Encounter Maria

As Catholics, we go to God together. We’re all in this together. God’s family extends beyond time and space, and we’re called as individuals to participate in that family, both in the daily realities in which we find ourselves and in that eternal reality to which God calls us. Our participation matters, whether it’s buying a homeless man a sandwich, spending time with our parents, or supporting just and fair social systems.

That’s why the saints are so important: women and men who have gone before us who shine the light so that we can see, who relate to us in their humanity and call us beyond ourselves in their examples of holiness. Some of these men and women walked with Christ himself; others lived years later; still others we know from our own lives. This is what it means to be in community—to be a part of God’s community: that we look to one another for support, for prayer, for inspiration and motivation along the journey, because we’re all just pilgrims on the road.

And that’s why we go out into the world; that’s why we build the Reign of God on earth. We should never grow tired of hearing St. Teresa of Calcutta’s words: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” We are called to be saints today; we are called to holiness. And we are called to go to God together. So, as members of a community that stretches far beyond ourselves, we go out to our brothers and sisters to be for them what Christ and the saints are for us.

Maria de lu Luz Lego Martinez, here with her grandson Alexis. runs a household without a husband, who went to the US. Of her 10 children, four have died, two live in the United States, and the other four live nearby. Photo by Karen Kasmauski for Catholic Relief Services.

Maria de lu Luz Lego Martinez, here with her grandson Alexis. runs a household without a husband, who went to the US. Of her 10 children, four have died, two live in the United States, and the other four live nearby. Photo by Karen Kasmauski for Catholic Relief Services.

Maria, a woman from Ejido Hidalgo, Mexico, provides us with a living example of this principle in action. She remembers what it was like growing up in her small village. “We said we were rich because we had a lot of corn, beans and animals.” But now, with few jobs and even less rain, young people—including Maria’s children—are leaving the community in search of a better life.

To help families like Maria’s, CRS launched a greenhouse project empowering women with meaningful work and community. Women visit their community greenhouses to grow cactuses to sell—but they also go for so much more. “At the greenhouses, we laugh, we talk, we spend time together. Sometimes we leave our homes angry or sad. But then we start working with the plants, and we forget. Talking, laughing—we forget our problems for a while,” says Maria.

As the cactuses grow, so to do the economic opportunities. “We didn’t believe we were going to get that far. It’s a lot of joy, a lot of excitement to see so many plants flowering.”

The flourishing cactuses aren’t the only things that give Maria pride. Even though they live far away, she still remains close to her family. “I give thanks to God that he gave me all my children and grandchildren,” she says. “They give me strength and courage to work hard. My children call and say, ‘Don’t give up, Mom. Have faith in God.’”

Eric Clayton is CRS Rice Bowl Program Officer at Catholic Relief Services (CRS).


This Lent, USCCB is partnering with CRS to bring you reflections and Stories of Hope from CRS Rice Bowl, the Lenten faith-in-action program for families and faith communities. Through CRS Rice Bowl, we hear stories from our brothers and sisters in need worldwide, and devote our Lenten prayers, fasting and gifts to change the lives of the poor. Read more from CRS Rice Bowl.

 

 


 

A Letter from the Heart of an Undocumented Immigrant

In recognition that this is National Migration Week and at the invitation of the National Council of the United States Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Voice of the Poor Committee, for the first time I am telling my story of coming to the United States as an undocumented immigrant.

Our two children, Lizza and Alfonso Jr., and I were born in Tijuana, Mexico, next to the southwest border with USA. My husband, Alfonso, was born in a small town in the State of Jalisco, México.

Margarita with her husband and children in the 1970s

Margarita with her husband and children in the 1970s

As soon we got married in 1973, he, as a lawful permanent U.S. resident (green card holder), filed a visa petition for me. In those days, the waiting period of time was 12 years.

