Remarks from Ana Chavarin, the 2019 Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award Winner

On November 11th the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) presented the 2018 Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award to Ana Chavarin, interim lead organizer at the CCHD-funded group Pima County Interfaith, in Tuscon, AZ. Ana was honored for her efforts mobilizing migrant families and faith communities to impact the issues that affect them. To learn more about the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award, please see the USCCB press release. Ana’s remarks offer reflections on the call to work for justice and peace in our communities:

Good evening, I am honored to be here today. I would like to thank USCCB for this opportunity, the selecting committee, Sr. Leonette Kochan who nominated me, and those who supported my nomination; My Pastor Monsignor Raul Trevizo and My Bishop from the Diocese of Tucson Bishop Weisenburger.

I am an immigrant from Mexico, I moved here in 2003. I am raising 4 kids as a single mom and I am pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Arizona while working in my community as an organizer.

I first became involved in Pima County Interfaith Council, which receives funding from CCHD, in 2014. I prayed to God to help me find the right job where I had the flexibility to take care of my children and use the skills and my passion to help others. Three days later Mr. Courtney, former lead organizer, called me and offered me a job as a project organizer starting with 10 hrs a week. This gave me the flexibility I needed plus, I had the opportunity to use my voice and train others to use their voices.

This work has helped me to achieve things I never imagine possible. I have learned how to teach, lead, think and analyze, connect with people, see what others don’t see, and to have the courage to make changes in my community. All the things I have learned in my work as an organizer with Pima County Interfaith has helped me in my education as well. When in my class I must present about a topic, I can do it easily because this is part of my daily job.

This work also brought me closer to my faith, to my God-given purpose and my community. When we work to better the life of our neighbor, I know I’m fulfilling my mission.

My work consists of finding the right people who care for their communities and who want to bring change. I work with them and train them to develop stronger skills so they can advocate for issues that threaten our families. For instance, in 2016, the issue was drugs sold legally in our low-income immigrant neighborhood. A group of concerned churches and community members came together. We had mothers sharing their stories about how this drug was destroying the life of their kids. We trained those mothers and they learned how to use their voice to defend their children, for the first time ever, they had the opportunity to use their voice and advocate for their families. Also, the drug issue led to the creation of a strong relationship between the Police department and our community at St. John’s, our parish.

The results were a City Ordinance that prohibited the sale of this drug in Tucson and then passing of state law.

On the issue Immigration, I have been training leaders to host “Know your rights sessions” and workshops to learn how to do power of attorney letters, to educate families and help them to be prepared in case of being detained.

Also, every year Pima County Interfaith Council makes sure that more low-income students receive help through JobPath our workforce development program. Which helps low-income students with tuition, books and other needs to help them to achieve success. Every year, PCIC advocates for the funding needed to operate this program. Last year PCIC achieved an increase of almost 20% from the County’s budget for JobPath. Over the years JobPath has lifted more than 1,500 families out of poverty into living-wage jobs.

CCHD has helped us to make this work possible. Thanks to this support we can train leaders and build stronger relationships in our community. Now we are working with over 150 new Hispanic leaders through CCHD and the impact in our community shows. Last year, when we had asylum seekers coming to Tucson, the Hispanic leaders took charge and organized their parishes to shelter immigrants. I was very proud to see that many of our leaders who came to our trainings were leading their parishes and preparing them to be shelters or assisting parishes who operated as shelters.  This is the impact of CCHD in our lives.

But our work has been possible thanks to the support of Bishop Weisenburger, Bishop Emeritus Kicanas, Monsignor Trevizo, Fr. Vili Valderrama, Sr. Leonette Kochan, and Sr. Gladys Echenique. Without their support, our work would have not been the same.

One of my favorite elements in Catholic Social Teaching is Human Dignity. To me, human dignity means to make sure that every person has access to education, food, shelter, health care, a decent job, and to live in a community free of violence and drugs. This is what CCHD helps us to protect, human dignity.

I thank God for this life and for being here in this moment. My wish is to continue to grow stronger in my faith, to continue doing this work, and that all of us will feel the call to protect the most vulnerable in our community. When I see the people working in the community reminds me of the love of God. It strengthens my faith and gives me hope for a better future. When I see the leaders working for the common good, I think, this is it! This is what is about, this is what Jesus Christ told us we should do as in Mathew 25:35-40

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Ana Chavarin is the interim lead organizer at the CCHD-funded group Pima County Interfaith in Tuscon, AZ and the winner of the 2019 Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award.

