Persecution: Solidarity in Suffering

Persecution of Christians and other religious minorities is not a abstract concern for me. It is deeply personal.

Two years ago in Erbil, Iraq, I looked out the window of my hotel to see tents packed together on the grounds of a chapel.  Christian families, displaced from Mosul, now lived in tents.  I remember strolling through the narrow, mud-caked paths among the tents.  Families, many with young children, shyly peered out from their tents. In one tent there were 2 families and 11 persons.

In a “deluxe” camp for displaced Christians, families lived in “caravans” (small trailer homes).  I remember seeing blankets and mattresses neatly stacked in a corner, a silent testimony to the family members who shared one room.  A mother broke down in tears as she described their night flight from Mosul from the Islamic State (ISIS).  They fled with only the clothes on their backs.

In Dohuk, north of Erbil, I met a 34-year-old Yezidi policeman.  His family of 8 fled on foot to Mount Sinjar where they spent 12 days with little food in scorching summer conditions, hiding from ISIS.  Kurdish fighters rescued them.  They now lived in one room in a nearby village; 5 other families were in the same house.  He hoped to return to his ancestral village when security allows. He was in Dohuk for a Catholic Relief Services distribution of kerosene heaters, kitchen kettles, carpets, and blankets to get them through the cold winter.

A year ago in Jordan, I met an Iraqi Christian family, mother, father, and three young adult daughters.  They too had fled ISIS in the middle of the night.  On the road to safety they saw young women being kidnapped and thanked God that they were able to flee safely with their daughters to Erbil and later Jordan.

A young male student from the University of Mosul wanted to continue his studies, but he needs to leave Jordan because he cannot work.  I wonder if any country accepted him as a refugee.  I worry that our nation is closing its doors to many such fine young men.

It is important that we pray and work for persecuted Christians and other religious minorities. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Oscar Cantú, Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, have designated Sunday, November 26, as A Day of Prayer for Persecuted Christians that initiates “Solidarity in Suffering,” a Week of Awareness and Education.

USCCB is collaborating with the Knights of Columbus, Catholic Relief Services, CNEWA and Aid to the Church in Need on this project.  There are resources available to assist parishes, schools and campus ministries in observing this Day of Prayer and Week of Awareness at  www.usccb.org/middle-east-Christians.  There you will find homily notes, intercessions, recommended aid agencies, prayer cards (in English and Spanish), logos for local use (in English and Spanish) and much more.  For social media, we are using the hashtag: #SolidarityInSuffering.  I hope you will join us in this effort.

As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has said, “To focus attention on the plight of Christians and other minorities is not to ignore the suffering of others. Rather, by focusing on the most vulnerable members of society, we strengthen the entire fabric of society to protect the rights of all.”  Persons of all faiths suffer persecution.  In the Middle East, Christians, Yezidis and Shia Muslims suffer from ISIS.  We must express solidarity in suffering with our brothers and sisters.

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

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.

Lent: A Journey of Encounter

 Photo by Karen Kasmauski for Catholic Relief Services

Photo by Karen Kasmauski for Catholic Relief Services

We Encounter Ourselves

To build a culture of encounter, we must start from within ourselves, from our personal call to discipleship. God knows our true selves, desiring that we, too, discover the person God has called us to be. Through prayer, we encounter ourselves before God; we see ourselves as God sees us. And we realize that God delights in every member of our human family because God is truly present in each of us.

Jesus reminds us, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” To love another, we must come to know our own selves, our own hurts and triumphs, our own joys and challenges. What begins as an interior encounter necessarily goes beyond ourselves, challenging us to live in solidarity with people we may never meet.  How can we hope to go to the margins, to accompany those who are most vulnerable and in need, if we haven’t properly wrestled with our own vulnerability, our own need? Only then can we recognize that each person we encounter can share with us some unique insight about our world, about ourselves and, ultimately, about our God.

We meet Jesus in the desert, a time of introspection and discernment before he begins his ministry. What has he gone there to accomplish? Luke tells us that Jesus “was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil.” There he fasts and prays—and the Enemy takes that opportunity to tempt Christ with those temptations we each encounter daily: material comfort, honor and pride.

Jesus responded by trusting in God, by emptying himself of pride and power and ultimately rejecting the invitations of the Enemy.

We, too, can better understand where we are broken and turning away from who we are called to be by following Jesus’ example and encountering ourselves through prayer and fasting. We may not go into a desert for forty days, but we can and should take the forty-day invitation of Lent as an opportunity to reorient our lives, examining how we are living in relationship with God and our neighbors.

That might mean coming to terms with troubling or disappointing truths. Can we, like Jesus, radically reject the offering of power, of influence? We all want glory, praise, a pat on the shoulder, but as Jesus turned away from the Enemy’s offering, so too must we. And then, where do we turn? We go to the margins with humility and compassion. Only by encountering ourselves can we then encounter our neighbors.

Eric ClaytonEric 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 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. Continue reflecting on how you can contribute to the culture of encounter with the CRS Rice Bowl app.

This reflection was first published in CRS Rice Bowl’s Encounter Lent: Theological & Scriptural Reflections.

