¡Si Se Puede!

Cesar Chavez, who co-founded the United Farm Workers union in 1962, is pictured in an undated photo. Chavez, who died in 1993, began grass-roots organizing in the 1950s while working in the fruit and vegetable fields of California and defined the farmworker union movement. (CNS file photo)

 

Si se puede – yes we can! It was the mantra of the United Farmworkers Union (UFW) and the movement that they and its leaders, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, popularized. It captured an attitude that things, no matter how bad they appeared, could be changed.

At 24 years of age, I joined the United Farmworker’s movement on the staff of their national boycott. I went to work for the UFW as an organizer, not knowing what organizing was, only what some of the outcomes of the organizing had been. One of those outcomes was managing to convince millions of people to forgo eating grapes and lettuce from California. The UFW had organized a national boycott of grapes and lettuce, which brought striking farm laborers from California to tell Americans across the country of the meager wages and horrible working conditions they labored under. They waged their battle non-violently, embracing the tactics and vision of Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King.

I was impressed by the work of their founder, Cesar Chavez, a diminutive Chicano, born in Arizona to Mexican parents who had lost their small homestead in Arizona to foreclosure and then migrated to California to work as farm workers. Chavez dropped out of school in the 7th grade to work with his family in the fields picking peas and lettuce, cherries and beans, corn and grapes.

What attracted me and thousands of other volunteers and organizers to “the Union” was Chavez. He was a different kind of leader. He was not flashy; he did not wear a suit or drive big cars. He had none of the trappings of power. Instead what was attractive about Chavez was his honesty, his willingness to put others first, his hunger and thirst for justice in a state (California) and a country where agricultural workers had experienced precious little justice.

Chavez became a symbol of Si Se Puede. He showed that change was possible, not with guns and not with riots – both of which were being romanticized in the late 60’s and early 70’s and in some ways glorified by revolutionary movements throughout Latin America and in the streets of Detroit and Oakland and Buenos Aires – but with peaceful determination and organizing.  Chavez exemplified a life committed to non-violence, self-discipline, and service to others.

I recall a march to Modesto, California, in which I participated. At the front of the marchers were several priests beside Chavez and other UFW leaders. Someone was carrying an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. For me it was a vivid example of religious leaders accompanying their flock, in this case in a just struggle for their rights to decent wages and working conditions and equally important – to be treated with dignity and respect.

Chavez and the UFW melded religious values with democratic values, self- interest with a vision of the common good.  Blending elements of the Civil Rights Movement, labor organizing, and community organizing, Chavez and the unique group of organizers that formed the UFW leadership exemplified a quiet dignity and austerity. Those who went to work for the UFW as organizers were paid “room and board and $5.00 a week.”  For many of the hundreds of organizers who joined the Farmworker Movement at the time, it was an antidote to the growing materialism and consumerism of our culture and a way of channeling their anger at injustice into a positive initiative to improve our nation.

Immigrant agricultural workers remain among the lowest paid and poorest workers in our nation. They are still denied collective bargaining rights under the National Labor Relations Act, and are still confronted with anti-immigrant fear and hatred. Cesar Chavez may be gone but he and the work of the UFW inspired others to organize and fight for their rights and their dignity.  Struggles are now led by leaders such as Baldemar Velasquez of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee in Ohio, Michigan, and North Carolina, and Lucas Benitez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida (who the bishops’ honored in 1998 with the prestigious Cardinal  Bernardin New Leadership Award), who is spearheading a national boycott of the Wendy’s fast food chain, seeking a penny a pound increase for tomato pickers. In Vermont, the group Migrant Justice, representing dairy workers, has negotiated an agreement with Ben and Jerry’s for “Milk with Dignity,” and the Workers Center of Central New York is working on legislation to establish collective bargaining rights for farm workers in the state of New York. The brave women and men risk much working for justice for these groups in environments not always supportive of strangers from foreign countries in their communities.

