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.

Opening Wide the Door of Gospel Nonviolence

Eli McCarthy, Director of Justice and Peace for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Eli McCarthy, Director of Justice and Peace for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Pope Francis continues to amaze. As far as I know, he has just issued the first high-level official Catholic statement focused on Gospel nonviolence in this year’s World Day of Peace message. The door has been opened for the Catholic Church to enter a deeper understanding and broader commitment to Jesus’ way of active nonviolence and just peace.

Francis said “to be true followers of Jesus today includes embracing his teaching about nonviolence.” Thus, we are to “cultivate nonviolence in our most personal thoughts and values,” i.e. develop the habit or virtue of nonviolent peacemaking. He pledges “the assistance of the Church in every effort to build peace through active and creative nonviolence.”

Like Jesus, we encounter stories of nonviolent peacemakers in this message, such as Gandhi, Khan, MLK, and Gbowee. These icons of nonviolent force realized that both constructive peacebuilding and nonviolent resistance were necessary compliments to sustainable conflict transformation.

Khan was a Muslim nonviolent leader in India who both developed schools for women and the first nonviolent peace army (80,000 members) to resist the ruthless British occupation. In a similar vein, today the Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) offers unarmed civilian protection in many violent conflict zones. For example, in South Sudan NP has reduced sexual assaults and rape by all armed actors from regularity to zero in the areas they patrol. They also directly saved 14 women and children from armed militia when they refused three times to obey orders from the militia to leave during an armed attack.

These models, which combine constructive peacebuilding and nonviolent resistance, represent a just peace approach. This approach offers a vision of human flourishing which includes a commitment to the social conditions that illuminate human dignity and cultivate thriving relationships. Drawing on specific criteria, virtues, and practices to guide our actions, it focuses on transforming conflict, breaking cycles of violence, and cultivating sustainable peace.

Key nonviolent practices that reflect this approach include, for example, addressing the root causes of violence, transforming the different dimensions of conflict, nonviolent resistance, restorative justice, unarmed civilian protection, interfaith collaboration, trauma-healing, and nonviolent civilian-based defense. Core virtues would include nonviolent peacemaking, mercy, solidarity, and humility.

Several just peace criteria within the broader approach would guide our action choices and apply at all stages of conflict. There are examples of a just peace approach to nuclear weapons, lethal drones, Syria, and ISIS.  

What if the Catholic Church were to make a shift to an explicit just peace approach consistent with Gospel nonviolence? Would it not be more consistent with Jesus’ way and help us recognize that all killing or lethal force is a form of violence? Would it not also liberate us more for nonviolent practices that would better build just peace, prevent war, limit ongoing war, heal after war, and even draw society away from war sooner as we more effectively live up to our “duty to strain every muscle to outlaw war” (Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes par. 81).

As Catholic leaders in our communities, we have a very unique opportunity to build on this movement of the Spirit.

Here are some suggestions:

1) share the World Day of Peace with your communities;

2) provide substantial education about active nonviolence in all levels of faith formation;

3) provide a regular Gospel-based training program in various nonviolent skills, as they have in the Archdiocese of Chicago;

4) join or develop a local peace team to deploy unarmed peacekeepers, provide nonviolent skill training, and scale-up restorative justice.

May God’s love and courage be with each of us as we walk further through the door of Gospel nonviolence.

Eli McCarthy is the director of Justice and Peace for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University.


Going Deeper!

For more resources, visit USCCB’s World Day of Peace webpage, where you’ll find a two-page handout in English and Spanish, past World Day of Peace messages, and other tools to promote peace.

From Prison to Rome: The Impact of the Year of Mercy on Reentry

Dominic and his children get their boarding passes for Rome

Dominic and his children get their boarding passes for Rome

Rome was an amazing trip – it was more than I ever imagined, and to have my wife and children join me was the icing on the cake! I’ve dreamed of being able to take my family out of the country and experience some amazing places like Rome, but what was even more amazing was the reason why we were invited to Rome. The Jubilee Year of Mercy Mass, dedicated to those who are incarcerated and prison and jail ministers, reinforced and gave even more assurance that the work we do in re-entry with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is touched and blessed by God!