Going Deeper

Prayer can open our hearts and minds to God’s love and compassion for every person—no matter who they are. Read about this youth pro-life team, whose prayer for those on death row helps the entire community reflect on our commitment to protect all human life.

This Lent, use this Examination of Conscience in Light of Catholic Social Teaching (also en Español) to encounter God’s love and forgiveness, and to help us discern how to better love those on the margins, whom God loves.

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.

Moved by Mercy

rlp-16-cover-photo

On a recent drive home from work, I pushed “play” on my audiobook to pass the time in traffic. It’s not an unusual activity for me, but what I didn’t anticipate was my own bittersweet heartbreak.

As the author shared stories of her visit to Africa, she spoke of one place preserved from the destitution she had witnessed elsewhere. One building in particular, though small and simple, was nicer than others she had seen. But the reason for its better conditions cuts to the heart: it was a hospice home for children.

In this home lived a little girl, with whom the author became fast friends the day they met, each blessing the other with the love they both needed. As the author continued reading, she shared her desire to do something to help the people she’d fallen in love with.

It’s so easy to feel discouraged by the thought of all that is wrong in our world, to feel that our personal efforts wouldn’t really matter or make a difference. But the author’s reflections reminded me of the incredibly personal nature of large-scale issues.

Our world’s tragedies aren’t faceless. They are the experiences of individual people who have faces, names, and their own stories. It’s hard to wrap our heads around large-scale suffering, but its personal nature means that anyone can make a concrete difference—person to person.

One of my favorite parts of Pope Francis’s official Jubilee of Mercy proclamation (Misericordiae vultus) describes God’s mercy as “a concrete reality with which he reveals his love as of that of a father or a mother, moved to the very depths out of love for their child…It gushes forth from the depths naturally, full of tenderness and compassion.”

Having been made in God’s image and likeness, we are called to love as he loves, to be moved as he is moved. Everything we believe and do as Catholics is rooted in this love. Just as God cherishes each person, so too, we are called to cherish one another.

The 2016-17 Respect Life Program, beginning in October with the celebration of Respect Life Month and continuing through next September, explores what this means through the theme “Moved by Mercy.”

New, easy-to-read brochures give practical tips on providing compassionate support that respects and protects life from beginning to end. A resource guide provides tools for Catholics to go deeper into the message of merciful reverence for life—either by integrating it into their respective efforts in Catholic education and ministry, or for personal enrichment. A poster, flyer, folder, and catalog round out the printed materials.

These as well as other online-only resources (downloadable images, a social media toolkit, bulletin inserts, and more), can be ordered or downloaded from www.usccb.org/respectlife.

During Respect Life Month and throughout the year, let’s allow God to move our hearts with mercy for those who are marginalized, ignored, and especially those at risk of losing their lives. How does God want to work through you today?
Anne McGuire, USCCB

Anne McGuire is the Assistant Director for Education and Outreach for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities. Visit www.usccb.org/respectlife for NEW Respect Life Program resources!

10 Practical Ways You Can Care for Creation

Headshot of young woman with short dark hair, glasses, with striped shirt

Yolanda Park, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Stockton

Here in the Diocese of Stockton, California, we are living out our call to care for God’s creation and God’s people. The Environmental Justice Program of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Stockton sees addressing our concerns about dangerous air quality, responding to our historic drought, and doing our part to fight climate change as essential to caring for the poorest and most vulnerable residents among us. These families contribute the least to environmental damage, but suffer from it the most.

You and your parish can respond to Pope Francis’ Call to Action. Here are 10 practical ways you can protect creation – it will benefit your wallet, your neighbors near and far, and hopefully your spirit as well.

  1. Turn off your engine rather than idling when you are stopped for more than a minute – when dropping kids off at school, waiting for a train, or chatting with the neighbors. This limits the emissions that pollute our air and cause respiratory illnesses like asthma.
  2. Use Fair Trade products to support local artisans and farmers and protect the environment. Learn about Catholic Relief Services Fair Trade and the impact it has on vulnerable communities around the world.
  3. Store food in reusable containers, not plastic wrap or foil, to cut down on your household trash. This kind of waste fills up landfills, litters neighborhoods, and contributes to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
  4. Avoid using Styrofoam at your parish functions. Styrofoam can rarely be recycled, and it takes 500 years to decompose in landfills! If you can’t use “real” dishes, opt instead for recyclable or biodegradable plates, cups, and utensils.
  5. Conserve water by shortening shower time, not letting water run when brushing your teeth or washing your car, and ensuring your sprinklers are watering plants, not the sidewalk or street. Consider landscaping that is drought tolerant or resistant to local pests – you’ll save water and limit use of pesticides.
  6. Recycle bottles, cans, plastic, paper, and old electronics. This can also be a great way to raise money for your parish, youth group, or mission trip. Make sure your electronic recycler does not ship e-waste overseas, where components are often dismantled in unsafe conditions or even by children.
  7. Do a home or parish energy audit. You will be able to identify where you can patch air leaks, switch out light bulbs, or improve insulation. You’ll conserve energy, reduce emissions that contribute to climate change, and save money!
  8. Start a parish or community garden. You will eat healthier and can donate the abundance to a local food pantry. This is especially meaningful if you live or worship in a low-income neighborhood, many of which lack access to fresh, healthy food. Compost the garden waste and you’ll have great nutrients to put back into the soil next year.
  9. Suggest and help organize an environmental awareness day at your parish, especially for the World Day of Prayer for Creation on September 1st, or as part of October’s Respect Life Month.
  10. Ask your elected representatives to support legislation that limits carbon pollution, protects natural resources, supports international efforts to fight climate change, protects environmental health, or promotes energy efficiency and renewable energy.

