Accompanying Immigrants in the Archdiocese of Washington

Thousands of immigrants—mostly from Latin America—and their families gathered at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in late 2016 to participate in the annual Walk with Mary celebration. In his homily, the Most Reverend Mario E. Dorsonville, Auxiliary Bishop of Washington, echoed the palpable feeling of uncertainty that weighted heavily in the hearts of those in attendance following a vitriolic election season that left many immigrants fearful about their futures. With this in the background, we gathered to place ourselves under the protective mantle of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

A year later, on December 9, 2017, thousands of immigrants—this time including a significant number of non-Hispanics—at once braved the freezing weather and Walked with Mary. In a celebration that included the recitation of the rosary using seven languages, a special Chinese song dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the recitation of the Universal Prayers in multiple languages, Bishop Dorsonville once again shed light on the plight of immigrants today. Together, close to three thousand immigrants left the Basilica feeling the closeness of God and knowing that their Church stood with them.

To say that 2017 was a difficult year for immigrants would be an understatement. The travel ban, the rescinding of the DACA program, the changing deportation priorities, ending the TPS programs, and the troubling rhetoric that dominated immigration negotiations, all increased the anxiety among immigrants in the United States. Many of our immigrant brothers and sisters in our pews felt some consolation learning that bishops across the country lifted their voices to defend and protect them. But what made the protection of Mary’s mantle truly visible was the pastoral work undertaken at the local level.

In the Archdiocese of Washington, our first response to initial indications of distress in the immigrant community was combating fear with knowledge. Catholic Charities and its partners provided legal clinics in various parishes to teach people about their rights and to explore paths to normalizing their legal status. We also jumped into the V Encuentro process, which sent thousands of Catholics to reach out to our brothers and sisters on the peripheries. It was through these early interactions that we saw distress and anxiety overwhelming immigrant communities. Then, in September, young people became the target of the anti-immigrant sentiment. Yet, instead of taking a step back, young people stepped up and began to organize and galvanize support for their cause.

To express our closeness with young people, the Archdiocese of Washington hosted a retreat for young dreamers. Titled “Your Dream is God’s Dream,” the retreat provided young people with an opportunity to share their stories and to pray and support each other. It also demonstrated the Church’s desire to accompany them. Through tears and smiles, our young people realized that they are not alone. They felt the consolation that Mary offered Juan Diego: “Am I not here, who is your mother? Are you not under my protection?” But above all, they committed themselves to accompany each other and seek out those who have yet to experience the consolation of Christ.

Walking with the immigrant community is an experience of kinship. While we might not be able to solve all their problems, we can certainly love them unconditionally, the same way that God loves each one of us. By walking with them in the midst of uncertain times, we express our closeness to God who has a special predilection for those on the margins, and it is by walking with them that our brothers and sister can experience the closeness of God.

Javier Bustamante serves as Executive Director of the Office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach in the Archdiocese of Washington.

 Going Deeper

Visit the USCCB Justice for Immigrants website to connect with the Faces of Migration and take action to urge Congress to work for an immediate solution for Dreamers.

Happy 100th Birthday Blessed Oscar Romero

Blessed Oscar Romero of San Salvador, El Salvador, is pictured in this 1979 photo. Aug. 15 would have been the slain archbishop’s 100th birthday. (CNS photo/Octavio Duran)

The 100th anniversary of Blessed Romero’s birth, August 15, 2017, falls on the glorious Feast of the Assumption. Archbishop Romero’s 1977 homily from the Assumption, and more importantly, his steadfast work for justice on behalf on his beloved Salvadoran people, can shed light on this oft-misunderstood feast.

This feast honors the assumption of Mary’s body and soul into heaven. We are reminded of Mary’s importance in our faith, and also of the reality that we, too, will one day share a bodily resurrection…a truth we proclaim in the Creed. While this truth can be difficult to comprehend, Blessed Romero used the occasion of the Assumption to underscore a more tangible truth: while we are destined for heaven, we must strive to do God’s work on earth. In his 1977 homily from the Assumption, Archbishop Romero says, “For those people who seek true happiness, there is a definitive Kingdom of Heaven, a life beyond our life, but this kingdom is obtained by working in this life and committing oneself to the fulfillment of God’s plan.” Romero then praises Mary for her exemplary model of earthly service.

