From Prison to Rome: The Impact of the Year of Mercy on Reentry

Dominic and his children get their boarding passes for Rome

Dominic and his children get their boarding passes for Rome

Rome was an amazing trip – it was more than I ever imagined, and to have my wife and children join me was the icing on the cake! I’ve dreamed of being able to take my family out of the country and experience some amazing places like Rome, but what was even more amazing was the reason why we were invited to Rome. The Jubilee Year of Mercy Mass, dedicated to those who are incarcerated and prison and jail ministers, reinforced and gave even more assurance that the work we do in re-entry with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is touched and blessed by God!

In his homily, Pope Francis shared, “We know that in God’s eyes no one can consider himself just (Rom 2:1-11). But no one can live without the certainty of finding forgiveness! The repentant thief, crucified at Jesus’ side, accompanied him into paradise (Lk 23:43). So may none of you allow yourselves to be held captive by the past! True enough, even if we wanted to, we can never rewrite the past. But the history that starts today, and looks to the future, has yet to be written, by the grace of God and your personal responsibility. By learning from past mistakes, you can open a new chapter of your lives. Let us never yield to the temptation of thinking that we cannot be forgiven. Whatever our hearts may accuse us of, small or great, ‘God is greater than our hearts’ (1 Jn 3:20). We need but entrust ourselves to his mercy.”

Tiffany Hunter, Jeffery Whalen, and Dominic Duren - three returning citizens who went to Rome for the pilgrimage

Tiffany Hunter, Jeffery Whalen, and Dominic Duren – three returning citizens who went to Rome for the pilgrimage

My trip to Rome had me thinking of my faith and ways to not only strengthen my relationship with God, but my wife’s and children’s as well.  We take for granted the martyrs that sacrificed their lives for merely the right to worship. Pope Francis’ homily is affirmation that God is touching the work we do and the path we are taking is the right one.

I’m so blessed to be part of this movement that not only saved my life but turned me into a leader and gave me an opportunity to help others who struggle to get their lives back on track after incarceration.

The Cincinnati delegation prepares to depart to Rome

The Cincinnati delegation prepares to depart to Rome

To be able to attend a Mass led by the Pope is a once in lifetime experience. But to attend a Mass by the Pope that focuses on those who are formerly incarcerated and their was mind blowing! I’m grateful for the opportunity to broaden my horizons by the experience I had in Rome. I learned so much and have such a greater appreciation for the sacrifices people made for their faith. I want to thank the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Brother Mike Murphy, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and each and every person that attended the pilgrimage to Rome for the amazing experience that I and my family had.

The work we do is hard and frustrating at times but Pope Francis has inspired me to do more, as much as humanly possible: educate, connect, engage, build meaningful relationships, organize, and advance issues that build safe, loving, and thriving communities! To have Pope Francis’ support and encouragement for the fair treatment of those who are formerly incarcerated is evidence that our suffering is not going unheard or unseen. I have not felt this hopeful in a very long time!!!!

Thank you, Pope Francis, for providing hope to a population of people who have been hopeless for far too long!

Dominic Duren was among those from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati invited to the Vatican for a Jubilee Year of Mercy Mass for people who are incarcerated and those who minister in prisons and jails. He is the Re-entry Coordinator for The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Cincinnati Ohio.


Going Deeper!

Lear more about St. Vincent de Paul’s two major reentry projects in Cincinnati:

The Help Program, founded by Br. Mike Murphy and provides the leadership development and community support for the returning citizens.

BLOC Print is a social enterprise that provides training and jobs.

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).

Standing with Our Immigrant Brothers and Sisters

Catholics know that every person is made in the image of God. Everyone is due our respect and our love. We’re called to care especially for those who most need our welcome, including newcomers to our country. Because the Church in America has always been an immigrant Church, Catholics feel this responsibility in a particular way.
The Catholic story in America is a story of immigrants, from the first Catholics who arrived here hundreds of years ago, to the waves of European immigrants whose nickels and dimes built so many churches and schools across this country, to those arriving today in search of a better life for themselves and their families. This is who we are.

