Cultural Clashes During Meetings and What to Do about Them

Are you part of a shared (multicultural) parish?  Over the past several months, several posts have explored the modules of Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers (BICM), a resource from the USCCB.  As I noted in my last post, we all have our own cultural icebergs.  When parishes and ministries become more culturally diverse, we need intercultural knowledge, skills and attitudes to work together successfully.  Module 3 of BICM explores how different cultures communicate, conduct meetings and handle conflict.

What’s the difference?

I quickly learned the differences in meeting styles when I was living in Ecuador.  I was part of the young adult group at the local parish.  I was raised in the prevailing culture in the U.S. where meetings start at the agreed upon time and if you come in late you creep in, make a hand gesture to apologize and quietly try to figure out where the group is on the agenda.  In Ecuador, the meetings did not start until a good portion of the group was there.  Then, every single time a new person arrived, everyone would stop talking, the person would make their way around the entire room, greeting everyone individually (with a kiss on the cheek) and the meeting would continue.  This happened over and over as people continued to trickle in.  After what we learned in Module 2 of BICM we can name the dynamics at work here—a collective culture following explicit rules for social interactions, valuing relationships and harmony.   Although this dynamic is less pronounced with Hispanics living in the U.S., it is still very much present.

If you attend intercultural meetings, you may have run into the same issues that have challenged me when leading our Hispanic Committee meetings at the parish where I have served for many years. As Module 3 of the BICM resource explains, meetings in an individualistic culture tend to be more focused on accomplishing tasks, moving through an agenda and making decisions, often with a vote.  On the other hand, meetings of a collective culture prefer to focus on building or maintaining relationships and working together.   It is important to have a sense of harmony before the meeting begins and not end until it is re-established.  At times I can feel myself very frustrated at the slow pace of our meetings and not getting through the agenda.  But I can also recognize that once the entire group has processed the issue together, everyone has had a chance to talk, and a collective decision is made, then look out!  There is no stopping our Hispanic leaders once they’ve decided on a project.  Everyone comes together, lends a hand, and things that I would have stressed out about how to plan for weeks are done within hours.

How can we come together?

If you have a group of leaders from different cultures that want to have effective meetings, consider taking some time to talk through the five parameters of culture from Module 2.  Many of us don’t realize how much our upbringing shapes the way we do things.  Sometimes we assume everyone else’s iceberg looks like ours underneath.  Just sharing a little about the invisible parts of our icebergs can go a long way to creating understanding and cooperation between people of different cultures.

If your goal is to make a meeting of European Americans more open to a collective culture, here are some ideas:  1) Consider having a social time before the usual meeting time to share some food and talk about each other’s families in order to create a sense of community.  2) During the meeting, when an important discussion point is brought up, invite the elder from the collective culture to address the issue first.  3) Remember, those from a collective culture may need someone else to invite them to give their opinion.  4) Consider the power dynamics in the group and remember that it would be considered disrespectful for many cultures to directly contradict what an elder has said, so pay attention to clues in the conversation that may be more indirect ways of communicating.

A little bit of background work and mindfulness during a meeting can go a long way to successfully working together across cultural differences!

Patti Gutiérrez, Diocese of Owensboro

Patti Gutiérrez has led ministry at the diocesan and parish levels in the Diocese of Owensboro for 13 years. This post is adapted from her blog where she shares resources and practical advice for other intercultural.

To Celebrate Mother’s Day, Keep Families Together

Every Mother’s Day we honor the mothers in our lives and celebrate the vital role they play in our families. It is an opportunity to come together and remember the blessings of family and to reflect on how important it is, not only to ourselves but to the fabric of our society. Unfortunately, we know many children have been unnecessarily separated from their mothers – and fathers – while trying to seek protection at our southern border; these children will be spending this holiday alone.

