CSMG: The Importance of Advocacy and Faithful Citizenship

csmg_header_watermark2Picture this. The biggest blizzard in years is headed towards the Mid-Atlantic, but despite this, hundreds of Catholics committed to social justice gather in Washington D.C. to pray, learn, and advocate for “Living Mercy in our Common Home” at the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering (CSMG) from January 23-26. While the storm blew on, the event continued. It was my first CSMG, and I was curious to see how the days would go.

Anna CapizziProviding a reflective beginning to CSMG, Bishop Nelson Pérez asked us to remember the encounters we had with Christ in the past that had become wellsprings for us. Christ’s love is the foundation that drew all of us together from different ministries, universities and dioceses to again encounter Him and one another.

Encounter leads to awareness and education. The days of workshops and presentations focused on community for mission, policy, and preparing for advocacy. I attended workshops on living the Jubilee Year of Mercy and Global Solidarity, Practicing Mercy in Parishes and Communities with Restorative Justice, and more.

The workshop on Faithful Citizenship reminded me that by virtue of our baptism, we are all missionaries called to evangelize and share the Good News. It struck me more deeply that there exists a connection between evangelization and participation in the political life and pursuit of the common good. Faithful citizens have a responsibility to educate themselves on current issues and the Church’s social doctrine. In Pope Francis’ address to Congress last September, the pope said, “Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility.” This, and CSMG, reminded me of that fact that to whom much has been given, much is expected, and that advocating for the poor and vulnerable, the immigrant, the criminal, the environment, and so on is an act of love connected to our faith. This love sends us forth as missionary disciples.

In the same address, Pope Francis went on to say, “It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society.” With well-formed consciences and a spirit of charity, Catholics can and ought to speak to moral and social issues in the public square. The bishops of the United States give examples of various forms of participation, such as “running for public office; working within political parties; communicating…concerns and positions to elected officials; and joining diocesan social mission or advocacy networks, state Catholic conference initiatives, [and] community organizations.” (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States, no.16)

I left CSMG empowered and excited to meet with my members of Congress and to dialogue with them. Amidst the business of life, here was one concrete step I could take to keep the momentum of CSMG going. As I have been on a few district visits now, advocacy seems less daunting and more of a worthwhile challenge to be a missionary disciple, promoting encounter, human dignity, and the common good.

Challenge yourself to take some time to read up on the issues, study the talking points, and schedule a district visit with your member of Congress. Research from the Congressional Management Foundation shows advocacy is the most effective way of making an impact on policy.

See more resources on the USCCB website: http://www.usccb.org/about/justice-peace-and-human-development/resources-and-tools.cfm

Anna Capizzi is a former intern with the Office of Domestic Social Development at the USCCB. She is graduate student studying moral theology at Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology at Seton Hall University.

Humble Listening in The Year of Mercy

Sr. Kathleen McManus Credit: Clarice Keating/Catholic Sentinel

Sr. Kathleen McManus, OP
Credit: Clarice Keating/Catholic Sentinel

She is brilliant and beautiful, and she was my student in an Introductory Theology course. She is Muslim, and she spent the better part of her childhood growing up in Kurdistan.  At semester’s end, I learned of the atrocities she witnessed as a child, including the murder of her grandfather. And I learned that she keeps that part of her story hidden from others, because she wants to be normal; she wants to fit in. She is safe now, but the people she left behind are not.

Victims of poverty, violence, and political turmoil, all of those who are disenfranchised by society, all who dwell on the margins – these are the ones who reveal to us the Reign-of-God-not-yet-come. They reveal it by contrast, precisely through their cries for deliverance from all the ravages of the anti-Reign. How do we train our ears to hear the voice of God in these cries? Moreover, how do we attune ourselves to the silence of the countless voices rendered mute by systems of dominance? From what do we need to empty ourselves in order to encounter the Truth to Whom we claim to belong?