We are also a family – a family whose life is enriched by the gift of our diversity. Every Sunday, in parishes across the country, people from different backgrounds come together to celebrate Mass. Many cities have Masses offered in twenty or more languages. Catholics of all backgrounds—Chinese, Polish, Guatemalan, Irish, Mexican, Ghanaian, Korean, Honduran, Lithuanian, Vietnamese —come together and are enriched by the Eucharist and by one another.

As a family, we take care of each other and our neighbors. Catholic parishes, schools, hospitals, and social service ministries care for immigrants every day, from language classes to job training programs to offering a helping hand when someone’s in need. We’ve been helping integrate immigrants into American life since Catholics first arrived on our shores. This is what we do.

Given who we are and what we do, we have a special responsibility to reject the hostility that dominates the public conversation about immigration today. The language we use in the public square matters. It should reflect the best of our American traditions – traditions of welcome; of unity in diversity; of care for those in need.

Pope Francis reminds us that immigrants are no different than our own family members and friends; each “has a name, a face, and a story.” Let us remember that Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus were also immigrants in a foreign land when they fled from King Herod to Egypt. When we warmly welcome newcomers we open our hearts wider to Christ.

Most Reverend Eusebio Elizondo is Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle and Chairman of the Committee on Migration of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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.

Immigration, Mercy, and the Vision of America

gomezThis is an excerpt of a lecture by Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez at Boston College Sept. 8, 2016 during an event sponsored by The Church in the 21st Century Center.

Immigration reform is one of the great issues of our day. It’s more than politics and economics. It is a struggle for justice, dignity and human rights. It is a challenge to the conscience of every individual. I believe immigration reform is a spiritual issue — it is a test of our faith, our humanity and our compassion.

I am not a politician, I am a pastor.  For me, immigration is about people — people I work with and live with; my neighbors and parishioners; my friends and family. It is also something personal for me. I came to this country as an immigrant from Mexico and I am a naturalized citizen. I have family and friends on both sides of the border.

The human face of immigration

It’s important to remember that behind every “statistic” is a soul — a soul who has dignity as a child of God, a soul who has rights and needs that are both spiritual and material.

The immigrants I know are people who have faith in God, who love their families, and who aren’t afraid of hard work and sacrifice. Most have come to this country for the same reasons that immigrants have always come to this country — to seek refuge from violence and poverty; to make a better life for themselves and their children.

When Pope Francis addressed the U.S. Congress last September he reminded us that he is the son of an immigrant.   Pope Francis said something beautiful that I think we should all reflect on:

“On this continent … thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal.”

 A nation of immigrants
It is common to talk about America as “a nation of immigrants.” With the exception of our indigenous brothers and sisters, every American is the son or daughter of someone who came to this country from somewhere else.

Right now, the story we tell about America starts here on the East Coast — New York, Jamestown, Boston, Philadelphia. We remember the first Thanksgiving, the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War.  That story is not wrong. It’s just not complete.  And because it’s not complete, it gives the distorted impression that America was founded as a project only of Western Europeans. This misreading of history has obvious implications for our current debates.

America’s founders dreamed of a nation where people from every race, religion and ethnic background could live in equality — as brothers and sisters, children of the same God.

But it is also true that at various points in American history, our faith and commitment to this original vision has been shaken. There is a streak of nativism and racial discrimination that has always run through our history. It seems to flare up especially in times when people are fearful and uncertain about the future.

Mercy and the vision of America and the way forward

Many of our neighbors today are worried and anxious. They are worried about what the global economy means for their jobs, their wages; they are worried about the threat of terrorism. I think our neighbors’ fears are real [to them] and I think we need to take them seriously.

Since 2008, we have deported more than 2 million undocumented persons.

I’m worried that in our fear, we are closing in on ourselves, we are hardening our hearts. There is a cruelty in our policies and our public rhetoric.  I am worried that we are losing our sense of mercy, our ability to show forgiveness and kindness, to empathize and feel the pain of others.