Over the past year, the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection has increasingly chosen to separate children from their parents and legal guardians at the U.S./Mexico border. Since October 2017, over 700 children have been separated from their parents and rendered “unaccompanied,” including over 100 children under the age of four. We expect this number to drastically increase with the recent “zero-tolerance” policy.

Many of these immigrant families are fleeing from violence and persecution in their home countries, and seeking safety and protection for their children here in the U.S. While separation can be appropriate when there are trafficking or abuse concerns, more often such separation is occurring in the absence of such justifications. For example, a mother and her 3-year-old son Daniel* fled from Guatemala to the U.S. to escape persecution by the local gangs. Upon their arrival at the U.S./Mexico border Daniel was separated from his mother by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents, deemed “unaccompanied,” and placed in a separate ORR facility from her. It seems that CBP agents were confused as to the nature of their relationship and believed Daniel to be traveling with his aunt. While their parent/child relationship has since been confirmed, Daniel’s mother continues to be held in an immigrant detention facility. As of today, both mother and toddler have still not been reunited with each other.

Separation from a parent or legal guardian can have extremely adverse effects on children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, separating families is extremely frightening and stressful to children, and their research has shown that even short periods of separation can cause psychological trauma and long-term mental health problems.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is very concerned about the increasing number of cases of family separation. Catholic Social Teaching underscores the importance of the family and its essential role to the individual and society. When families are ripped apart and children separated from their parents for no reason, something must be done to right this wrong. We must work to ensure that all immigrant families and children who are detained are not needlessly separated from one another and that they are treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve. So, this Mother’s Day while many of us are celebrating with our families, we encourage you to remember children like Daniel who are unable to do the same with their parents.

*Client name changed to protect confidentiality.

Sara Hoff is currently serving as an intern for USCCB Migration and Refugee Services. Reposted with permission from Faces of Migration on

Prayers of Compassion and Hope for the DRC and South Sudan

This Friday, February 23, 2018, Pope Francis has asked us to pray and fast for peace in the world, and in particular, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and South Sudan.  We have good reason to do so.

The situations in the DRC and South Sudan are two of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.  In the DRC, 4.5 million Congolese have fled their homes to escape violence; 10.5 million people are threatened by this violence; 13.5 million people need urgent help; and 2 million children suffer from acute malnutrition.  In South Sudan, 1.9 million people have fled their homes while another 2.4 million took refuge in neighboring countries.  There are 5.1 million people in need of food assistance.

In this time of Lent, the Holy Father asks us to show compassion, and to support our brothers and sisters in these conflict-ridden countries through prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

In the midst of these crises, the Catholic Church is a bright source of light and hope in both nations.  The Congolese Church provides emergency assistance, health care, and education to hundreds of thousands.  Since 2014, Congolese Church leaders have intervened in the political sphere to protect democracy and the common good, and to ensure that the government, which has been prone to corruption and negligence, respects the constitution and holds free and fair elections.

Church leaders have issued strong statements to condemn violations of human rights. They have organized marches for peace and to urge the government to respect the political agreement that the Church brokered between the government and opposition political parties to end the crisis.  The Church is also implementing a nationwide elections education program to help ensure that elections serve the needs of the people and not only those seeking power.  The Church is planning another march from the churches in Kinshasa, the capital, this Sunday, February 25, 2018.

In South Sudan, the Catholic Church works with other Christian denominations through the South Sudan Council of Churches.  Together they are engaging their government and the opposition leaders, who are behind much of the violence, to convince them to halt the fighting and restart negotiations to end the crisis.  Church leaders are also promoting meetings of local leaders to resolve local disputes before they become embroiled in the broader violent conflict.  Finally, the churches draw from Scripture to guide efforts to reconcile people who have suffered from past violent conflicts.  The churches hope to rebuild the social fabric of relationships as a long-term way to end violence.

