On Labor Day, a call to lift up the Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers

Volunteer with intelectual disability working at Bakery WorkshopIn his 2018 Labor Day statement, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, calls for all persons to work together for just wages, which are necessary for families to flourish. A just wage is one that “not only provides for workers’ financial well-being, but fosters their social, cultural, and spiritual dimensions as individuals and members of society.”

We heard this call echoed in the readings this past Sunday. In the first reading from the book of Deuteronomy, the Israelites are reminded of the justice within God’s law, which included several parameters on work and economic justice (5:13-15, 14:28-29), and their duty to keep the demands of that law (4:1-2,6-8). In the second reading from the letter of James, we heard the call to “Be doers of the word and hearers only” (1:22), something Mark’s Gospel points out can be challenging to do in light of temptations towards greed, deceit, theft, and other evils (7:20-22).

As we reflect on the vision of Catholic teaching, and in the just laws of the book of
Deuteronomy about the treatment of the poor and workers, or James’ warning
not to simply hear the words of God without action, or Mark’s warnings against greed, we might ask ourselves: How can we help make God’s vision of justice a reality? How can we, in our families, institutions, and as a society, better respect the dignity and rights of workers and the well-being of their families?

As Bishop Dewane remarks in his 2018 Labor Day Statement, “First, we are called to live justly in our own lives whether as business owners or workers.  Secondly, we are called to stand in solidarity with our poor and vulnerable brothers and sisters.  Lastly, we should all work to reform and build a more just society, one which promotes human life and dignity and the common good of all.”

Watch this video resource for more on how Catholic Social Teaching invites us to uphold the dignity of work and rights of workers not only in regards to just wages but also to allow for the full flourishing of all people.

 

Going Deeper

Looking for more information on what Catholic teaching says about the dignity of work and rights of workers? Use this primer on Catholic Social Teaching on Labor or these quotes from Pope Francis on Labor and Employment to learn more.

Remarks from Fr. Matthew O’Donnell, the 2018 Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award Winner

On June 13th the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) presented the 2018 Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award to Fr. Matthew O’Donnell, the pastor at St. Columbanus Parish in Chicago, IL. Fr. Matt was honored for his exemplary leadership as his parish works to address the poverty and violence in their community. To learn more about the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award, please see the USCCB press releaseFr. Matt’s remarks offer reflections on the call to work for justice and peace in our communities:

Good evening to Bishop Talley, your eminences and excellencies, Ralph McCloud, and all that are gathered here this evening. Pope Francis, in reflecting on the Beatitudes in his recent Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, wrote “We need to be artisans of peace, for building peace is a craft that demands serenity, creativity, sensitivity, and skill. Sowing peace all around us: that is holiness” (Par. 89). These words speak deeply about the ministry I share in with the people of St. Columbanus Church on the southside of Chicago. The reflections of the Holy Father are a call to action for Christians, and all people of good will, around the world. They are more than words or reflections, for they are an invitation for each of us to grow in holiness.

My ministry is one that often makes me feel that I stand in the crossroads of life and death. This year there have been over 1,100 shootings in the city of Chicago, resulting in the deaths of nearly 200 individuals. Chicago is not alone though in facing the epidemic and sin of violence in our country. The violence in our country is not from guns alone. We know all too well the stories of our people who experience the pain and trauma from domestic violence, economic disparities, racism, unemployment and underemployment, underperforming school systems, lack of affordable housing, and the increasing hostility to the sacredness of life. The life and story of each victim of violence in our country is far more than the act of violence that either harmed them or ended their life. They are men, women, and children that come from every part of our country. They are our parishioners and neighbors, they are the people that come from our dioceses and communities, they are the ones entrusted to our pastoral care.

Stories such as these remind me daily of the great mission that Jesus Christ calls me to as I seek to live as a priest in our fractured world. We are invited to be artisans in our ministry that minister from a place of creativity to respond to the many challenges that we face. Our story, as the People of God, is one that teaches that God is love and that ultimately we are created in love, to love. It is when we live the Beatitudes we can help others to “Rejoice and be glad” (Matthew 5:12). How lucky we are as pastoral ministers, baptized believers, to be entrusted with the sacred ministry of listening to stories, encountering one another, and spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Church’s work for peace and justice is truly a ministry of hospitality and action.

