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.

Hope “pierces the heart” of a diocese new to organizing


The closing of the liturgical year and the Feast of Christ the King fell, this year, just after the U.S. presidential elections. Such timing prompts me to ask, what does God’s reign look like on earth? Among a divided world, how does one rule with peace and justice? Who would be better equipped to ensure the good of his people than one who knows suffering, family poverty, and being outcast?

prophetic-voting-hitting-the-streetsIn my diocese here in the Northeastern corner of Indiana, the sovereignty of Christ’s power has been made manifest in new ways throughout the last six months. A humble group– immigrants, returning citizens, foreign priests, low-income lay leaders, and average every-day parishioners – heard God’s call for justice and participation and took on new habits, words, and ways of seeing themselves and the world.

What does their love look like in public? Here are a few freeze frames:

  • Pastors dismayed by their parishioners’ disinterest in current events, slimmed attention spans, and even illiteracy issued calls from the pulpit about the need to consider the entirety of Church teaching when forming their consciences and challenged them to move beyond partisan comfort camps;
  • Ethnicities unfamiliar with working together shared stories of similar pain and worry with each other and partnered to knock on the doors of some of the most destitute neighborhoods in our diocese;
  • Undocumented immigrants, who cannot vote and barely survive in the shadows, held voter registration tables and conducted hundreds of calls to encourage those who can to vote their values, even when those values stood in stark contrast to their own;
  • Men and women working multiple part-time jobs made time, often despite family criticism, to be trained in Catholic social teaching, the parameters of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, and the kinds of decisions local and state governments make every day that determine the conditions of our lives.

Even the night when our country finally elected its president, Christ’s kingship still rang out across our land. Amid moments of frailty and fragility, as those same leaders from the voting effort were working the third shift at a manufacturing plant and their co-workers exchanged excitement for the time when “immigrants will go running like cock-roaches”; or, in the days that followed, as students hid in lockers as kids chanted brazen slogans in the hallways and parents were caught speechless as their children gaze into their eyes asking “what is going to happen to us?” – the Kingdom keeps yeasting.

stpatligandbrothersIn the quiet solitude of our hearts, we remember a reality that is unchanged – God is the King of the World. We let the truth radiate outward from there, and soon we cannot help but recommit to the work of overcoming hate, indifference, and ignorance through the hallmarks of mercy and the audacity of hope.

As people of faith, we must continue our efforts to keep immigrant families together, promote religious liberty, ensure the vulnerable have access to adequate health care and emergency assistance, work for racial justice, reform the criminal justice system, and care for all God’s creation.

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:28). And organize!


audrey-davisAudrey Davis is the Director for the Office of Social Justice for the Diocese of Fort Wayne- South Bend, Indiana.

This pocket of former manufacturing and agricultural glory is today home to the 17th highest incarceration rate on the globe, and where only 30% of jobs pay a family wage. Through the Prophetic Voting Campaign, the diocese partnered with IndyCAN to make its foray into community organizing, through which four low-income parishes joined together to hold sacred conversations with 1,787 low-income voters, register 80 new voters, and spread the message of human dignity and justice through 6 news stories.

Going Deeper

Visit the PovertyUSA.org map to find out where people of faith are organizing for and with those who are poor and vulnerable in your community. Join them!


Always Walking, Always Acting with Justice

“Lord, who shall be admitted to your tent and dwell on your holy mountain? He who walks without fault; he who acts with justice…” – Psalm 15:1-2

This past Friday, Monsignor Marvin A. Mottet, diocesan priest for the Diocese of Davenport, died peacefully. He was 86.

Monsignor Mottet established the Social Action Office in the Diocese of Davenport in 1969. Later, he served as the National Director of the Campaign for Human Development, which is now known as the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. He was instrumental in incubating four dozen projects which were spun off as autonomous service agencies still active today. He would walk with them to the point that they could do so on their own.


In 2012, Msgr. Mottet received the Servant of Justice Award from the Roundtable Association of Catholic Diocesan Social Action Directors.