In his message that announced the Day of Prayer and Fasting on Feb. 23, Pope Francis said, “Our heavenly Father always listens to his children who cry out to him in pain and anguish; ‘he heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds’ (Ps 147[146]:3). I launch a heartfelt appeal that we too may listen to this cry and each, according to his or her own conscience before God, can ask: ‘What can I do for peace?'” Here are some ideas for how you can respond to this challenge:

  1. Learn about the situations in the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. Read this statement from the USCCB President.
  2. Pray for peace using this Prayer for the Day of Prayer and Fasting for peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and the whole world or one of these prayers for peace.
  3. Share what you’ve learned with others. Spread the word on Facebook or Twitter. Invite your parish to use these Prayers of the Faithful for the Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace on February 23.  Gather your community for prayer for peace using the Scriptural Rosary for Justice and Peace, Chaplet of Divine Mercy, Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus, Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, or Holy Hour for Peace. Give to Catholic Relief Services to support their peacebuilding work in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and other countries.

Pope Francis asks us to lift up the courage of the Church and to nourish the hope that she brings to the Congolese and South Sudanese people who seek human dignity in peace and prosperity.

What a great way to enrich and fulfill your Lenten celebration!

Hilbert headshotSteve Hilbert is a policy advisor on Africa for the Office of International Justice and Peace at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Rediscovering My Neighbor

“But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”
– Luke 10:29

In May 2015, after graduating and finishing my internship with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) in Washington, DC, I moved to Elyria, Ohio, a small town 25 minutes from Cleveland. I got a job at a local health department and got married, then we adopted a puppy and consequently met more of our neighbors.  I felt satisfied and comfortable, but Jesus’ response to the young man’s question above surely wasn’t in the forefront of my mind.

Late in 2017, I received an email from the national CCHD office offering scholarships for former CCHD interns to attend the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering (CSMG) and afterwards, volunteer with their diocese’s CCHD efforts. I applied, and earlier this month I found myself at the CSMG in Washington, DC.

During the opening keynote, Bishop Eusebio Elizondo quoted Pope Francis: “Indifference is the greatest sin today.” He explained that despite globalization, which has made all of us more interconnected in some ways, we seem to care less about each other, as exemplified in the very negative rhetoric that often characterizes the debate around immigration. “Any action, even drinking a cup of coffee, affects someone else,” he explained.

During the long weekend, I learned about my neighbors around the world. I listened to a panel of speakers explain how their homes in the Amazon are threatened by environmental devastation and disregard for indigenous rights. In workshops, I learned how the Farm Bill provides not only SNAP (food stamps) but also international food assistance and development aid. In conversation during breaks I learned about the Lao Catholic Association of Columbus (OH) and efforts for economic empowerment in St. Louis. Through this gentle reopening, I rediscovered my neighbors throughout the world.

The experience woke me up from the indifference I had fallen into. I am now looking forward to several concrete ways to bring my experience home. Throughout the conference, I reflected on my response to one particular theme of Catholic social teaching: the call to family, community, and participation, and this theme provides the perfect framing for my next steps:

  • Family: One action that I already identified prior to attending the conference as part of my scholarship application was to work with my diocesan CCHD representative to help engage parishes in work to address poverty locally. Poverty is a major stress on family life, and helping parishes address poverty means strengthening families. Supporting my local NFP chapter is another important way of supporting family life.
  • Community: Working with CCHD will also help me continue to support and involve myself in local institutions. As part of my work, I’ll be helping share opportunities such as the Creating on the Margins contest and the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award, both of which are about encountering and acting in our communities.
  • Participation: I am returning from CSMG with a personal goal to participate more in my own city’s public life. I also signed up to receive alerts from Catholics Confront Global Poverty, which will notify me of how I can advocate for specific legislation to support human life and dignity by addressing poverty around the world. After all, if my representatives never hear from me, I have no right to expect them to do what I want.

Finally, I hope to respond to Bishop Eusebio Elizondo’s (and Pope Francis’) invitation to become part of a “globalization of charity.” With what I learned and the action I take, I will help begin reversing the “globalization of indifference” toward the “globalization of charity.”

andrea_fergusonAndrea Ferguson served as a Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) intern in 2014-2015 and now lives and works in Elyria, OH. She is grateful to now continue her work with CCHD as a volunteer with the Diocese of Cleveland.