Serving as a priest in Chicago allows me to hear the stories of so many individuals that inspire me to see the beauty and the hope that is alive in my city, in our country, and in our world. At St. Columbanus, we are committed to working to eradicate poverty. In 2017, our parish’s Food Pantry distributed 2.5 million pounds of food to our neighbors in two zip codes of Chicago. Our charitable work to feed the hungry is an important ministry of our parish, but we want to do more! Last year we established a Community Service Center that has several components. One program, Project Chance, offers skills training and part-time employment in our parish. From this, we have been able to offer our first full-time position for a custodian in our church and school. We will begin GED classes this fall and we are working diligently to open a coffee shop in our neighborhood. Our coffee shop, which we plan to name Holy Grounds, will focus on economic development in our community by providing several jobs, and it will be a place of hospitality that our neighbors can use for community meetings and programming. All of this reminds me, that we must strive with even greater zeal to make disciples, build community, and inspire witness.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development has been an important part of my life since 2005 when I served as the CCHD intern for the Archdiocese of Chicago. I recall visiting housing projects with Cardinal Francis George, sitting with residents at kitchen tables and listening to their stories. I remember reviewing grant applications and visiting community organizations committed to justice. I was inspired to be a part of a cohort of other young Catholics who desired to spread the message and work of CCHD as interns.

It was during my time as a CCHD intern that I discerned my vocation to the priesthood. The stories of people, the witness of priests, and the commitment of the Church in the United States to eradicate poverty allowed me to finally accept God’s invitation to explore my desire to become a priest. As a priest serving in the Black Catholic community of Chicago I am reminded daily of the important and sacred work that God calls me to. I would be nothing as a priest if it were not for the witness of faith shown to me by the people I am blessed to serve. At St. Columbanus it is part of our mission to be “an inclusive, welcoming, and loving community.” Our mission as a parish is rooted in the ministry of Jesus Christ and fortified in a spirituality that is “Authentically Black and Truly Catholic.”

I believe that a Gospel commitment to the poor can only come from authentic encounters with the poor. Such encounters require our presence and commitment to remain present with those who are hurting. This is something Cardinal Blase Cupich reminds me, and all in the Archdiocese of Chicago, of consistently. As the leader and shepherd of our local Church, he stands with the poor, even coming to St. Columbanus to distribute food to our neighbors, and calling for all of us to put in the hard work to foster stronger bonds of community. I hope the leadership I bring to my parish community is one that shows others what it means to live the Beatitudes.

Tonight, it means so much to me to be the recipient of the 2018 CCHD Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award. Cardinal Bernardin was my Archbishop growing up and his lessons on the consistent ethic of life inspire me to work harder to build a culture of life in Chicago. Cardinal Bernardin’s example is lived by so many of the Bishops gathered here this evening, and for that I am grateful. There are so many in the dioceses across our country who work tirelessly to show that every human person is created in the image and likeness of God. It is when we work together, following faithfully the call to holiness that God places upon each of our lives, that we have the power to eradicate injustice and build the Beloved Community that God desires us to be.

Thank you to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the staff of CCHD for this award. Thank you to Cardinal Blase Cupich and the Auxiliary Bishops of Chicago who support me in my ministry. Finally, thank you to the people of St. Columbanus Church who have loved me and formed me as a pastor. May we all be reminded that sowing peace all around us is holiness. Thank you.

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Fr. Matthew O’Donnell is the pastor of St. Columbanus Parish in Chicago, IL and the winner of the 2018 Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award.

 

How encounter and dialogue can transform our families, and politics

Michael Jordan Laskey, Diocese of Camden

In the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, Dave and Anita Tanzola were arguing a lot. A longtime married couple with three adult children, they found themselves on opposite sides of the political divide, having circular debates about challenging topics like immigration that didn’t do anything but crank up the stress level. They wanted to break out of the destructive cycle and do something positive together that would help bring them closer again. After prayer and reflection, they had an idea. Although they disagreed about immigration policy, they both had a sincere desire to help immigrants in their community. What if they could get involved together in some sort of ministry of welcome and support to immigrants and refugees who were arriving to live near their own home in South Jersey?