Pope Francis, speaking at the World Meeting of Popular Movements in Vera Cruz, Bolivia, in the spring of 2015 said,

“In conclusion, I would like to repeat: the future of humanity does not lie solely in the hands of great leaders, the great powers and the elites. It is fundamentally in the hands of peoples and in their ability to organize. It is in their hands, which can guide with humility and conviction this process of change.”

I say, “¡Si se puede!”

Randy Keesler is the Area C grant specialist for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.


Going Deeper

Learn more about the dignity of work and the rights of workers.  See what Catholics are doing in Yakima, New York, St. Paul-Minneapolis, and South Texas to stand with migrants.

Sowers of Change, Protagonists for Social Justice, and Bold Leaders of Action

Attendees cheer a statement about justice for immigrants Feb. 16 during a the opening program of the U.S. regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, Calif. (CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski)

Midway through the U.S. Regional Meeting of World Popular Movements in Modesto, California, a strong wind came up which almost blew off the metal protections of the roof of the beautiful new gym where we were meeting at Central Catholic High School.

The force and the noise of the wind reflected the force and noise of the gathering of over 700 inter faith delegates of community organizations from around the United States, with some international representation also. The force was a powerful wind of strong voices calling for the popular movements to be sowers of change, protagonists for social justice, and bold leaders of action in bringing down the walls that divide the struggles against the systems that Pope Francis mentioned in his letter of greeting to the gathering.  The Pope wrote about being confronted by “a system that causes enormous suffering to the human family, simultaneously assaulting people’s dignity and our Common Home in order to sustain the invisible tyranny of money that only guarantees the privileges of a few.”

Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., listens to a speaker Feb. 18 at the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, Calif. His diocese hosted the event. (CNS/Dennis Sadowski)

Many voices then spoke from diverse perspectives but shared the urgency of being one people in one fight (one ‘witness’ as Cardinal Peter Turkson called it) “to rebuild society in which every person is seen as fully human, has a full voice in the decisions that shape their lives, and is able to thrive and reach their human potential.”  The noise was that of great enthusiasm for “disrupting oppression and dehumanization” as Bishop Robert McElroy, Archbishop Jose Gomez, and others spoke about and “rebuilding” systems that promote and protect justice in ownership of land, for working people, in housing, for immigrants, and in ending racism. One might wonder why the meeting was held in Modesto, California, and not some large city easily reachable by modern modes of transportation. The answer simply is that the planners felt that the great Central Valley in California provided a location that reflected the challenges being faced all over the country.

The Central Valley is one of the richest agricultural areas in the world but struggles with issues of water, clean air, higher unemployment, lower wages, thousands of annual migrant farm workers, large percentages of immigrant peoples, human trafficking, homelessness, and a host of other social issues including violent gangs, hunger, school drop outs, etc.   But at the same time there are so many who live in the Central Valley who want to make life better for all who live and work there. The Regional Meeting received a warm welcome and recognition by those who knew about its purpose. What made this meeting different from other church or community gatherings?

Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, poses for a photo Feb. 16 with Lira DeMoraes, a volunteer with the Merrimack Valley Project in Massachussetts at the start of the U.S. regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, Calif.

It was the first time in the United States that community organizers from across the land were invited by the Church to come together so that the Church might hear from the people experiencing exclusion, dehumanization, and the pain of poverty.  Pope Francis had previously convened three World Meetings of Popular Movements. He spoke at all three about overcoming the globalization of indifference by “placing the economy at the service of peoples; working for peace and justice; and defending Mother Earth.” To this regional gathering in the United States the Pope sent a written greeting wishing that the “constructive energy” of this meeting “would spread to all dioceses, because it builds bridges between peoples and individuals…that can overcome the walls of exclusion, indifference, racism, and intolerance.” The Holy Father acknowledged with gratitude the sponsors of this gathering: The Catholic Campaign for Human Development; the host bishops from the three dioceses in the Central Valley; and Cardinal Peter Turkson, who leads the new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, and expressed his support of the popular movements.  What was different was that Catholic dioceses hosted and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development of USCCB sponsored the meeting, which was organized and run by the popular movements under the leadership of the PICO (People Improving Communities through Organizing) National Network and other organizing networks. Pope Francis highlighted PICO’s work for promoting this meeting.