There is a broad consensus that our nation has the obligation to secure its borders and determine who enters the country and how long they stay.  There is also broad agreement that we need to update our immigration system to enable us to welcome newcomers who have the character and skills our country needs to grow.

The good news is that the American people are far more compassionate and understanding than some of the loudest voices we are hearing today.  People do not cease to be our brothers and sisters just because they have an irregular immigration status.

We need to resist the temptations to nativism and discrimination.  We need to insist on public discourse and public policy that reflects our common humanity and promotes the dignity of the human person.

I think we have a duty to be the keepers of the American vision committed to human dignity, freedom and the flourishing of diverse peoples, races and beliefs.  We are to grow in empathy and mercy, by the grace of God.   We need to be working for a new America in which no one is a stranger. An America in which we encounter the “other” — as a brother, as a sister.

To read Archbishop Gomez’s full remarks please visit, http://angelusnews.com/articles/immigration-national-identity-and-catholic-conscience

Love Must Win Out

Bethany Welch

Bethany J. Welch, Ph.D.

For nearly a year now, I have had the distinct privilege of accompanying two asylum seeking families from the Horn of Africa. When I look back at the appeal letter that I wrote to garner support for their arrival in South Philadelphia, I am both humbled by what has transpired since and embarrassed by how naive I was when the journey began.

I believe in the power of advocacy. I work on systems change. I go to protests to shine a light on injustice and I have made a career of helping urban neighborhoods build capacity to fight the effects of poverty.

What I have not done is let love prevail. Until this year. Which is why, now, I believe firmly that love sits at the intersection of mercy and justice. Not the love of paper valentines and heart shaped boxes of candy, but a radical, transforming love manifest to us in the Incarnation.

My part of the story begins in late August of 2015 when, in response to the call of Pope Francis to give shelter to migrants and refugees, St. Thomas Aquinas parish and the adjacent social justice center, which I direct, began to consider providing material support for specific families. This would be above and beyond the work that we already do as a community of immigrants and refugees around education, advocacy, leadership development, legal outreach, streetscape revitalization, and more.

As I wrote to donors then, the story of the two families that we did receive is a universal tale of struggle to find safety and a chance at a better life. They escaped torture and assault. They made their way from one country in Africa to the next, up on through South America and eventually to the Texas border. When these two single mothers and their young children landed in a detention facility in Pennsylvania instead of the wide open streets of a democratic America, it was compassionate pro-bono legal counsel who contacted me to discuss the prospect of finding a welcoming community to support them. It turns out that, while Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would not allow them individual freedoms while awaiting an asylum hearing, they could be “signed for” by a U.S. citizen with a valid address and be released to his or her care.

Fighting for justice, motivated by righteous anger, does not sustain you when the system is this broken. The flame burns you up and out. I have seen this happen to dear colleagues and I’ve suffered from it myself. The difference this time was that I took on the system in the context of a loving community of believers who proclaimed hope in the face of despair and I did so without a political agenda. There is a valiant and important movement to close the detention center where these families were held, but this round, that wasn’t where my efforts were focused.

Instead, I was asked to enter into the suffering of strangers by staying present with them, every day, rain or shine, for fun errands like shopping for Christmas dresses and in the profoundly raw moments of listening to a proud, beautiful 25 year old woman sob with the indignity of having to explain why she needed to find a long skirt that would cover the lacerations caused by the ICE issued ankle monitor bracelet, a condition of her release from the detention facility.

In 1977, a few years before he was murdered in the act of celebrating Mass, Blessed Oscar Romero said, “Let us not tire of preaching love; it is the force that will overcome the world. Let us not tire of preaching love. Though we see that waves of violence succeed in drowning the fire of Christian love, love must win out; it is the only thing that can.” This kind of love is what these two women and their children have demonstrated to me during our time together.

Love says goodbye to your parents and siblings in the hope that you can make more of a difference in their lives by leaving than by staying.

