary, as the mother of God, also makes her mother to all God’s people.

Our Lady of Guadalupe has become an eminent image throughout Latin America and even North America and is often seen as an advocate for migrants and vulnerable populations across the Americas. The Catholic faithful often turn to her to ask for safekeeping as they embark on their long migration journey.

What can you do on December 12th?

  1. PRAY: Attend Mass to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe. On her feast day, remember to pray for migrants, refugees and immigrants. Use this Prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe for Justice.
  2. REFLECT: Learn more about Our Lady of Guadalupe and share her message of Christ’s love for migrants and vulnerable people with your community.
  3. ADVOCATE: Inspired by Our Lady of Guadalupe’s message of unification and her special significance to young people, voice your support for young people in our communities who are facing an uncertain future because of the recent end the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA youth and the larger Dreamer community need legislative protection from Congress to ensure that they are not deported from the only home they have ever known and separated from their families. Send a message to your members of Congress urging passage of the DREAM Act quickly so as not to uproot the lives of so many young people who’ve made enormous contributions to our communities and our economy.

Excerpted with permission from USCCB Justice for Immigrants handout on Our Lady of Guadalupe: Peacebuilder and Unifier.

On Sollicitudo rei Socialis’ birthday, an Advent reflection

 

Thirty years ago, in late December of 1987, St. John Paul II promulgated his encyclical Sollicitudo rei Socialis, or On Social Concern. Reflecting on Blessed Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio on its twentieth anniversary, John Paul called attention to the continuing need to address poverty and underdevelopment. He pointed to the divisions, both East-West and North-South, which were widening the gap between rich and poor. He called attention to superdevelopment and consumerism, which were contributing to spiritual impoverishment, especially in wealthy societies. He called for authentic human development which values being over having. He invited all people to solidarity and to work together to overcome the structures of sin that prevent true development and peace.

One well-quoted passage from the Sollicitudo rei Socialis is St. John Paul II’s description of solidarity:

[Solidarity] is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all (no. 38).

Today, we continue to struggle to encounter the “other”—of different class, race, culture, religion, etc.—and to truly see the concerns of those who are vulnerable as our own concerns. Pope Francis, for whom the “globalization of indifference” and the “throwaway culture” are important themes, reflected on our contemporary challenge:

God is asking each of us: “Where is the blood of your brother which cries out to me?” Today no one in our world feels responsible; we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. We have fallen into the hypocrisy of the priest and the levite whom Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan: we see our brother half dead on the side of the road, and perhaps we say to ourselves: “poor soul…!”, and then go on our way. . . . In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business! (7/8/13).

Both St. John Paul II and Pope Francis invite us to solidarity. During Advent, we wait in anticipation of the utmost expression of solidarity, the coming of Emmanuel, or “God with us.” What does the invitation to solidarity mean for us, as Catholics, during the Advent season as we prepare for Christ’s coming? What concrete actions can we take during this season to go beyond “vague compassion”?

Particularly relevant are St. John Paul II’s and Pope Francis’ reflections on consumerism as a barrier to solidarity because it can cause us to value things more than people and blind us to our obligation to care for people who are vulnerable.

During these weeks before Christmas, we are inundated with advertisements that aim to convince us that we can only be happy if we buy this or have that, and that family and friends will love us more as a result.   We should see this as a spiritual struggle. How can we reject these illusions, refocus on Jesus’ imminent coming, and prioritize our relationships with others, in whom God is present?

In my own family, we exchange gifts at Christmas, but we limit our spending and try to be aware of the ethical implications of our purchases. I often utilize the fantastic CRS Ethical Trade website, which connects ethically-conscious consumers with numerous extensively-vetted companies committed to social and economic justice.  Some years, my extended family has foregone gifts to make donations to charitable organizations. We have found that experience rewarding and refreshing.

As a parent myself, I am quite aware that celebrating an “alternative” Christmas can be difficult with children. Instead of making radical changes in a short time frame, one approach is to work gradually towards moderation in gift-giving while introducing new activities that value persons over things. We participate, for example, in a parish program to purchase gifts for children on behalf of low-income, incarcerated parents. I see it as a victory that my 5-year old speaks proudly about the toy he picked out for Randy, a child of the same age whose parent is incarcerated. It is of course our “encounter” with God and neighbor that leads to solidarity, which is why service activities orientated towards relationship-building can also be effective at building the groundwork for solidarity. Activities based in encounter can become fertile ground for conversation about poverty, inequality and the ways we can respond as individuals and communities.

Towards the end of Sollicitudo rei Socialis, St. John Paul II writes:

I wish to ask [all men and women] to be convinced of the seriousness of the present moment and of each one’s individual responsibility, and to implement – by the way they live as individuals and as families, by the use of their resources, by their civic activity, by contributing to economic and political decisions and by personal commitment to national and international undertakings – the measures inspired by solidarity and love of preference for the poor. This is what is demanded by the present moment and above all by the very dignity of the human person, the indestructible image of God the Creator, which is identical in each one of us (no. 47).