That’s when I heard from Dave for the first time. He’d asked his pastor for some ideas and got my name. As the social justice director for the diocese, could I point him in the right direction? So Dave and I sat down for a chat in our diocesan office’s lunchroom in Camden, NJ. He wanted to know every possible way he and Anita might get involved with migrants and refugees. We talked for a long time, I suggested ways they could get involved, and I also took him to my office and pulled six or eight books on Catholic Social Teaching off my bookshelf for he and his wife to study together. Dave’s energy, curiosity, and deep spirituality blew me away. I thought about what I was witnessing: What would I do if I had big political disagreement with my spouse or someone else close to me? I’d be tempted to ignore it and hope it’d go away. That wasn’t Dave and Anita’s approach. They tackled the conflict head-on and are doing something new.

Well, some things new, more accurately. Since that first chat, Dave and Anita have connected with the social justice committee at their parish, serving as immigration/refugee point people of a sort. They organized a refugee welcome card campaign and a panel discussion at the parish featuring migrants and refugees and those who serve them. They are volunteers with our diocese’s refugee resettlement program, participating in activities like a Christmas toy giveaway to families who have come to South Jersey from Syria, Iraq, Myanmar, Colombia, and other countries.

Dave and Anita’s zeal reminded me of a message Pope Francis tweeted last summer. “Love requires a creative, concrete response,” he wrote. “Good intentions are not enough. The other is not a statistic, but a person to take care of.” That’s what I’m seeing in my friends: creativity. They said “no” to simply rehashing the same arguments, “no” to pretending their differences do not exist, “no” to the easy way out. They said “yes” to the encounter that has helped them know migrants and refugees and their stories by name, and “yes” to hard work together that has helped them discover new energy and open their hearts. Do Dave and Anita now see totally eye to eye on immigration policy? Not exactly. But their hard work and encounter, with one another and with migrants, has helped make smaller the gap between their perspectives, and their common experience is an important foundation to their continued discussion. Imagine if Dave and Anita’s model of encounter and hard work together in the face of disagreement could be imitated in thousands of families and communities across the country.

This July, the Roundtable Association of Catholic Diocesan Social Action Directors, in partnership with the USCCB, Catholic Relief Services, and Catholic Charities USA, will hold its 31st annual Social Action Summer Institute, with a theme inspired by a Pope Francis tweet. Entitled Cultivating Creativity in Social Justice Ministry: “Love requires a creative, concrete response.”—Pope Francis, the four-day gathering, at St. Joseph’s University, in Philadelphia, is for Dave, Anita, and all Catholics who, like them, are interested in overcoming polarization and division in order to engage the issues that divide us in new and creative ways.

As we dive deep into social justice ministry and Catholic Social Teaching with a dynamic array of workshops, keynote addresses, experiences of creativity and site visits to some of Philly’s most inspiring social justice organizations, we hope that the creative energy which has propelled Dave and Anita to new ways of encounter and dialogue, will be our experience as well.

If you’re a diocesan social justice director or a parish volunteer just getting started or somewhere in between, prayerfully consider joining us in Philly from July 15-19. You can get more information and register here. See you this summer!

Michael Jordan Laskey is Vice Chancellor for the City of Camden and Director of Life & Justice Ministries, in the Diocese of Camden.

Migrants, Refugees, and an Invitation to Metanoia

Jesus Christ wants to change your life. Before you change your life, you have to change your mind.

A key concept for the life of Christian discipleship is metanoia.  Derived from the Greek word meta, for “beyond” and nous, for “thinking” or “mind,” metanoia means thinking beyond. Thus, the term metanoia was coined by early Christians as a way to describe how encounters with Christ necessitate thinking beyond what was previously thought. This term also highlights how the Holy Spirit urges a life of conversion.

If we are to follow and worship the crucified God-Man we must be open to heart and mind paradigm-shifts. The call to metanoia is made by our Lord in his Beatitudes.  For example: poverty is a blessing, meekness is strength, and persecution for righteousness is glory.

Bottom Line:  You can’t be a disciple of Jesus unless you are prepared and open to changing how you think about things. Most often, this thinking will be opposed to the thinking of the world.

Recently, the Office for Social Justice in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas was blessed to work with a great team of people to help Archbishop Naumann organize and celebrate the World Day of Migrants and Refugees with a special Mass and multicultural festival.  Catholics from the various immigrant and ethnic communities of the archdiocese came together in a liturgy that reflected the multi-national, universal identity of the Roman Catholic Church by utilizing different languages and musical styles. The Mass was followed by sharing a potluck meal and fellowship as families who had immigrated from Asia, Europe, Central and South America shared their food and culture with one another. People who weren’t accustomed to worshipping with each other came together to pray for all the migrants of the world.

