5 Ways You Can Cultivate Peace and Work for Racial Justice

USCCB president, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, recently announced a Day of Prayer for Peace in our Communities, to be celebrated in faith communities across the country on September 9.

In interviewing numerous faith communities in preparation for this day about their responses to violence, racial tensions, and systemic racism, we have encountered amazing stories of deep faith, persevering hope, and effective action to build peace and counter racism.

nbc1In West Baltimore, St. Peter Claver Catholic Church was on the front lines in responding to unrest that followed the death of Freddie Gray. Parishioners continue to build on efforts begun four years ago to address neighborhood safety and improve community-police relations. They also participate in Bishop Madden’s prayer walks in neighborhoods plagued by violence.

In Ferguson, MO, parishioners at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta are engaging a “Lean In” listening process across cultures and raising awareness about racial issues. Children at the parish school study saints of various cultures to reflect on how they can imitate these heroes by engaging in efforts for dialogue and peace. All around St. Louis, MO, parishes are joining with congregations of other denominations so that people of faith can have Sacred Conversations on Race (+ Action), which challenge participants to encounter one another and discuss the uncomfortable topic of racism.

In Dallas, TX, Holy Trinity Catholic Church is working with other faith groups to improve police-community relations and work on racial and economic justice. Because of the interfaith group members’ long work to build relationships with law enforcement, Holy Trinity and others were prepared to respond immediately when the recent shooting of police offices occurred. They now seek to address problems with housing, healthcare access, and payday lending that are connected to racial disparity.

Other stories of hope abound—in Minneapolis, New Orleans, Savannah, Springfield, and countless other cities.

If you feel as inspired by these stories as we do, then take that as a sign of encouragement from the Holy Spirit to discern how your own community might be called to respond.

Here’s how you can get started.

  1. Pray Together. Use these prayers from the USCCB during Eucharistic celebrations. Gather to pray and reflect. Many faith communities are using the bishops’ letters on Brothers and Sisters to Us and What We’ve Seen and What We’ve Heard, as well as Bishop Braxton’s The Racial Divide, as starting points for reflection and discussion. You can access all of these on the USCCB racism page as well as a video, other reflections materials, and more. The WeAreSaltAndLight.org diversity and racial justice page also contains some excellent resources for reflection.
  2. Reach Out Together. Create intentional opportunities for members of your faith community to listen to the stories and experiences of people of ethnicities, languages, and cultures different from their own. This resource on Building Relationships, Creating a Culture of Encounter through One-to-Ones can help guide your efforts for encounter. Another fantastic resource for facilitating encounter between different ethnic groups within a faith community is PICO’s Year of Encounter with Pope Francis program.
  3. Bring what you’ve learned through reaching out to pray and reflect on the hard questions. Gather with other representatives, including decision makers, in your faith community and ask the hard questions: Does the leadership of our institution reflect the diversity of those we serve? Are the many faces of the diverse body of Christ represented in decision-making processes? How are we inviting and forming leaders? Who is missing around the table? In our worship together, and in activities of our community, do we cultivate welcome, hospitality, and participation for people of all cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds? How do we invite our members to reflect about and understand racism? Privilege? The dignity of all people? Whose untold story do we need to listen to? Are we preaching on, and praying together about, these difficult issues? How are we currently working to change perspectives and address the causes of racism?
  4. Learn Together. Make an effort to learn more about racial disparities and the causes of racial tension. Learn about the historical struggle for racial justice in the United States and some of the challenges that remain. In recent years, there has been ample media coverage on disparities in education, housing, employment, the justice system, and other areas. Use the Process for Group Discernment to draw from your experiences of prayer, reflection, encounter, and study to discern what action the Holy Spirit might be calling you to take as a community.
  5. Act Together. Some of the faith communities highlighted above chose to reach across faith traditions, joining ecumenical and interfaith efforts to work together on racial and economic justice. You can discover what efforts might already be happening in your community at the PovertyUSA.org website. Other communities felt called to commit to practical changes in the ways they practice hospitality, cultivate leaders, and celebrate cultural traditions. Others are just beginning, but are engaging in important encounter and dialogue that can lay the groundwork for future efforts.