Love is months on the road, at the hands of smugglers, in order to extract your four year old from what will be a life of famine or military conscription by a corrupt government.

Love is not giving up on humanity when you ask for asylum from the nation held up as a model of a free and fair society and instead, authorities place you in a prison.

Love maintains a persistent, echoing cry for medical care when that four year old son is plagued by gastrointestinal viruses that rip through the close quarters of the detention facility in the same way cholera and dysentery take hold in a refugee camp in a developing country.

Love hopes all things, even when your court date for a preliminary hearing is postponed yet again.

For one of these families, love did win out. The first pair were granted asylum in late May, which situated them to receive refugee style benefits and we were able to match them with an affluent suburban parish to accompany them for the next year of life in America. For the second, the finish line keeps getting moved, even as they become more and more invested in the life of our parish and take on a larger part of my heart. While I continue to see my calling as one of fighting injustice through advocacy and innovative community building projects, I have learned that the work must be rooted in love, for this is the only force that will overcome the world.

Bethany J. Welch, Ph.D. is the founder of the Aquinas Center in Philadelphia, PA and recipient of the 2014 Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award granted by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Nominations for the 2016 awards are being accepted through July 31, 2016.

Suffering With Others for the Sake of Truth and Justice

Maria Cintorino, Education and Outreach Intern

Maria Cintorino, Education and Outreach Intern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Go Deeper!

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

World Refugee Day: An Opportunity for Reflection and Action

In April 2016, Pope Francis joined Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymos to stand in solidarity with refugees. In his remarks, he lamented their suffering and said:

God created mankind to be one family; when any of our brothers and sisters suffer, we are all affected. We all know from experience how easy it is for some to ignore other people’s suffering and even to exploit their vulnerability. But we also know that these crises can bring out the very best in us.

Monday, June 20, we celebrate World Refugee Day, which provides Catholics an opportunity to reflect on the conditions confronting the millions of people who, like those on Lesbos, have been forced from their homes under threat of persecution and possible death.

The most recent reports by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has estimated the number of forcibly displaced people to be at about fifty-nine million. In other words, about one in every 122 people living today is either internally displaced, a refugee, or seeking asylum. This is a staggeringly large number. Current political conditions around the world show few signs of improvement, with the likelihood that things will only worsen in the coming months.

Often our attention is drawn either to situations of mass displacement or migration related crises that occur closer to home. With respect to the former, the conflict in Syria has resulted in massive upheavals, with as many as nine million Syrians displaced from their homes, and over three million seeking safety in a neighboring country such as Lebanon or Turkey. Approximately one in four people living in Lebanon are refugees.

Closer to home, the increase in the number of asylum-seeking unaccompanied migrant children and migrant families who arrived along the southwest border of the United States in recent years precipitated a moment of crisis and a media frenzy by the summer of 2014. With an average of 6,800 children apprehended in each year from 2004 – 2011, the number jumped to over 13,000 children in Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 and over 24,000 in 2013. Over 50,000 were detained in FY 2014 and, although a decrease was evident the following year (28,387), the numbers again increased in the first quarter of FY 2016 (18,558). Trends are similar for migrant families apprehended over this same stretch of time.

In both situations, the Catholic bishops of the United States have called for expanded protections for the most vulnerable populations in these migrant flows. With respect to Syria, the bishops have called on the U.S. government to provide 100,000 annual resettlement slots for the most vulnerable refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria. With respect to Central America, they have stressed the importance of recognizing the families and unaccompanied migrant children fleeing their home countries as refugees, and the need to ensure that the international protections due to these populations is respected.

These are both important situations that are deserving of our continued attention. Unfortunately, the sheer volume of people migrating in both of these crises and others like them often obscures the individuality – the personhood – of individual migrants who are making a long and dangerous journey to what they hope will be a place of safety. For this reason, it is important that we take the opportunity to highlight the people who are affected.

People like Omar, who fled Syria under threat of torture and likely death, and who has since found a new home here in the United States where he is now thriving.