It was a time for metanoia, to rethink how our Catholicity calls us to recognize that ultimately we are called to share a common home in Heaven. Pope Francis reminded us, in his message for that day,  “Every stranger who knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ, who identifies with the welcomed and rejected strangers of every age (Matthew 25:35-43).”  Each person is precious; persons are more important than things, and our institutions must be measured by how well they support the life and dignity of human beings, particularly when they are vulnerable, as in the case of child migrants.

As our government wrestles with its immigration and refugee policies, especially on the issue of DACA, let us as Christians be open to a metanoia on immigration that sees people not as enemies at the gate that we ardently resist, but persons of inherent worth that we desire to prudently welcome.

Bill Scholl is the Social Justice Consultant for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and Diocesan Director for their local Justice for Immigrants Campaign.

Going Deeper
Visit USCCB’s JusticeforImmigrants.org for materials and resources to encourage encounter, learning and action for and with immigrants and refugees.

 

 

Improving relationships between whites and people of color

“We’re bringing slavery back.” These words were told to a friend of mine’s 10-year-old son recently while at school in Indiana. He is black and faced taunts and harassment at school for several days. When his mom attempted to contact the teacher to address the issue she received no reply.

I myself have experienced such prejudice first-hand on many occasions. Several years ago a devoted Catholic woman whom I consider a part of my family discovered I was dating a black woman and told me “I’m not one of those KKK people but I think there are enough white women that you shouldn’t be dating [a black woman].”

As we look around our modern times we can clearly see that racism still exists in our society. Hate crimes are on the rise, white supremacy and white nationalism are coming back into the mainstream. An Associated Press survey, conducted in 2012 with researchers from Stanford University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Chicago, found that 51% of participants held explicitly racist views toward black people. A similar study was done in 2011 and 52% of those participants reported anti-Hispanic attitudes. Such prejudice was found across the partisan spectrum.

Archbishop Kurtz in 2015, then-president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), spoke on the effects of racism in America: “A violent, sorrowful history of racial injustice, accompanied by a lack of educational, employment and housing opportunities, has destroyed communities and broken down families, especially those who live in distressed urban communities. Confronted by these realities, the familiar words of Blessed Pope Paul VI still resonate and continue to call us to action in our day: if you want peace, work for justice …The bishops called for decisive action to eradicate racism from society and considerable progress has been made since 1979. However, more must be done.”

We can see the reality of racial injustice and disparity that Archbishop Kurtz speaks of in our own state of Iowa.

The Iowa Data Center reports that the median income for black families was roughly half that of the general population of Iowa in 2014. The poverty rate in the black population is nearly three times that of Iowa’s population as a whole. And the unemployment rate for black citizens is three times that of the general population in Iowa.

These disparities are also prevalent in our criminal justice system. Throughout our nation data frequently shows that black citizens are more likely to be stopped and searched even though white citizens are often equally or even more likely to be in possession of illegal paraphernalia compared to black citizens. Black citizens are also more likely to be convicted and receive harsher sentences for the same crimes as compared to white citizens.

According to the Sentencing Project, a non-partisan organization that studies racial disparities in incarceration and promotes restorative justice alternatives to prison, nearly 26% of Iowa prisoners are black while only 3% of the total state population is black. The state of Iowa is in the top five of highest incarceration disparity rates for black folk, with a rate more than 11 times that of whites. For Latinos the disparity is much smaller, though the incarceration rate is still almost double that of whites.

Despite these disparities, there are reasons to be hopeful for positive change. The Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court remarked in his State of the Judiciary address in 2015 on the efforts by law enforcement, school officials, community members, and others to work with a restorative justice approach to help reduce this disparity and provide more support to those in need.

The Chief Justice noted: “Iowa may be a leader in the nation in the statistics showing racial disparities in its criminal justice system, but…Iowa can also lead the nation in finding solutions to end racial disparities.”

A shining example of the good work towards peace and justice in our own state is that Iowa was first in the nation to pass a “racial impact” law in 2007 that required any increase in penalties or creating new crimes be studied to see how such legislation could potentially impact people of color disproportionately compared to white citizens to help prevent racially motivated laws to be enacted. More still needs to be done.