Later in the homily, Archbishop Romero speaks to Mary’s heavenly existence: “[F]rom this light in heaven, she [Mary] illuminates the dignity and the rights of the human person.”

The fact that we are destined for such glory underscores our dignity and rights in the here and now. In honor of Mary’s assumption, we can renew our earthly efforts to safeguard our human dignity as God’s children. In this spirit, Blessed Romero’s 100th birthday serves to greater illuminate the importance of the Feast of the Assumption.

During his lifetime, Blessed Romero’s work for justice inspired such hope in his suffering people that he became known as the “Voice of the Voiceless.” Martyred at the altar on March 24, 1980, Archbishop Romero was beatified on May 23, 2015.

At my parish in Washington, DC, Blessed Romero will be well celebrated. During Masses on August 15, at 7:00 a.m. (English) and 6:45 p.m. (bilingual), we will hear about the Assumption and Romero’s devotion to Mary. We have invited the congregation to stay for birthday cake in honor of Romero after the evening Mass. Parishioners have also been encouraged to bring non-perishable food items or baby supplies to stock the parish’s pantry for the needy.

Two parish missionary groups will observe the occasion in El Salvador. La Juventud Franciscana (Franciscan Youth) left in mid-July with our Parochial Vicar Fr. Kevin Thompson, OFM Cap. to attend a Romero symposium at the Jesuit University of Central America, visit a children’s hospital in San Salvador, and be guests of the parish’s rural Salvadoran sister parish. A group of adult missionaries, Los Misioneros de San Francisco de Asís (Missionaries of St. Francis), will accompany our parish’s Salvadoran pastor, Fr. Moisés Villalta, OFM Cap. and Parochial Vicar Fr. Urbano Vasquez, OFM Cap. to many of the same sites in August. They will celebrate Romero’s actual birthday in his hometown of Ciudad Barrios, San Miguel.

On this feast day, I invite you to celebrate Blessed Virgin Mary, Blessed Oscar Romero, and the dignity that we all possess and work as a Church to bring to the world.

Cinnamon Sarver is a parishioner of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart parish. She has theology degrees from Boston College and the University of Notre Dame. Having traveled to El Salvador four times to research Blessed Romero’s life, she enjoys speaking and writing about his legacy.

This post was adapted for ToGoForth. Read the original version at the Catholic Standard website.


Going Deeper

Plan to celebrate the life of Blessed Romero in your own faith community!  For example, include a remembrance of Romero in a Liturgy on or around his birthday (in the Prayer of the Faithful, homily, etc.) or host a service or advocacy project in honor of Blessed Romero’s Centennial. You can celebrate Blessed Romero’s life around his birthday, or any time throughout this year.

Feliz Centenario del Beato Oscar A. Romero

El Beato Oscar Romero de San Salvador, El Salvador, es retratado en esta foto de 1979. El 15 de agosto habría sido el 100o cumpleaños del arzobispo asesinado. (CNS photo/Octavio Duran)

El centenario del nacimiento del Beato Oscar A. Romero será el 15 de agosto de 2017 y se llevará a cabo en la Solemnidad de la Asunción de María. En la homilía de Arzobispo Romero en la Fiesta de la Asunción de 1977 nos puede iluminar sobre esta fiesta que a menudo es mal entendida.

En esta fiesta se honra la asunción del cuerpo y del alma de María a los cielos. Se nos recuerda de la importancia de María en nuestra fe, y también de la realidad que nosotros, algún día, compartiremos una resurrección corporal…una verdad que proclamamos en el credo. Aunque esta verdad puede ser difícil de comprender, el Beato Romero usó la ocasión de la Asunción para recalcar una verdad más palpable: mientras estamos destinados al cielo, debemos esforzarnos por hacer la obra de Dios en la tierra. En su homilía, Arzobispo Romero dijo,

“[P]ara decirles que no está en esta tierra el destino del alma y del hombre que busca la verdadera felicidad, que hay un reino de los cielos definitivo más allá de nuestra vida, pero que se conquista precisamente trabajando en esta vida, entregándose al cumplimiento de los designios de Dios.” (Romero, 15 de agosto de 1977)

Romero luego alaba a María por su modelo ejemplar de servicio terrenal.