Or like Mariam, who experienced violence in her home country Sierra Leone and then spent years in a refugee camp in Nigeria before coming to the United States.

These kinds of stories help us to recognize the person behind the refugee crises that we hear about every day. They are not just part of a faceless mass of people, but individuals who deserve to have their dignity respected and the opportunity to live a life worth living.

As Pope Francis stated, these crises can, and should, bring out the best in all of us.

Todd ScribnerTodd Scribner is the Education Outreach Coordinator for Migration & Refugee Services at the USCCB. 


Go Deeper!

In Support of Our Muslim Brothers and Sisters

headshot of Tom Dwyer

Tom Dwyer, National Voice of the Poor Committee Chair, Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

That one of my sons-in-law is a Muslim is only one reason why the new Vincentian Family Statement in Support of Our Muslim Brothers and Sisters is so meaningful to me.

The second is my fervent belief in the Vincentian and Gospel message to welcome the stranger among us and to demand social justice for those who are being ostracized, pushed to the margins (as Pope Francis so often notes and warns against), and discriminated against. As Vincentians and Catholics, we must speak for those whose voices are being muted and whose legitimate concerns and needs are being brushed aside in the “throw-away” culture that the Pope also regularly rails against.

Inad, my son-in-law and now the father of two of our grandchildren, was born and grew up in Amman, Jordan. He was educated there by French Jesuits. About five years ago, my wife and I traveled to Jordan to meet Inad’s family and enjoyed with them a wonderful post-wedding reception for my daughter and her new husband. They and their friends are warm and caring, as indeed the overwhelmingly vast majority of Muslims are. Like us, they value peace and desire a just and equal society where all are respected and dignity accorded to each. Experiencing this all first-hand, it pains me greatly now to hear the discriminatory, ignorant, unkind, and unwarranted comments that some in our society do not hesitate to make these days about Muslims.

In this hyper-sensitive atmosphere where so much invective is being hurled at those who are not exactly like us, especially our Muslim brothers and sisters, it is worth remembering the Gospel story of the Good Samaritan, as well as the Vincentian call to welcome and assist the stranger without regard to denomination or even lack of religion. The Pope’s message in the Jubilee Year of Mercy about the “Merciful and Kind” attributes Islam assigns to the Creator provides an especially compelling perspective.

To have a peaceful and loving society in which the human dignity of each person is respected, these messages from our Catholic Social Teaching and from our Vincentian heritage must be understood, heeded, and evidenced in our daily lives.

It is for these reasons that the Vincentian Family Social Justice Representatives prepared its Statement in Support of Our Muslim Brothers and Sisters. The statement draws its inspiration and language from the very recent Papal declaration of the Jubilee Year of Mercy and from Pope Francis’s 2013 Apostolic Exhortation “Joy of the Gospel.“

We pray that the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul and Blessed Frederic Ozanam will enable us to see true followers of Islam as neighbors and friends who share our values and aspirations for a better and more humane world.

Tom Dwyer is the Chair of the National Voice of the Poor Committee Chair, Society of St. Vincent de Paul.


 Go Deeper!

Our encounter, dialogue, and collaboration with brothers and sisters of other faiths is a witness to our unity as children of God and members of one human family.  Access resources here on how to reach out to other faith traditions.

Remember Israel, Remember Gaza

Image of Rachel Weeping statue and base at the Holocaust Memorial in Richmond, VA

Image of Rachel Weeping statue and base at the Holocaust Memorial in Richmond, VA

Years ago when I served in Richmond, I had a view of a Holocaust Memorial on the grounds of the Cathedral outside my office window. It depicted Rachael weeping for her children amidst flames.  On the base there was a single word carved in Hebrew and English, “Remember.”  It is indeed important for humanity to “remember” this singularly heinous event in human history.  It is important for us to “remember” people wherever and whenever they suffer.

I recently returned from a visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Israel and the Palestinian Territories are tense places these days.  Israelis fear random knife attacks; Palestinians fear the harsh realities of occupation and the lack of freedom of movement. Continue reading