The “New Selma” Is Being Watched

As a young boy growing up in a white working-class neighborhood in Akron, Ohio, I rarely encountered blacks or, for that matter, anyone different than me with the exception of “hippies,” who I was told not to trust. But when riding around town with my grandfather in his Ford pick-up truck, I’d see him display great generosity towards blacks, be the first to come to their aid and (I later learned) count them among his close friends at the Goodyear factory where he worked his entire life.

This quiet observation of my grandfather’s actions left an impression on me as a young boy.

The mid- to late-1960s were, of course, racially charged times, but I was too young to follow everything that was being said and done. However, I wasn’t too young to be influenced by watching what my grandfather actually did. His seemingly random acts of kindness towards blacks, my earliest lesson on race, have stayed with me to this day in St. Louis—my home now, and a city some have recently called the “New Selma,” due to the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown and last September’s acquittal of Officer Jason Stockley.

Following these events, many powerful words spoken. St. Louis Catholics were inspired and challenged by the words of our local and national leaders: confront our original sin of racism, be uncomfortable as we break down racial barriers, and follow Christ’s example as we build the Kingdom here on earth. But words must be followed by concrete actions, and calling St. Louis the New Selma means we especially are being watched.

From heaven, we are being watched by our beloved St. Louis North Star, Sister Antona Ebo, who passed away in November. Sister Ebo, a pioneering black Franciscan Sister of Mary, actually risked her life to march on the front lines with Dr. King in Selma in 1965.

St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson was being watched when he publicly commissioned me and 26 other Catholics in a High Mass at our magnificent Cathedral to serve on the Archdiocesan Peace and Justice Commission—our response to Ferguson and deep, legally seeded racial inequities in St. Louis. Now the Commission is being watched as well.

As others watch, we are (1) fostering racial equity through dialogue and Archdiocesan-wide engagement (“nothing about us without us”); (2) advancing early education initiatives for all kids; and (3) promoting at-birth Child Development Account so that every child in the region has a better shot at college and economic success. We deliberately chose aspirational, hope-oriented strategies so that we could bring our black and white, rich and poor, and pro-life and social-justice communities together.

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson welcomed people to the Interfaith Prayer Service for Peace and Solidarity Sept. 19, 2017 at Kiener Plaza in Downtown St. Louis.
Photo by Teak Phillips | St. Louis Review | | twitter/instagram: @TeakPhillips

Local and national news outlets watched as Archbishop Carlson organized an interfaith prayer service within sight of where Dred Scott first pled for his ultimately unsuccessful bid for freedom. He followed that up by bringing sparring parties together, such as protesters and the police. And the Archbishop’s signature Today and Tomorrow Educational Foundation to expand Catholic educational opportunities in low-income, minority communities will surely advance justice as well.

But the challenge remains immense: For the Sake of All, a regional collaboration aimed at closing racial health and economic gaps, reports that low levels of education and poverty among African Americans has cost St. Louis an estimated $4 billion in just one year, and that residents of neighboring yet racially isolated zip-codes have an up to 18-year difference in life expectancy.

When watched before, however, St. Louis Catholics have been inspiring. In addition to Sr. Ebo, St. Louis University admitted students of color when no other historically white college in a former slave state had done so. And Cardinal Ritter integrated all Catholic schools in the Archdiocese in 1947—eight years before Brown. v. Education required public schools to do so—and threatened excommunication of any Catholic who opposed him.

We know the New Selma is being watched by Catholics and others nationwide; we welcome your attention, prayers and support. But, more importantly, we call upon Catholics everywhere to confront racism and create opportunities to bring their divided peoples and communities together in Christ.

We are watching you, too, like me watching my grandfather as a boy, hoping that we can learn, struggle and achieve peace together.