For the past seven years, while serving as the Director of Social Action for the Diocese of Davenport, I have benefited greatly from Monsignor Mottet’s wisdom, from his written words and legacy, and from his personal mentoring.

Shortly after beginning, I familiarized myself with The Two Feet of Social Justice, created by Monsignor Mottet, now known by many more in the United States as the Two Feet of Love in Action. I first learned of the combination of charity and justice as Monsignor described and was empowered to share with parishes groups across the diocese. It might seem a simple model, but it is no less powerful. And folks have shown they can go from their experiences of providing for immediate needs to looking at ways to make systemic change.

And Monsignor Mottet supported and encouraged my development as a diocesan director by encouraging me to attend week-long, faith-based community organizer training. He stated his belief that every diocesan director should go through training in order to learn how to affect change, how to empower the disenfranchised, how to teach about power so that it is understood as meaning the ability to affect change. Learning about and in turn teaching others about the benefits of mutual self-interest is at its very core a means of showing dignity and respect to the life of the other, so very necessary in pursuing peace and justice.

Even during his last years, after he was no longer joining us on legislative visits, at rallies and protests, he still attended office team meetings, still wanted to get updates over meals. He continued on with phone calls and emails to elected officials on a variety of justice issues. And most importantly, he supported us and encouraged us on our team.

During his last few days, as people came to visit him, he began to leave each individual with a similar message; as long as you are breathing, use your power and do the work. It was never Monsignor’s work, but rather God’s work walking with both feet towards justice. To honor his legacy, we now continue our walk with his/our Two Feet.

Kent Ferris is Social Action and Catholic Charities Director in the Diocese of Davenport.


Msgr. Marv, Friend of the Poor, Companion to the Oppressed

Last week, like many people, I paused, shed a brief tear, offered a prayer, and then found myself with a big smile. So many people were saddened to hear of the death of Msgr. Marv Mottet, my predecessor as Director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. I shed a tear at the loss of such a champion for the poor who worked most of his 86 years on behalf of those in need. He was always one with quick wit and charm. But he was also one who would swiftly challenge systems that oppressed and kept poor people down. His embrace of the Gospel was synonymous with his embrace of “the other.” He could not separate the two. Monsignor had a way of correcting, confronting and instructing a person in way that neither demeaned or degraded. I stand as a beneficiary of his strong affirmations and his quick and appropriate admonishments. He had a way of doing both with Christian love. His humility led him to live in Catholic Worker houses and homeless shelters, and to eat at soup kitchens; not because he couldn’t do better but because he placed high value of encountering the poor and looked for creative ways to embrace them and understand their stories.

He once shared with me that one of his proudest moments was when he had the audacity to invite Martin Luther King Jr. to receive the Diocese of Davenport’s Pacem in Terris Award. Msgr. Marv, in his humble manner, called up MLK, told him about the award and asked him when he would be arriving in Iowa to receive it. Dr. King, taken aback, told him that despite a busy schedule, he was honored. In a cassette tape Marv shared with me of the award presentation, Dr. King remarked “Who would believe that a Black Baptist minister named Martin Luther would be receiving an award from a Catholic priest?”

Upon hearing of Msgr. Marv’s death, I also had to smile. Just thinking of Marv’s smile, I could not help myself. Smiling within my grief. I recalled the joy he shared and the contagious laughter he so often freely offered. He has been a wonderful gift to me and countless others. I had to smile because I know what has been promised to those who live lives like Msgr. Marv Mottet. Those who care for the poor, those who pursue justice, those who walk humbly. Rest in Peace Msgr. Marvin Mottet, Good and Faithful Servant.