In every global context from which the cries of suffering arise, women bear a unique burden of voicelessness, even as they bear the burden of care for life in its most basic, embodied form. Witness streams of refugees seeking safe haven from violence and torture: Amidst this dire pilgrimage, it is women who struggle to sustain children and the infirm on their perilous journey in the hope of freedom. And, as terror spreads a global shadow, we who are accustomed to dwell secure are startled by the prospect of our own vulnerability.

The attacks on Paris drew an immediate response of solidarity from the Western world, especially the U.S. Why? With the constant violence inflicted upon people in the Middle East, why the dramatic response to this incident? We know why: They are us. And that became all the more evident in the tragic San Bernardino shootings. We are vulnerable, and we Americans don’t like to think of ourselves as vulnerable.

Answers are elusive. Perhaps our call is to a saving question: Might this glimmer of felt vulnerability be our means of solidarity with the truly helpless vulnerable masses? Might it open the ears of our hearts to the voices drawing us into communion with Truth? Might it mark out a path of encounter mediating the healing of relationships, systems, and perceptions that will enable the reign of God’s mercy to come on earth as in heaven?

Pope Francis has inaugurated a Year of Mercy. And now we approach Christmas, when we celebrate God’s Mercy born in human flesh. How might we bear God’s Mercy in our flesh? How might our persecuted and suffering sisters and brothers teach us the vulnerability that issues in mercy? The Year of Mercy is a time for humble listening.

Kathleen McManus, OP is Associate Professor of Theology (Systematics) and Director, Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry Program at the University of Portland

 


Sr. Kathleen McManus will present at the 2016 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering on The Global Suffering of Women as an Ethical Imperative for the Church. See registration information and schedule.

 

Authentic Role Models for Emerging Leaders in Social Justice

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

student with professor at CSMG

Trinity student Laura Clavijo and Dr. Lynda Jackson

As a business professor at Trinity Washington University, my research and studies focus on the best ways to mentor students and guide them toward developing success factors that will enhance their careers and in turn their lives. Specifically, I like to stress the significance of becoming involved in purposeful networking, actively seeking caring mentors, and consistently identifying suitable role models.

Being involved in the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering (CSMG) offered an environment that provided our students with direct access to all three–networks, mentors, and role models.

When we learned of the opportunity to attend the CSMG 2015 conference in Washington D.C., it appeared to be the perfect setting for our students to network with likeminded individuals, seek encouraging and caring mentors, and interact with role models who were making significant contributions toward social justice in their communities and our society as a whole.

Once our plans were set to attend, we read the brochures and watched the informative videos, and our excitement grew. But, no one could have told us how stimulating it would be to actually attend and be a part of the CSMG 2015!

My students were amazed–as this was their first opportunity to attend a conference. At first, they were a little apprehensive, but then, every group they joined warmly welcomed them and involved them in the topics of discussion. The students were given several business cards for future contact and mentoring opportunities.

The plenary sessions were “awesome” (their words) and increased the students’ excitement about the “possibilities” of one person making a major difference in the lives of many through advocacy. Students especially appreciated the rare experience to hear first-hand accounts of the works of tremendous role models such as Martina Liebsch, Director of Policy and Advocacy for Caritas Internationalis, and Sylvester Brown, Jr., Executive Director of The Sweet Potato Project.

Another advantage was the chance for the students to network with other students from all over our nation who are interested in being involved in human rights advocacy projects and social justice awareness activities. Additionally, they took advantage of the opportunity to speak and network with the friendly and informative representatives from a variety of Catholic and advocacy programs located in the Exhibit Hall. They enjoyed chatting and learning about each of the organizations and were encouraged by the representatives’ eagerness to engage them in conversations about their own future career plans.

By the end of the conference, the students were elated about the possibilities of bringing community service ideas and insights back to Trinity where we too focus on human rights and social justice. They also looked forward to sharing what they learned with their home parishes. Without a doubt, the CSMG experience exceeded the students’ greatest expectations!

