Share the Journey on World Refugee Day

In his 2018 World Day of Migrants and Refugees message, Pope Francis exhorted all members of the human family to recognize that, “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).” This encounter is practically expressed, he goes on to say, in acts of welcoming, protecting, promoting, and integrating migrants and refugees which place no conditions or restrictions on our accompaniment.

On June 20, the international community will observe the 19th annual UN World Refugee Day to remind ourselves about the ongoing and life-threatening struggle of migrants and refugees and, at the same time, celebrate the multitude of gifts they bring to the receiving nations and host communities that become places of rebirth and new hope. Refugees like Walaa Ali, whose peaceful life was turned upside down in July 2007 when she was forced to flee her beloved homeland of Iraq. Her story epitomizes the courage and resiliency of all refugees, like the Holy Family, who undertake a perilous journey of survival.

The two-year Share the Journey global migration campaign launched by Pope Francis in September 2017 under the auspices of Caritas Internationalis, a worldwide confederation of Caritas and Catholic Charities agencies, comes at a particularly opportune moment in the history of the global migration phenomenon. Sadly, we’re witnessing the tendency of nations including our own to turn inward and seal their borders in the name of security and out of fear against the enormity of the plight of our desperate brothers and sisters, fully 80 percent women and children, who seek only protection and a place of peace for themselves and their families.

This campaign offers a multitude of personal and organizational opportunities to raise awareness of, advocate for, and be of service to some of the most vulnerable persons we’ll ever encounter. Here are just a few examples:

  • Celebrate a multicultural Mass or prayer service in your parish on or around World Refugee Day and focus the readings and prayer intentions on the scriptural migration narrative
  • Organize in-district Congressional member visits to advocate on behalf of migrants and refugees
  • Present Catholic teaching on migration to parish and school groups
  • Volunteer to assist newcomers in the initial stages of their journey to the U.S. through a Catholic Charities agency
  • Join the Share the Journey and Justice for Immigrants campaigns to learn more about migration and refugee issues and available resources
  • Participate in a local pilgrimage/solidarity walk to raise awareness and present a visible witness to the plight of migrants and refugees
  • Host a parish or community potluck meal with newcomers in your community and invite them to share their stories

How will you share the journey? In the words of the Holy Father, “The Lord entrusts to the Church’s motherly love every person forced to leave their homeland in search of a better future. This is a great responsibility, which the Church intends to share with all believers and men and women of good will, who are called to respond to the many challenges of contemporary migration with generosity, promptness, wisdom, and foresight, each according to their own abilities.”

May we heed this call with open hearts and open minds.

Jim Kuh

Jim Kuh is the Senior Director of Immigration and Refugees Services at Catholic Charities USA in Alexandria, VA.

Pray with Pope Francis: Show Us Your Face

In Gaudete et Exsultate, or Rejoice and Be Glad, Pope Francis asks us to respond to Christ’s invitation to holiness by encountering Jesus’ face in those of our brothers and sisters. This prayer based on Gaudete et Exsultate can be found on the USCCB website in both English and Spanish. You can also purchase copies of Rejoice and Be Glad from the USCCB online store.

Show Us Your Face
Prayer based on Rejoice and Be Glad [Gaudete et Exsultate]

 “Amid the thicket of precepts and prescriptions, Jesus clears a way to seeing two faces, that of the Father and that of our brother. He does not give us two or more formulas or two or more commands. He gives us two faces, or better yet, one alone: the face of God reflected in so many other faces. For in every one of our brothers and sisters, especially the least, the most vulnerable, the defenseless and those in need, God’s very image is found. Indeed, with the scraps of this frail humanity, the Lord will shape his work of art.”

– Pope Francis, Rejoice and Be Glad [Gaudete et Exsultate], no. 61

Father and Creator,

Show us your face reflected in the faces of our brothers and sisters, especially the least, the most vulnerable, the defenseless, and those in need.

In refugee families fleeing violence or war, show us your face.

In those suffering from hunger, show us your face.