Ray Boshara is a member of the Peace and Justice Commission at the Archdiocese of St. Louis, and a consultant to the USCCB Office of Justice, Peace, and Human Development.


Going deeper:
Visit We Are Salt and Light and learn how a regular neighborhood walk by a bishop and parishioners has helped bridge conversation and action at: Bishop leads prayer walks, helps parishes address causes of violence.

Celebrating Our Lady of Guadalupe with Prayer and Action

In 1999, St. John Paul II made the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe a Feast day of the Church in all America.  Today, we reflect on this rich tradition and how it invites us to pray and act together.

On three occasions in December of 1531, Mary appeared to St. Juan Diego as Our Lady of Guadalupe. Appearing on the Tepeyac Hill in Mexico City as a beautiful young indigenous woman, Our Lady spoke to Juan Diego in his native Nahuatl tongue asking him to deliver a message to Bishop Fray Juan de Zumárraga. Mary told Juan Diego that she wanted a church built on the spot where she appeared so that people would have a place where she could show them her Son and where they could experience her compassion and help.

At first, the Bishop did not believe Juan Diego and demanded a sign. Juan Diego went back to Tepeyac Hill and implored the Virgin Mary to provide such a sign. Mary instructed him to gather the roses from the hillside, which is in itself surprising, since blooming roses are rare in December. Juan Diego filled his cloak, or tilma, with the roses, and returned with them to the Archbishop. Upon opening his tilma, the fresh roses fell to the ground, miraculously revealing an imprint of Our Lady’s image. A church was built on the site, and Juan Diego lived out his days nearby, helping others, praying, and doing penance.

Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared in Mexico at a pivotal time when the Spanish and indigenous groups, particularly the Aztecs, were in continual conflict. From her physical representation as a mestizo woman speaking Nahuatl, Our Lady of Guadalupe became an instrument of peace and unification. The image of Our Lady includes colors, patterns, and symbols that hold special significance for the indigenous community, conveying a message of compassion and love.

Now more than 500 years later, people continue to pray to Our Lady of Guadalupe for her intercession to protect and guide them. St. Juan Diego’s tilma is visited by numerous people every day at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Mary, as the mother of God, also makes her mother to all God’s people.

Our Lady of Guadalupe has become an eminent image throughout Latin America and even North America and is often seen as an advocate for migrants and vulnerable populations across the Americas. The Catholic faithful often turn to her to ask for safekeeping as they embark on their long migration journey.

What can you do on December 12th?

  1. PRAY: Attend Mass to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe. On her feast day, remember to pray for migrants, refugees and immigrants. Use this Prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe for Justice.
  2. REFLECT: Learn more about Our Lady of Guadalupe and share her message of Christ’s love for migrants and vulnerable people with your community.
  3. ADVOCATE: Inspired by Our Lady of Guadalupe’s message of unification and her special significance to young people, voice your support for young people in our communities who are facing an uncertain future because of the recent end the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA youth and the larger Dreamer community need legislative protection from Congress to ensure that they are not deported from the only home they have ever known and separated from their families. Send a message to your members of Congress urging passage of the DREAM Act quickly so as not to uproot the lives of so many young people who’ve made enormous contributions to our communities and our economy.

Excerpted with permission from USCCB Justice for Immigrants handout on Our Lady of Guadalupe: Peacebuilder and Unifier.

The Critical Need for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees

The Catholic Relief Services Collection will be taken in many parishes across the country on the weekend of March 25-26 to support humanitarian and pastoral ministries to the vulnerable around the world. The work of The USCCB Office of Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees and Travelers benefits from this collection. To learn more, please visit

In El Cajon, California, a parish composed mostly of refugees and asylees gathers each week to celebrate Mass in the Syriac rite. Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish is part of the Syriac Catholic Diocese of Our Lady of Deliverance and is the center of the community for its members, most of whom fled from Iraq. In my visits to this community last year, I found a faith life that was truly awe inspiring. They are united by their faith and by their culture, and their pastor leads them to building community with one another.