In his homily, Pope Francis shared, “We know that in God’s eyes no one can consider himself just (Rom 2:1-11). But no one can live without the certainty of finding forgiveness! The repentant thief, crucified at Jesus’ side, accompanied him into paradise (Lk 23:43). So may none of you allow yourselves to be held captive by the past! True enough, even if we wanted to, we can never rewrite the past. But the history that starts today, and looks to the future, has yet to be written, by the grace of God and your personal responsibility. By learning from past mistakes, you can open a new chapter of your lives. Let us never yield to the temptation of thinking that we cannot be forgiven. Whatever our hearts may accuse us of, small or great, ‘God is greater than our hearts’ (1 Jn 3:20). We need but entrust ourselves to his mercy.”

Tiffany Hunter, Jeffery Whalen, and Dominic Duren - three returning citizens who went to Rome for the pilgrimage

Tiffany Hunter, Jeffery Whalen, and Dominic Duren – three returning citizens who went to Rome for the pilgrimage

My trip to Rome had me thinking of my faith and ways to not only strengthen my relationship with God, but my wife’s and children’s as well.  We take for granted the martyrs that sacrificed their lives for merely the right to worship. Pope Francis’ homily is affirmation that God is touching the work we do and the path we are taking is the right one.

I’m so blessed to be part of this movement that not only saved my life but turned me into a leader and gave me an opportunity to help others who struggle to get their lives back on track after incarceration.

The Cincinnati delegation prepares to depart to Rome

The Cincinnati delegation prepares to depart to Rome

To be able to attend a Mass led by the Pope is a once in lifetime experience. But to attend a Mass by the Pope that focuses on those who are formerly incarcerated and their was mind blowing! I’m grateful for the opportunity to broaden my horizons by the experience I had in Rome. I learned so much and have such a greater appreciation for the sacrifices people made for their faith. I want to thank the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Brother Mike Murphy, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and each and every person that attended the pilgrimage to Rome for the amazing experience that I and my family had.

The work we do is hard and frustrating at times but Pope Francis has inspired me to do more, as much as humanly possible: educate, connect, engage, build meaningful relationships, organize, and advance issues that build safe, loving, and thriving communities! To have Pope Francis’ support and encouragement for the fair treatment of those who are formerly incarcerated is evidence that our suffering is not going unheard or unseen. I have not felt this hopeful in a very long time!!!!

Thank you, Pope Francis, for providing hope to a population of people who have been hopeless for far too long!

Dominic Duren was among those from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati invited to the Vatican for a Jubilee Year of Mercy Mass for people who are incarcerated and those who minister in prisons and jails. He is the Re-entry Coordinator for The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Cincinnati Ohio.


Going Deeper!

Lear more about St. Vincent de Paul’s two major reentry projects in Cincinnati:

The Help Program, founded by Br. Mike Murphy and provides the leadership development and community support for the returning citizens.

BLOC Print is a social enterprise that provides training and jobs.

Prayers, Patrons and the Paris Agreement

Protesters carry a globe-shaped balloon in front of Rome's Colosseum during a Nov. 29 rally, the day before the start of the U.N. climate change conference in Paris. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters) See COP21-VATICAN-PAROLIN Dec. 1, 2015.

Protesters carry a globe-shaped balloon in front of Rome’s Colosseum during a Nov. 29 rally, the day before the start of the U.N. climate change conference in Paris. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

This year something special happened the day after the Feast of St. Francis, and one could even wonder if it had anything to do with the saint’s patronage. “This is a momentous occasion,” said United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. “What once seemed unthinkable, is now unstoppable.” On October 5, 2016, the so-called Paris Agreement, or COP21, was ratified. The Paris Agreement refers to negotiations between 195 countries to curb greenhouse gas emissions globally. The non-binding agreement establishes that nations must reduce their carbon dioxide emissions in order to keep global temperatures well below a two-degree Celsius increase in relation to pre-industrial levels. Once 55 countries representing over 55% of the worlds emissions signed the agreement, it would be ratified. That ratification threshold was reached on October 5, 2016, when the European Union signed the agreement. The agreement will now be implemented on November 4, one month after the Feast of St. Francis. But the story of the Catholic relationship to the Paris agreement is more than a happy coincidence of dates.

Days before the Paris meeting in December, 2015, Pope Francis said: “The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all…Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods; it represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day (Laudato Si’, 23 and 25) … In a few days an important meeting on climate change will be held in Paris, where the international community as such will once again confront these issues. It would be sad, and I dare say even catastrophic, were particular interests to prevail over the common good and lead to manipulating information in order to protect their own plans and projects.”