 

Public Policy in the Pews: How the Diocese of Rochester NY Engages Catholics in Advocacy

 

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This year the Diocese of Rochester collected over 10,300 signatures in support of a bill granting basic labor rights to farmworkers in New York State. These workers had been denied overtime pay, a voluntary day of rest per week, and collective bargaining protections.  After years of advocacy by our New York State Catholic Conference and many other groups and individuals, in June our state legislature finally passed the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act to address these injustices! Our work was part of this victory.

From support for farmworkers to the DREAM Act to pay equity for women to opposition to physician-assisted suicide and abortion, parishioners in the Diocese of Rochester, New York have been advocating for years on issues across the spectrum of Catholic Social Teaching.

They do so as one voice, through the coordination of the Diocesan Public Policy Committee. This group of clergy and laity from around the central New York State diocese chooses a topical public policy issue each year, which is then reviewed and approved by our bishop. The committee is staffed by Justice & Peace Ministry staff members at Catholic Charities’ offices around the diocese.

These staff members produce materials for parishes to use to raise awareness about the public policy issue each year. Bulletin notices, pulpit announcements, prayers of the faithful and suggestions for educational programs are distributed to the parishes through the Justice & Peace staff. These explain not only the details of the chosen public policy issue but also its connection to our Catholic faith.

All of this awareness-raising culminates in the annual diocesan-wide Public Policy Weekend.  During the Saturday evening and Sunday Masses on a designated weekend, the issue is discussed during or after the homily.  Parishioners are then invited to sign petitions advocating for the issue. These signatures are tallied, gathered up with those of other parishes, and eventually delivered to the elected officials representing those parishes.

Yes, we do this advocacy work right at (or just after) Mass.  For me, this reflects the original meaning of the word liturgy which comes from the Greek leitos meaning public and ergo meaning to do. “Liturgy” for the Greeks meant a public duty or service. The U.S. Bishops wrote in their document Faithful Citizenship, “In the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation” (13). In the Diocese of Rochester, the liturgy is one setting for our parishioners to do their public duty and meet that moral obligation.

Over the years, we have found that the way to collect the most signatures is to give time for this during the Mass. Tabling at the back of church after Mass just isn’t as effective, as people can get distracted and hurry out the door. Instead, I encourage parishes to harness what I call “the awesome power of the clipboard.”

10300 petition signatures for - TGFThis means providing clipboards and pens in every pew with the petitions attached. Then during the Mass, either after the homily or after a post-Communion announcement, parishioners are invited to sign the petition and pass the clipboards along. The petition sheets can then be placed in the collection baskets, or simply left in the pews and collected after Mass.

Completing the petitions during Mass is a powerful way to make the connection between worship and action. It is a reminder that as surely as Christ is present in the Eucharist, he is also present in “the least, the lost, the last and the little” for whom we are speaking out. We receive his Body, and we become his Body the Church, and we serve him in them, through this work.

Through our work to highlight a variety of issues over the years, our Diocesan Public Policy Committee has helped parishioners to recognize the breadth of Catholic Social Teaching.  This advocacy also reminds people of the power they have to advocate with our state and federal elected officials, and the importance of their calling to build up Christ’s reign of dignity, justice, and peace.

Harness the “awesome power of the clipboard” in your parish!

Answer the call of Catholic Social Teaching by helping your fellow parishioners participate in advocacy on important justice concerns in your area. When you bring public policy to the pews in your diocese, here are some best practices to engender wide participation in these advocacy efforts:

  • Two weeks before Public Policy Weekend, print the text of the petition in the parish bulletin to alert people on what they’ll be asked to sign.
  • One week before Public Policy Weekend, invite a member of the parish team orchestrating these efforts to announce that the Weekend is coming and to speak briefly about the issue at all the Masses.

Laurie 2Laurie Konwinski serves as the Deputy Director of Catholic Charities in Tompkins and Tioga Counties in upstate New York, in the Diocese of Rochester.  She coordinates Catholic Charities’ Justice & Peace Ministry for Tompkins County. Laurie is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and holds a master’s degree from the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa Canada.

Going Deeper!

Looking to learn more about how your parish can get involved with local advocacy? Check out this advocacy toolkit and read more about a parish in Minnesota that empowers parishioners to put their faith into action.

Christus Vivit and Young Hearts that are Witnesses of Justice and Peace

freely-10182 (2)As a parish youth minister for more than a decade, I know well the innate desire for justice and the natural ability to create change that is inherent within many youth and young adults. They know injustice when they see it and want to say or do something about it. In his recent Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christus vivit, Pope Francis goes so far as to claim that young people have a “young heart” that allows them to not only see injustice for what it is but also to have both the hope that something can be done and the creativity to solve the problem.