In children not yet born, show us your face.

In those enslaved by drug addiction, show us your face.

In parents who work two jobs but still struggle to get by, show us your face.

In those on death row, show us your face.

In young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, show us your face.

In those aging and alone, show us your face.

In all faces, we know that your divine image is reflected. Help us to recognize always that image.

Help us to work together to protect the dignity of all people—each one created in your image.

Lord, in our families, communities and world shape your final work of art with the scraps of our frail humanity (cf. GE, no. 61).

We ask this through Christ our Lord, Amen.

__________________________________________

Muéstranos tu rostro
Oración basada en Alegraos y Regocijaos (Gaudete et Exsultate)

“En medio de la tupida selva de preceptos y prescripciones, Jesús abre una brecha que permite distinguir dos rostros, el del Padre y el del hermano. No nos entrega dos fórmulas o dos preceptos más. Nos entrega dos rostros, o mejor, uno solo, el de Dios que se refleja en muchos. Porque en cada hermano, especialmente en el más pequeño, frágil, indefenso y necesitado, está presente la imagen misma de Dios. En efecto, el Señor, al final de los tiempos, plasmará su obra de arte con el desecho de esta humanidad vulnerable”.

—Papa Francisco, Alegraos y Regocijaos [Gaudete et Exsultate], no. 61

Padre y Creador,

Muéstranos tu rostro reflejado en los rostros de nuestros hermanos y hermanas, especialmente los más pequeños, los más frágiles, los indefensos y los necesitados.

En las familias de refugiados que huyen de la violencia o la guerra, muéstranos tu rostro.

En los que sufren de hambre en todo el mundo, muéstranos tu rostro.

En los niños aún no nacidos, muéstranos tu rostro.

En los esclavizados por la adicción a las drogas, muéstranos tu rostro.

En los padres que tienen dos trabajos pero aun así luchan por sobrevivir, muéstranos tu rostro.

En los que envejecen y están solos, muéstranos tu rostro.

En todos los rostros sabemos que se refleja tu imagen divina. Ayúdenos a reconocer siempre esa imagen.

Ayúdanos a trabajar juntos para proteger la dignidad de todas las personas, cada una de ellas creadas a tu imagen.

Señor, en nuestras familias, comunidades y mundo plasmamos tu obra de arte final con el desecho de nuestra vulnerable humanidad (cf. GE, no. 61).

Te lo pedimos por Cristo nuestro Señor. Amén.

Copyright © 2018, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved.  This text may be reproduced in whole or in part without alteration for nonprofit educational use, provided such reprints are not sold and include this notice.

 Catholics Make a Clear Impact Toward Death Penalty’s End

Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, Catholic Mobilizing Network

Ending capital punishment in the United States is within reach.  We are living in a moment in history when it is possible to both glimpse the death penalty’s downfall and experience its cruel grip at the same time.  The movement to end the death penalty is steadily growing and Catholics have the power to significantly embolden it in the United States.

Glimpses of hope can be seen in the five people exonerated and released from death row in 2017, bringing the total number of exonerations to 161.  Last year for the first time since 1974, Harris County, Texas–the country’s most egregious user of the death penalty–neither executed nor sentenced anyone to death. Public support for the death penalty is on the decline and measuring at its lowest level in 45 years.  Death sentences and executions are among lowest in history.  The death penalty is on its way out.

But we aren’t there yet.  The death penalty’s dark shadow surfaced just last month when three states–Alabama, Florida, and Texas—for the first time in a decade scheduled executions on the same day.  Recent repeal efforts in Utah and Washington State failed. Capital punishment hangs on and snuffs out all possibility for restoration and redemption in the 31 states that have it.  We still have a lot of work to do.

Capital punishment won’t end in the United States without a persistent demand from Catholics that there is a better way.  Last October, Pope Francis reminded us that the death penalty “heavily wounds human dignity.”  During his historic visit to the United States in September 2015, Pope Francis shared inspiring words for working to confront our broken criminal justice system: “I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.”  The resurrection hope that our Holy Father speaks of is the strength we need to end the death penalty once and for all.