Más tarde en la homilía, el Arzobispo Romero habla de la existencia celestial de María, “¿Cómo sirve María?… desde esa luz de los cielos, ilumin[a] la dignidad del hombre, los derechos del hombre.”

La realidad es que estamos destinados a tal gloria lo cual afirma nuestra dignidad y nuestros derechos en el presente. En honor a la Asunción de María, podemos renovar nuestros esfuerzos terrenales para salvaguardar nuestra dignidad humana como los hijos y las hijas de Dios. En este espíritu, el Centenario del Beato Romero sirve para iluminar la importancia de la Fiesta de la Asunción.

Durante su vida, la obra por la justicia del Beato Romero inspiró tanta esperanza en su pueblo sufriente que se hizo conocido como “la Voz de los sin Voz.” Martirizado en el altar el 24 de marzo de 1980, el Arzobispo Romero fue beatificado el 23 de mayo de 2015.

En la parroquia del Sagrado Corazón en Washington, DC, el Beato Romero será bien celebrado. Durante las misas del 15 de agosto, a las 7:00 a.m. (en inglés) y a las 6:45 p.m. (bilingüe) escucharemos acerca de la Asunción y la devoción de Romero a María. Hemos invitado a la congregación a permanecer después de la misa para el pastel de cumpleaños en honor de Romero. Los feligreses también están invitados a traer alimentos no perecederos o artículos de bebé para los programas de la parroquia de los necesitados.

Dos grupos de misioneros de la parroquia observan el Centenario de Romero en El Salvador. La Juventud Franciscana (JUFRA/OFS) viajó en julio con nuestro vicario parroquial, P. Kevin Thompson, OFM Cap. para asistir a un simposio de Romero en San Miguel, visitar el hospital de niños en San Salvador, y visitar nuestra parroquia hermana en la Quebradas, Jocoatique. Otro grupo, Los Misioneros de San Francisco de Asís, acompañarán a nuestro párroco salvadoreño, P. Moisés Villalta, OFM Cap. y a nuestro vicario parroquial, P. Urbano Vázquez, OFM Cap. para visitar los mismos sitios de Morazán y el norte de San Miguel en agosto. También participarán de la celebración del natalicio 100 de Romero en su ciudad natal de Ciudad Barrios, San Miguel.

Les invito a unirse a nosotros para celebrar la Santísima Virgen María, el Beato Oscar Romero, y que todos trabajemos, como una iglesia, para traerle dignidad al mundo.

Cinnamon Sarver es feligrés del Santuario del Sagrado Corazón. Ella tiene licencia de teología de Boston College y una maestría de teología de la Universidad de Norte Dame. Ha viajado a El Salvador para estudiar la vida del Beato Romero y le gusta escribir y dar charlas sobre el legado del Romero.

Este post fue adaptado para ToGoForth. Lea la versión original en El Pregonero.


¡Celebre la vida del Beato Romero en su propia comunidad de fe! Por ejemplo, incluye un recuerdo de Romero en la liturgia  (en la Oración de los Fieles, homilía, etc.) o acoge un proyecto de servicio o defensa en honor al Centenario del Beato Romero. Usted puede celebrar la vida del Beato Romero alrededor de su cumpleaños, o en cualquier momento este año.

Encounter Fernando

“Work is fundamental to the dignity of a person. Work…anoints us with dignity, fills us with dignity, makes us similar to God, who has worked and still works…”
– Pope Francis, Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, 2013

 “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.” John 5:17 How tempting it is to relegate these words of Jesus to the archives of history. But let us realize that they are as relevant now as they were 2,000 years ago—ours is a God of work, a God who is constantly creating anew in us and in our world, a God who beckons us to work alongside with our own skills and passions and dreams, no matter who we are or where in the world we may live.