What is the Holy Spirit calling you to do, together with your family, neighborhood, parish, school, or other faith community? What will be your first step?

New skills helped me engage my community on Laudato Si’

Valeria Fuentes

Valeria Fuentes

Last week, the Social Action Summer Institute took place in Chicago.  Last summer, I received a grant as an alumnus of the CCHD internship program, to attend the 2015 institute, held in Portland, Oregon. It was an amazing experience which helped me to develop new knowledge of Catholic social teaching, and new skills in education and advocacy.

When I returned from SASI, I worked, under the guidance of CCHD in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, to educate Latinos in Baltimore about Pope Francis’ encyclical on Laudato Si’, help them apply those teachings in their daily lives, and learn how they can advocate for environmental justice in their communities.

Because of these opportunities, I am now working on climate justice in Maryland with an organization that focuses on helping Latinos become more involved in environmental advocacy. I am working in my own Baltimore community to arrange informal house meetings and workshops called cafecitos, where Latino families and youth learn how to use their voices to protect and care for the environment. Through this work, I believe that I can help give a voice to those who often think they do not have a voice.

Valeria Fuentes is a former intern with CCHD and  Catholic Relief Services. She is a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art, where she also works as student program manager for the Office of Diversity and Intercultural Development.


Going Deeper 

Find out more about the CCHD Intern Program, which has provided leadership and training for over 350 emerging leaders to date.

The Beginning of the End of Poverty on the Pine Ridge Reservation

Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, (the first Native American Saint and patroness of ecology and the environment). Let us be thankful this day of all life that springs forth from Mother Earth and how the Creator continually provides that we may live. May we desire to imitate St Kateri’s desire to love God above all things.

I had the good fortune of attending the recent groundbreaking ceremony for Thunder Valley Development Corporation. The valley was filled with the heartbeat of a Nation as Lakota drums echoed in harmony and singers sang traditional Lakota songs and each person in attendance turned a shovel of dirt from Mother Earth to commemorate this historic event. The event was hosted at the thirty-nine acre site located north of Sharps Corner in South Dakota. The festivities initiated the birth of a regenerative, self-sustaining and self-sufficient community located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Ultimately, the site will feature single family and multifamily residences, a youth shelter, childcare facility, and commercial and industrial buildings as well as community gardens and a school that teaches the Lakota language, history, and culture.

Hundreds of people attended the event from across the Nation and the State of South Dakota, but none were more excited and hopeful than the hundreds of Oglala Lakota youth and families that came to be a part of this historic event from across the Pine Ridge Reservation. The Mission of Thunder is “to empower Lakota youth and families to improve the health, culture, and environment of all communities, through healing and the strengthening of cultural identity”.

Once completed, Thunder Valley will serve as a model community throughout Indian Country for other community development initiatives. It reflects a modern community that utilizes green technology, modern energy efficient building practices, and incorporates the Lakota culture and intrinsic values into its original scope of work.

When the houses are completed, there is already a system in place that offers families financial incentives and financing for their first home. The plan was very well thought out. It is not a government program that gives people houses rather it is a program that is designed to assist people into home ownership and help them maintain and take care of their home. You can already witness the pride that people have just talking about the Thunder Valley Community.

Thunder Valley Development Corporation is one of many organizations supported by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). The organizations selected for funding by CCHD are evaluated locally and nationally before the proposals are submitted to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for final approval. The activities of the organization are being watched by many tribes and community development organizations throughout the United States. The development process and goals of the organization are exemplary and other places will want to replicate many of the facets involved in the development of Thunder Valley.