During my first visit in June, I discovered how deeply the pain of their past runs. I was there with Bishop Yousif Behnam Habash, leader of the diocese and a member of the Subcommittee on the Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees and Travelers, as well as Deacon David Hamel, from Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Tulsa, to have a discussion with refugees from the parish and to learn from their experiences and needs as we seek to assist bishops and their dioceses in offering pastoral care to these communities.

The conversation turned to forgiveness. Bishop Habash began to share the importance of forgiving those who have hurt us. He is a leader who is no stranger to this sometimes difficult task. An Iraqi himself, he knows the pain that many in his home country suffer.

As the conversation continued, I noticed a man in the crowd. He was sitting there, listening, and he began to cry. I knew that many in the room had suffered greatly before they came to the United States, but I was not prepared to hear what he would share.

This man shared that his daughter had been killed in Iraq and he was forced to flee to escape the violence. The pain of losing his family and being forced out of his home country was so much to bear. And the task of forgiveness seemed daunting.

So many members of this community carry the pain of a traumatic past. But they carry it to this parish where they find comfort and community with one another. They rely on one another, support one another, celebrate together, and pray together.

During a visit in November, the women’s prayer group invited me to join them for one of their weekday prayer meetings. Many of the women don’t speak English, but they welcomed me and shared their prayer with me. After prayer, everyone met for coffee and donuts and sat around chatting, sharing news and stories, laughing and eating. Their bonds of faith connected and fortified them as they built their lives in the United States.

But this community is not without needs. Refugees and asylees, in particular, need pastoral care to go hand in hand with their humanitarian care. By supporting The Catholic Relief Services Collection, you can help provide pastoral care to marginalized groups around the country. Your support to this national collection will help bring the Gospel to people, like migrants, refugees and travelers, who need to hear its message of comfort and hope.

David Corrales is the Program Coordinator for the USCCB Office of Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees and Travelers

Interreligious Action for Peace

Tom Bamat, CRS' former senior advisor for justice and peacebuilding

Tom Bamat, CRS’ former senior advisor for justice and peacebuilding (Photo by Jim Stipe)

In 2013, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) was awarded a grant to begin a new peacebuilding initiative across six countries on the African continent. Called CIRCA (Capacity for Interreligious Community Action), it has aimed to develop new attitudes, knowledge, and skills among staff and partners for more effective grassroots Muslim-Christian cooperation.  The initiative grew out of local concern about growing interfaith tensions and sporadic acts of violence in East Africa, growing isolation and declining levels of trust among faith communities in Egypt, and the risk of escalating religious extremism in northern Nigeria and Niger.

We were especially blessed in the search for a CIRCA project manager. As I consulted broadly, I was asked to consider a recent graduate of the M.A. program in peacebuilding at the University of Notre Dame named Shamsia Ramadhan.  Not only did she have a solid background in Catholic social teaching and excellent people skills, she was a devout African Muslim.

Since late 2013, Shamsia Ramadhan has been leading workshops with youth and community leaders across Africa on the scriptural foundations and teachings on peace and justice of both Islam and Christianity; on the importance of mutual respect and openness to the “other;” and on practical skills needed to bring people together around local development or “connector” projects. She has simultaneously designed a detailed guidance document for those who wish to replicate or adapt the CIRCA trainings.

On my last international trip before retiring from CRS last October, Shamsia Ramadhan and I joined CRS colleagues in Mindanao in the Philippines to share interreligious experiences from the Philippines and the Balkans, as well as the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. In an extraordinary Oblate parish there, my colleagues and I listened as Muslim, Christian, and indigenous Lumad women told of their shared experiences with armed violence and their efforts for peace.   The mutual respect among them was obvious.  Such respect is foundational to interreligious dialogue and to practical interreligious action for peace.