Although representatives of the Churches did speak and were well received, the Church leaders, including over 20 Catholic bishops, were there to listen and to accompany participants in the dialogues.  The message from the delegates at the end of the meeting was addressed to the popular movements and leaders in the United States and globally and to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Pope Francis. The message quoted Pope Francis and Catholic bishops extensively but also laid out the challenge, urging “our clergy and faith communities to speak and act boldly in solidarity with our people.” The message quoted Cardinal Tobin in his video address to the gathering that “faith leaders need to walk out in front and show that they are not afraid.” Pope Francis was indeed the inspiration for this gathering. Cardinal Turkson, by his presence and in his words, gave strong witness for the Church’s commitment to the integral development of the human person. Every human person has been created in the image and likeness of God, and full human development gives glory to God.

Stephen E. Blaire is bishop of Stockton, California.


 Going Deeper

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development provides ongoing support for community groups that work to transform their communities. Visit our map to find out where this work is happening where you live—then get involved!

Opening Wide the Door of Gospel Nonviolence

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

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

Pope Francis continues to amaze. As far as I know, he has just issued the first high-level official Catholic statement focused on Gospel nonviolence in this year’s World Day of Peace message. The door has been opened for the Catholic Church to enter a deeper understanding and broader commitment to Jesus’ way of active nonviolence and just peace.

Francis said “to be true followers of Jesus today includes embracing his teaching about nonviolence.” Thus, we are to “cultivate nonviolence in our most personal thoughts and values,” i.e. develop the habit or virtue of nonviolent peacemaking. He pledges “the assistance of the Church in every effort to build peace through active and creative nonviolence.”

Like Jesus, we encounter stories of nonviolent peacemakers in this message, such as Gandhi, Khan, MLK, and Gbowee. These icons of nonviolent force realized that both constructive peacebuilding and nonviolent resistance were necessary compliments to sustainable conflict transformation.

Khan was a Muslim nonviolent leader in India who both developed schools for women and the first nonviolent peace army (80,000 members) to resist the ruthless British occupation. In a similar vein, today the Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) offers unarmed civilian protection in many violent conflict zones. For example, in South Sudan NP has reduced sexual assaults and rape by all armed actors from regularity to zero in the areas they patrol. They also directly saved 14 women and children from armed militia when they refused three times to obey orders from the militia to leave during an armed attack.

These models, which combine constructive peacebuilding and nonviolent resistance, represent a just peace approach. This approach offers a vision of human flourishing which includes a commitment to the social conditions that illuminate human dignity and cultivate thriving relationships. Drawing on specific criteria, virtues, and practices to guide our actions, it focuses on transforming conflict, breaking cycles of violence, and cultivating sustainable peace.

Key nonviolent practices that reflect this approach include, for example, addressing the root causes of violence, transforming the different dimensions of conflict, nonviolent resistance, restorative justice, unarmed civilian protection, interfaith collaboration, trauma-healing, and nonviolent civilian-based defense. Core virtues would include nonviolent peacemaking, mercy, solidarity, and humility.

Several just peace criteria within the broader approach would guide our action choices and apply at all stages of conflict. There are examples of a just peace approach to nuclear weapons, lethal drones, Syria, and ISIS.  

What if the Catholic Church were to make a shift to an explicit just peace approach consistent with Gospel nonviolence? Would it not be more consistent with Jesus’ way and help us recognize that all killing or lethal force is a form of violence? Would it not also liberate us more for nonviolent practices that would better build just peace, prevent war, limit ongoing war, heal after war, and even draw society away from war sooner as we more effectively live up to our “duty to strain every muscle to outlaw war” (Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes par. 81).

As Catholic leaders in our communities, we have a very unique opportunity to build on this movement of the Spirit.

Here are some suggestions:

1) share the World Day of Peace with your communities;

2) provide substantial education about active nonviolence in all levels of faith formation;

3) provide a regular Gospel-based training program in various nonviolent skills, as they have in the Archdiocese of Chicago;

4) join or develop a local peace team to deploy unarmed peacekeepers, provide nonviolent skill training, and scale-up restorative justice.