Nick Tilsen, Executive Director of Thunder Valley, said in his closing remarks; “Today is the beginning of the end of poverty on the Pine Ridge Reservation.”

A twelve-minute video was developed to showcase the development of Thunder Valley.  Please check out the video.

Let us pray for the success of the model community at Thunder Valley and the work among the staff and all involved.

Deacon Marlon Leneaugh is Director of Native Ministry for the Diocese of Rapid City South Dakota and serves as the local CCHD representative. He is an enrolled tribal member of the Sicangu Lakota Tribe and has been an ordained deacon for nearly 24 years.


Going Deeper

Pope Francis’ prayer intention for July 2016 is to respect indigenous cultures and traditions. Watch the video and reflect.

Visit the webpage of the USCCB Subcommittee on Native American Affairs to find out more and access relevant resources.  Visit CCHD’s Map to find out how CCHD works to empower persons in low-income communities around the country.

Suffering With Others for the Sake of Truth and Justice

Maria Cintorino, Education and Outreach Intern

Maria Cintorino, Education and Outreach Intern

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said in his message to the Mexican Bishops in 2005 that “it is necessary not only to relieve the greatest needs but to go to their roots, proposing measures that will give social, political and economic structures a more equitable and solidaristic configuration.”

A few weeks ago, my fellow CCHD interns and I had the opportunity to visit a parish that has taken these words to heart. Saint Camillus serves a diverse community of around 4,500 each Sunday who come from over 100 countries.

Franciscans staff the parish and have attended to the spiritual and social needs of the community since 1984.

Just last year Saint Camillus parish made the decision to join Action in Montgomery (AIM), an organization that has received funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), and which encourages residents in impoverished or low-income neighborhoods to transform their communities. With AIM’s help, Fr. Jacek Orzechowski and a team of parishioners went door-to-door in the surrounding neighborhood to listen to the community.

They soon learned that residents of Northwest Park Apartments, a large complex near the parish, are experiencing high rent, black mold, infestations of mice and bed bugs, and broken laundry facilities. Despite complaints from the tenants, management has failed to fix any of these problems. Residents reported that if they persistently asked for any of these issues to be resolved, management threatened to discontinue that their leases. Residents fear that they will become homeless.

Many residents of Northwest Park are low-income families. Apartments there cost about $1,800 per month, or $21,600 per year. With the average family living in Northwest Park earning about $25,000 per year, two or three families sometimes share one apartment to afford the cost.

The exploitation of the tenants by the management insults the dignity of the tenant and of us all. Saint John Paul II, quoting Gaudium et Spes in Evangelium Vitae, rightly speaks of subhuman human living conditions as “infamies.” Whoever insults human dignity, he writes, poisons human society. When we neglect to care for our neighbors, or treat them in ways which degrade their inherent dignity bestowed by God, we offend God, in whose image our neighbors are created.

When the sacredness of human life is violated, our proper response should be “to suffer with the other and for others; to suffer for the sake of truth and justice; to suffer out of love and in order to become a person who truly loves—these are fundamental elements of humanity, and to abandon them would destroy man himself” (Spe Salvi). The ability to suffer with another and to become an advocate for another is part of our Christian duty.

Fr. Jacek and lay leaders in the parish seek to suffer with others for the sake of truth and justice, as they work with their tenant neighbors to improve conditions at Northwest Park Apartments. Their example recalls the words of Saint Paul: “if one member suffers, all suffer together.” Supported by Saint Camillus and other community institutions that have joined the struggle, the tenants are now standing up for their own dignity.

Hearing and seeing the work of Saint Camillus with AIM at the beginning of my internship was a tremendous blessing. Their commitment to defending human dignity is inspiring and exemplifies the complimentary roles of evangelization and social justice. The example of Saint Camillus further fuels my passion to defend and to protect man’s inherent dignity given by God, and to educate others about social justice issues in their own communities. This visit has encouraged me to learn about groups such as AIM who are making a difference in my own community and to further explore how our political, economic, and social structures can be improved in the fight for Truth and Justice.