Catholics are playing a significant role in the declining public support for capital punishment.  Catholics are influencing legislators, speaking out in the media, and bearing public witness to end the practice.  At the beginning of 2018, when the Washington State legislature considered a repeal during its 60-day legislative session, Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg, from the Archdiocese of Seattle, offered a compelling testimony before the state legislature. A tireless advocate and inspiring activist in that state, Sr. Joan Campbell, mobilized her own grassroots network to contact key legislators and push for repeal.  Washington’s Catholic Conference and Catholic Mobilizing Network collaborated closely to mobilize thousands of Washington Catholics to contact their state legislators to urge repeal.  Washington State moved farther than ever in this year’s initiative and registered a clear advance toward state abolition.

The state of Louisiana is set to consider a repeal of capital punishment as its spring legislative session begins. Archbishop of New Orleans, Gregory Michael Aymond, recently released a short video calling on Catholics to join the work to end the death penalty. And pro-life directors from each of Louisiana’s 7 dioceses gathered for a briefing about how to educate and empower parishioners to advocate for passing the legislation.

Much progress has been made. But we’re not there yet. The work of ending the death penalty will take all of us, at every level in the Church.

 

Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy is Managing Director of Catholic Mobilizing Network.

Going Deeper

Catholic Mobilizing Network recently launched Faith and Action First Fridays, a simple tool developed to point Catholics to the areas where they can have the most impact in the death penalty debate.  As a way to bring Christ’s mercy to the broken system of capital punishment, each month CMN will feature timely and useful educational materials, prayers, and advocacy actions for that month.  Your prayers and actions will amplify the tens-of-thousands of actions made by people around the country who seek an end to the death penalty.

On Pope Francis’ Birthday, Celebrating His Words and Wisdom

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Today, December 17, is Pope Francis’ birthday!

The USCCB Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development maintains a Pope Francis Quotes collection, which is updated several times each year.  It highlights the Holy Father’s words on poverty, care for creation, migration, and many other issues, in order to inspire us to live and act as missionary disciples.

To honor Pope Francis on his birthday, we’ve selected a few favorites: three from Evangelii Gaudium, Laudato Si’, and Amoris Laetitia, and three from recent months:

“Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society” (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 187).

“A true ecological approach always becomes a social approach: it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (Laudato Si’, no. 49).

“Christian families should never forget that ‘faith does not remove us from the world, but draws us more deeply into it… Each of us, in fact, has a special role in preparing for the coming of God’s kingdom in our world.’ Families should not see themselves as a refuge from society, but instead go forth from their homes in a spirit of solidarity with others. In this way, they become a hub for integrating persons into society and a point of contact between the public and private spheres” (Amoris Laetitia, no. 181).

Hope is the force that drives the hearts of those who depart, leaving home, their homeland, at times their relatives and families — I am thinking of the migrants — in search of a better life which is worthier of them and their loved ones. And it is also the impulse in the heart of those who welcome: the desire to encounter, to get to know each other, to dialogue. . . . Hope is the force that drives us ‘to share the journey,’ because the journey is made jointly . . . . Christ himself asks us to welcome our brother and sister migrants and refugees with open arms, with arms wide open” (General Audience, Sept. 27, 2017).

“Poverty is not an inevitable misfortune: it has causes that must be recognized and removed, in order to honor the dignity of many brothers and sisters, after the example of the Saints” (Angelus, Oct. 15, 2017).

“The teaching of John XXIII remains ever valid.  In pointing to the goal of an integral disarmament, he stated: ‘Unless this process of disarmament be thoroughgoing and complete, and reach men’s very souls, it is impossible to stop the arms race, or to reduce armaments, or – and this is the main thing – ultimately to abolish them entirely’ (Pacem in Terris)” (Address, Nov. 10, 2017).

Let’s honor Pope Francis today by taking these words to heart, responding with prayer and action, and sharing them with others!