These actions may seem small compared to the threat of climate change, but Pope Francis reminds us that “many things have to change of course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change.” (Laudato’ Si, 202)

Yolanda Park is Environmental Justice Program Assistant at Catholic Charities, Diocese of Stockton. For more ideas, you can visit their website, follow them on Twitter, or find them on Facebook.


Going Deeper!

Join Pope Francis to care for God’s creation on Sept. 1. Numerous resources for this day are available on the USCCB environmental justice page and the WeAreSaltAndLight.org Laudato Si’ page, including prayers, discussion guides, individual action steps, and more.

Working Together Towards Immigrant Integration 

 Where migrants and refugees are concerned, the Church and her various agencies ought to avoid offering charitable services alone; they are also called to promote real integration in a society where all are active members and responsible for one another’s welfare…

– Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. (2013)

The Catholic Church and its brethren are, in part, defined by a mandate to welcome the stranger. From schools to health care to voter registration drives to food assistance, and especially to parish life, the church has developed pathways for aiding the newest members of our communities. The Church and its entities cherish this role and continue to fine-tune its efforts at reaching the newest, and often the most vulnerable, among us.

As part of the church’s efforts, Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) has a 28-year history of supporting local Catholic institutions that aid immigrants. CLINIC sees the migration experience and subsequent immigration statuses (documented or otherwise) as early steps in the integration process. We know from focus groups that the journey and the engagement with U.S. immigration law and officials shape newcomers’ views of themselves in relationship to their new homeland.

We at CLINIC are doing a lot, and our network is doing a lot. But I believe we can do more to promote integration. As places of ministry and service providers, we must actively seek out what our immigrant neighbors would find most beneficial. It is especially important to involve newcomers in the decisions we make for our community and work together to create the integrated community we all desire.

This is no small task. For those of us working at charitable organizations, it is easier for us to decide ourselves what to offer our clients or members of our community, how best to help them, and what might make a difference in their lives. That’s our job, and it’s an important one. Imagine, though, what would be possible working with our clients and community members on integration. What could we do if we invited them into our office spaces and decision-making processes to decide, together, what the community collectively needs? What if we shared the power of the decision-making with our neighbors and worked together to make our community more welcoming for all?

There are many other ways to encourage immigrant integration within your community. Many of them involve reaching out to others and listening to and understanding their “joys and hopes, sorrows and anxieties.” This is part of the “culture of encounter” that Pope Francis has called us to promote.

Here are a few ideas to get started:

  1. Challenge unwelcoming remarks about immigrants in your community, at work and at home. Use facts and resources from nonpartisan sources, such as the Pew Research Center and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
  2. Invite a newcomer to your home for a meal and learn a few words in his or her native language.
  3. Volunteer to mentor English language learners or help with citizenship test preparation.
  4. Volunteer at a local refugee resettlement agency in your community to help newly arrived refugees learn English, find a job, and adjust to their new home.
  5. Ensure that members of the newcomer community are represented in leadership positions or decision-making entities at your parish, organization, or community group.
  6. Ask your local library, museum, and community center to include perspectives of immigrants in planned public events, classes that are offered, and resources that are purchased.
  7. Volunteer at a nearby Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program that serves lower-income immigrant (and nonimmigrant) families in your community.
  8. Consider organizing a potluck/town hall event where residents can break bread together.
  9. Write or call your Congressional representatives to encourage action on immigration reform.
  10. Work with your local community leaders/elected officials to pass a Welcoming Resolution in your community.

Immigrant integration is a beautiful, complex, on-going process that challenges us to reach outside of the known and familiar and purposefully embrace people who are on a migratory journey. By making integration a priority for our agencies and our service programs, we can encourage the development of communities that are welcoming places for all of us.

Leya Speasmaker, CLINIC

Leya Speasmaker, CLINIC

Leya Speasmaker serves as the Integration Program Manager at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. In this role, she develops CLINIC’s resources and provides technical support on integration. She works from Austin, Texas.

Versions of this article were first published by the Catholic Legal Immigration Network on its website.  Please contact Leya Speasmaker, CLINIC’s Immigrant Integration Manager, atlspeasmaker@cliniclegal.orgfor more information on how to promote and encourage immigrant integration within your community.


Going Deeper

Learn more about creating a Culture of Encounter at WeAreSaltandLight.org and promoting immigrant integration initiatives at CLINIClegal.org.