Pope Francis was a champion of the Paris meeting from the beginning and called on political leaders to rise to the challenge to reach a global agreement. The Italian minister of the environment, Gian Luca Galletti, affirmed the Paris agreement might not have happened without Pope Francis. In his own speech at the Paris meeting the minister reminded all members that the pope in “His encyclical letter Laudato Si’ has offered to us the highest moral contribution on the environmental question.” The pope shifted the conversation about climate change from economic, political, scientific, and legal issues into a broader moral and ethical debate, which allowed everyone to participate. This change in tone and substance made room for a global conversation, and also a global agreement, to which no one could be indifferent.

Christians can celebrate this important agreement as not only a sign of promise for reducing pollution and protecting the environment, but also as a sign of unity among nations, collaboration, and mutual understanding. However, this agreement is only one step on a long road. Pope Francis is also a practical man, and commenting on the Paris agreement he warns of the danger of much talk and little action: “I am similarly confident that the Paris Conference on Climatic Change will secure fundamental and effective agreements. Solemn commitments, however, are not enough, although they are certainly a necessary step toward solutions… we must avoid every temptation to fall into a declarationist nominalism which would assuage our consciences. We need to ensure that our institutions are truly effective.”

In order to be “truly effective” in implementing the Paris agreement the task at hand is tremendous. The underlying assumption is that to be able to stay below a two-degree temperature increase what is necessary is that the world reach a net zero emission of carbon somewhere between 2050 and 2100. This simply means a complete overhaul of the global energy system as we know it. Cardinal Turkson, recognized as responsible for drafting Laudato Si’, is well aware of the consequences: “the global community has drawn a red line under a rise in global temperatures of two degrees Celsius. This is will require a complete shift away from fossil fuels toward renewables by about 2070. This is a momentous undertaking.” The pope himself mentioned that the Paris Agreement “represents an important stage in the process of developing a new energy system which depends on a minimal use of fossil fuels, aims at energy efficiency, and makes use of energy sources with little or no carbon content. We are faced with a great political and economic obligation to rethink and correct the dysfunctions and distortions of the current model of development.”

Now it is up to each country, each region and legislature, and ultimately each person, to discern in their own realities how it is they are to contribute to this common cause. Politicians will have their hands full deliberating on how this “momentous task” is to be reached. Furthermore, we must remember that for the pope, the environmental goal of reducing carbon emissions is not a stand-alone cause, but must be integrated into other goals and oriented by higher principles. This “integral ecology” is the organizing logic of Laudato Si’ and articulates the Catholic Church’s support for environmental causes while always ensuring the well-being of people and respect for God himself. The efforts to address climate change must have the dignity of the human person, every person and the whole person, front and center. In Pope Francis’ own words:

“I express my hope that COP21 will achieve a global and “transformational” agreement based on the principles of solidarity, justice, equality and participation; an agreement which targets three complex and interdependent goals: lessening the impact of climate change, fighting poverty and ensuring respect for human dignity… government leaders must do everything possible to ensure that all can have the minimum spiritual and material means needed to live in dignity and to create and support a family, which is the primary cell of any social development. In practical terms, this absolute minimum has three names: lodging, labour, and land; and one spiritual name: spiritual freedom, which includes religious freedom, the right to education and all other civil rights… These pillars of integral human development have a common foundation, which is the right to life and, more generally, what we could call the right to existence of human nature itself.”

Ricardo Simmonds, Environmental Policy Advisor, USCCB

Ricardo Simmonds is the Environmental Policy Advisor for the Office of Domestic Social Development, within the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development of the USCCB.


Going Deeper

Learn ways you and your community can help care for Creation with these ten practical suggestions from the Diocese of Stockton.

Replacing “Clamorous Discord” With Love and Mercy

In this past Sunday’s first reading, the prophet Habakkuk, who lived in a time of “strife” and “clamorous discord” (Hb. 1:3), cries out to God for assistance. God urges him to wait faithfully, for the “the rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live” (2:4).

In the heat of this election season—with its “clamorous discord” and “rash” words—Habakkuk’s plight takes on a new meaning. When inflammatory rhetoric, uncivil accusations, and personal attacks abound, the temptation can be to turn off the news, shut the newspaper, and ignore the Twitter feed for the next four weeks.