At the time, we lived in Tijuana. Every day at 2:30 AM, Alfonso crossed the border to work in the fields in the United States, picking tomatoes, chilies, and strawberries.  He worked 10-11 hours a day, 6 days a week, and spent one and a half hours commuting each way to work and back home.

In the beginning, Alfonso worked in different, very demanding jobs – as a janitor; in factories and canneries; construction; as a laboratory technician; and so on – until he started to work in an aerospace company, first as a carpenter, then as mechanic, electrician, and welder, and now as a lead man of the maintenance department. I am sharing this with you because I need to make a point – he always worked hard, long hours and different shifts.

While he worked in the United States, I worked in a Social Security Hospital in the Human Resources Department in Tijuana, and, at the same time, took care of two children. Alfonso did everything possible for the children to have a strong father presence in their lives; it was hard for him and for us.

Several years passed, and we were told that the waiting time to become a permanent resident had increased to 14-17 years. So, Alfonso made the hard decision to resign his Mexican citizenship to become a US citizen.  In those days, it was not like today where you can have dual citizenship – you had to surrender your citizenship in your own country.  Alfonso also needed to speak English well and go to school for the U.S. citizenship classes.

Can you image when he could find time to attend the daily two-hour English and Citizenship classes?

We needed to move to the United States, because it was the only way he could have time to attend his classes and have a little more family time. It was a hard decision – to continue in the same pattern or try to be a real family.  We decided to come to live here.  In the mid-1980s, my two small children and I came to the United States without permission to reside here.  My husband had a resident card so he had the right to live and work here. Thanks to God, we did not come through the desert, a tunnel, or in a car’s trunk.  We had short-term visitors’ visas to come and visit the United States and we were supposed to stay no more than three days and keep within a certain area.

I started to feel bad about myself, as if I was not good enough, because I was not able to work or have a driver’s license or walk freely on the streets. I had always worked.  I needed to be productive and was worried about how I could help support the family financially, too.

I started to help working mothers with the care of their children after school for a small fee. In the evening, I went to learn English as a second language at my children’s school.  But I did not like those classes.  They were too slow, and I need to learn a little faster.  In order to do this, my English teacher told me to go to a community college, but she did not know that I did not have the proper documents.  I attended community college briefly, but since I was not a resident, I did not qualify for reduced tuition.  Instead, I would have had to pay full foreign student tuition, even though we paid taxes for community schools.  I could not afford full tuition and still help my husband provide for the family.

From the time he started working in the United States, Alfonso paid taxes to the IRS. Once we moved to the United States, we saved some money, with family help we eventually bought our house, and we paid property taxes. I always lived in fear of deportation and the consequences for my family. Our children were in a household where our status was a secret; you did not want anyone to know it, because it was dangerous. For most undocumented immigrants, fear, and the stress that comes with it, is a constant part of life.  We had to keep our situation a secret from nearly everyone we encountered, afraid to be reported and sent back to Mexico

It was time full of frustration, learning, adapting, and growing in many ways, but mostly full of joy because we were together.

Not long after my children and I came to the United States, my husband applied for citizenship. He passed the test, and, in three months, he became a U.S. citizen.  He next petitioned for our under-age children, Lizza and Alonso Jr., to become U.S. citizens, and in 6 months they were.  It was not easy for us to pay in a single year the very expensive fee for the three of them to become U.S. citizens.  So again, Alfonso needed to work overtime to afford the house payment and all the immigration fees.

Several months passed before we could change the status of my first petition which, when it was filed back in 1973, was done by my husband in his then-status as a U.S. resident. As a U.S. citizen, he could file an updated petition on my behalf and the waiting period would be shortened.  Finally, that was accepted, and I was granted an official U.S. resident card.  Then I had to wait three more years to be able to apply and pay more fees for the U.S. citizenship process.  Eventually, I was able to apply for it.  I passed the test, and finally, after all the risks, tears, frustrations, low self-esteem, and 20 years, thanks to God, I became a U.S. citizen in 1994 – Hurray!!!