Maria Cintorino is the education and outreach summer intern at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development. She currently teaches at a Catholic school in Northern Virginia.


Go Deeper!

This year, 29 Catholic emerging leaders are serving in dioceses around the country in the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) Internship Program.  Applications to the program are accepted annually, beginning in January.

Turning Passion into Progress

Members of the Essex Community Organization, an MCAN affiliate in the North Shore of MA, join together at Zion Baptist Church in Lynn at a meeting with the Lynn Police Department Chief, and participate in a liturgy of justice to ground their work in prayer.

Members of the Essex Community Organization, an MCAN affiliate in the North Shore of MA, join together at Zion Baptist Church in Lynn at a meeting with the Lynn Police Department Chief, and participate in a liturgy of justice to ground their work in prayer.

“They are passionate in everything they do. They are passionate in their concern for the underdog. They are passionate about leveling the playing field. They are passionate about helping people who have no voice to find a voice.”

When I heard this description of the people of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network (MCAN), it took on the cadence of a litany. It was a litany of what it takes to grow a handful of local community groups into a successful, well-respected statewide organization that has earned its place at the table. MCAN has received Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) grants from both local and the national offices throughout their existence to help translate the passion of its organizers and members into effective, lasting progress for low-income people throughout Massachusetts.

MCAN members gather with coalition partners at Raise Up Massachusetts outside the Massachusetts State House to turn in a record-high number of petition signatures to raise the minimum wage.

MCAN members gather with coalition partners at Raise Up Massachusetts outside the Massachusetts State House to turn in a record-high number of petition signatures to raise the minimum wage.

MCAN has strong roots in Catholic parishes and has been a resonant voice for immigrants and low-wage workers. Each of the member organizations has an impressive decades-long record of accomplishment with local grassroots issues. But when they came together, they created energy, momentum, and passion. With months of persistent, patient door-to-door visits and community meetings, MCAN and the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition mobilized support in the state legislature and among voters for two measures that affect more than one million low-income people: an increase in the minimum wage and employer-provided earned sick time.

In recognition of their enthusiasm and unflagging work in support of and in solidarity with oppressed people, MCAN was presented the Sr. Margaret Cafferty Development of People Award. I assure you we were delighted to recognize a longtime funded group that is passionate about holding elected officials accountable and creating solutions to the underlying causes of poverty.

MCAN engages younger generations in the importance of community organizing and voting. These four children of leaders in Brockton helped canvass for the 2014 Earned Sick Time Ballot Initiative in Massachusetts.

MCAN engages younger generations in the importance of community organizing and voting. These four children of leaders in Brockton helped canvass for the 2014 Earned Sick Time Ballot Initiative in Massachusetts.

MCAN is not resting on its laurels. It continues its work to reform the justice system and is already gearing up to support a 2018 constitutional initiative that will fund education and transportation with a new tax on people who make more than $1 million a year.

“They are passionate about everything they do.” What a terrific accolade!

Throughout the long, gray winter and this joyful Easter season, I thought about the myriad people who step out of their natural comfort zones to work for justice. I have been blessed to meet many people who work for CCHD-funded organizations and consistently put their families and others before themselves as they strive to help the entire community move beyond poverty. Thank you to all of the supporters of CCHD who help us offer training, support, and encouragement to groups like MCAN. I am grateful.

 

Ralph McCloud, CCHD

Ralph McCloud serves as the director of the USCCB Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Learn more about the work of CCHD and follow on Twitter @EndPovertyUSA.


Learn more about MCAN’s organizing work and the Sr. Margaret Cafferty Development of People’s Award in the latest edition of the CCHD quarterly newsletter Helping People Help Themselves.

See other CCHD groups’ Stories of Hope on PovertyUSA.