May God’s love and courage be with each of us as we walk further through the door of Gospel nonviolence.

Eli McCarthy is the director of Justice and Peace for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University.


Going Deeper!

For more resources, visit USCCB’s World Day of Peace webpage, where you’ll find a two-page handout in English and Spanish, past World Day of Peace messages, and other tools to promote peace.

CCHD: A Voice of Hope for Those on the Margins

The USCCB collection to support the Catholic Campaign for Human Development will be taken up in parishes nationwide on the weekend of November 19-20. Please give generously.working-on-the-margins

 

Pope Francis reminds us, “we Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it” (2014 Message for Lent, December 26, 2013).

For the past several years I have served as chair of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) subcommittee, where I have seen how CCHD answers this call by giving voice to those on the margins of society experiencing the stark realities of poverty. I want to share with you the work of a few CCHD-supported groups across the country. These are just some of the many programs that speak to the dignity of each person, opening doors and providing hope for a more just and peaceful society.

The California Catholic Conference works with dioceses throughout California to advocate for criminal justice reform and provide spiritual outreach for communities. With a grant from CCHD, the California Catholic Conference expanded its Nightwalk programs in neighborhoods all over California. During Nightwalk—an event led by community leaders, elected officials, and clergy—community members walk the streets of violence-prone neighborhoods together in an effort to promote peace and reconciliation. These walks unify communities and give them a chance to find pathways out of violence together. Just as it is important to unify communities, it is also important to heal the wounds of individuals affected by crime and violence. The California Catholic Conference also sponsors healing circles that bring both victims of crime and families of the incarcerated together for honest dialogue and healing. By training more leaders to facilitate these meetings, the restorative power of God’s compassion and mercy is more widely spread. As Bishop Richard Garcia of the Diocese of Monterey said, “It’s really a question of reaching out to everyone with that merciful love of our God.”

 Through a CCHD national strategic grant, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has been working across the country to promote the safe, effective entry of citizens returning from incarceration into communities and into the workforce. Through St. Vincent de Paul’s partnership with local Catholic institutions and the business community, as well as through programs like job training, returning citizens are able to find jobs, stability, and a future. In an effort to break the cycle of crime and prison reentry, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul also empowers returning citizens to work for the systemic changes needed to promote criminal justice reform. With these new skills, they have been able to advocate for policies that will support fair hiring practices. Through these programs and partnerships, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is shifting systems to ensure the success of returning citizens.

Pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati's prison ministries are seen in Rome Nov. 3. Pope Francis will celebrate a Mass for those who work in prison ministry Nov. 6 in St. Peter's Basilica. (CNS photo/Junno Arocho Esteves)

Pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s prison ministries are seen in Rome Nov. 3. Pope Francis will celebrate a Mass for those who work in prison ministry Nov. 6 in St. Peter’s Basilica. (CNS photo/Junno Arocho Esteves)

Often, when juveniles are arrested their record follows them their whole lives, decreasing their chances of finding gainful employment and increasing their chances of reoffending. Together with the Catholic bishops, groups like the Direct Action and Research Training Center (DART) in Miami are working to reduce the number of juvenile arrests, giving children a real chance at success. Thanks to a strategic national grant from CCHD, DART works with school and law enforcement officials to decrease the number of school-based arrests and promote alternative, constructive interventions that give children a second chance at their future. Because of their work, school systems are now able to implement restorative justice practices affecting over 65,000 students and resulting in a decrease in suspensions and arrests.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) works to be a voice of hope for those on the margins of society experiencing the realities of living in poverty. CCHD supports programs to heal the wounds of crime and violence, advocate for more just policies, protect God’s creation, and develop strong communities.

The Mercy of Jesus is abiding and always urgent. CCHD sustains the Holy Father’s initiative to bring the joy of the gospel to our brothers and sisters living on the margins of American life. Although we will soon conclude the Year of Mercy, a time of extraordinary grace, we know that our work has just begun.

Bishop Soto

Jaime Soto is the bishop of Sacramento and the chairman of the USCCB’s Catholic Campaign for Human Development.