For us, it was extremely important to work hard. I really appreciate this country and its people.  We made a real pledge to making this country our home.

Margarita, her husband, Alfonso, and their extended family at Christmas 2016

Margarita, her husband, Alfonso, and their extended family at Christmas 2016

On the other hand, we continue to maintain strong relationships in our birth country. We are the lucky ones to have had the opportunity to access the best from both countries and to celebrate both cultures – not assimilate the USA culture, but to blend both.

I believe we need to share our stories. Some, like mine, are relatively easy, but others are very hard, sad, and dangerous.

We are human beings, created in the image of God, too, with dreams and hopes like every other person. We simply wish to be able to do better for our family, our communities, for the poor, and for our country.

Margarita Galindo is Vice-President for Hispanic Involvement at the National Council of the United States Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Permanently Affordable Housing Transforms Lives and Communities

I have mixed feelings when I see new construction in residential neighborhoods. I’m a curious passerby and I like to watch the slow progress of the heavy equipment preparing the foundation and moving girders into place. I’m excited (and maybe a little envious) to envision families having an opportunity to be the first to live in a bright, clean place where everything works. Then I start to wonder if long-time residents were displaced for the new building. If so, where did they go? And how do they afford the rent? What happened to the community they built over many years?

Housing is one of the justice issues we address at the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). On San Juan Island in northwest Washington State, as in so many areas, housing prices have skyrocketed in recent decades, squeezing low-income workers and others out of formerly affordable housing. Families who once relied on finding a decent place to rent on the scenic island were pushed out by owners eager to tap the new Airbnb and lucrative vacation rental markets instead. Older sale or rental properties were replaced with more expensive options. Even housing built as “affordable” re-sold at market prices when the first owners moved and original deed restrictions expired.

Enter San Juan Community Home Trust, a small local group that receives funds from CCHD. The trust shares our belief that homeownership is a transformational tool, especially for low-income people stressed by frequent moves. It enhances the sense of human dignity, self-worth, and stability for hard-working people.

San Juan Community Land Trust construction site where new affordable housing is being built.

San Juan Community Land Trust construction site where new affordable housing is being built.

The San Juan Community Home Trust helps individuals and families access permanently affordable housing that is innovative and sustainably “green.” The trust has developed two neighborhoods whose active, growing communities are living reflections of Catholic social teaching, including care for creation, responsible stewardship of the resources we’ve been given, and the moral imperative to reach out to the less fortunate.

a barge carries a large home across the sea

Homes from Vancouver, British Columbia being brought to San Juan island via barge.

The trust has built new homes and floated in sturdy early 20th-century houses once slated for demolition in nearby Vancouver, British Columbia. One of my associates who makes regular visits to the San Juan Community Home Trust neighborhoods says the new communities are a tangible expression of God’s love. She also marvels that the renovated old houses have unique features worth restoring and celebrating, much like the individuals who will call them home. By creating permanently affordable housing, the trust addresses income disparities, supports community structures, and helps people sink in deep roots to weather turbulent times. CCHD is proud to support the trust’s initiatives.

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Thank you, as always, for your prayers and support of CCHD. You are a crucial partner in our ceaseless mission to break the cycle of poverty.

Ralph McCloud, CCHD

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

Photos Courtesy of San Juan Community Home Trust


Learn more about San Juan Community Home Trust in the latest edition of the CCHD quarterly newsletter Helping People Help Themselves.

See other CCHD groups’ Stories of Hope on PovertyUSA.

Replacing “Clamorous Discord” With Love and Mercy

In this past Sunday’s first reading, the prophet Habakkuk, who lived in a time of “strife” and “clamorous discord” (Hb. 1:3), cries out to God for assistance. God urges him to wait faithfully, for the “the rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live” (2:4).

In the heat of this election season—with its “clamorous discord” and “rash” words—Habakkuk’s plight takes on a new meaning. When inflammatory rhetoric, uncivil accusations, and personal attacks abound, the temptation can be to turn off the news, shut the newspaper, and ignore the Twitter feed for the next four weeks.