10 Ways You Can Celebrate Earth Day!

three women extend their armfulls of green leaves with white text: "Whether believers or not, we are agreed today that the earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone." (93) #LaudatoSi Photo from Jennifer Hardy, CRSEarth Day (April 22)  is the perfect time to help Catholics in your area respond to Pope Francis’ call to “be ‘protectors’ of creation”!

Here are ten ways you can celebrate Earth Day!

1. Get Catholic Climate Covenant’s free, downloadable Earth Day 2016 Program Guide.

2. Watch the video on Care for God’s Creation from the Catholic Social Teaching 101 video series by Catholic Relief Servics and USCCB.

3. With family or friends, pray this Laudato Si’ prayer in English  and Spanish.

4. Use these resources for liturgy and preaching on the Sunday before or after Earth Day to call attention to our role in caring for God’s creation.

preschool children at a Catholic school use a watering can to water seedlings as they learn about Care for creation

5. Learn how local community organizations, including those funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, are addressing environmental issues. Join their efforts!

6. Gather with a group of friends and reflect on Laudato Si’ using USCCB’s discussion guide in English and Spanish.

bright and colorful covers of two illustrated children's books "Green Street Park" and "Drop by Drop" with URL loyolapress.com/twofeetoflove7. Gift Green Street Park or Drop by Drop to your parish’s religious education program or school.  Both of these children’s books are about kids caring for creation.

8. Get inspired by what others are doing to Act Together to care for creation.

Pope Francis carries his crosier held together with a splint and tape as he arrives in procession to celebrate Mass at Kosevo stadium in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, June 6. The photo is accompanied by white text: "We are not faced with two separate crises, one envronmental and the other social, but one rather complex crisis which is both social and environmental." Laudato Si #139 (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

9. Share this Laudato Si’ bullet insert, in English and Spanish, in your parish.

10. Advocate! Participate in this current action alert.

 

How will you celebrate Earth Day? Let us know in the comments below.

Wage Theft: A Threat to the Worker and to Economic Development

Don Bosco's Gonzalo Cruz with Cardinal Dolan at Pope's Workshop

Don Bosco’s Gonzalo Cruz with Cardinal Dolan

Wage theft is not only an urban problem. Don Bosco Workers began as a parish program at Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Westchester County in 2000. The program was in response to the growing social unrest in Port Chester over “workers on the corners” and the alarming levels of wage theft as a consequence of workers being uninformed and unaffiliated.

A Catholic Campaign for Human Development — the domestic anti-poverty program of the Catholic bishops of the United States — grantee beginning in 2006, we incorporated in 2008 including a worker-driven board of directors. Today, we represent more 200 paid members organized as a General Assembly of Workers who decide on how to strengthen the organization through skills training, leadership development, and education.

In September 2014, in collaboration with Communications Workers of America, Local 1103 in Port Chester, we launched a new campaign to address wage theft as a threat not only to the Westchester worker but to economic development throughout the county. No Pay No Way: Wage Theft Is Bad For Business educates the community on how responsible business owners suffer, when other businesses fail to follow labor law. Research shows responsible businesses are simply less competitive because their cost of doing business (paying their workers) is higher.

Just about one year into No Pay No Way, we collaborated with the Attorney General of New York in the prosecution of a local restaurant owner for wage, overtime, and safety violations for five female workers. The employer was sentenced to repayment of $47,000. The women are now thinking about investing their recovered wages in a worker-owned eco-cleaning business.

Last year, we were honored to construct the chair that Pope Francis used when he celebrated Mass at Madison Square Garden. We were called the Pope’s workers, and this continues to inspire our work for justice.

When workers are treated fairly according to the law, workers and responsible small business thrive, and there is greater economic development for all.

Gonzalo Cruz is the Director for Don Bosco Workers, Inc.

Go Deeper!

As Don Bosco Workers, Inc. works to protect worker rights, visit this page from WeAreSaltAndLight.org which contains resources on ethical practices for business leaders and institutions.”