Going Deeper
To pray, reach out, learn and act together on these and other topics, visit WeAreSaltandLight.org.

Disarmament Week: Disarming Our Fears and Our World

Nuclear war protesters demonstrate outside the White House in Washington (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Each year on the anniversary of its founding (October 24), the United Nations observes Disarmament Week. This seems particularly fitting since the United Nations was founded “to maintain international peace and security.”

Whenever I think of disarmament, I am reminded of these haunting passages from the Second Vatican Council: “[T]he arms race is an utterly treacherous trap for humanity, and one which ensnares the poor to an intolerable degree.” “Rather than being eliminated thereby, the causes of war are in danger of being gradually aggravated. While extravagant sums are being spent for the furnishing of ever new weapons, an adequate remedy cannot be provided for the multiple miseries afflicting the whole modern world” (Gaudium et spes, 81).

It is no secret that our nation and world are caught in this vicious trap. Congress and the Administration have proposed dramatic increases in military spending at the same time that they have propose dramatic cuts to resources for diplomacy and human development/poverty reduction. Our nation already spends about one-third of all military spending worldwide. The United States spends as much as the next eight nations combined, many of them are our allies.

I believe this overemphasis on armaments is driven by deep-seated fears and a lack of hope. If we want to move our world to resist the arms race, we must first resist the fears that drive it. It is possible to overcome fears and to reverse the arms race. And this doesn’t require optimism or blind trust. It just demands that we consider other options in dialogue with other nations.

For example, our nation could embrace the Arms Trade Treaty. This Treaty regulates international trade in conventional arms, making such trade more transparent and accountable. It entered into force on December 24, 2014. Ninety-two states have ratified the treaty, and 41 states have signed, but not ratified it, including the United States. The failure of our nation to ratify that Treaty is particularly damaging since our nation is the world’s largest arms exporter.

In addressing the vexing issue of nuclear disarmament, Pope Francis wrote: “Spending on nuclear weapons squanders the wealth of nations. … When these resources are squandered, the poor and the weak living on the margins of society pay the price.” The Holy Father went on to say, “The desire for peace, security and stability is one of the deepest longings of the human heart. … This desire can never be satisfied by military means alone, much less the possession of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction” (December 7, 2014).

Our hearts long for peace. We must disarm our fears in order to disarm our world.

Stephen M. Colecchi is director of the Office of International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.


Going Deeper

The Catholic Study Guide for Use with Nuclear Tipping Point can help small groups reflect on Catholic social teaching on nuclear weapons while watching the Nuclear Tipping Point film.

A Community Approach to Caring for Creation

When Pope Francis talks about care for creation, he almost always pairs it with conversations of unity amongst humanity. In his 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’, he makes strong statements about the necessity of Christians, theists, and all humans working together to care for our common home. Furthermore, since the encyclical’s release, Pope Francis has consistently modeled how creation care provides a common-ground initiative on which people of faith can and must collaborate.

In the fall of 2015, a few months after Laudato Si’s release, the Catholic Church officially joined the Orthodox Church and other Christian denominations in their tradition of a World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation on September 1st, with a Season of Creation that extends from that day until the feast day of the patron of ecology, St. Francis of Assisi, on October 4th. This year, Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew issued the first ever joint message on the World Day of Prayer for Creation.

The collaboration that Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew call for reaches beyond faith communities to include social, economic, political, and cultural spheres. “The urgent call and challenge to care for creation are an invitation for all of humanity to work towards sustainable and integral development,” say the faith leaders. “We are convinced that there can be no sincere and enduring resolution to the challenge of the ecological crisis and climate change unless the response is concerted and collective, unless the responsibility is shared and accountable, unless we give priority to solidarity and service.”