But Sunday’s Gospel challenges us. At the beginning of the Gospel reading, the apostles implore Jesus, “Increase our faith” (Lk. 17:5). They are responding to Jesus’ challenge in the verse prior: “If [your brother] wrongs you seven times in one day and returns seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you should forgive him” (17:4).

How difficult the challenge of forgiveness sounds to them! Yet, Jesus responds to their request for increased faith: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (17:6).

Clearly, prayer rooted in deep faith can make the impossible a reality.

We are called to bring this Gospel challenge to our current situation. At this long moment in our country when mercy, forgiveness, and love seem to be completely missing in the public square, we must utter the apostles’ prayer: “Increase our faith!”

When faced with the temptation to withdraw or disengage from public life, we must pray, “Increase our faith!”

When, in our conversations with others, we ourselves feel the urge to refuse to model the respect we want to see; or to attack the person instead of discussing the issue; or to use inflammatory language; we must call out, “Increase our faith!”

As followers of Christ, we are called to think and act differently, approaching dialogue with a spirit of love and respect for the dignity of others. In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis offers these guidelines for dialogue within families. They would be truly transformational if applied in the public square as well.

In response to our cry, “Increase our faith!,” we must allow the Holy Spirit to guide us so that we may model love and mercy in our families, at our workplaces, and in the public square. We must also urge candidates and elected officials to engage in dialogue that is civil and respectful.

Civil dialogue means that when speaking with others with whom we disagree:

  • We should begin with respect.
  • We should decide neither to degrade the persons, characters, and reputations of others who hold different positions from our own, nor spread rumors, falsehoods, or half truths about them.
  • We should be careful about language we use, avoiding inflammatory words and rhetoric.
  • We should not assign motives to others. Instead, we should assume that our family members, friends, and colleagues are speaking in good faith, even if we disagree with them.
  • We should listen carefully and respectfully to other people.
  • We should remember that we are members of a community, and we should try to strengthen our sense of community through the love and care we show one another.
  • We should be people who express our thoughts, opinions, and positions—but always in love and truth.

 

If we can model Christ’s love in our civil dialogue, we can begin to change the negative climate in our country during this election season, and beyond.

Increase our faith!


Going Deeper

As an individual and as a family, reflect on Pope Francis’ guidelines on dialogue and consider how you can put them into practice in your own conversations.

Encourage civil dialogue in your parish. Include the civil dialogue insert in your bulletins in English and Spanish.

Show the video reflections by Cardinal Wuerl and by Franciscan Media on civil dialogue at the end of Mass, in a place where parishioners gather, or as part of scheduled parish events

The Enchantment of Assisi

Ricardo Simmonds, Environmental Policy Advisor, USCCB

Ricardo Simmonds, Environmental Policy Advisor, USCCB

Thirty years ago in Assisi, on October 27, 1986, Pope John Paul II sponsored a historic meeting among the world’s religious leaders to pray for peace. “On that day I heard the world’s heart-beat,” said a cardinal. To describe the historic event, the Polish Pope coined the term “spirit of Assisi” and the meetings with world religious leaders have been repeated by popes ever since.

Last week it was up to the Pope called Francis, who broke a one-thousand-year tradition in papal nomenclature to honor the saint of Assisi[1], to sponsor the event. The “spirit of Assisi” and its call for ecumenical unity was already evident in the ecological encyclical Laudato si’, named after a canticle pronounced by the Umbrian saint. Humility, simplicity, brotherhood, and care for the poor and for creation have all been hallmarks of the current papacy. In fact, a quick look at the ecclesial landscape of today gives the impression that St. Francis seems as relevant and revolutionary as he was eight hundred years ago when he walked through the forests of Umbria.

Speaking from personal experience, it almost feels like Francis is living and breathing in those forests to this day. This summer I walked the Via Francigena (Franciscan Way) from Rome to Assisi along the very same paths travelled by the saint. From the moment I encountered the first Franciscan shrine on the Via, the monastery called La Foresta (the forest), I felt like I had stepped into an enchanted world. At La Foresta one can kneel in the ancient chapel where Francis prayed and wind down into the cave where he composed the famous Canticle of the Sun, Laudato si’… This enchanted aura persisted for the next ten days as I weaved my way through olive groves and medieval villages all the way to La Verna in Tuscany, where St. Francis received the stigmata.