 Santos Fernando Sánchez García, 22, a member of the Youths Builders “Jóvenes Constructores” program supported by Catholic Relief Services in El Salvador. Photo by Oscar Leiva/Silverlight for Catholic Relief Services.

Santos Fernando Sánchez García, 22, a member of the Youths Builders “Jóvenes Constructores” program supported by Catholic Relief Services in El Salvador. Photo by Oscar Leiva/Silverlight for Catholic Relief Services.

Fernando dreams of becoming a businessman. He also dreams of a better future for his family, and this motivates him to sell cookbooks on San Salvador’s buses. It’s dangerous work for $10 a day—gangs frequently stop and harass drivers and passengers—but he keeps going, determined to achieve his dreams.

It was his dreams that led him to YouthBuild, a six-month, CRS-sponsored program that trains young people in business. There, he found a positive community to help him pursue his passion, despite the challenges of life in El Salvador. “When I tell my classmates that I want to do something, they tell me to try it and to not hold back.”

Training for six months with YouthBuild wasn’t easy on Fernando or his family. Without his wife to support him and care for their two young daughters, the early mornings and long days might have been impossible. “YouthBuild is a family because families help you realize your dreams,” Fernando says. It’s a fact he knows well.

Group photo of members of “Jóvenes Constructores” program supported by Catholic Relief Services and its local partners Glasswing. Photo by Oscar Leiva/Silverlight for Catholic Relief Services.

Group photo of members of “Jóvenes Constructores” program supported by Catholic Relief Services and its local partners Glasswing. Photo by Oscar Leiva/Silverlight for Catholic Relief Services.

Fernando is putting his newfound skills to work. After graduating from YouthBuild in 2016, he took part in a series of entrepreneur workshops organized by CRS and is currently working on a new business plan. He is also a part of the YouthBuild network of graduates, youth leaders who mentor other young people and look for new opportunities for employment and growth.

 

“We have a saying,” says Fernando. “Once a YouthBuilder, always a YouthBuilder.”

Fernando’ story gives us pause. Knowing that God desires us to use our passion and dreams to guide our work in building a culture of encounter gives us pause, too. Let us pause, then, and think over our own work. Do we recognize God’s hand in the tasks we are given to do? Do we embrace Jesus’ call to keep working, to enter into relationship with a Creator God who never tires? Or do we allow ourselves to give in to our frustrations, to deem a task frivolous or beneath us, to take the easy way out? Do we fail to allow God to use our efforts—no matter how seemingly small!—for God’s own greater glory?

The opportunity to create in the image and likeness of the Creator is a right of every person, the avenue through which each human being is able to more fully reveal God’s glory in the world. How, during this Lenten season, will we liberate that which is holy and hidden in the world around us?

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


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

V Encuentro: An opportunity in the spirit of the new evangelization

headshot of Marco Raposo

Marco Raposo, Director of the Peace and Justice Ministry, Diocese of El Paso

For the past three years, the Catholic Church in the United States has been on a process towards the V Encuentro, which will take place during 2017 and 2018 from the parish to the national levels. As it is an initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), it is a process intended to involve the entire church and invites everyone to be included.

The V Encuentro is part of an encuentro tradition started back in the 70’s and that finds its ultimate roots in the Latin American church’s spirituality since Vatican II. It is a process of encounter with Jesus as we encounter each other as members of His body. Saint Pope John Paul II tells us about this encounter in his apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in America and Pope Francis has emphasized it since the beginning of his pontificate. Encounter is listening, dialoguing, mutual respect, inclusion, service, and collaboration, as we carry out our mission to evangelize.

The V Encuentro pastoral approach, centered on our call to be missionary disciples, helps us to see who we are as Catholic Hispanics in the United States in the 21st century with all the spiritual, cultural, and social challenges and assets that this entails. The process helps us to focus on the pastoral vision of Jesus for life in abundance for all, to develop our assets as Hispanic Catholics, and put it to the service of the entire Church in the United States, as we work to overcome the many barriers that keep us from achieving that vision. The social dimension of this call to encuentro is very clear.