During 2017, Bishop Christopher Coyne of the Diocese of Burlington invited the faithful of Vermont to celebrate a Year of Creation, an intentional, heightened focus on embracing the message of Laudato Si’. The initiative began with the convening of an interfaith and professionally diverse Year of Creation committee that would meet monthly to discuss, plan, and reflect upon events that would be welcoming and encouraging to all. Through these events and initiatives, the Diocese of Burlington collaborated with other community groups that are working toward a common goal of sustainability.

As we move forward from this year’s Season of Creation, consider ways that your church can engage with the local community in caring for the earth and all who call it home. Here are a few ideas of ways to get started:

1. Form a relationship with a public purpose energy service company.

The Diocese of Burlington works with Commons Energy to bring affordable energy efficiency audits and projects to diocesan buildings.

2. Connect with local faith and ecology organizations and affiliates.

Vermont Catholic communities are encouraged to apply for a matching grant from Vermont Interfaith Power and Light’s Katy Gerke Memorial Program to help fund energy efficiency audits and projects.

3. Learn from your solid waste management district.

The Chittenden Solid Waste District taught Vermont diocesan staff about what happens to something after it’s thrown in the trash and how properly disposing of materials saves time, money, resources, and the planet! Staff learned how to properly use the new compost bins around the office and the importance of reaching for re-useable options (metal silverware, ceramic coffee mugs, etc.), rather than disposable ones, to counteract “throwaway culture.”

4. Eat locally.

Local restaurants and bakeries supported the Diocese of Burlington’s efforts to highlight the impact that dietary choices have on the state of creation. By serving and promoting a combination of meat-free, dairy-free, locally-sourced, and organic options during presentations on the history of fasting in the Catholic faith and fasting for justice, the Church was able to support choosing local restaurants, bakeries, and farms as well.

Stephanie Clary is Manager of Mission Outreach and Communication at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington.


Going Deeper!

See our WeAreSaltAndLight.org feature story on the Diocese of Burlington’s Year of Creation. Use this handout to celebrate the Season of Creation, which continues through October 4.

 

6 Ways You Can Celebrate the Season of Creation

A fragment of the Earth with high relief, detailed surface, translucent ocean and atmosphere, illuminated by sunlightToday we celebrate the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, a day established by Pope Francis in the Catholic Church two years ago. Many have begun to link this day with the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi—one of our most beloved models of caring for creation and the poor—to form a “Season of Creation.” In his message establishing this day of prayer, Pope Francis declared that “the ecological crisis . . . summons us to a profound spiritual conversion.”

These five weeks offer an important opportunity to deepen this aspect of our faith. Below are some ways to celebrate this time, both as individuals and as communities.

As individuals and families

Meal Prayer

Before and after meals, say a short prayer of thanksgiving for the life-giving food that sustains and nourishes us. Briefly consider how all nourishment ultimately comes from the earth, and for all the human hands that helped bring this food to your table. May we recognize, as Laudato Si’ has taught us, that this “moment of blessing, however brief, reminds us of our dependence on God for life” (no. 227).

Counteract the “Throwaway Culture”

In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis brings attention to our “throwaway culture,” which “quickly reduces things to rubbish” (no. 22). In your daily life, try to identify the ways in which you can choose reusables, rather than disposables, such as coffee mugs, reusable bags, or cloth napkins, and commit to making one change during this month.

Sacrament of Reconciliation/Confession

In calling for a deep “ecological conversion,” Pope Francis has emphasized the importance of examining one’s own conscience, of recognizing one’s sins against creation, however great or small. Seeing the interconnectedness of our world leads to an understanding that “[e]very violation of solidarity and civic friendship harms the environment” (Caritas in Veritate, no. 51). We invite you to bring these sins to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to perform a spiritual work of mercy for our common home, such as an act of “grateful contemplation of God’s world” (Laudato Si’, no. 214).

As a community

Bible Group Praying Together Holding Hands With Eyes ClosedEducational Program

Use the educational program “Befriend the Wolf” from the Catholic Climate Covenant to reflect on our vocation as stewards of creation. The program is designed to help your community contemplate the connections between all creatures under God our Creator. Visit bit.ly/CCC-BTF to access this resource.

