Disrupting a Culture of Resentment, Rebuilding a Culture of Encounter

In February, nine Latino, African-American, and Caucasian leaders from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati flew to Modesto, California, for the U.S. World Meeting of Popular Movements (WMPM). Organized by the Vatican, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development/USCCB, and PICO National Network, the gathering of 700 grassroots leaders from across the country focused on the issues of racism, migration, housing, jobs, and environmental justice.

For the immigrant victim of wage theft, the community leader fighting against foreclosures in his neighborhood, and the African-American woman tackling racial injustice, the issues of the gathering were all ones that directly impacted our delegation’s members. The WMPM injected all of us with new energy and hope, as participants shared each other’s stories, affirmed each other’s struggles for life and dignity, and celebrated our oneness in the Body of Christ.

But the real outcome of the WMPM for our delegation still hinges upon what we can do differently at home in our own archdiocese.

As Pope Francis exclaimed in his message to the WMPM: “It makes me very happy to see you working together towards social justice! How I wish that such constructive energy would spread to all dioceses, because it builds bridges between peoples and individuals. These are bridges that can overcome the walls of exclusion, indifference, racism, and intolerance.”

We all arrived at the Modesto gathering with the sense that we are immersed in a culture of resentment.  Whether it’s between pro-life and social justice advocates, immigrants and non-immigrants, Christians and Muslims, or black and white people, forces in our culture are encouraging us to see someone else as an “other.”  Yet, in his rousing address at the WMPM, Bishop Robert McElroy spoke of the urgency for us to “disrupt” and to “rebuild.”

We left this gathering with a call to disrupt such a false, divisive narrative about ourselves.  We committed ourselves in turn to rebuild it with a “culture of encounter.”

Some institution in our society must be bold enough to turn our heads towards the “Jesus in disguise” in each other, especially in the most poor and vulnerable among us. We, as the Church, can strive to rebuild a sense of universality among currently polarized peoples by creating spaces where we recognize our shared struggles for human life and dignity.  With our comprehensive Catholic moral and social teachings, we have the vision that few political, economic, or social entities can offer to such an urgent task.

A day after our return, our leaders shared their excitement for the gathering with our local Archbishop Dennis Schnurr. “You just made my day,” he responded with a smile.  We agreed to begin organizing a gathering of pro-life and social justice parish leaders, immigrants, people released from prison, crisis pregnancy volunteers, those experiencing environmental injustice, and others.  Not only do we want to see greater justice for all these people, but we also aim to disrupt the culture that tries to pit us against each other, especially by boxing us into “conservative” and “liberal” corners.

We aim to rebuild it with a sense that we are all each other’s neighbors; that everyday people, not politicians or other figureheads, are our own solutions. Our task now is to imagine and create such a space of encounter and dialogue.

If there’s one thing the WMPM showed me, it’s how much our nation sorely needs a faith community that trusts that we can overcome our divisions.

 

Tony Stieritz is the Director of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Catholic Social Action Office


Going Deeper

Find out how Catholics in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati are responding to the call to be “disruptors” for Christ—through an annual World Day of Peace mass, work to accompany formerly incarcerated individuals, religious sisters fighting human trafficking, and new programs to care for God’s creation.

Democracy and the Peaceful Transfer of Power in The Gambia

Steve Hilbert, policy advisor on Africa, USCCB

Steve Hilbert, policy advisor on Africa, USCCB

The United States just completed a long election season. It was at times divisive, unsettling and frustrating.  In the end, our institutions prevailed and delivered a peaceful transfer of power.

Four thousand miles away another transfer of power just took place in The Gambia in West Africa. This one almost ended in disaster.  A political unknown, Adama Barrow, a former real estate agent, took on President Yahya Jammeh, who had been in power for 22 years.  No one thought Mr. Barrow would win, but he won.  People were even more shocked when President Jammeh, known for his human and civil rights violations, conceded defeat.