As we continue the process of preparation for the V Encuentro here in my Diocese of El Paso, this pastoral vision with its strong social dimension has been very helpful to the ministry of peace and justice I coordinate and, even though it is only in its beginning stages, I can see how it will help to strengthen the seeds of this ministry in the parishes where it has been planted and to open furrows to new seeds in those parishes where it is not as strong.

I am full of hope in this V Encuentro, as I perceive it to be a great opportunity for growth through collaboration for the social mission of the church and the ministries of social justice amongst Hispanics and beyond, at the grassroots and the diocesan levels.

I invite you, ministers of peace and justice, to open yourselves to encounter and embrace this opportunity in the spirit of mission of the new evangelization.

Marco Raposo is Diocesan Director of the Peace and Justice Ministry in the Diocese of El Paso.


Going Deeper!

The USCCB Dept. of Justice, Peace and Human Development offers numerous resources to assist Spanish-speaking Catholics in their efforts around social mission.  For example, Dos Pies del Amor en Acción (Two Feet of Love in Action) and Los Sacramentos y la Misión Social (Sacraments and Social Mission) are two of our most popular bilingual resources.

Reflections on Solidarity with Latin America

cla-2017-poster-englishVisiting people in Latin America and the Caribbean, being in solidarity with them, fills me with such joy and hope. As I encounter countless moments of solidarity and fraternity each time I visit a community that receives funds from the Collection for the Church in Latin America, I am grateful to be part of so many stories of pastoral care and community building.

In Cuba, a catechist named Alice wanted catechisms to share with parish members. Through American Catholics’ generous contributions to the annual collection we were able to send her the catechisms she needed. The woman who delivered the books said to me: “You should have seen the joy Alice expressed when she saw the catechisms. She even cried of happiness!”

When I visited another group in Nicaragua, I met a woman whose daughter is deaf. The mother struggled with the reality that learning about the faith and Jesus Christ would be a challenge for her daughter. The mother shared that her concern was not only to ensure her daughter would grow up and have an education and a job, but also how the family would share their faith in Jesus with her.

And so she asked in her parish if there was any ministry for deaf children. There wasn’t.

This mother asked the parish leaders if one could be started—and said that she would be happy to be the first volunteer and lead it! Almost fifteen years later, she is still involved in that ministry and her daughter is now a catechist to other young deaf children.

With your support to this collection, we have been able to provide the funds needed to train over 200 ministers to support the deaf community throughout that archdiocese!

These women in Cuba and Nicaragua had such an amazing will and trust in God! I was moved to see the joy and fulfillment they exuded!

The solidarity that made this possible is not new or shallow. In a letter congratulating the USCCB on the 50th anniversary of the collection last year, Pope Francis said “this [is an] outstanding sign of communion and solidarity with the Church in South America and the Caribbean.”

The collection continues to be this excellent expression of American Catholics’ communion and solidarity with the Church in Latin America. Through it we stand together with our brothers and sisters in the region in many ways – through visits to these communities, through prayers, or through financial support.

Our solidarity with these communities helps us share the faith and shows that we as the Body of Christ do what Jesus says about his ministry: “the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” (Lk 7:22)

 The USCCB Collection for the Church in Latin America will be taken up in parishes nationwide on the weekend of January 21-22. Learn more at http://www.usccb.org/latin-america.

Fr. Juan MolinaFr. Juan Molina, OSST is Director for the Church in Latin America at USCCB.

The need for relief for island nations burdened with debt

Richard Coll, policy advisor for the Office of International Justice and Peace at USCCB

Richard Coll, Policy Advisor for the Office of International Justice and Peace at USCCB

In Pope Francis’ message for the 2016 celebration of World Peace Day on January 1, he asks that leaders of nations “forgive or manage in a sustainable way the international debt of the poorer nations…” This is an important issue, especially for many island nations.