In the face of these somber facts a task force was convened by the USCCB and chaired by Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta. His recent report to the November Assembly of U.S. bishops recommended that the faithful engage in prayer for peace in our communities, open channels of dialogue with communities affected by racism, and that the church “find its bold prophetic voice” among other things.

Dialogue asks of us to leave our own places of comfort where we dominate and reach out to others so that we may hear their stories and their experiences. This can be challenging when others’ experiences do not readily match up to our own personal perspectives or experiences, but this makes dialogue even more important especially if we are not the ones regularly receiving the insults, oppression, and hate of racism.

We can begin to engage in such a dialogue by reading books and experiencing art and culture by people of ethnic backgrounds different from our own, greet one another on the street with smiles and charitable “hellos”, engage in conversation with others from various backgrounds, contact organizations that serve predominantly people of color and ask if you can make a visit and hear their stories, and speak out when you encounter racism in your own life. These are just a few ways for us to engage in building peace and nurturing relationships with our neighbors.

Our Catholic faith also has a vast treasure to be discovered in the lives of saints from across the globe. There are more saints of the African continent than the entire continent of North America. Several American saints, or those in the process toward sainthood, have African, Native American, Latino and Pacific heritage. Discover these holy men and women like Venerable Pierre Touassaint, St. Kateri Tekawitha and Servant of God Thea Bowman, to name a few. Pray for their intercession that there may be greater peace in our communities, stronger bonds of solidarity between peoples, and pray for the strength and courage to evaluate our own lives to discover how we can more readily participate in bringing about greater peace in our communities.

Mark Schmidt is Director of the Office of Respect Life and Social Justice in the Archdiocese of Dubuque.

This post was adapted for ToGoForth. Read the original version at The Witness.


Going Deeper!

Learn about how parishes in one part of the country are engaging in dialogue through Sacred Conversations on Race (+ Action). Visit WeAreSaltAndLight.org for helpful resources like “A Guide to Dialogue on Difficult Issues” and “Encouraging Civil Dialogue.”

Living out God’s vision of a world without hunger


Every summer I look forward to embracing the fall season. As the morning air crisps, I wake up relieved.  The days shorten into longer, cooler evenings.  The light softens and becomes a bit hazier.  Meals are bit warmer, spicier, and filling. Fall is a season of feasts.  Here in the United States, we have a national holiday that embraces, with enthusiasm, this thought.  This leads me to believe I am not alone in my association of fall and feasts.

The gospel story for Sunday, October 15, while featuring an invitation to a feast is complicated and somewhat gruesome.  It is the gospel parable of a king who invites guests to a wedding feast for his son.  The guests refuse to attend.  The king then issues more invitations to a wider array of people.  Those invites are refused and his messengers are killed.  Again, the king is so insistent people should come to the wedding feast that invites are issued to those in the streets. When a guest shows up not being properly attired, the king has him bound up and dragged away.  “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

The wedding feast is a popular image that is used to connote the kingdom of heaven throughout the Bible. In this Gospel from Matthew, we make a connection – the king issuing invites to his son’s wedding is God, inviting us to participate in a life with Jesus Christ, his son.  Of course, all of us are invited to participate in a life with Jesus, but many refuse.  Further, those who do wish to participate, those who say, “Yes,” are required to participate fully.  It is not enough to just show up.  We need to properly prepare!

We must attend to the wishes of our King, and one of his commands is that we feed the hungry. In today’s world, we know that there are many people who are hungry, spiritually and physically. We are called to continually prepare our hearts and ask ourselves whether we are living into the mandate to care for all our brothers and sisters: Who is going hungry? What are we doing to ensure that others are fed?  Are there policies that are preventing people from getting food?  How are we answering these questions?

Advocates in the Diocese of Joliet prepare to delivery more than 5,000 letters to Congressional Leaders at Lobby Day

One way that we can answer is by participating in the work of Bread for the World, an organization that acts as a collective Christian voice urging decision makers to end hunger at home and abroad.  This year we are marking Sunday, October 15 as Bread for the World Sunday.  This is an opportunity for your church or community to join with others in living out God’s vision of a world without hunger.

St. Louis Catholic Church in Pinecrest, Florida has been a covenant church with Bread for the World for decades. They collect an Offering of Letters with the full support of their pastor.  In May, parishioners wrote and signed a total of 1,976 unique letters to their congressional leaders.  1,672 letters came from adult members of the parish, while 304 letters were written by students from the attached parish school.