But Sunday’s Gospel challenges us. At the beginning of the Gospel reading, the apostles implore Jesus, “Increase our faith” (Lk. 17:5). They are responding to Jesus’ challenge in the verse prior: “If [your brother] wrongs you seven times in one day and returns seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you should forgive him” (17:4).

How difficult the challenge of forgiveness sounds to them! Yet, Jesus responds to their request for increased faith: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (17:6).

Clearly, prayer rooted in deep faith can make the impossible a reality.

We are called to bring this Gospel challenge to our current situation. At this long moment in our country when mercy, forgiveness, and love seem to be completely missing in the public square, we must utter the apostles’ prayer: “Increase our faith!”

When faced with the temptation to withdraw or disengage from public life, we must pray, “Increase our faith!”

When, in our conversations with others, we ourselves feel the urge to refuse to model the respect we want to see; or to attack the person instead of discussing the issue; or to use inflammatory language; we must call out, “Increase our faith!”

As followers of Christ, we are called to think and act differently, approaching dialogue with a spirit of love and respect for the dignity of others. In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis offers these guidelines for dialogue within families. They would be truly transformational if applied in the public square as well.

In response to our cry, “Increase our faith!,” we must allow the Holy Spirit to guide us so that we may model love and mercy in our families, at our workplaces, and in the public square. We must also urge candidates and elected officials to engage in dialogue that is civil and respectful.

Civil dialogue means that when speaking with others with whom we disagree:

  • We should begin with respect.
  • We should decide neither to degrade the persons, characters, and reputations of others who hold different positions from our own, nor spread rumors, falsehoods, or half truths about them.
  • We should be careful about language we use, avoiding inflammatory words and rhetoric.
  • We should not assign motives to others. Instead, we should assume that our family members, friends, and colleagues are speaking in good faith, even if we disagree with them.
  • We should listen carefully and respectfully to other people.
  • We should remember that we are members of a community, and we should try to strengthen our sense of community through the love and care we show one another.
  • We should be people who express our thoughts, opinions, and positions—but always in love and truth.

 

If we can model Christ’s love in our civil dialogue, we can begin to change the negative climate in our country during this election season, and beyond.

Increase our faith!


Going Deeper

As an individual and as a family, reflect on Pope Francis’ guidelines on dialogue and consider how you can put them into practice in your own conversations.

Encourage civil dialogue in your parish. Include the civil dialogue insert in your bulletins in English and Spanish.

Show the video reflections by Cardinal Wuerl and by Franciscan Media on civil dialogue at the end of Mass, in a place where parishioners gather, or as part of scheduled parish events

Forming Our Children to Go Forth

“Families should not see themselves as a refuge from society, but instead go forth from their homes in a spirit of solidarity with others. . . A married couple who experience the power of love know that this love is called to bind the wounds of the outcast, to foster a culture of encounter and to fight for justice. God has given the family the job of ‘domesticating’ the world and helping each person to see fellow human beings
as brothers and sisters.” 

–    Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, nos. 181, 183

Jacob, Matthew, and Sarah still hold my hand when we walk to school.  For now, it’s an instinctual reflex for them.  I extend my hand and their little hands swing up to meet mine.  This probably won’t last much longer, but I hope it does.

As I think about it, the metaphor of walking together about sums up how my husband Jay and I try to foster a culture of encounter within our family. Pope Francis’ latest exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, affirms the role of the family—the domestic church—as a “vital cell in the transformation of the world” (AL 324).  To be relevant in the world, the road must be made by walking.  Remarks like “they grow up so fast” may sound cliché but with two of our three children in middle school beginning this fall, we realize how quickly time passes and just how small a window we parents have to help form our children into reconcilers, rebuilders, and restorers in God’s world.