Eucharistic Adoration

One of the most meaningful ways we give thanks as Christians is through the sacrament of the Eucharist, a word which means “thanksgiving.” As Laudato Si’ teaches, through “the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God” (no. 236). To celebrate this sacred reality during the Season of Creation, we recommend hosting a one-hour, care for creation-themed eucharistic adoration in your parish. Please visit bit.ly/PCJP-EA to access a resource created by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace for this purpose.

Prayer Service

One final suggestion for this time is to organize a prayer service in your parish. The Catholic Climate Covenant has developed a four-part prayer service to be said after Mass each week. As we approach the beautiful autumn season, holding this service outside may allow for a rich experience. Please visit bit.ly/CCC-PS to access this resource.

This post was adapted from a resource developed by the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development.


Going Deeper

Visit the USCCB Environmental Justice page for resources for prayer, reflection, learning, and action during the Season of Creation—and beyond.

Get Ready for World Refugee Day!

Todd Scribner, Education Outreach Coordinator, Migration & Refugee Services/USCCB

Every year on June 20, the international community acknowledges World Refugee Day. World Refugee Day provides an opportunity to reflect on the conditions confronting the millions of people who have been forced from their homes and countries under threat of persecution and possible death and to acknowledge their humanity.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates the number of forcibly displaced people globally to be at about 65.3 million, including 21.3 refugees. We are today experiencing the largest refugee crisis since the end of World War II. This is a troubling fact that deserves careful attention and global collaboration.

World Refugee Day provides us all an opportunity to better understand the international circumstances that give rise to displacement, the various solutions that are in place to respond to the problem, and the important role of the U.S. resettlement system in this process. While important, it is not enough for us to merely learn about refugees; we must also act and advocate in solidarity with them

At a recent audience of Catholic and Lutheran pilgrims, Pope Francis emphasized this point, declaring that “you cannot be a Christian without living like a Christian… It is hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who needs my help.”

Spurred by the Holy Father’s words, we turn to numerous refugee crises around the world about which we can both learn and act upon.

The crisis in Syria and Iraq continues to be a pressing concern for the leadership of the Catholic Church as countless millions of men, women, and children continue to be displaced and persecuted because of the ongoing conflict. The forced migration of children and families from the Northern Triangle in Central America is also a troubling phenomenon.

In both situations, the Catholic bishops of the United States have called for expanded protections for the most vulnerable populations in these migrant flows. It is imperative that the international community of nations and civil society, including faith communities, work together in both challenging situations, addressing the root causes of forced migration and putting into place solutions that will provide alternatives to forced migration in both regions.

While both Syria and Central America continue to be a source of troubling refugee crises, we should not forget other parts of the world wherein forced migration is also ongoing phenomenon. The conflict in South Sudan has stretched on for over four years, and is Africa’s largest displacement crisis today. As of October 2016, 1.2 million people had fled South Sudan as refugees to neighboring countries. Other sizable populations have fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Somalia, and elsewhere in recent years.

We invite you to download, distribute, and use our World Refugee Toolkit, which contains spiritual-related resources, as well as advice on how to use media to draw attention to the problem, and suggested initiatives that you can use in your local community.

Additionally, a series of other resources is available that highlight various aspects of the refugee resettlement program is available. These publications were created to help you better understand issues related to refugees and other forms of forced migration.

Finally, in addition to learning about these issues, it is important that we act. One way that you can do this is by signing up for the Justice for Immigrants campaign. By doing so, you will receive information about new resources as they become available alongside time sensitive action alerts. By engaging these alerts, you will be in a position to help shape public policy on migration related issues and to help ensure that the human dignity of migrants is respected in the law and in our communities.

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

Praying for Conscience and Courage

Bible Group Praying Together Holding Hands With Eyes ClosedI read a prayer recently, titled “Prayer for Conscience and Courage” by Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister. I was struck by the title and even more by the prayer. What does it mean to pray for “conscience”?  Isn’t a conscience simply what all of us have, that is, a working conscience that somehow lets us know what is right and what is wrong?