Another example is Holy Trinity Parish in Georgetown, next to Washington, D.C.  The parish had five people participate in Lobby Day in June.  These Bread for the World members brought around 300 letters that were collected and signed by parishioners from pre-printed postcards.

There are many ways you can participate in the advocacy on behalf of people who are hungry with Bread for the World. Here are a few:

Genevieve Mougey is the Senior National Associate for Roman Catholic Engagement at Bread for the World in Washington, D.C.  She has worked in Catholic advocacy social justice ministries, campus ministry and parish ministry for the past 15 years.  Previously, she was the Poverty Outreach and Education Manager at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in Washington, D.C.


Going Deeper!

Learn how New York Catholics wrote thousands of letters on child hunger to their members of Congress as part of their Offering of Letters. You, too, can participate!

How Can You Honor Workers? A Perspective from Austin

Our faith teachings call us, Catholics and all people of faith, to care for our neighbor and to work for justice for all. As a long-time organizer, I have worked alongside leaders to address pressures on families and improve their lives through acting on issues. We identify these issues from relational conversations, such as those that members of our communities have with each other. Then together we address them to bring change. With support from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Austin Interfaith Sponsoring Committee leaders have organized to create initiatives and marshal resources that have benefited Austin-area children, families, and residents.

Austin Interfaith leaders gather at city hall to call for a living wage (2013)

One area of particular concern is ensuring that more workers have meaningful work, livable wages, and worker protections. We are taught that the dignity of the human person is tied to the dignity of work.  In Laudato Si’ no. 128, Pope Francis writes that “We were created with a vocation to work. … (and) To stop investing in people…is bad business for society.” That’s why Austin Interfaith has led the campaign in Austin to increase the city living wage floor over time to now $13.50/hour for all city workers and workers employed through contractors with the city. In addition, we’ve worked with allies to require worker protections for all construction workers on city contracted projects.

Our perspective, like that of a grandparent, is not simply on the next year or the next election cycle, but on the next generation.  In 1998, the congregations of Austin Interfaith created the Capital IDEA job training and workforce intermediary, which provides a pathway for low-income Austin residents to access new, high-paying opportunities in healthcare, technology, and manufacturing trades – jobs that provide benefits and a career path. Nearly twenty years later, over 1,400 low income adults have started new lives as nurses, sonographers, network administrators, electronic technicians, electricians, and many other careers. In 2016, Capital IDEA participants went from earning an average salary of $10,500 to an average beginning salary of almost $41,000.

An immigrant from Mexico, Elizabeth Soltero cleaned university offices overnight and cared for her young daughter during the day while her husband worked construction. They barely saw each other as a family. For three years, Capital IDEA provided tuition, fees, books, child care, and case management so Elizabeth could attend and graduate from the local community college as a network administrator. Elizabeth Soltero became Capital IDEA’s 1,000th graduate in 2012. With a specialization in information security, she now she manages a computer network for IBM, works during the day, and has bought a new house.

An even more fundamental achievement is the next generation. Through Elizabeth’s example, her daughter is well along a path to become a college graduate herself. An analysis of local school district data found that 70 percent of the children of Capital IDEA graduates go directly to college after high school – 25 percentage points higher than otherwise expected.

Capital IDEA is part of a network of model workforce programs that bring the civic, business, and public sectors together in partnership to expand opportunities for more workers to get training to qualify for jobs that can support them and their families.

As we celebrate Labor Day, we recall the contributions and sacrifices of workers that are critical to all of our lives, and call for all to work together across income levels to bring public policy and resource changes in your communities to increase opportunities of low-wage workers.

Kathleen Davis is Lead Organizer with Austin Interfaith — a broad based, nonpartisan, multi-ethnic, multi-issue organization of congregations and institutions that together develop the leadership to address issues that affect the well-being of low and moderate income families in the Austin area.


Going Deeper

Read the U.S. Catholic bishops’ annual Labor Day statement here, and learn more about Catholic teaching on the dignity of work and the rights of workers here.

 

Stand Up and Speak Out: Racism is a Sin

DeKarlos Blackmon, OblSB is the Director of Life, Charity, and Justice for the Diocese of Austin

The tragic events of Charlottesville, Virginia have revealed again the prevalence of racism in the United States. Almost 60 years ago, the U.S. bishops spoke out against discrimination and enforced segregation in the 1968 document “National Race Crisis,” in which the bishops called for us to eradicate racism from society.

