How Can You Honor Workers? A Perspective from Austin

Our faith teachings call us, Catholics and all people of faith, to care for our neighbor and to work for justice for all. As a long-time organizer, I have worked alongside leaders to address pressures on families and improve their lives through acting on issues. We identify these issues from relational conversations, such as those that members of our communities have with each other. Then together we address them to bring change. With support from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Austin Interfaith Sponsoring Committee leaders have organized to create initiatives and marshal resources that have benefited Austin-area children, families, and residents.

Austin Interfaith leaders gather at city hall to call for a living wage (2013)

One area of particular concern is ensuring that more workers have meaningful work, livable wages, and worker protections. We are taught that the dignity of the human person is tied to the dignity of work.  In Laudato Si’ no. 128, Pope Francis writes that “We were created with a vocation to work. … (and) To stop investing in people…is bad business for society.” That’s why Austin Interfaith has led the campaign in Austin to increase the city living wage floor over time to now $13.50/hour for all city workers and workers employed through contractors with the city. In addition, we’ve worked with allies to require worker protections for all construction workers on city contracted projects.

Our perspective, like that of a grandparent, is not simply on the next year or the next election cycle, but on the next generation.  In 1998, the congregations of Austin Interfaith created the Capital IDEA job training and workforce intermediary, which provides a pathway for low-income Austin residents to access new, high-paying opportunities in healthcare, technology, and manufacturing trades – jobs that provide benefits and a career path. Nearly twenty years later, over 1,400 low income adults have started new lives as nurses, sonographers, network administrators, electronic technicians, electricians, and many other careers. In 2016, Capital IDEA participants went from earning an average salary of $10,500 to an average beginning salary of almost $41,000.

An immigrant from Mexico, Elizabeth Soltero cleaned university offices overnight and cared for her young daughter during the day while her husband worked construction. They barely saw each other as a family. For three years, Capital IDEA provided tuition, fees, books, child care, and case management so Elizabeth could attend and graduate from the local community college as a network administrator. Elizabeth Soltero became Capital IDEA’s 1,000th graduate in 2012. With a specialization in information security, she now she manages a computer network for IBM, works during the day, and has bought a new house.

An even more fundamental achievement is the next generation. Through Elizabeth’s example, her daughter is well along a path to become a college graduate herself. An analysis of local school district data found that 70 percent of the children of Capital IDEA graduates go directly to college after high school – 25 percentage points higher than otherwise expected.

Capital IDEA is part of a network of model workforce programs that bring the civic, business, and public sectors together in partnership to expand opportunities for more workers to get training to qualify for jobs that can support them and their families.

As we celebrate Labor Day, we recall the contributions and sacrifices of workers that are critical to all of our lives, and call for all to work together across income levels to bring public policy and resource changes in your communities to increase opportunities of low-wage workers.

Kathleen Davis is Lead Organizer with Austin Interfaith — a broad based, nonpartisan, multi-ethnic, multi-issue organization of congregations and institutions that together develop the leadership to address issues that affect the well-being of low and moderate income families in the Austin area.


Going Deeper

Read the U.S. Catholic bishops’ annual Labor Day statement here, and learn more about Catholic teaching on the dignity of work and the rights of workers here.

 

Happy 100th Birthday Blessed Oscar Romero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Going Deeper

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

Feliz Centenario del Beato Oscar A. Romero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Forging a Path to Interreligious Action for Peace

What does it take to build peace among people divided by religion? Is it dialogue about beliefs, traditions, and values that creates greater understanding, and thus more harmony? Or is it joint action that generates cooperation and strengthens relationships? The resounding answer from Catholic Relief Services’ interreligious peacebuilding experience is: both. Talking theology matters, but so does the opportunity to work side-by-side and put values into practice.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has been supporting peace and development efforts since the height of the country’s civil war, programs invite people to connect through dialogue and action. Young people, many of whom attend segregated schools and have never heard stories of the war from the perspective of other ethnic and religious groups, jointly visit one another’s places of worship, perform musical concerts together, and collaborate on art exhibitions, and carry out cooperative community initiatives across religious lines. These shared activities are important to create common experiences and connections.