Ralph McCloud is Director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Reflections for the Day of Prayer for Peace in our Communities (Sept. 9)

Deacon Al Turner, MTS

Deacon Al Turner, MTS

We as Christians know that we are called to “love our neighbor as our self.” If we want peace we must work for justice – and peace does justice. The way of the world is to seek and hold on to power, to dominate the “other.” The racial strife we are now experiencing is about superiority. One group has made another group a threat to its privileged status. One group is in fear of the other. This otherness can be culturally, class, or racially based. No matter. If power is not used for the good of those under that power, peace cannot follow. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

Power, if it is justly administered, must be done out of love. So love is the answer. If we are to have peace in our communities, we Catholics must be among those who are engaged in the struggle. “How?” you may ask. First and foremost, we must live our lives as though we believe in the Gospel. We must love one another as Christ loves us; love all of our neighbors as ourselves, regardless of our station in life, our race, our culture, or our religion. We must work with ministries and agencies which promote the equality of and equal opportunities for human beings. Be part of the solution. Be an “accepting” person. We live in a very culturally diverse society. We must accept this new reality. Intolerance is a learned behavior. It is learned at a young age. So, it is important that our efforts begin early on. Scripture is full of teaching on the merits of loving one’s neighbor. As the faithful, we should lead the way, by example.

There are programs which teach us how to develop this quality. Recent studies have shown that acceptance education is most effective between the ages of four and nine years of age, and several programs have been developed to help educators teach students how to relate to others from different backgrounds and cultures. One such pilot project Mix It Up at Lunch Day by the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division, which has begun in elementary, middle, high schools, and colleges nationwide. It encourages students to identify, question, and go beyond the restrictions of social boundaries.

For adults in ministry, ordained and lay, there are opportunities to obtain the skills to minister in a tolerant and loving manner to the diverse people of God. The Catholic bishops have developed programs which fall into the category of living out our call to embrace the other and make them our brother and sister. The Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers program teaches from the Catholic perspective the skills which are essential to bringing about peace and doing justice to all.

That is what our Lord has commanded of us: to “love one another as I have loved you.” These programs and many more can assist us in living out our lives as witnesses to Christ, the Prince of Peace and the author of justice for the entire world. We can be part of the solution.

Deacon Al Turner, MTS, is the former Director of the Office of Black Catholics for the Archdiocese of Washington and is currently assigned to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Largo, MD.

Going Deeper

Join faith communities around the United States to celebrate the Sept. 9 Day of Prayer for Peace in Our Communities.

Visit the USCCB webpage on Racism for a prayer card, Prayer of the Faithful, study  materials, and real stories of how faith communities are working for peace and racial justice.  You can also participate in the Sept. 14 YouTube Live event on Racial Justice.

Migration is not the problem

Migration has been a constant through human history. In recent years, there is a growing perception among policy makers and states that migration, especially of low skill migrants, is a problem, especially as  migration from Central America and Mexico to the United States continues in spite of efforts to “seal the border” both in the United States and Mexico.

Additionally, the Obama Administration’s deportations have reached record numbers. The Mexican and Central American governments, despite some efforts, have been unable to absorb a large number of deportees and to help them reintegrate in society.

But sealing borders and increasing deportation ignores the actual problems at the root of the migration crisis, such as poverty, lack of economic opportunity, and violence.

In the Northern region of the Americas there are important migration issues that deserve attention and analysis: (1) Migrants from the “Northern Triangle” (Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador) who continue venturing through the Migration Corridor in Mexico are exposed to multiple dangers ranging from violence from criminal gangs to abuses from immigration authorities. (2) Along the corridor there has been a growing number of humanitarian responses, many of them faith based, which advocate for and assist migrants along their journey.  (3) The deployment of military forces and migration officers along the U.S. border with Mexico and the increasing violence and activity of criminal gangs on Mexican territory make irregular crossings to the U.S. a daunting task.  (4) Migrants who have made it to the U.S. usually face challenges as they try both to acculturate and live under the radar as undocumented migrants.  None of these scenarios is exhaustive.

These serious issues are a call to accompany, serve, and advocate on behalf of these populations that are at the margins of our society.