Our deepest prayer for our children is that each one knows they are loved by God—hopefully first experienced by the love and acceptance they find at home.  We hope and trust that they are able to extend that love to others.  Maybe with God’s grace andfamily at basilica their discerning hearts, they will even desire to discover what call God has placed uniquely on their hearts.

We see our primary role in parenting of our children as encouraging Jacob, Matthew, and Sarah to engage the world around them—confronting injustice, witnessing hope in action, experiencing joy, asking for forgiveness, displaying compassion, showing empathy, and loving even in the midst of anger or fear.

We have found that ordinary everyday life presents our family with invitations to foster a culture of encounter.  For our little Murphy domestic church this means living inside the city where our neighbors, classmates and colleagues are diverse.   When Jacob comes home from school asking why so many classmates rely on free and reduced-price meals, we can talk about the dignity of the human person. When Sarah attends PTA meetings by our side, she sees her community coming together for the common good. When Matthew’s best buddies in school are from different religious and ethnic backgrounds, our family is enriched by authentic solidarity.

For our family, fostering a culture of encounter means watching the nightly news together and discussing what we see.  During the non-stop campaign coverage for this year’s elections, this means talking about what the candidates stand for and exploring what our faith has to say about the topics debated. One of the hardest things to explain is that while neither political party shares all of our Catholic values, we cannot simply retreat from political life and its respective duties.

Admittedly, this kind of parenting isn’t for everyone. From where we sit, the road to a culture of encounter is made by walking.

Pope Francis put it best in the last few words of Amoris Laetitia: “All of us are called to keep striving toward something greater than ourselves and our families… Let us make this journey as families, let us keep walking together.” Pope Francis, (no. 325)

Krisanne VaillancourtKrisanne Vaillancourt Murphy is the Senior Associate for National Catholic Engagement at Bread for the World.

 

Going Deeper
For some practical ideas about how families can practice solidarity with others, visit this page on WeAreSaltLight.org.

10 Tips on Dialogue from Pope Francis: A Challenge to Families…and Candidates?

amoris-fb-meme-5-4In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis calls dialogue “essential” for family life.   His guidelines on dialogue are easily applicable to civil society as well.

Can you imagine how this election cycle might be different if we challenged ourselves, candidates, political parties, commentators, ourselves, and others to follow Pope Francis’ advice?

  1. Recognize the real “importance” and dignity of the other person. Recognize others’ right “to think as they do and to be happy.”  Pope Francis challenges us to acknowledge the values of the other’s “deepest concerns” and what he or she is try to say (no. 138).
  2. Try to understand where the other person is coming from: his or her pain, disappointments, fear, anger, hopes, and dreams (no. 137).
  3. Put yourself in the other’s “shoes”; try to “peer” into his or her heart. This is the starting point for dialogue (no. 138).
  4. Be ready to “listen patiently and attentively to everything the other person wants to say.”  Dialogue requires the “self-discipline” of waiting until someone is finished speaking before responding.  And, it means truly listening to what someone else is saying—not planning a comeback before the other person has even finished speaking (no. 137).
  5. “Keep an open mind.” We need not stick to our own “limited ideas and opinions,” but we must “be prepared to change or expand them.” Our goal is “synthesis” that enriches everyone involved in the dialogue.  We don’t seek unity in diversity, Pope Francis says, but rather “reconciled diversity” (no. 139).
  6. Our goal is to advance the common good. Respect and appreciation for the “other” are necessary prerequisites (no. 139).
  7. Try not to offend, and don’t vent. We must choose our words carefully, be sensitive to how others feel, and never seek to inflict hurt. We must also avoid a “patronizing” tone, which “only serves to hurt, ridicule, accuse and offend others” (no. 139).
  8. Love everyone. “Love,” Pope Francis writes, “surmounts even the worst barriers.”  When we come from a place of love, we can better understand others (no. 140).
  9. Base positions on beliefs and values, not on the desire to “win” an argument or be “proved right” (no. 140).
  10. Pray! True dialogue, Pope Francis reminds us, “can only be the fruit of an interior richness” nourished by our quiet time with God through reading, reflection, prayer, and “openness to the world around us” (no. 141).