But deeply held perceptions and attitudes do not change through these joint activities alone; it is also important to delve into values and histories that connect and divide people. Young people have the opportunity to do so through seminars, dialogue sessions, and participatory theatre. Another important tool that CRS has been using in Bosnia-Herzegovina has been “Speaking Out” events, in which war victims share their stories of suffering at the hands of other ethnic and religious groups, and their journeys towards reconciliation. For many in the audience, young and older, this may be the first time that they are confronted with the “other side’s” narrative of the past. While this is challenging, it also opens them to the possibility of greater empathy for people from the other groups.

The stronger relationships and improved mutual understanding that emerge from activities like these prepare the ground for concrete steps towards reconciliation. These can include local initiatives involving ordinary citizens as well as building a vision for changes in the institutions that touch the lives of the broader population. A case in point is a national “Platform for Peace” just recently adopted by the highest level of government in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This Platform, developed at CRS’ initiative in collaboration with local partners and a range of key leaders, commits government officials and other authorities to work for long-term peace and reconciliation through measures such as institutionalizing trust-building mechanisms, reducing divisive rhetoric, and promoting peace education in schools. Over 40% of the country’s mayors have also signed on to the Platform for Peace, and have pledged to dedicate resources from their local budgets to put it into action.

In another landmark move, the deans of the country’s three theology schools – Catholic, Orthodox, and Muslim – recently announced a joint Master’s degree program in interreligious peacebuilding. This program, which will accept its first students in the fall, is the first of its kind in the region. It is the fruit of several years of patient and steady work on the part of the seminary representatives, supported and accompanied by CRS as they worked to bring their vision to life. Graduates of the program will emerge with a strong grounding in the three faith traditions’ teaching on peace, justice, and ethics; internship experiences will also give them strong practical skills to contribute to forging unity in their communities and country.

What barriers divide people of different faiths in your community? What opportunities do you see to forge connections across these barriers, through dialogue and action?

Nell Bolton is Senior Technical Advisor for Justice & Peacebuilding at Catholic Relief Services.

To learn more about what works in interreligious peacebuilding, download a copy of CRS’ new book, Interreligious Action for Peace: Studies in Muslim-Christian Cooperation.

Our Border Family: Hope at the Border

During “Hugs Not Walls,” families who live separated by the United States-Mexico border were able to see and embrace each other for a few previous minutes.

The Catholic church is taking a compassionate, non-confrontational approach to the plight of people in three dioceses along the U.S. border with Mexico. It’s also using exquisitely simple, Gospel-based principles to underscore human dignity and address systemic poverty and injustice.

Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso told me his Texas diocese and the contiguous ones in Juarez, Mexico and Las Cruces, New Mexico form the largest bi-national community in the hemisphere, if not the world. “The very nature of our border area is it’s a family. It’s a large community that has had a line drawn through it,” he said. And it has long been this way. People in the area move freely across the border to shop, eat, and be with family. The result is an active community where the unique nature of the towns on either side of the river contributes something to strengthen and improve their neighbors.

Bishop Seitz of El Paso celebrates Mass on the United States-Mexico border.

The longstanding reality of intermingled families and thriving communities is a counterpoint to an increasingly strident national narrative about borders. Bishop Seitz points to the head-scratching portrayal of the border as a forbidding place of confrontation “where the ‘us’ people fend off the ‘them’ people, where the people at home fight off the aliens. That has no resonance here,” he said.

The Hope Border Institute is a new-since-2015 grassroots effort to apply Catholic social teaching principles to immediate and longer-term issues along the border. It sprang from conversations among local clergy in the three dioceses and people in several groups funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). They were looking for a way to address the fall-out from a growing number of policies imposed on the area that frankly made little sense.

When I asked him about it, Dylan Corbett, the group’s executive director, said laws and regulations made in Austin, Washington, DC and Mexico City do not necessarily correspond to realities on the ground. Sometimes they cause new problems without solving the challenges they were intended to fix. He pointed out there is already a wall and a new wall likely won’t do what is promised because it doesn’t address the root causes of poverty and injustice on both sides of the border and won’t stop the flow of illegal drugs.

The Hope Border Institute brings together CCHD-funded groups, activists, and grassroots organizations, low-wage workers and migrants, members of the media, young persons, academics, church workers, and clergy to share perspectives, explore Catholic social teaching, and look through the eyes of others living in the border communities. It helps people work collectively and intentionally across “borders” of geography, race, and ethnicity. And it trains and empowers leaders across both the faith community and civil society to witness the power of unity in diversity and community.