Highly indebted island nations, located in the Caribbean and the Pacific, are burdened by debt obligations that impede their ability to foster economic development, reduce poverty, and provide adequate social services. These island nations include Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica and St. Kitts, among others. In each of these countries, the Catholic Church, along with ecumenical partners, has been actively engaged in addressing both the causes and the consequences of debt, while championing the human rights and the common good of affected populations.

The human consequences of high levels of indebtedness can be very severe. By requiring a high percentage of their national income to be devoted to the servicing of foreign debt, little is left over for investments in infrastructure, education, or health.

Not only does this put at risk the economic growth and development of the country, but it may also lead to severe deprivations in nutrition and medical care for the affected population. One hears, for example, of nations with such inadequate water systems, due to disrepair, that mothers are forced to offer their children bottled soda rather than risking their children the exposure to the dirty and polluted water they face in the local water systems.

As Pope Francis said when he addressed the United Nations General Assembly in September, “The International Financial Agencies are should care for the sustainable development of countries and should ensure that they are not subjected to oppressive lending systems which, far from promoting progress, subject people to mechanisms which generate greater poverty, exclusion and dependence.”

Inspired initially by the call of Saint Pope John Paul II for Jubilee 2000, the global Jubilee movement aims to influence worldwide decision makers, including the United Nations, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, to promote poverty reduction and advance solutions to international financial problems.

USCCB has long stood in solidarity with the Church in the Caribbean, as well as with the work of Jubilee USA, in alleviating the debt burdens of highly indebted nations.

For this reason, my colleague Dr. Stephen Colecchi, Director of the Office of International Justice and Peace, and I attended a recent conference in Grenada hosted by Jubilee. The commitment of the Church in the Caribbean regarding this issue was evidenced by the participation of a number of prominent religious leaders, including Catholic bishops from Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, and St. Kitts, as well as the Apostolic Nuncio to these nations.

There we discussed strategies for effective debt relief, as well as greater level of financial accountability and administrative diligence on the part of the borrowing nations. Participants urged lending institutions to assure that loans are structured in ways that make successful development and repayment possible.

The religious leaders at the conference agreed to establish a formal structure of consultation and advocacy throughout the Caribbean region to address on a systematic basis the concerns of these highly indebted nations.

The efforts of these religious leaders, including Catholic bishops and other Christian leaders from the Caribbean, deserve support, including here in the United States.

USCCB will continue to pursue and support energetically these important endeavors, thereby expressing solidarity and providing support for both debt relief and poverty reduction.

 

Richard Coll is a policy advisor for the Office of International Justice and Peace at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.


Learn more information about the USCCB’s position on debt relief.

 

The Meaning of Pope Francis’ Trip to Cuba

Two Previous Papal Visits

headshot of Archbishop Thoma Wenski

Most Reverend Thomas Wenski, Archbishop of Miami

Pope Francis arrives in Cuba at a time of renewed hopes because of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and United States. That the Pope played a key role in helping make this happen will not be lost on anyone in Cuba.

In 1998, Saint John Paul II said that Cuba should open itself to the world and that the world should open itself to Cuba.

Now, Pope Francis is flying to the U.S. – not directly from Rome but from Cuba. The Pope likes to make symbolic gestures – he carries his own bag, for example. His flight into Washington, D.C. from Havana is also very symbolic. As he told priests at an ordination a couple of years ago, priests are to build bridges not walls. He is building a bridge. And this bridge not only spans the distance between Cuba and the US, but – I think – is meant also to span the distance between the U.S. and Latin America. This is the distance between the most developed part of the world with those parts, in many cases, that are the least developed. Continue reading

US and Canadian Church Stand in Solidarity with Latin American Bishops to Lift Up Perils of Irresponsible Mining

Archbishop Timothy Broglio, Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini, Archbishop Pedro Barreto, Bishop Roque Paloschi and Bishop Donald Bolen stand before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Archbishop Timothy Broglio, Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini, Archbishop Pedro Barreto, Bishop Roque Paloschi and Bishop Donald Bolen stand before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

At a historic hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights yesterday, bishops representing the Latin American Episcopal Conference, CELAM, testified on the effects of exploitative practices of mining and extractive industries on communities and the environment in Latin America. Joined by Archbishop Timothy Broglio, representing the USCCB, and Bishop Donald Bolen, representing the bishops of Canada, Peruvian Archbishop Pedro Barreto, Guatemalan Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini, and Bishop Roque Paloschi of Brazil detailed in strong and compelling terms the human rights, public health and environmental consequences related to operations in Latin America by U.S. and Canadian mining companies. They urged that U.S. and Canadian mining companies be held accountable to laws and standards that protect local economies, the environment, indigenous communities and vulnerable groups even when operating outside of the country.