On a continent where personality politics has yet to give way to strong democratic institutions, President Jammeh subsequently withdrew his concession. He claimed the election, run by his own government, had been fraudulent.  The President also called a meeting with the Islamic leaders and the Christian Council of Churches to demand their support.  For a President who always appears in public with a Koran in hand, this endorsement was symbolically crucial.  Instead, the religious leaders told the President to bow to the will of the people and step down.

Bishop Oscar Cantú, Chair of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, wrote to Bishop Robert Ellison of Banjul to share appreciation for the courage that he and his brother religious leaders had shown. He expressed solidarity with the people of The Gambia.

When the head of the national army pledged his troops’ allegiance to President Jammeh, it looked like democracy for and by the people would fall.   But the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) stepped in to resolve the crisis.  Four West African Presidents met with President Jammeh to convince him to step down.  Jammeh refused.  ECOWAS then announced that they were prepared to use military means to force President Jammeh from power.

President-Elect Barrow fled to Senegal and was sworn in as President in The Gambian embassy in Dakar, Senegal. The Senegalese army with support from Ghana and Nigeria crossed into The Gambia with a final ultimatum.  Mediation trips by two other West African leaders convinced Jammeh to leave the country.  Reports say that he left with a transport plane full of luxury cars and $11.4 million in government funds.

President Adama Barrow hopes to seek the return of state resources. He has also called for a truth and reconciliation commission on past violations of human and civil rights.

This is not the first time West African leaders have intervened to avert a crisis. They ended a coup d’état in Mali in 2012 and supported the ouster of a recalcitrant coup leader in Burkina Faso in 2015.  In the 1990s they sent troops to end a long civil war in Liberia.  These efforts are strong indicators that African leaders are increasingly committed to democratic rule.  Other countries in West Africa like Ghana, Senegal, Benin and Nigeria are building stronger democratic institutions and a solid track record of democratic rule and the peaceful transfer of power.

International support for African efforts to promote democracy, free and fair elections, a vibrant civil society and human rights are crucial. Africa has made slow and steady progress towards democratic rule and economic prosperity.  It has a long way to go and depends on continued support from the United States to meet these goals.  The United States can show positive leadership in the world by working with countries that strive to build democracy and peace.

Steve Hilbert is a policy advisor on Africa for the Office of International Justice and Peace at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Going Deeper!

Explore the work of the USCCB’s Office of International Justice and Peace, which assists the bishops in advancing the social mission of the Church, especially in its advocacy for policies that advance justice, defend human dignity and protect poor and vulnerable communities around the world. Join USCCB and CRS in advocating on behalf of those who are vulnerable around the world, through Catholics Confront Global Poverty.

Promoting Peace in Northern Ghana

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Kris Ozar, Country Representative for Catholic Relief Services in Ghana

In Pope Francis’ statement for the 2017 World Day of Peace, he notes that “the Church has been involved in nonviolent peacebuilding strategies in many countries, engaging even the most violent parts in efforts to build a just and lasting peace.”

At Catholic Relief Services (CRS), our peacebuilding work often tries to anticipate conflicts and to defuse them before they explode into violence. A good example is an ongoing project in Ghana leading up to this month’s Presidential and Parliamentary elections.

You might not think Ghana, known as a beacon on stability in West Africa, is a country that needs peacebuilding work, but its northern regions are particularly troubled where a significant number of recurring conflicts that have at times erupted into violent clashes with fatal consequences. The country’s stability can be threatened when elections exacerbate simmering political, religious, and ethnic tensions.

Ghana’s youth constitutes about a third of its 26 million people. For this reason, the CRS peacebuilding project, dubbed “Promoting Peace in Northern Ghana,” is focused on helping people between the ages of 15 and 25 understand and act out their role as agents of peace. Working with partners, including three dioceses in Northern Ghana, during the several months leading up the election, CRS trained approximately 675 youth in peacebuilding and preventing electoral violence. In addition, 30 youth leaders, called Young Peace Ambassadors selected from communities particularly prone to violence have been implementing community-based peace advocacy activities to promote peaceful elections in December 2016.