Best of all, it’s working! People who might never have spoken and shared stories now see and begin to understand the experience, perspective, and human dignity of each other.

Bishop Seitz said, “The role of the Church and its teaching is such an important counterpoint to the uninformed reaction people have had to these border questions.” How true.

Beth Griffin is a free-lance journalist with an abiding interest in social justice.

Hope Border Institute is funded by the Strategic National Grant Program of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Read more about their work in the most recent edition of the CCHD Newsletter: Helping People Help Themselves.


Going Deeper!

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development and the Office of Education & Outreach are partnering to foster encounter in other ways.  Our new small grants program seeks to foster Hispanic ministry-social justice diocesan collaboration, and this recent webinar lifted up examples of where this is already successfully happening around immigration, workers’ rights, trafficking, and other issues affecting the immigrant community.

 

All photos courtesy of Hope Border Institute.

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. 

Disrupting a Culture of Resentment, Rebuilding a Culture of Encounter

In February, nine Latino, African-American, and Caucasian leaders from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati flew to Modesto, California, for the U.S. World Meeting of Popular Movements (WMPM). Organized by the Vatican, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development/USCCB, and PICO National Network, the gathering of 700 grassroots leaders from across the country focused on the issues of racism, migration, housing, jobs, and environmental justice.

For the immigrant victim of wage theft, the community leader fighting against foreclosures in his neighborhood, and the African-American woman tackling racial injustice, the issues of the gathering were all ones that directly impacted our delegation’s members. The WMPM injected all of us with new energy and hope, as participants shared each other’s stories, affirmed each other’s struggles for life and dignity, and celebrated our oneness in the Body of Christ.

But the real outcome of the WMPM for our delegation still hinges upon what we can do differently at home in our own archdiocese.

As Pope Francis exclaimed in his message to the WMPM: “It makes me very happy to see you working together towards social justice! How I wish that such constructive energy would spread to all dioceses, because it builds bridges between peoples and individuals. These are bridges that can overcome the walls of exclusion, indifference, racism, and intolerance.”

We all arrived at the Modesto gathering with the sense that we are immersed in a culture of resentment.  Whether it’s between pro-life and social justice advocates, immigrants and non-immigrants, Christians and Muslims, or black and white people, forces in our culture are encouraging us to see someone else as an “other.”  Yet, in his rousing address at the WMPM, Bishop Robert McElroy spoke of the urgency for us to “disrupt” and to “rebuild.”

We left this gathering with a call to disrupt such a false, divisive narrative about ourselves.  We committed ourselves in turn to rebuild it with a “culture of encounter.”

Some institution in our society must be bold enough to turn our heads towards the “Jesus in disguise” in each other, especially in the most poor and vulnerable among us. We, as the Church, can strive to rebuild a sense of universality among currently polarized peoples by creating spaces where we recognize our shared struggles for human life and dignity.  With our comprehensive Catholic moral and social teachings, we have the vision that few political, economic, or social entities can offer to such an urgent task.

A day after our return, our leaders shared their excitement for the gathering with our local Archbishop Dennis Schnurr. “You just made my day,” he responded with a smile.  We agreed to begin organizing a gathering of pro-life and social justice parish leaders, immigrants, people released from prison, crisis pregnancy volunteers, those experiencing environmental injustice, and others.  Not only do we want to see greater justice for all these people, but we also aim to disrupt the culture that tries to pit us against each other, especially by boxing us into “conservative” and “liberal” corners.

We aim to rebuild it with a sense that we are all each other’s neighbors; that everyday people, not politicians or other figureheads, are our own solutions. Our task now is to imagine and create such a space of encounter and dialogue.

If there’s one thing the WMPM showed me, it’s how much our nation sorely needs a faith community that trusts that we can overcome our divisions.

 

Tony Stieritz is the Director of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Catholic Social Action Office


Going Deeper

Find out how Catholics in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati are responding to the call to be “disruptors” for Christ—through an annual World Day of Peace mass, work to accompany formerly incarcerated individuals, religious sisters fighting human trafficking, and new programs to care for God’s creation.