CCHD: Dando Voz a Los Que Viven en la Periferia de la Sociedad

El papa Francisco nos recuerda que “los cristianos estamos llamados a mirar las miserias de los hermanos, a tocarlas, a hacernos cargo de ellas y a realizar obras concretas a fin de aliviarlas” (Mensaje para la Cuaresma 2014, 26 de diciembre de 2013).

Durante los últimos años me he desempeñado como presidente del subcomité de la Campaña Católica para el Desarrollo Humano (CCHD), donde he visto cómo la CCHD responde a este llamado dando voz a los que viven en la periferia de la sociedad experimentando las crudas realidades de la pobreza. Quiero compartir con ustedes el trabajo de algunos grupos apoyados por la CCHD en todo el país. Son sólo algunos de los muchos programas que ponen de manifiesto la dignidad de cada persona, abriendo puertas y brindando esperanza para una sociedad más justa y pacífica.

La Conferencia Católica de California trabaja con diócesis de toda California para abogar por la reforma de la justicia penal y brindar acercamiento espiritual a las comunidades. Con una subvención de la CCHD, la Conferencia Católica de California expandió sus programas Nightwalk en vecindarios de toda California. Durante Nightwalk, un evento dirigido por líderes, funcionarios electos y clérigos de una comunidad, miembros de la comunidad caminan juntos por las calles de vecindarios propensos a la violencia para promover la paz y la reconciliación. Estas caminatas unifican a las comunidades y les dan la oportunidad de encontrar juntas salidas a la violencia. Así como es importante unificar las comunidades, también es importante curar las heridas de las personas afectadas por el delito y la violencia. La Conferencia Católica de California también patrocina círculos de curación que reúnen a víctimas del delito y familias de los encarcelados para sostener un proceso honesto de diálogo y curación. Al capacitar a más líderes para facilitar estas reuniones, el poder restaurador de la compasión y misericordia de Dios se difunde más ampliamente. Como dijo el obispo Richard García, de la diócesis de Monterey, “es realmente una cuestión de acercarse a todos con ese amor misericordioso de nuestro Dios”.

Mediante una subvención estratégica nacional de la CCHD, la Sociedad de San Vicente de Paúl ha estado trabajando en todo el país para promover la entrada segura y efectiva de los ciudadanos que regresan del encarcelamiento a las comunidades y a la fuerza de trabajo. Mediante la asociación de San Vicente de Paúl con instituciones católicas locales y la comunidad empresarial, así como mediante programas como capacitación laboral, los ciudadanos que regresan pueden encontrar trabajo, estabilidad y un futuro. En un esfuerzo por romper el ciclo de delito y reingreso a prisión, la Sociedad de San Vicente de Paúl también empodera a los ciudadanos que regresan para que trabajen por los cambios sistémicos necesarios para promover la reforma de la justicia penal. Con estas nuevas habilidades, han podido abogar por políticas que apoyen prácticas equitativas de contratación. A través de estos programas y asociaciones, la Sociedad de San Vicente de Paúl está cambiando sistemas para asegurar el éxito de los ciudadanos que regresan.

A menudo, cuando los menores son arrestados sus antecedentes penales los siguen toda su vida, disminuyendo sus posibilidades de encontrar empleo decente y aumentando sus posibilidades de reincidir. Junto con los obispos católicos, grupos como el Direct Action and Research Training Center (DART) de Miami están trabajando para reducir el número de detenciones de menores, dando a los niños una oportunidad real de éxito. Gracias a una subvención estratégica nacional de la CCHD, DART trabaja con funcionarios escolares y de aplicación de la ley para disminuir el número de arrestos dentro de las escuelas y promover intervenciones alternativas y constructivas que den a los niños una segunda oportunidad en su futuro. Debido a su trabajo, los sistemas escolares pueden ahora implementar prácticas de justicia restaurativa que benefician a más de 65,000 estudiantes y que disminuyen suspensiones y arrestos. La Campaña Católica para el Desarrollo Humano (CCHD) trabaja para ser una voz de esperanza para los que viven en la periferia de la sociedad experimentando las realidades de vivir en la pobreza. La CCHD apoya programas para curar las heridas del delito y la violencia, abogar por políticas más justas, proteger la creación de Dios y desarrollar comunidades fuertes.