For much of the next year, efforts will focus on further strengthening the role of youth as productive citizens and positive contributors to the Ghanaian economy by continuing to work with youth leaders and building up the peacebuilding capacity of diocesan units.

At CRS, we know from experience that violence can be contagious. But so can peace. Projects like this one in Ghana are like stones tossed in a pond, rippling far beyond those directly affected.

As Pope Francis said, “in 2017 may we dedicate ourselves prayerfully and actively to banishing violence from our hearts, words and deeds, and to becoming nonviolent people and building nonviolent communities that care for our common home. ‘Nothing is impossible if we turn to God in prayer. Everyone can be an artisan of peace.’”

Kris Ozar is Country Representative for Catholic Relief Services in Ghana.


Going Deeper

Read Pope Francis’ message for the 2017 World Day of Peace. Join with Catholics Confront Global Poverty to advocate with others to change the conditions that prevent peace globally.

Hope “pierces the heart” of a diocese new to organizing

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The closing of the liturgical year and the Feast of Christ the King fell, this year, just after the U.S. presidential elections. Such timing prompts me to ask, what does God’s reign look like on earth? Among a divided world, how does one rule with peace and justice? Who would be better equipped to ensure the good of his people than one who knows suffering, family poverty, and being outcast?

prophetic-voting-hitting-the-streetsIn my diocese here in the Northeastern corner of Indiana, the sovereignty of Christ’s power has been made manifest in new ways throughout the last six months. A humble group– immigrants, returning citizens, foreign priests, low-income lay leaders, and average every-day parishioners – heard God’s call for justice and participation and took on new habits, words, and ways of seeing themselves and the world.

What does their love look like in public? Here are a few freeze frames:

  • Pastors dismayed by their parishioners’ disinterest in current events, slimmed attention spans, and even illiteracy issued calls from the pulpit about the need to consider the entirety of Church teaching when forming their consciences and challenged them to move beyond partisan comfort camps;
  • Ethnicities unfamiliar with working together shared stories of similar pain and worry with each other and partnered to knock on the doors of some of the most destitute neighborhoods in our diocese;
  • Undocumented immigrants, who cannot vote and barely survive in the shadows, held voter registration tables and conducted hundreds of calls to encourage those who can to vote their values, even when those values stood in stark contrast to their own;
  • Men and women working multiple part-time jobs made time, often despite family criticism, to be trained in Catholic social teaching, the parameters of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, and the kinds of decisions local and state governments make every day that determine the conditions of our lives.

Even the night when our country finally elected its president, Christ’s kingship still rang out across our land. Amid moments of frailty and fragility, as those same leaders from the voting effort were working the third shift at a manufacturing plant and their co-workers exchanged excitement for the time when “immigrants will go running like cock-roaches”; or, in the days that followed, as students hid in lockers as kids chanted brazen slogans in the hallways and parents were caught speechless as their children gaze into their eyes asking “what is going to happen to us?” – the Kingdom keeps yeasting.

stpatligandbrothersIn the quiet solitude of our hearts, we remember a reality that is unchanged – God is the King of the World. We let the truth radiate outward from there, and soon we cannot help but recommit to the work of overcoming hate, indifference, and ignorance through the hallmarks of mercy and the audacity of hope.

As people of faith, we must continue our efforts to keep immigrant families together, promote religious liberty, ensure the vulnerable have access to adequate health care and emergency assistance, work for racial justice, reform the criminal justice system, and care for all God’s creation.

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:28). And organize!

 

audrey-davisAudrey Davis is the Director for the Office of Social Justice for the Diocese of Fort Wayne- South Bend, Indiana.