At Trinity, we certainly look forward to future opportunities for our students to participate in the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering.

Trinity student with Catholic Social Ministry Gathering registration materials

Trinity student Bruna Distincto Algaran at CSMG

All students, nationwide, are bound to be excited about the tremendous opportunity to be involved in CSMG and to gain exposure to this valuable network while interacting with excellent and committed role models and mentors. As a professor, I highly recommend this opportunity to all students and can assure them a valuable, rewarding, and priceless experience!

As Benjamin Franklin indicated, involvement is where true learning occurs!

Dr. Lynda C. Jackson is Assistant Professor of Business at Trinity Washington University


Join us at Catholic Social Ministry Gathering on January 23-26, 2016! The Catholic Social Ministry Gathering strives to recognize, encourage, and prepare young and diverse leaders of our Church’s advocacy and social ministries. We invite college and universities to participate in the Gathering through the Young Leaders Initiative. 

Special early bird registration rate ends November 13th.

Our Diversity Is Our Strength

Deacon Al Turner, MTS

Deacon Al Turner, MTS

When I was director of the Office of Black Catholics I was often asked these questions: “Why do we need an Office of Black Catholics? Doesn’t that promote division among us?”

These questions indicate the need to acknowledge that diversity is a part of who we are as a community. This outreach is not an indication of our divisions as much as it is an indication of the beauty of our diversity.

We need look no further than Scripture to see the place of diversity in the church. St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians reminds us of who we are as members of the body of Christ: “As the body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we are all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one spirit” (1Cor. 12:12-13). St. Paul’s message resonates for us today as we face the new reality of the church as being diverse within its unity.

Recognizing and addressing the need to have leadership reflect the face of the faithful has at times been a slow process. Our diversity is our strength and our beauty. We are a “patchwork quilt” of many pieces and each piece brings with it its own beauty that should not be lost within the overall quilt.

The message found in the New Testament is that we are all one in Christ, that we are our brothers’ keepers, and that God shows us how to be one with our brothers and sisters, as He became one of us. We, as followers of the Lord, must do all we can to mirror the life of Christ, we in leadership positions all the more. I call this “empathic leadership.”

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has reminded us that the shepherds must take on the smell of the sheep. By that, I believe that he also means that the shepherds should also look like the sheep.

As I look around me, today, I do not see a clergy and religious that reflect the reality of our present demographics. In this age of the New Evangelization, it is very important that the actions of the Church match the words of the Church. If the New Evangelization is to be a new beginning, then those who lead must be culturally, racially, and ethnically representative of the faithful. How can this be done?

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is involved in a number of efforts to help.  For many years, I have served on the planning committee for the Diversity Outreach Initiative (DOI) at Catholic Social Ministry Gathering. The goal of DOI is to develop leaders from diverse Catholic communities for ministry in the Church.  The initiative expresses our commitment to strengthen the Church’s social ministry by reaching out to Catholic ethnic, racial, and disability communities and encouraging members to lift up the richness and diversity of their gifts in our shared mission.

The USCCB has also adopted several priorities to assist ministers in the recognition of cultural diversity as a reality in the Church today and how it can be lived on a day-to-day basis. The USCCB Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church has taken up this challenge and created a way to begin to address ministry to the faithful in a more useful way. The result is the “Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers” (BICM) program. The aim of BICM is to foster sensitivity to the various cultural, spiritual and worldviews that all who minister in the church will encounter in the “vineyard of the Lord.” The committee has identified six cultural “families” to be ministered to in the United States: African Americans, Native Americans, Asia and Pacific Islanders, Hispanics/Latinos, migrants/refugees/travelers, as well European Americans. Ministering with sensitivity to the culture of those we encounter is one way to start to reclaim and to reactivate the missionary call, which is the very core of the life of the church.