In the 1950s and 1960s, various branches of the federal government wrestled with laws and policies restricting equal protection. Some bishops found themselves fighting the architects of division, racism, and separation. We are fighting these battles today.

Undoubtedly, this is a very uncomfortable topic for people in our pews. However, “Racism is a sin, a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father” (Brothers and Sisters to Us, 1979). Many of us remained quiet and on the sidelines of issues that affect the whole family of faith.

Catholics pride ourselves on being intrinsically pro-life. During the 1999 Apostolic Visit of Saint Pope John Paul II in Saint Louis, when challenging us to be unconditionally pro-life, the Holy Father directed us “to put an end to every form of racism.” Being intrinsically pro-life means that that we must always stand up for the uncomfortable “right and just” as opposed to merely remaining silent in the face of the inherently “wrong.” The eradication of racism from our society is also what it means to be pro-life.

Considering the entrenched divisions between the Jewish and Samaritan communities, Jesus outlined very clearly in the Good Samaritan parable our responsibility to others. We know very well that “every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design” (Gaudium et Spes, 29). We have to stand up, speak out and work towards the unity that Saint Paul speaks of, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5).

Every day of my life, I look at my black face in the mirror. At the youthful age of 40, I know very well that African Americans among others have not made it over. Regardless of our ethnicity, we must recognize the certain reality that every day is a process of continual, ongoing conversion. The anthem of the Civil Rights movement remains our objective: to overcome some day. Bigotry, violence, and racism should never be tolerated.

So, as we praise God for another day, we should also recall the words of Jesus to “Treat others as we would have them treat us.” (Matthew 7:12) For Christ to increase, we must stand up to be witnesses to the saving power of God. We will overcome prejudice, racism, intolerance, and bias when we stand up and speak out. If you disagree with the politics of hate, it is time to say so. Let not your silence be construed as tacit approval. Life seen as self-centered earthly existence and lived in denial of Christ ends in destruction.

DeKarlos Blackmon is the Secretariat Director of Life, Charity and Justice of the Diocese of Austin. He is the Past Supreme Knight of the Knights of Peter Claver, and the President of the International Alliance of Catholic Knights.

Going Deeper

On September 9, join Catholics around the country for a Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities. Visit the USCCB Racism page for prayer and action resources to use on this Day and beyond.

Voices Unite to Reform the Justice System

Persistent injustice, mind-boggling greed, and downright confusing twists in the legal system can wear down the strongest people. It’s almost easier to give up and give in than try to change things. But once in a while, like-minded individuals lean on one another, share their frustrations and dreams, and commit to an action plan that lifts everyone. And the plan develops and changes as the needs and strengths of the people change.

Essentially, that’s how DART was established in Florida more than 30 years ago and then became an eight-state network. Two groups of people associated with religious congregations found common ground in their shared beliefs and commitment to justice. And the Archdiocese of Miami had its shoulder to the wheel with them from the beginning. DART’s formal name is Direct Action and Research Training Center, but like your Aunt Sis and Uncle Buddy, everyone knows them by the shorter name.

The Polk Ecumenical Action Council for Empowerment (PEACE), an affiliate of DART, builds justice ministry in Polk County, FL. Members tour a drug rehabilitation clinic that PEACE helped open.

The network helps congregations form larger organizations that reflect their common interests and values as they negotiate solutions to the root causes of problems in their community. Each of the 22 DART organizations is an independent entity, but all the groups and the more than 400 diverse congregations they comprise are united by a belief in the biblical concept of justice. They also use a “bottom-up” model to identify issues, develop leaders, and figure out realistic solutions.

The DART model is based on the Scripture account of Nehemiah, who brought people and their leaders together to devise solutions to a system that impoverished the citizenry. Nehemiah insisted that the nobles, magistrates, and people be held accountable for the promises they made.

Members of St. Ann Catholic Church were part of the 2,000 Attendees at a recent Nehemiah Assembly. At this assembly local officials from the juvenile justice system learn about the problem of youth arrests and make commitments to address them.

Recently, the DART group in Florida turned its considerable attention to a disturbing trend to criminalize young children. I was shocked when Holly Holcombe, Assistant Director, told me 12,000 children were arrested in 2014 for generally minor offenses. During a tantrum, for example, a five-year-old Special Education student knocked a tissue out of a teacher’s hand. He was charged with assault.