La Misericordia de Jesús es permanente y siempre urgente. La CCHD apoya la iniciativa del Santo Padre de llevar la alegría del Evangelio a nuestros hermanos y hermanas que viven en la periferia de la vida estadounidense. Aunque pronto concluiremos el Año de la Misericordia, un tiempo de gracia extraordinaria, sabemos que nuestro trabajo recién ha comenzado.

Bishop Soto

Jaime Soto es el Obispo de Sacramento y el presidente del subcomité de la Campaña Católica para el Desarrollo Humano (CCHD).

Celebrating a Victory for Racial Justice

cheryl-sommer

Cheryl Sommer

In his encyclical, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis notes: “[Business] can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the areas in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (no.129).  Francis echoes our longstanding Catholic social teaching tradition which urges all of us, including those responsible for creating jobs, to seek the common good and promote human dignity.

In Metro-East St. Louis, people of color found themselves dealing with another longstanding practice, that of often being shut out of good job opportunities including those in the construction trades. Years of racial bias, exclusionary practices of both businesses and unions, as well as other individual actions combined to create an unjust system preventing people of color in the region from having access to employment.

Faith communities that serve low-income populations see the impact of this unjust system firsthand. Reflecting on the congregation’s charitable efforts, one pastor commented, “These people don’t want to be given coats. They want a good paying job to buy their own coats!”

This is where United Congregations of Metro-East (UCM), an interfaith group consisting of Catholic Churches and other congregations which addresses unjust systems in the region, comes in. With funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) and the support of Belleville Bishop Edward K. Braxton, UCM has been training Catholics and non-Catholics alike to change unfair employment systems.

UCM found hope in the announcement of the building of a new Catholic hospital in the area.  Catholic leaders in UCM believed that a Catholic institution would want to use the construction of its new hospital as an opportunity to open the construction trades to people of color. Hospital leadership initially pledged to work with UCM on this. For reasons not completely understood, it didn’t happen. UCM learned that the hospital had a minority hiring goal of just 8% in a region with a minority population near 40%.

Knowing of Bishop Braxton’s strong support of their work through CCHD and of his pastoral letter on The Racial Divide in the United States, UCM approached him for help. Bishop Braxton called an immediate meeting with hospital leadership, UCM, and Bruce Holland, the general contractor for construction.  Holland was himself a Catholic. Braxton firmly stated that a Catholic hospital should do better in breaking down systems of exclusion in construction jobs.  He instructed everyone to continue meeting to improve the situation.

Holland, a long-time respected business leader, opened up his office for the meetings, which were tense due to the fact that construction contracts had already been signed.  It seemed evident that there were only going to be about 8% people of color working on the hospital construction. But with Bishop Braxton’s constant encouragement and the willingness of everyone to stay at the table, understanding began to be reached. Holland was moved to offer his help to mentor fledgling non-white businesses in finding success in the construction industry.

On September 1, Holland hosted a reception at his office which was attended by 32 minority business representatives and other people of color who wanted job opportunities.  Relationships were built and minority business owners were given tips for successfully bidding for construction jobs.  Contractors were given specific people who would follow-up with them for ongoing assistance.  Some were given a promise of work very soon.

A system of exclusion from jobs for people of color still exists.  However, because of Catholics who support CCHD, the unwavering encouragement of Bishop Braxton, the tenacity of men and women who want to work, and a Catholic business owner who stepped forward with his expertise and influence to mentor others, a system of inclusion is one step closer.

Cheryl Sommer lives in the Diocese of Belleville and has worked in parish religious education for over 30 years. Cheryl is a long-time volunteer with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and with United Congregations of Metro-East (UCM).

Going Deeper

Reflect on racial justice with Bishop Edward K. Braxton of the Diocese of Belleville, IL, in his pastoral letter on The Racial Divide in the United States.

Visit the USCCB Racism page to discern how your faith community can work for racial justice.