If we are to grow the church in the “fields” we wish to evangelize, we need to actively grow the leaders from among those we evangelize. This means that our seminaries must be actively seeking vocations from men who come from those who make up the faithful in our area. We cannot just invite them, we must go out and “make disciples”. Our diocesan offices must be populated by people who look like the faithful. We must be all things to all people.

The church must embrace our diversity as strength and not as a weakness. We must thank God for the wonder of the diversity of his creation and use it as he intended, so that all may be one and share his love with all.

Deacon Al Turner, MTS, is the former Director of the Office of Black Catholics for the Archdiocese of Washington and is currently assigned to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Largo, MD.  


Learn more about building unity in diversity and developing diverse leaders at We are Salt and Light, a project of Justice, Peace and Human Development/USCCB.

Young Leaders Experience the CSMG for the First Time

Have you ever been somewhere or been a part of something where you just kept looking around and thinking to yourself “Is this real?”

Sean Ruane

Sean Ruane, Lewis University

That was my experience at the opening Mass of this year’s Catholic Social Ministry Gathering (CSMG) in Washington, D.C.

I was born and raised Catholic, went to a Catholic high school and university, and currently work at a Catholic university. So naturally, I’ve been to my fair share of Masses.

But this opening mass at CSMG was by far the most inspiring, edifying, and enriching mass experience I’ve ever had. That’s not to take anything away from other Masses that I’ve been to, this one was just that good.

The music brought me to my feet time and time again. The readings and petitions were read in several different languages and were read beautifully and with conviction. And, the community of people from different cities, states, and countries, all “gathered” (pun intended) on behalf of a shared passion for faith-inspired social justice work, was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever been a part of. It was awe-inspiring.

I was fortunate enough to be present for this event because of my role as Coordinator of Social Justice Education at Lewis University. I work in University Ministry, where I get to work with students who, inspired by their faith, have answered the call to work for peace and justice.

This year was my first time at CSMG and I was blessed to accompany three outstanding sophomores from Lewis University – Lauren, Julio, and Savannah. Julio has a particular passion and interest in peace-building and conflict resolution in war-torn countries, and Savannah and Lauren are both incredibly passionate about criminal justice and sentencing reform.

It was a tremendous honor for me to walk with them throughout this experience, as they had the opportunity to hear a number of high profile keynote speakers, participate in small group discussions, be a witness to two amazing masses, and talk with legislators on Capitol Hill about issues such as immigration and mass incarceration. They were also blessed with the chance to meet up and interact with over 100 other college students from around the country, as part of the emerging Young Leaders Initiative (YLI).

After participating in CSMG and YLI, and returning back home to Lewis University, Savannah, Lauren, and Julio were kind enough to provide me with some feedback about their CSMG experience. I will leave you with some of their own words about this incredible experience:

“The visit to Capitol Hill allowed me to truly express my passion for social issues as well as apply all of the knowledge I had learned from the workshops. It was an amazing feeling to be able to voice my opinion on something I’m so passionate about to a person who is capable of making a difference. It assured me that my ideas mattered and that justice is more tangible in this country than many believe.”- Lauren

I was blessed enough to be a part of an event so powerful that I can say that I wholesomely felt the presence of the Holy Spirit.” – Julio

 “CSMG was truly an unforgettable experience. I attended the most culturally diverse, beautiful Mass of my life. The gathering allowed Julio, Lauren, and I to network with other college students across the nation and discuss things we can improve or introduce to our campuses… From this gathering, I have realized that it is our duty to change the injustices we see in the world.” – Savannah

 

Sean Ruane is a University Minister and Coordinator of Social Justice Education at Lewis University.


Join us at Catholic Social Ministry Gathering on January 23-26, 2016! We invite college and universities to participate in the Gathering through the Young Leaders Initiative. 

How We Build Young Leaders

Mariann Hughes photoPolitics can be discouraging work. Long hours are punctuated by anxious moments as bills wend their way through committee hearings, debates and floor votes. Sometimes months of work crash to the floor in mere seconds.