There is, however, an alternative: civil citations. The civil citation process, as provided under state statute, would allow non-arrest restitution and diversion for non-serious offenses. “It’s not a slap on the wrist,” Holly said.

From 2010 to 2014, 5,000 children ages 5-10 years old were arrested for offenses for which they could have received a civil citation. At first, the provision could only be used once for each youth and only 38% of those eligible received citations. Through the efforts of ten Florida-based DART organizations, 52% of eligible children were diverted to civil citations without arrest in 2016, and legislation was enacted to allow children to receive up to three citations. Nonetheless, civil citations are at the discretion of local law enforcement, which results in uneven application of the provision. Holly points out that 8,000 youth who were arrested last year were eligible for the citation, but it was not applied to their cases.

Training participants enjoy lunch between workshop sessions. Here participants learn to build their justice ministry through witnessing, evaluating, and engagement.

Clearly, there is more work to be done, and DART’s work is advancing steadily. Groups like these help people surface their deeply held concerns, engage with their feet on the ground, act on the Biblical mandate to do justice, and hold public officials accountable to work for the people they serve. This is what we are called to do.

As Pope Francis said at the 2nd World Meeting of Popular Movements, “The future of humanity does not lie solely in the hands of great leaders, the great powers and the elites. It is fundamentally in the hands of peoples and in their ability to organize. It is in their hands, which can guide with humility and conviction this process of change. I am with you.”

Beth Griffin is a free-lance journalist with an abiding interest in social justice.

DART in Florida receives funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

The U.S. Catholic bishops have long been vocal about restorative justice.  Read the bishops’ statement on Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice and find out what’s happening now.

Developing Housing and Jobs on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Some of the most intriguing and successful CCHD-funded groups are those that surmount the biggest obstacles. The Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation (CDC) in Porcupine, South Dakota, is one of them.

The group works on the remote Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, a huge expanse that takes two hours to cross in a car. It’s no secret that Native Americans have been marginalized and mistreated in the history of our country. Government, church, and private efforts to improve their living conditions and prospects for the future have enjoyed mixed success. To be fair, there have been missteps on all sides, but one of the recurring stumbling blocks has been the attempt by outsiders to determine what the native people need and want.

Three young adults smile in front of a Thunder Valley CDC sign

These young adults were part of Thunder Valley CDC’s Workforce Development Through Sustainable Construction program where they learned construction skills, advanced their education, and developed individual success plans.

We were cautiously optimistic when we heard about Thunder Valley CDC, a relatively new group of young people committed to building sustainable communities in the very tough economy of the reservation. Jobs are scarce. Housing is substandard. Infrastructure barely exists. The reservation is in the poorest county in the country. But the people have hope and determination. The Thunder Valley CDC organizers began by talking to their neighbors and ASKING what they needed to improve the quality of life for themselves and their families. Housing and jobs were at the top of the list. They were not asking for charity but the opportunity to create systemic change and achieve self-sufficiency.

A team of people push up a frame of a wall on a cleared lot

Thunder Valley CDC staff raises a wall for the Sustainable Agriculture Education Center where youth and families will be able to learn about healthy local foods.

Two young Lakota girls in athletic gear and holding small basketballs smiling

Through Thunder Valley CDC, Lakota children participate in sports and wellness activities that are run by older Lakota youth in the Youth Leadership Development program.

Thunder Valley CDC identified land near an important crossroad on the reservation. They purchased it, and with CCHD’s help, they are implementing an ambitious master plan that includes infrastructure, home ownership, jobs, education, training, and mentorship.

Thunder Valley CDC takes CCHD’s mission to heart: the group is led by the people it serves and the people who participate have a stake in the outcome. By listening carefully and planning meticulously, Thunder Valley CDC is creating tangible, sustainable change in the community. It has become a force for justice in an area that longs for it. CCHD is honored to support the effort.

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.

Photos Courtesy of Thunder Valley CDC

Ralph McCloud, CCHD

Ralph McCloud serves as the director of the USCCB Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Learn more about the work of CCHD.


Learn more about Thunder Valley CDC in the latest edition of the CCHD quarterly newsletter Helping People Help Themselves.

See other CCHD groups’ Stories of Hope on PovertyUSA.