This pocket of former manufacturing and agricultural glory is today home to the 17th highest incarceration rate on the globe, and where only 30% of jobs pay a family wage. Through the Prophetic Voting Campaign, the diocese partnered with IndyCAN to make its foray into community organizing, through which four low-income parishes joined together to hold sacred conversations with 1,787 low-income voters, register 80 new voters, and spread the message of human dignity and justice through 6 news stories.


Going Deeper

Visit the PovertyUSA.org map to find out where people of faith are organizing for and with those who are poor and vulnerable in your community. Join them!

 

A look ahead to Pope Francis’ visit to Africa

Pope Francis holds dove before his weekly audience at the Vatican

Pope Francis holds a dove before his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican May 15. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Later this week, Pope Francis will make his first pastoral visit to Africa. He will visit Kenya, Uganda, and if the security situation allows, the Central African Republic. Throughout his pontificate, the Holy Father has championed the cause of those living in poverty. On the world scene, Sub Saharan Africa is where the marginalized of the world are concentrated. According to the World Bank, in 1990 50% of the world’s poor lived in Southeast Asia while Africa accounted for only around 15%. The Bank projects that in 2015 those continents will change places with Africa holding about half of the world’s poor. Yet, Africa represents only around 15% of the world’s population.

Pope Francis very likely will make this disparity a key message to the world. He will probably call on the world’s developed countries to increase their investment in poverty eradication where the poor are concentrated – in Africa.

November 25-27, Pope Francis will be in Kenya. There, Pope Francis may address the long-term ethnic conflict that has been instigated and used by political leaders for decades. Conflict over land, especially in the fertile areas of the country, is closely linked to ethnic tensions. Ethnic groups tend to be concentrated in particular areas of the country, and some groups feel their land has been taken by the more powerful and politically connected ethnic groups. Church leaders have spoken out against ethnic-based politics and the resulting violent conflicts. The Holy Father may urge the Church and the government to defuse tensions through more systematic and sustained dialogue and reconciliation programs.

For decades, Muslims and Christians have lived side-by-side in relative peace in Kenya. When Somalia descended into conflict, refugees streamed into Kenya, but Muslim-Christian relations remained positive. When the Kenyan army intervened in Somalia, however, that changed. The Westgate Mall attack and more recent terrorist acts have created significant anti-Muslim sentiments, resulting in heavy-handed actions by government police and military against Muslims. This in turn has fostered grievances among peaceful people in the Muslim community. The Holy Father will perhaps stress the need for greater Muslim-Christian dialogue.

Governance issues and corruption have been long standing problems in Kenya. They are some of the root causes of the worsening ethnic conflict. The Holy Father may call for greater inclusive, transparent, and responsive government in a pastoral way.

While South Sudan is not on the Pope’s visit schedule, the Holy See has followed the tragic civil war there closely. Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council on International Justice and Peace, visited South Sudan last year. Pope Francis may make a statement on the situation in South Sudan and encourage the Catholic Church and the South Sudan Council of Churches to persist in their efforts to promote reconciliation, dialogue between political leaders, and regional cooperation to help South Sudan achieve peace.

From November 27-29, Pope Francis will be in Uganda, a country that has been relatively peaceful. Tensions are rising due to worsening corruption and neglectful governance and increasing civil rights violations by President Museveni’s government, in power for almost 30 years. The Holy Father may address governance issues by evoking his themes of caring for the poor and the marginalized.

On November 29-30, Pope Francis is expected to visit the Central African Republic, which is struggling to recover from decades of bad governance and two years of violent conflict. The country is trying to organize elections and inaugurate the first legitimate government in its history. Violence between militia groups continues, and the fate of a peaceful transition hangs in the balance. The Church leads the Religious Leaders’ Platform that is calling for donor nations to give the transitional government the time and resources it needs to organize a credible election. The Pope’s visit could be the catalyst for real positive change if he can encourage the belligerents to reject their violent ways, empower religious leaders, and urge donors to fund peacebuilding efforts.

Throughout his journey, we expect to see Pope Francis bringing the hallmarks of his Papacy: preaching joy of the Gospel, being close to the poor and marginalized, and spreading message of mercy and reconciliation.