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?

The Sluggish Pursuit of Racial Justice

(CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

(CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

The U.S. Bishops said it back in 1979 with “Brothers And Sisters to Us.”  Their words continue to have a powerful impact in the Catholic community:

“Racism is a sin, a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father.  Racism is a sin that says some human beings are inherently superior and others essentially inferior because of race … it mocks the words of Jesus, ‘Treat others the way you would have them treat you.’”

Racial and ethnic strife have remained issues the Church has addressed from the very beginning. Now in our present day, in a climate of ever-expanding freedoms, every Christian is obliged to apply Christ-like critique to personal preferences and judgments in effort to steer clear of seeing others as somehow different.

“They are not like us” is something we hear commonly said.  So, we avoid their neighborhoods.  We avoid social interaction with those people.  We stand from a distance and imagine how bad they are in order to justify our lack of involvement with them.  And ‘because those kinds of people are different, they are not necessarily entitled to, or they don’t deserve, or are not interested in working toward what resourceful and otherwise people like me are entitled to or work for.’

Added to this is the fear of shortages, the fear that we are not treated fairly in comparison to others, the fear of foreigners entering our space.  Regular media reports about the encroachment of refugees and migrants seeking respite from war and conflict, religious or ethnic persecution typically stir fear in people.  While it is a human penchant to differentiate, differentiation acts counter the sensibilities of the Christian message of love of neighbor we received from Jesus Christ.

We look to the Christian template in Acts 2, which inspires mixed class, mixed race and mixed generational communities, and we see that it must translate to our faith communities, as well. Communities in which we would never aspire towards mono-racial parishes because we would recognize they are incomplete, admitting that we are responsible for the application, punctuation and scheduling the universality of God’s kingdom, which is always the higher rubric in the Christian dispensation.

Indeed, the social imperatives found in the gospel are some of the most challenging messages to get across in preaching and Christian formation. It is a genuine struggle getting these ideals across to people, even to sincere Christians.  Material wealth and well-being are deemed manna from heaven. People prefer to live this way – economic advantage and opportunity enable us to live this way. But as positive as advantage, free enterprise and choice are deemed in our democracy, they unwittingly work a divide in the human community.

The City of Chicago is often representative of some of the most glaring disparities in opportunity: housing, education and access to health care.  Disproportionate numbers of people of color live in misery, condemned to lives of desperation, fueled by depression, and crime chosen as a path by anti-social elements in the sub culture.  Adding to the challenge of the Christian task are the people on the other side who easily dispense themselves from indifference and numbness felt in the face of some overwhelming social inequities surrounding us.

Whereas our nation has addressed many legal barriers to ending racism with civil rights legislation, we must continue to be vigilant for we are now challenged to deal with attitudinal and economic barriers to ending racism. The Church’s voice, strong in instances, muted in others, has tried to break through social walls that divide.  We find that people listen and may even nod in the affirmative to what is preached, but certain stubborn social patterns continue.

Christian faith affords us opportunities to reach to the deepest recesses of our hearts to search out attitudes and dispositions and information from our rearing that need discarding if we would live as a redeemed people. For example: ‘From where do my impressions of others originate?  Do I tend to label people or place them in categories?  Do I tend to expect the worse or the best from others regardless who they are?  When are the numbers of minorities close by too many for my comfort level?

What attitudes and approaches are we leaving to the young in legacy so they can help eradicate this original and pernicious sin of our society called racism?

Most Reverend Joseph Perry is an Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago and Episcopal Vicar for Vicariate VI. Bishop Perry is the Diocesan Postulator for the Cause of Canonization of Father Augustus Tolton.

This blog post was adapted for ToGoForth. Read the original version on the Catholic Chicago Blog.


This week, Catholics from all over the country are gathering to pray and learn about what it means to dismantle internalized judgments of our neighbor. The Social Action Summer Institute hosts a number of sessions to help bring about this clarity at Saint Xavier University on July 17-21st. For more information, visit: www.chicagopeaceandjustice.org/SASI. You can also follow the conversation on social media #SASI2016.