Perhaps I was so struck by this enchantment because of the contrast with the empty sterility of the world outside[2]. This sense of loss and indifference in the world was the point of Pope Francis’ prophetic address last week at the birthplace of his namesake: “God asks this of us, calling us to confront the great sickness of our time: indifference. It is a virus that paralyzes, rendering us lethargic and insensitive, a disease that eats away at the very heart of religious fervour, giving rise to a new and deeply sad paganism: the paganism of indifference.”

St. Francis, with his life and witness, proposed an antidote to the malaise of indifference. As a young wealthy man, Francis of Assisi was “upset” with the opulence of his time and decided to live a life of simplicity. The Pope suggests that St. Francis associated the indifference to the suffering of the poor with the indifference shown to Jesus himself: it was the love of Christ who was being rejected. The Pope explained: “ ‘Love is not loved’; this reality, according to some accounts, is what upset Saint Francis of Assisi. For love of the suffering Lord, he was not ashamed to cry out and grieve loudly (cf. Fonti Francescane, no. 1413). This same reality must be in our hearts as we contemplate Christ Crucified, he who thirsts for love… Before Christ Crucified, ‘the power and wisdom of God’ (1 Cor 1:24), we Christians are called to contemplate the mystery of Love not loved and to pour out mercy upon the world.”

The key to the enchantment of Assisi is the love that comes from Christ crucified. This is the secret recipe to the grace that flowed from the man of Umbria and enchanted the world around him. Like St. Francis, we are called to do the same: “On the cross, the tree of life, evil was transformed into good; we too, as disciples of the Crucified One, are called to be ‘trees of life’ that absorb the contamination of indifference and restore the pure air of love to the world.” We must be these “trees of life” in a dying world. But concretely, how can this be done?

Pope Francis gave a very specific answer earlier this month: “there is nothing that unites us to God more than an act of mercy…” In this same address which opened the Season of Creation[3] the Pope introduced a new item on the list of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. “So let me propose a complement to the two traditional sets of seven: may the works of mercy also include care for our common home. As a spiritual work of mercy, care for our common home calls for a ‘grateful contemplation of God’s world’ (Laudato Si, 214) which ‘allows us to discover in each thing a teaching which God wishes to hand on to us’ (ibid., 85). As a corporal work of mercy, care for our common home requires ‘simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness’ and ‘makes itself felt in every action that seeks to build a better world’ (ibid., 230-31).”

If we want to become “trees of life” in this world, inhaling indifference and exhaling love, we need to unite ourselves to the “Tree of Life”, Jesus Christ.

The small quotidian gestures such as picking up trash, contemplating nature on an afternoon walk, recycling and reusing, enjoying the starlit sky and turning off unnecessary lights can unite us to the gentle reverence of Jesus Christ. This love in action can also lead us to greater awareness of the needs of others and acts of mercy and solidarity towards them.

Like a great Poinciana tree, composed of miniscule leaves that inhale carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen, these small acts of love can begin to breathe life into an indifferent world.


Ricardo Simmonds is the Environmental Policy Advisor for the Office of Domestic Social Development, within the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development of the USCCB.

Going Deeper

Visit the USCCB Environmental Justice Program page.

Check out organizations supported by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development working for environmental justice.

[1] The last Pope to choose a new papal name was Pope Lando in 913. I am excluding John Paul I who in 1978 chose to honor his two immediate predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI, by combining their names.

[2] The reflection on the disenchantment of modernity is not new, and in the background we can hear the voices of Schiller, Max Weber, Charles Taylor and others who explored the many reasons why life in our secularized modern world can feel stale and empty at times.

[3] The Season of Creation begins on September 1st and ends on October 4th, Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

A prayer for creation

Contemplating the sunrise when we crossed the Tyrolean Alps

Contemplating the sunrise when we crossed the Tyrolean Alps

Let me begin with a little known story about the Pope. When Pope Francis was a young priest in Argentina, he was appointed rector of the Jesuit seminary. One of the first things he did was to convert the seminary grounds into a farm where “students collected honey, milked cows, and cleaned out the pigsty [and] where they often met the rector in his plastic boots.” For young Fr. Bergoglio caring for the farm meant learning humility, being in touch with the poor, feeding the hungry, and finding an ideal space for prayer and contemplation – a place where the word of the Gospel became flesh. One could make the case that the Pope’s encyclical Laudato si’ and integral ecology were already taking shape in his farm experiment. The experiment worked: the seminary boomed and there was a huge increase in vocations.