I pray that during this Advent—and beyond—we can all take this challenge to heart. Let’s work together to create a culture of solidarity!

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.

Father Cyprian Davis and Racism in America

 “[The country] has yet to solve the question of race; that has been America’s tragic flaw. We have never really come to grips with race. We went through the civil-rights movement, but here we are in 1993 with young people who never knew racial segregation, never knew the civil-rights movement, and all of a sudden on college campuses you have a tremendous amount of racism. There’s still an awful separation between people. It isn’t only against blacks. It involves Asians, Hispanics, and Native Americans. Not that other countries don’t have the same problem. The Church for a long time did not take a stand. It has started to.”

  • U.S. Catholic Magazine quoting Fr. Cyprian Davis, OSB

Benedictine Father Cyprian Davis, pictured in a 2009 photo. (CNS photo/St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology)

Fr. Cyprian Davis, OSB was my professor, mentor, and spiritual director. He was a Benedictine monk of St. Meinrad Archabbey whose passion was his monastic vows and his faith in Jesus Christ. He was also a Black Catholic, staunchly proud of his African American heritage. Fr. Cyprian was ordained a priest when Black American priests were few in number.

I fondly remember sitting in his classes and hanging on his every word. He was a storyteller. His voice had gravel in it, his stance was slightly bent over, and his eyes lit up as he recalled stories of the past. He also had a wonderful humor that brought those stories to life in a way that few can. I always imagined that around a campfire he would be king for no one could match his ability to speak of things that happened hundreds and even thousands of years ago as if they were modern day events. He literally put you as a bystander into those stories.

His detailed history of Black Catholicism is the seminal work on how truly diverse our faith is, and how our Catholic faith has never been nor will it ever be a “European” religion. Holding a doctorate in history, he wanted to study the Church Fathers but upon returning to the United States and the country in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement he realized that his contribution to the movement was to highlight the gift that black folks had offered to the Church and the nation. But he was not simply a bookworm. He was a man of action. He marched in Selma across the Edmund Pettis bridge and was one of many who faced down state and local law enforcement in the fight for equal rights. He personally placed himself in the midst of violence against an unjust system to demand he and all people of this country be treated as equals, to have his and others’ dignity recognized.

In addition to being a student, I had the blessing to have him as a spiritual director. There is an intimacy that comes with a spiritual director, a fraternal bond that allows not only the spiritual director to see into the heart of the directee but for the the directee to see deeper than the casual interaction between professor and student. It required me to humbly open myself up to his wisdom and guidance and to listen. I will always remember his voice the day he called me “friend”; I felt unworthy of the honor.

I trusted him and saw a prophet before me on religious, political, and social issues of today, particularly those connected to racism in America. Over the last couple years after I graduated from Saint Meinrad his health began to decline and so it was difficult to keep contact with him before he entered eternity in 2015. I have wondered over the past couple years since the protests in Ferguson, NYC, Chicago, Minneapolis, and elsewhere what he would have had to say about the Black Lives Matter movement and the challenge our nation faces with the racial division that never went away but was only masked over the course of the 5 decades since the Civil Rights Act. I know he would be disheartened by the injustices in our system but not surprised by what is transpiring in our nation. He would also offer hopefulness. This man who faced down the segregationists alongside Dr. King in Selma confronted the violence and knew that things can be better. As he taught about historical and contemporary prejudice and racism in society I never heard bitterness, only a passion to effect change. He challenged us all to examine how we may be contributing to injustice and how we may find our path to helping overcome it. He offered that challenge to dig deeper into resources and histories of America and of the Church. It was Fr. Cyprian’s way of giving voice to the stories often left untold in a culture dominated by a “whites only” voices.

As Catholics the Sacrament of Reconciliation is where we not only confess our sins, but discern how we may grow from our personal shortcomings and place ourselves at the mercy and love of God to help us learn from our sins. In the examination of conscience that we do to prepare for confession we open ourselves up to discern ways in which we may not be living up to the call of the Gospel and that examination helps us to discover things to work on for our own betterment of which we may not even be aware. In the spirit of Fr. Cyprian and his compassionate but challenging expectation for Catholics to address the sin of racism, in my next post we will have a “racial examination of conscience” to help us all become more aware of how we may grow in understanding and compassion for one another.

In the meantime, please consider reading the US Bishops’ document “Brothers and Sisters to US” which can be found online at: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/cultural-diversity/african-american/brothers-and-sisters-to-us.cfm

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!

Faith communities around the country are praying and acting for racial justice. For ideas, watch this Google hangout on racial justice that highlighted several examples.

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.