By Kathy Langer, director of social concerns for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “the education of the conscience is a lifelong task” (No. 1784), so we know it is important to learn and form our conscience with Scripture and Catholic teaching.  But prayer for conscience — how does that fit?

Again, in the catechism we read, “In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path; we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice” (No. 1785). So, in order to educate our consciences, we need to pray with Scripture. We pray that we can become what it is God is dreaming for us. Right?

The prayer begins with the words, “Loving God, lead us beyond ourselves to care…”  Then, I had a light-bulb moment when I read more of the prayer:

“Give us the conscience it takes to comprehend what we’re facing, to see what we’re looking at and to say what we see so that others, hearing us, may also brave the pressure that comes with being out of public step.”

So, this prayer is written to help us in this difficult time — a time of great uncertainty and change. Sister Joan is suggesting that we pray, asking God to give us wisdom — God’s wisdom — to help us see what is happening around us and in our world as God sees it and act accordingly.

Doing this kind of prayer is not something we automatically do. We pray for someone who is sick, for personal things we need or are worried about, but we do not often pray for a conscience that is awake, open to seeing as God sees and open to acting on that seeing. More often, we see the world through a lens that thinks more of personal needs than of the needs of all, or the common good, as Jesus and our church teaches us.

I think about poverty. Do we have a conscience that helps us see poverty as God does?

Here are a couple of people I believe have a conscience that helps them see as God sees.

Pope Francis says this: “The times talk to us of so much poverty in the world and this is a scandal. Poverty in the world is a scandal. In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children … without an education, so many poor persons.”

Dorothy Day said: “We must talk about poverty, because people insulated by their own comfort lose sight of it,” and “Those who cannot see Christ in the poor are atheists indeed.”

Mother Teresa said: “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty.”

Is this the way you see poverty?  Maybe each of us has a way to go to think of poverty the way these “saints” do, but it’s important that our conscience is moving us in that direction, one step at a time.

Years ago, I had the honor of meeting a priest who had a parish in the middle of a poverty-stricken, gang-infested part of Los Angeles called Dolores Mission. At the beginning of his work there, a group of mothers came to him, to inform his “conscience” and call him to action as they spoke to him of their fear for their sons’ lives. Gangs had taken over the neighborhood and there was a lot of violence between rival gangs.

Father Greg heard the mothers and let their love inform his conscience, and he has worked in his ministry to gang members for over 30 years.  When I think of someone who has a well-formed conscience and someone who sees poverty and gang members as God sees them, I know it is Father Greg Boyle.

When speaking of the attitude we should have about poverty, he says, that we should  “seek a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry, rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.”

Along with a well-formed conscience, Sister Joan added a prayer for courage. It makes sense considering that we are to follow Jesus and the radical love he showed to all of God’s people, especially those people who others shunned.  We can’t do that on our own. We need God’s help.

Join me in a prayer for conscience and courage as we remember who Jesus was and what he sacrificed for all of creation.

Kathy Langer is director of social concerns for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud.

This blog post was adapted for ToGoForth. Read the original version at the Visitor of the Diocese of Saint Cloud.


Going Deeper!

In Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the U.S. Catholic bishops remind us that conscience formation is a “lifelong task” (no. 5).  Read this handout (also in Spanish) and read this Scripture reflection (also in Spanish) on the ongoing task of forming our consciences.

Sowers of Change, Protagonists for Social Justice, and Bold Leaders of Action

Attendees cheer a statement about justice for immigrants Feb. 16 during a the opening program of the U.S. regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, Calif. (CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski)

Midway through the U.S. Regional Meeting of World Popular Movements in Modesto, California, a strong wind came up which almost blew off the metal protections of the roof of the beautiful new gym where we were meeting at Central Catholic High School.