The idea that Christian prayer must be connected to the created world is also central to Pope Francis’ message for the “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation”, whose one-year anniversary we celebrate today. Quoting Laudato si’ the Pope reminded us that “the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature” and that Christians are called to a profound “spiritual conversion… whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them.” Doesn’t this sound like something the Pope could be teaching the seminarians at the farm?

More important than the farm itself is the ideal that lies behind it, which has to do with the relationship between prayer and creation. I will call this ideal “prayer in the flesh”, taken from the title of a talk by Fr. Bergoglio. His point was that some Christians are unaware that they suffer from a modern heresy he calls ‘neodocetism’ and that we need to bring prayer to the level of concreteness, to the level of our bodies. We can pray when we touch the hands of a beggar, walk on trails, clean a pigsty, eat with the hungry, milk a cow, look at the sky, etc. Jesus is present in these moments when our flesh engages everyday reality. As in Bergoglio’s farm, care for creation can serve as a locus for us to live ‘a spirituality of the flesh.’

This summer I took this ideal of ‘prayer in the flesh’ and decided to put it into practice. I invited three young men and a guide to undertake a pioneer pilgrimage for the Year of Mercy. In May we left from Rome on foot and walked to Krakow for World Youth Day on July 25th. We walked every day for two-plus months covering over 2000 km (about the distance from Washington, DC to Dallas, TX) along a ‘scenic route’ through Italy, Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, and Poland. This pilgrimage was certainly an experience of prayer for creation: we prayed together and alone, during the day as we walked and stopped at shrines, during Mass and adoration. But we also prayed in creation: through the beauty of landscapes, incredible churches, and art– and prayed in the flesh: through blisters, injuries, weight loss, sores and muscles, and even the in gratitude for the incredible food.

What did I get out of this experience of ‘prayer in the flesh’? So many things which I cannot fit into a short blog post. But I can share one important lesson I learned: patience. You just have to learn patience on a trip like this because everything just takes so long! It would take about two days by car and two hours by airplane to cover the same distance we walked in two months. Impatience, resentment, complaints, weakness, stoicism, grumbling, and long faces don’t really get you any further any faster. All you can do is put on a good face in the morning and walk your ‘today’ until tomorrow comes. If it rains, you take a break. If it rains all day, you get wet. If you go without dinner, you try to get a big breakfast the next morning. You learn that God is in charge and He doesn’t always give us what we want, but always gives us what we need. And this… requires… patience. A long pilgrimage like this is a masterful lesson in patience that is learned because it is lived in the flesh.

The day I arrived in Krakow I gave a presentation about Laudato si’ and our pilgrimage for the Year of Mercy. I was lucky to have a brief chat with a cardinal, and he asked me only one question: “So what did you learn about mercy?” After bumbling around for an answer a word came forth from the inside: “patience.” Mercy takes patience, the kind of patience of the father who is waiting, for years, for the prodigal son to arrive. “Merciful like the Father” is also “Patient like the Father” – not anxious or stressed waiting, but hopeful waiting. It’s not the impatience of the prodigal son, nor the resentful and fake patience of the older brother. These are not the rhythms of mercy.

This was the lesson I learned through my ‘prayer in the flesh’ and the one God had in store for me. But Jesus has many lessons in store for each one of us. And, we don’t have to go on long journeys to distant places to find them, but only look at the concrete world around us in the circumstances and places we live, and make a decision to do something incarnate with our prayer: celebrating a meal with friends, gardening, spending an evening in the park with the family, cleaning the garage, or going for a walk. These of course must be accompanied by encounters with Jesus Christ at Mass, adoration, confession, biblical reading, prayer groups, etc. But the Pope’s emphasis lies in the invitation for us to bring our prayer into the flesh.

For this second World Day of Prayer for the Care for Creation the Vatican suggests the following prayers. And the Season of Creation we begin today is a wonderful time for us to bring this prayer into our daily lives.

ricardo simmondsRicardo Simmonds is the Environmental Policy Advisor for the Office of Domestic Social Development, within the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development of the USCCB.