CIRCA testifies to what Pope Francis stressed in his most recent World Day of Peace message: no religion is terrorist and violence profanes the name of God. Many Christians and Muslims possess a common thirst for interreligious cooperation. I am grateful to have witnessed the impact that Christians and Muslims working together can bring to bear in Africa and so many global contexts.

Tom Bamat is a sociologist and independent peacebuilding consultant.  A former Maryknoll lay missioner, he was CRS’ senior advisor for justice and peacebuilding 2007-2016. 

Going Deeper!

Learn more about CRS’s peacebuilding efforts around the world. Reflect with Pope Francis on his World Day of Peace message, Nonviolence: A Style of Politics for Peace




Catholic Schools: Un-rivaled


Last week our Church joined ecumenical efforts worldwide in praying for and celebrating our Christian Unity. Perhaps Catholic Schools Week will not only be a time to celebrate the great gift and legacy of Catholic education, but also a time to answer our call to Catholic unity, even if that means working with your high school’s arch-rival!

Often times, our Catholic schools may unintentionally compartmentalize our efforts for peace and justice formation. An invitation comes to your high school for your students to participate in a social action. “Oh, stick it his box. He is our peace and justice guy.” Does this sound familiar? That was me. I often had many service or faith-based advocacy invitations from religious congregations, local pro-life and human rights groups, or our diocesan social action office with whom I would have loved for my students to become acquainted. It can sometimes feel like one teacher or campus minister is tasked with a colossal project: introducing our students to Catholic social teaching and the discipleship of living out our faith in society. At least that is how it felt to me.

Until one day about 15 years ago.

It was the run-up to the war in Iraq, and our pope and bishops had been speaking out to slow our nation’s rush to military action. I was a busy high school theology teacher, and my conscience was tugging at me to engage my students with the reality unfolding before our eyes. But I felt somewhat overwhelmed and disconnected – the moral stakes of war were just too big a task for one person to address. Little did I know, I was not alone. The Holy Spirit was about to spark a flame of justice in a new generation, bringing to birth Catholic Schools for Peace and Justice (CSPJ) in the Diocese of Cleveland. A former teacher of mine was feeling the same call to act in his school, so he sent an email to several friends and colleagues from various academic disciplines in high schools across our diocese. He invited us all to meet, and it was this motley collection of mostly teachers and campus ministers who came up with an unrivaled proposal. Eventually, we would approach our bishop and ask if we could gather with students at the Cathedral to pray for peace and continue with a public witness at Cleveland’s Public Square. The collaboration was exhilarating. As adult leaders, we found solidarity with one another in our common struggle to support our students in living out our baptismal call to work for justice and peace. The prayer and witness for peace (2003) exceeded our wildest expectations. We had representative participation from nearly all of the high schools in the diocese, totaling around 750 students and teachers. The collaborative spirit of that event began to spread as an inextinguishable fire. Students and teachers found hope and freedom in joining beyond the parochial boundaries that usually separated us. As in many places, folks from our Catholic high schools in Cleveland most commonly met one another at competitive athletic events or in uncomfortable admissions-related encounters. CSPJ was different. We found common ground in our faith and vocation to live the gospel.

Bishop Anthony Pilla believed in us and guided us to work with our Diocesan Social Action Office to formalize our relationship with one another in this work through renewing annual covenants between the CSPJ adult team and the schools we represented. We have since received the vital support of not only Bishop Pilla, but also his successor, Bishop Richard Lennon. Consequently, CSPJ has been graced with a tremendous cast of partners at each of our schools: encouraging administrators, energetic and emerging student leaders, and a contagiously inspiring mix of both veteran and rookie educators. CSPJ has engaged thousands in the past 15 years through countless events. Our creativity is not bound by the divisive political climate that separates us into “either-or” boxes. Rather, our collective energy arises explicitly from our Catholic “both-and” moral conviction and imagination. We gather annually during Respect Life Month in October for a Mass and public witness where our students courageously share their personal stories and dreams for building a Culture of Life.  This is not a one-issue event. Rather, all life issues in the Consistent Ethic are valued and represented. Following the lead of the Ohio bishops, CSPJ has also advocated for the end of the death penalty through our presence at vigils at the