The extraction of natural resources, such as oil, gas and minerals, is a central feature of modern economies. Without a doubt, extractive industries can contribute to economic development and opportunity. When exploited improperly, they also bring about social conflict, feed corruption, displace people from homes and lands, pollute air, rivers and seas and destroy people’s health.

The Church is deeply concerned about these practices. Catholic social teaching calls us to uphold the life and dignity of every human person, to be in solidarity with our brothers and sisters worldwide, and to care for God’s creation. As Catholics, we believe that those in poverty have a first claim on our consciences, especially when economies, communities and ecosystems are at risk. And what about economic development and profit? The profits that can accrue from natural resource extraction ought to be but a means to an end, the common good and the benefit of all. Pope Francis has strong words for the type of system that puts profit first and people second:

In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule. (Evangelii Gaudium n. 56)

The U.S. bishops have long been concerned about the impacts and consequences of irresponsible extractives and mining operations throughout the world, especially in Latin America. In recent solidarity visits, we had the amazing opportunity to accompany bishops from the United States, including Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, to South and Central America. We heard powerful testimonials from community members, civil society organizations and religious men and women. We also heard from bishops advocating for their communities’ rights to live in a healthy environment and to have a say in the decisions that affect them. It was a moving experience to see how the lives of community members are impacted by irresponsible mining practices, and inspiring to witness their struggle for their rights to live out their dignity as God’s children, even in the face of persecution.

Bishop Pates meets with community members during a meeting in Guatemala on the effects of mining.

Bishop Pates meets with community members during a meeting in Guatemala on the effects of mining.

In Honduras, we visited a community near a mining site in Siria Valley. There we met with young children at an elementary school, beautiful and bright, who had rashes on their faces, arms and bodies from exposure to air and water pollution from the lead, arsenic, cyanide and cadmium used in mining. We met an 8 year old boy suffering from neurological damage and physical leg deformities that did not permit him to walk. In Guatemala, an indigenous woman told us, “You are lucky. In your county the life of a tree is respected, the life of a bird is protected, but in my country the life of a person is not respected.”

In his letter of support to the bishops of Latin America, Bishop Oscar Cantú, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, observed that the United States, joined by Canada, “must do more to support the claims and interests of these affected communities. It must require that U.S. enterprises operating in these regions abide by the same standards of care for human life and ecology as apply to their operations in the United States.”

The authors with Bishop Roque Paloschi.

The authors with Bishop Roque Paloschi.

Cecilia Calvo is the coordinator of the USCCB Environmental Justice Program and Richard Coll is a policy advisor on Latin America and global trade at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.

Towards Dialogue & Reconciliation with Cuba

Bishop Oscar Cantú, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, issued a statement today in response to the release of Alan Gross and to the further decisions by the Obama Administration to build normal relations with Cuba. In his statement, Bishop Cantú expressed his joy at Mr. Gross’ return, and provided strong support for the process of expanding dialogue, trade and communications with Cuba. The bishop also agreed on the need to reexamine Cuba’s previous designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.

For decades, the USCCB has supported normalization of relations with Cuba. The Conference believes that dialogue and reconciliation will foster democracy, human rights and religious freedom in that country. By engaging and strengthening Cuban civil society through increased cultural, religious and business contacts, the likelihood of positive change in Cuba will be enhanced.

Read more on the USCCB’s advocacy related to Cuba.

Coll headshotMr. Richard Coll is an international policy advisor on Latin America and global trade at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.