In advance of the Pope’s visit to Kenya, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops has released a special prayer for the visit. We invite you to follow Pope Francis’ visit in the news and ask that you pray for him and for peace in South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

See the full schedule for Pope Francis’ Visit to Africa, November 25-30.

 

Hilbert headshotSteve Hilbert is a policy advisor on Africa for the Office of International Justice and Peace at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Meaning of Pope Francis’ Trip to Cuba

Two Previous Papal Visits

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Most Reverend Thomas Wenski, Archbishop of Miami

Pope Francis arrives in Cuba at a time of renewed hopes because of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and United States. That the Pope played a key role in helping make this happen will not be lost on anyone in Cuba.

In 1998, Saint John Paul II said that Cuba should open itself to the world and that the world should open itself to Cuba.

Now, Pope Francis is flying to the U.S. – not directly from Rome but from Cuba. The Pope likes to make symbolic gestures – he carries his own bag, for example. His flight into Washington, D.C. from Havana is also very symbolic. As he told priests at an ordination a couple of years ago, priests are to build bridges not walls. He is building a bridge. And this bridge not only spans the distance between Cuba and the US, but – I think – is meant also to span the distance between the U.S. and Latin America. This is the distance between the most developed part of the world with those parts, in many cases, that are the least developed. Continue reading

Election in Nigeria Brings New Beginning

Nigeria. (US Government Image)

Nigeria. (US Government Image)

The recent electoral campaign in Nigeria saw violence and an exaggerated level of tension. The stakes for the two most important candidates, incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and his main challenger, Muhammadu Buhari, were extremely high. Election Day glitches and accusations of fraud raised tensions further. In the end, when the results came in they brought a clear result, a peaceful transition and a new direction.

Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressives Party won the election with a margin of about 2 million votes over President Jonathan’s party. This is the first time since independence in 1960 that an election has resulted in a peaceful transition of power. There was very little violence during the polling and vote count. With such a huge margin of victory, claims of discrepancies or voter fraud could not affect the outcome. In a first for Nigeria, President Jonathan called Buhari to concede and congratulate him on his victory. Although this is standard protocol for the United States, for Africa, much less Nigeria, this congratulatory call was a major symbolic step forward for democracy. The gesture will certainly moderate, if not discourage, legal and violent challenges to the results. It sets a new tone and standard for the post-election process and marks a dramatic departure from previous elections in Nigeria and other African countries where inciting supporters to violence has killed many and destroyed much.

The president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, urged supporters of the two candidates to remain calm and to respect the election result. Archbishop Kaigama also asked security forces to remain on alert in order to contain post-election violence and new attacks by Boko Haram.

President-elect Buhari, who ruled Nigeria from 1983-1985 after a coup d’état, was known for his so called “war on indiscipline”, which did succeed in reducing levels of corruption in the country. His rule was also characterized by significant levels of human rights abuses. However, he is known as a man who has lived simply and avoided excessive trappings of wealth and power. President Buhari will need to uphold human rights and discipline and exercise humility if he is to bring about change in Nigeria.

President Buhari faces many significant challenges. He must foster competency and instill discipline in the Nigerian army if they are to defeat Boko Haram, while avoiding human rights abuses in the process. He will have to promote peace and prosperity in the northern Muslim regions as a long-term strategy to cut off the supply of future extremist groups’ recruits and financial supporters. At the same time, he will need to prove to southerners that he is also concerned about their welfare. President Buhari will also have to stimulate the economy if young Nigerians, a major portion of the population, are to find employment. Lastly, he will have to eliminate the corruption that has deprived the country of billions of human development dollars.

Last weekend’s election may not constitute a Holy Week miracle, but it is most certainly a blessing to the people in Nigeria. Let’s pray that those blessings continue.Hilbert headshot

Stephen Hilbert is a policy advisor on Africa and global development at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.