The force and the noise of the wind reflected the force and noise of the gathering of over 700 inter faith delegates of community organizations from around the United States, with some international representation also. The force was a powerful wind of strong voices calling for the popular movements to be sowers of change, protagonists for social justice, and bold leaders of action in bringing down the walls that divide the struggles against the systems that Pope Francis mentioned in his letter of greeting to the gathering.  The Pope wrote about being confronted by “a system that causes enormous suffering to the human family, simultaneously assaulting people’s dignity and our Common Home in order to sustain the invisible tyranny of money that only guarantees the privileges of a few.”

Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., listens to a speaker Feb. 18 at the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, Calif. His diocese hosted the event. (CNS/Dennis Sadowski)

Many voices then spoke from diverse perspectives but shared the urgency of being one people in one fight (one ‘witness’ as Cardinal Peter Turkson called it) “to rebuild society in which every person is seen as fully human, has a full voice in the decisions that shape their lives, and is able to thrive and reach their human potential.”  The noise was that of great enthusiasm for “disrupting oppression and dehumanization” as Bishop Robert McElroy, Archbishop Jose Gomez, and others spoke about and “rebuilding” systems that promote and protect justice in ownership of land, for working people, in housing, for immigrants, and in ending racism. One might wonder why the meeting was held in Modesto, California, and not some large city easily reachable by modern modes of transportation. The answer simply is that the planners felt that the great Central Valley in California provided a location that reflected the challenges being faced all over the country.

The Central Valley is one of the richest agricultural areas in the world but struggles with issues of water, clean air, higher unemployment, lower wages, thousands of annual migrant farm workers, large percentages of immigrant peoples, human trafficking, homelessness, and a host of other social issues including violent gangs, hunger, school drop outs, etc.   But at the same time there are so many who live in the Central Valley who want to make life better for all who live and work there. The Regional Meeting received a warm welcome and recognition by those who knew about its purpose. What made this meeting different from other church or community gatherings?

Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, poses for a photo Feb. 16 with Lira DeMoraes, a volunteer with the Merrimack Valley Project in Massachussetts at the start of the U.S. regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, Calif.

It was the first time in the United States that community organizers from across the land were invited by the Church to come together so that the Church might hear from the people experiencing exclusion, dehumanization, and the pain of poverty.  Pope Francis had previously convened three World Meetings of Popular Movements. He spoke at all three about overcoming the globalization of indifference by “placing the economy at the service of peoples; working for peace and justice; and defending Mother Earth.” To this regional gathering in the United States the Pope sent a written greeting wishing that the “constructive energy” of this meeting “would spread to all dioceses, because it builds bridges between peoples and individuals…that can overcome the walls of exclusion, indifference, racism, and intolerance.” The Holy Father acknowledged with gratitude the sponsors of this gathering: The Catholic Campaign for Human Development; the host bishops from the three dioceses in the Central Valley; and Cardinal Peter Turkson, who leads the new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, and expressed his support of the popular movements.  What was different was that Catholic dioceses hosted and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development of USCCB sponsored the meeting, which was organized and run by the popular movements under the leadership of the PICO (People Improving Communities through Organizing) National Network and other organizing networks. Pope Francis highlighted PICO’s work for promoting this meeting.

Although representatives of the Churches did speak and were well received, the Church leaders, including over 20 Catholic bishops, were there to listen and to accompany participants in the dialogues.  The message from the delegates at the end of the meeting was addressed to the popular movements and leaders in the United States and globally and to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Pope Francis. The message quoted Pope Francis and Catholic bishops extensively but also laid out the challenge, urging “our clergy and faith communities to speak and act boldly in solidarity with our people.” The message quoted Cardinal Tobin in his video address to the gathering that “faith leaders need to walk out in front and show that they are not afraid.” Pope Francis was indeed the inspiration for this gathering. Cardinal Turkson, by his presence and in his words, gave strong witness for the Church’s commitment to the integral development of the human person. Every human person has been created in the image and likeness of God, and full human development gives glory to God.

Stephen E. Blaire is bishop of Stockton, California.


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