But working for the Church gives politics a deeper meaning. Our work defends the vulnerable, the sick, the poor, the unborn, the elderly and the imprisoned. And more often than not, our comrades-in-arms are there to pick us up to fight another day.

Two years ago, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approached our staff at the Maryland Catholic Conference with an idea for a network of Maryland college students. These liaisons would receive valuable training and skills-building, then work to involve their fellow students in faith-based advocacy by disseminating resources, holding events, and sharing our work at their respective universities across the state. They would also attend the USCCB’s annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in February 2015 with 500+ leaders from across the nation, including 100 participants in the Young Leaders Initiative. The costs of their training and stipends were generously funded with a grant from the Catholic Youth Foundation USA.

As with any pilot program, it took time and trial-and-error to craft parameters and goals, but we found three students who were willing to be our guinea pigs! (Thelma, from Mount St. Mary’s; Alisa, from the University of Maryland; and Patricia, from Maryland Institute College of Art.)

Working with these young women during the 2014-15 school year was a joy. They were enthusiastic about the work of the Church in the public square. Whether they were planning a voter registration drive, engaging speakers to talk to the student body, or volunteering their time with charitable organizations, the young women showed passion for their faith and an eagerness for more projects. They were poised, confident and cheerful.

During the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington DC, I watched these young women hold animated conversations with their peers. I saw them chatting excitedly after workshops with leaders in the Church. I saw their heads bowed in prayer and their hands raised in praise. They shared their career goals with me. None of these talented, ambitious students wanted to be rich or famous. They wanted to help people and share their love of Christ with the world.

As I continue to grow and develop our relationships with an increasing network of young adult Catholics, I’m humbled that no matter the stage in life, we all bring something to the table. Those older than I offer wisdom, experience, prudence. Those younger offer hope, zeal, energy. Working with these students has given me a sense of Church and of community – all backgrounds, ages and walks of life coming together to show their love for Christ in a real and tangible way. All of sudden, this doesn’t feel like a battle anymore. It feels like family.

Mariann Hughes is the associate director of advocacy and outreach at the Maryland Catholic Conference, which advocates for the Church’s public policy positions before the Maryland General Assembly and other civil officials.

CSMG: Young Leaders Initiative Empowered Me

Jackie Sardina

Jackie Sardina

The 2015 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering boasted a new record for campus involvement this year: 104 students from 30 universities across the nation attended CSMG 2015. I was one of them!

As a student at The Catholic University of America, I attended CSMG as a young leader, and I was blown away by the experience. Hundreds of Catholic social justice leaders gathered together, united in one faith and in the goal of bringing the peace and justice of Christ to our nation. Throughout the conference, I was able to network with Catholic diocesan peace and justice directors, community organizers, and representatives from all kinds of faith-based organizations working for justice. I heard inspiring stories of social justice work around the country and I formed connections I hope to continue beyond the weekend. The keynote presentations, legislative briefings, and break-out sessions all taught me much about a faith-filled approach to difficult issues and about the U.S. bishops’ policy stances on issues affecting people in poverty.

It was encouraging and empowering to see what other leaders were doing on their college campuses. The Young Leaders Initiative enabled students like me to share ideas as well as create action plans to implement what we learned at CSMG when we get back to campus. After a great networking luncheon, we celebrated with an ice cream social and got to know each other as students who share the same passion. We also joined other CSMG participants in going up to Capitol Hill to visit lawmakers. We advocated in support of legislation to enable communities to overcome poverty and injustice, nationally and globally.

I am so excited and thankful for all of the good work these passionate leaders will continue to do on their campuses and in their communities. The theme of this year’s CSMG was “To Go Forth: Encountering Christ in the Heart of the World.” I hope students at colleges and universities around the country will start planning to be part of next year’s “encounter.” The 2016 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering will take place January 23-26. It’s an event you won’t want to miss!

Jackie Sardina is an undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America and an intern with the USCCB Catholic Campaign for Human Development.