Young Voices: “The Cycle is Most Definitely Broken”

Why I support CCHD campaignEdith Avila was the winner of the 2015 Cardinal Bernardin Award, presented at a reception at the June meeting of the U.S. Catholic bishops, in St. Louis.

It’s amazing what God does when you surrender your life to the mercy of His love.

The Cardinal Bernadin New Leadership Award means so much to me. It reaffirms his path for my life in the work of social justice. More importantly, it reaffirms his love for me as a daughter of Christ. But even then, perhaps, it means even more to my parents. Coming from an immigrant and poor background, there is no such thing as a small success. Every accomplishment is a God-glorifying moment because every moment is one step closer to breaking the cycle of poverty.

While meditating on the significance of this award, it hit me and I thought, “Good Lord, the cycle is most definitely broken. His grace is abundantly deep.”  The Catholic Campaign for Human Development internship changed my whole life. While some of my friends would say it turned me into a hippie, I’d say it opened my heart to be able to truly live an authentic Catholic life. The more I learned about our Joliet CCHD funded groups, the more my own story became secondary. And God’s calling became very apparent.

Social justice is not about politics or choosing a side of the Church. Social justice is living out the Gospel by addressing the root causes of injustice. It’s about the lives of our brothers and sisters. It’s about how we respond to the injustices we see on a daily basis.

As Cardinal Bernardin wrote, “Like Jesus, we will love others only if we walk with them in the valley of darkness – the dark valley of sickness, the dark valley of oppressive structures and diminished rights.”

Thanks to everyone who opened their hearts to hear Christ when choosing me, a humble servant. And thanks to all my teachers of faith and justice that have led me to this moment of my life. As I stand here, I stand in complete awe of the Lord.

I’ll end with the last bit of a prayer that we all know, attributed to Blessed Oscar Romero – “We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”   Thanks and peace be with you all.

As an intern for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) in the Diocese of Joliet in 2013, Edith worked with a CCHD-funded group, Forest Park Community Center, which provides a safe haven outside of school for children in a community with increasing gang violence. In 2014, Edith participated in the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering as part of the Young Leaders Initiative. Now Edith continues the mission of CCHD to break the cycle of poverty for families by working for Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Joliet. She devotes her time to establishing relationships with parish leaders to provide service and advocacy opportunities for 129 parishes in the diocese. To inspire the next generation to be agents of our Church’s social mission, she is currently developing a Board of Young Professionals for Catholic Charities of Joliet which engages a diverse group of young professionals in justice, charity, and networking.

Young Voices: Why CCHD Inspires Me

Each year, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development funds 30+ CCHD interns in dioceses around the country. The internships, which begin with a national orientation in Washington, DC, provide emerging Catholic leaders the opportunity to work with CCHD to put faith in action by addressing the causes of poverty in their communities.

Thelma-CCHD-Alumni-NewsletterMy name is Thelma Ekeocha and in late May, I attended the recent Washington, DC orientation for the 32 CCHD interns who will work in various dioceses across the U.S. this year. I was impressed by what I learned about CCHD, which seeks to give a “hand up,” not a “hand out,” to our brothers and sisters in poverty. Another important goal of CCHD is to educate Catholics, especially those who are more privileged, about the problems associated with poverty and social justice.

Transformative education creates a spirit of solidarity between the poor and non-poor. Learning more detail about CCHD helped me understand the importance of involving those who are affected by social injustices to work together in finding a permanent solution to the problems by tackling their root causes and affecting systemic change. This understanding is reflected in CCHD’s Two Feet of Love in Action, which includes doing charitable works and working for social justice.

This orientation was in many ways inspiring for me. Apart from learning about CCHD’s work, we visited St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in D.C., which works with a group that has received funding from CCHD. Our meeting with the leaders from this parish reiterated again for me the importance of servant leadership. These leaders focus on systemic change by working with members of their community on issues that impact the homeless population, including preserving affordable housing options for their low-income neighbors. They reminded me of the importance of personal stories and the need to put faces to the issues, statistics, and reports we can easily get lost in. It was very inspiring and challenging for me to learn a little bit about their work and see how their Catholic faith motivates them to work for social justice.

It is important to connect the work of social justice to our faith because it is our mission to serve Christ by working with our vulnerable brothers and sisters to make sure everyone’s dignity can be respected. This was very evident during the orientation. I was also inspired by the set-up of the orientation, which included beginning each day with prayer and reflection on some of the saints who loved Christ by serving others. The time we were given to reflect helped me understand even better what our motivation for working for social justice is. It’s about recognizing and upholding the dignity of every person. After the reflection, we were commissioned as Christ commissioned the apostles to go out into the world. We were sent together, as a community of servant leaders to go back to our different dioceses and work to address and eliminate the root causes of domestic poverty in any way we can.

Thank you, CCHD! 

Thelma Ekeocha is a summer intern for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.