Holy Ground

Youth is a time of training, a time to practice doing what disciples of Jesus do, namely, “living in the midst of society and the world in order to bring the Gospel everywhere, to work for the growth of peace, harmony, justice, human rights and mercy, and thus for the extension of God’s kingdom in this world” (no. 168). This is the vocation of all Christians, but it is essential to the growth of young people that they practice this lifestyle of justice so as to cultivate the incipient virtues already found within them.

In Christus vivit, Pope Francis has made quite a statement about young people in general, and specifically with regard to youth and justice. In fact, he has such a high regard for youth and young adults that he says, “Each young person’s heart should thus be considered ‘holy ground’, a bearer of seeds of divine life, before which we must ‘take off our shoes’ in order to draw near and enter more deeply” (no. 67).

Three Qualities Inherent to the Young Heart

But what do we find when we meditate on the sacred space of young people? Here are three inclinations toward justice and peace that Pope Francis finds present in a youthful heart, and which ring true in my experience.

Fraternal Love: First, he says that one of the key indicators that a young heart is following the path of Christ is that it grows in what he calls fraternal love. Avoiding the temptation to isolate ourselves or become jaded by “a world so full of violence and selfishness” (no. 168), we must come out of ourselves to love and serve others. “We grow in wisdom and maturity when we take the time to touch the suffering of others” (no. 171), and such encounters help young people grow in fraternal love. The desire for such fraternal love, and the readiness to embrace it, is instinctive for young hearts.

Protagonists of Change: Secondly, when full of fraternal love, young hearts “want to build a better world . . . The young want to be protagonists of change. . . . to fight apathy and to offer a Christian response to the social and political troubles emerging in different parts of the world” (no. 174). Within the nascent hearts of young people lies both the desire and potential to act, to do something, to heroically stand on the side of the oppressed, the voiceless, or the outcast. Young people only need to be encouraged and empowered by the adult mentors in their lives to “fight for the common good, serve the poor, [and become] protagonists of the revolution of charity and service, capable of resisting the pathologies of consumerism and superficial individualism” (no. 174).

The Joy of the Gospel: In making a stand and becoming protagonists of change, young people begin to experience the joy of the Gospel. “God loves the joy of young people. He wants them especially to share in the joy of fraternal communion, the sublime joy felt by those who share with others . . . Fraternal love multiplies our ability to experience joy, since it makes us rejoice in the good of others (no. 167). Pope Francis says that fraternal love leads to a real form of ecstasy, a coming out of one’s self that culminates in joy. When we serve, when we stand on the side of the poor and speak up for those who have been marginalized, we come to know the ecstatic joy of the Gospel. “Social engagement and direct contact with the poor remain fundamental ways of finding or deepening one’s faith and the discernment of one’s vocation” (no. 170). Young people already possess a natural joy within them and living their true vocation from the Lord brings the deepest joy imaginable.

The Good News for Youth and Adults Alike

These are qualities and callings particular to a “young heart,” and Pope Francis says in no uncertain terms that the adult Church can have either a young heart or an old and withering heart. It is possible for the old to remain young at heart, and this is not a platitude but a requirement of adult disciples and for the Church at large. “[Young people] can keep [the Church] moving forward, prevent her from being proud and sectarian, help her to be poorer and to bear better witness, to take the side of the poor and the outcast, to fight for justice and humbly to let herself be challenged” (no. 37).

Chapter Four of Christus vivit is really the heart of the whole document in which you can hear Pope Francis’ challenge to emulate those among us who possess a “young heart”. He exhorts the whole Church to know deeply that we are loved by God, that it is Jesus Christ who saves us, and that Christ is alive and present to us right now. The Holy Spirit is always at work, changing, challenging, and empowering us to live the Gospel. If we give our lives to Christ Jesus, if we sacrifice ourselves in fraternal love so as to walk with and bring about concrete change in the daily lives of those who suffer, we will find our most personal vocation and purpose. We will know the joy of the Gospel and bring hope to the world.

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With 13 years of experience in full-time youth ministry and a Master of Divinity from the University of Notre Dame, Mike Buckler has presented at churches, trainings, and conferences on both youth ministry and Catholic social teaching. He currently serves as Regional Associate Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of St. Petersburg, and both he and his wife Megan serve as Catholic Relief Services Fair Trade Ambassadors. They live with their four kids on the north side of Tampa.

Going Deeper!

 How can you work to cultivate a “young heart” with youth and young adults as well as the rest of your parish community? Check out the Two Feet of Love in Action and explore two distinct, but complementary ways we can put the Gospel in action.

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.