These are challenging words from Pope Francis.  How might our own families be different if we took his words to heart? Our parishes?  Our neighborhoods? Ourselves? Our society? The current election cycle?

Pope Francis’ vision is a vision of joy-filled love. Let’s share it!Rauh headshot

Jill Rauh is assistant director for education & outreach at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.


Go Deeper!

Get more tips and resources on dialogue from the WeAreSaltAndLight.org page on Encounter.

Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia: The Eucharist Calls Our Families to Transform the World

Michael Jordan Laskey, Life & Justice Ministries, Diocese of Camden, NJ

Michael Jordan Laskey, Life & Justice Ministries, Diocese of Camden, NJ

My wife Genevieve used to work at an urban retreat and social justice education center in a poor city, which is in the former convent on the property of a Catholic parish. There were a couple of homeless guys from the neighborhood who would occasionally stop by the center for something to eat. Because youth were often in the building, the center’s security policy didn’t allow the men to come in, but staff members would always prepare a “to go” bag with a sandwich or two and anything else that was in the kitchen.

There was a daily Mass in the chapel across the parking lot from the center, and Genevieve would go before work from time to time. One of the men who came for food most often – I’ll call him Frank – would sometimes be at Mass, too. He would join in the prayer and receive communion with the rest of the assembly.

Genevieve was struck by the fact that while Frank was understandably not allowed to enter the center, he was more than welcome in the church. He was part of the one human family gathered around the altar for the Eucharistic feast; he didn’t have to take this meal to go.

Mass, said the scholar Aidan Kavanagh, is doing the world the way it’s meant to be done. At the end of each liturgical celebration, we are sent forth to make the world more closely resemble the unity that we practice in the sanctuary, where all welcomed to the table and can receive what they need.

Pope Francis makes this connection between the Eucharist and our call to create a more just world in paragraphs 185 and 186 in his brand new apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”).

“The Eucharist demands that we be members of the one body of the Church. Those who approach the Body and Blood of Christ may not wound that same Body by creating scandalous distinctions and divisions among its members,” he writes. “When those who receive it turn a blind eye to the poor and suffering, or consent to various forms of division, contempt and inequality, the Eucharist is received unworthily. On the other hand, families who are properly disposed and receive the Eucharist regularly, reinforce their desire for fraternity, their social consciousness and their commitment to those in need.”

Why does Pope Francis talk about the connection between the Eucharist and working for a more just world in a document about the family?

The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. It is the celebration of Christ’s self-giving love and sacrifice for us, his brothers and sisters. We are meant to emulate this Eucharistic, others-centered love in our family lives – directed toward our own blood relatives, surely, but also reaching outward to all of God’s children, especially those who are hurting.

Formed by this Eucharistic love, our families can become what Pope Francis calls in the document “vital cell[s] for transforming the world.” Our families are meant to be schools of mercy, where compassion and care for the poor are learned and practiced. I think of my friend Sean, who has devoted his life to Catholic social justice ministry. When he was growing up, his family would help serve a meal at a soup kitchen every single Christmas. Sean doesn’t remember this tradition seeming strange or unusual. “It was just something we did,” he says. He learned mercy in his family and it had a profound impact on the person he has become.

How might the self-giving love we celebrate in the Eucharist be calling your family to work for justice together? What a privileged opportunity we have to respond to the Holy Father’s call!

Michael Jordan Laskey is director of Life & Justice Ministries and vice chancellor for the City of Camden for the Diocese of Camden, NJ. 


Go Deeper!

Read the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia online at the Vatican’s website or order copies through USCCB Publishing.

Learn more about how our faith inspires us to respond as disciples in the world today by watching this short video on WeAreSaltandLight.org.