Southern Ohio Correctional Facility during executions. We have organized public witnesses at the Statehouse, including “Wheels for Justice,” a 3-day, 150-mile bicycle trip from Cleveland to Columbus (2006). Other highlights over the years include:

Some may not think it possible that long-time high school rivals can work together. But when we come together with humble hearts, the Holy Spirit may grant us a glimpse of the unity we seek – realizing we’re all on the same team.augie-pacetti

Augie Pacetti is a co-founder of Catholic Schools for Peace and Justice and serves as Director of Campus Ministry at Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Ohio.

 Going Deeper

Read more about Catholic Schools for Peace and Justice on our website. There, you can also access resources and educational activities to engage high school students in learning about Catholic social teaching and poverty.


Encountering Our Muslim Brothers and Sisters

After a moment of silent prayer on Wednesday afternoon, July 27, 2016, I offered the following prayer, as we sat down for a light lunch:

God our Creator, God of compassion,

 pour out on us a spirit of truth, understanding and good will,

that we may come to know with all our hearts

 what is truly pleasing to You and with one accord,

pursue together all that pleases You.

May our coming to know one another more deeply give You glory

 and may the manner of our lives give You honor.   


Thus began a meal and conversation with our Bosnian Muslim neighbors who are preparing to dedicate their mosque here in St. Louis, Missouri. We ate with Imam Eldin ef. Susa, the spiritual leader of the Bosnian Muslim community; Alija Dzekic, President of the Board of the St. Louis Islamic Center; and, Akif Cogo, who is the President of St. Louis Bosnians Inc., a local nonprofit, and planned to be married in the new mosque in mid-August.

We discussed the experience of Bosnian immigrants in the United States and here in St. Louis.  We shared some of our feeble knowledge of the religion of Islam and asked some clarifying questions.  Our Bosnian friends appreciated our welcome, our interest in their welfare, and our curiosity about their religion.  At our own parish, Fr. Lydon and I felt the need to preach about welcoming the stranger as our Bosnian neighbors were building a mosque in the neighborhood.  The construction site created some tension in the community because Islam is misunderstood.  The true religion was hijacked by extremists, and just as secularists in our modern culture misunderstand and stereotype Catholics, so do many Muslims suffer from the same kind of stereotyping.

Muslims do not want us to conclude that their religion is best represented by ISIS or the Taliban.  Neither do I want Muslims to conclude that Christianity is best represented by The Army of God, a network of violent Christians that promotes the killing of abortion providers, or the Jim Jones cult or The Phineas Priesthood, who believe in white superiority. These groups are no more representative of Christianity than the Taliban and ISIS are of Islam.  Vatican II taught that Islam, Judaism, and Christianity are the three great monotheistic religions in the world, all of which claim Abraham as our father in faith and believe in the one God who reveals Himself in history.

Muslims prize religious freedom, family ties, education and morality in social and personal realms.  With the overwhelming power of secularism in our society, those of us who believe in the One God who reveals Himself in history have far more in common than not.

We must work together to protect and cherish religious freedom in the public arena.  Our parishioners visited the St. Louis Islamic Center NUR (The Light) Mosque Open House recently, where we received the warm welcome and hospitality of our Bosnian neighbors.

We look forward to continuing our mutually enriching encounter with our Muslim brothers and sisters in the future.

Fr. Paul Rothschild is pastor of St. Dominic Savio parish in St. Louis, Missouri.

Going Deeper
Learn how to reach out and encounter your Muslim brothers and sisters in your community using these resources from the USCCB Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. You may also be interested in this video on Catholic-Muslim dialogue and the Generations of Faith video and manual on interreligious, intercultural, intergenerational dialogue.