Migration is a worldwide priority of the Society of Jesus and a focus area for advocacy at the Jesuit Conference in the United States. The Jesuit Conference has been sponsoring a five-week Migration Immersion Experience for Jesuits in formation.  The journey begins in Los Angeles with a three-day seminar to understand certain dynamics of migration and the type of experience we will have.  We then visit El Progreso, Honduras, to understand the context of origin.  We continue moving through the migrant corridor in Mexico visiting shelters that provide services to and advocate for migrants in transit.  We conclude by visiting the California Valley to understand destination contexts.

During this experience, we visit shelters, human rights organizations, parishes, and particular Jesuit projects that assist migrants. The goal is to offer Jesuits in formation a firsthand experience of the reality of migration, as well as to inform them of the political and pastoral challenges involved in it.

In 2015, I led the migration immersion experience for six Jesuit scholastics (four Americans and two Mexicans), with the sponsorship of the Social and International Ministries of the Jesuit Conference in the United States and the Mexican Province of the Jesuits.

We saw firsthand the phenomenon of migration through visits to the “Northern Triangle (Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras), the Mexican Migration Corridor, and some immigrant communities in the U.S. in order to understand migration from various viewpoints. It was also an opportunity to reflect on opportunities for ministry among migrants.

The experience was transformative for all of us. It allowed for a deep encounter with Christ at the margins; an experience where dynamics of our founder Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises became alive for all of us; and an experience of solidarity for the international Society of Jesus as we discover ourselves as “Jesuits being called together and being on mission.”

Alejandro Olayo-Mendez, SJ is pursuing a DPhil in International Development at the Oxford Department of International Development (ODID). His research proposal is titled ‘Migration and Humanitarian Aid along The Mexican Migration Corridor.’

Go Deeper!

At WeAreSaltAndLight.org, read more stories about faith communities encountering migrants:

The Sluggish Pursuit of Racial Justice

(CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

(CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

The U.S. Bishops said it back in 1979 with “Brothers And Sisters to Us.”  Their words continue to have a powerful impact in the Catholic community:

“Racism is a sin, a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father.  Racism is a sin that says some human beings are inherently superior and others essentially inferior because of race … it mocks the words of Jesus, ‘Treat others the way you would have them treat you.’”

Racial and ethnic strife have remained issues the Church has addressed from the very beginning. Now in our present day, in a climate of ever-expanding freedoms, every Christian is obliged to apply Christ-like critique to personal preferences and judgments in effort to steer clear of seeing others as somehow different.

“They are not like us” is something we hear commonly said.  So, we avoid their neighborhoods.  We avoid social interaction with those people.  We stand from a distance and imagine how bad they are in order to justify our lack of involvement with them.  And ‘because those kinds of people are different, they are not necessarily entitled to, or they don’t deserve, or are not interested in working toward what resourceful and otherwise people like me are entitled to or work for.’

Added to this is the fear of shortages, the fear that we are not treated fairly in comparison to others, the fear of foreigners entering our space.  Regular media reports about the encroachment of refugees and migrants seeking respite from war and conflict, religious or ethnic persecution typically stir fear in people.  While it is a human penchant to differentiate, differentiation acts counter the sensibilities of the Christian message of love of neighbor we received from Jesus Christ.

We look to the Christian template in Acts 2, which inspires mixed class, mixed race and mixed generational communities, and we see that it must translate to our faith communities, as well. Communities in which we would never aspire towards mono-racial parishes because we would recognize they are incomplete, admitting that we are responsible for the application, punctuation and scheduling the universality of God’s kingdom, which is always the higher rubric in the Christian dispensation.

Indeed, the social imperatives found in the gospel are some of the most challenging messages to get across in preaching and Christian formation. It is a genuine struggle getting these ideals across to people, even to sincere Christians.  Material wealth and well-being are deemed manna from heaven. People prefer to live this way – economic advantage and opportunity enable us to live this way. But as positive as advantage, free enterprise and choice are deemed in our democracy, they unwittingly work a divide in the human community.

The City of Chicago is often representative of some of the most glaring disparities in opportunity: housing, education and access to health care.  Disproportionate numbers of people of color live in misery, condemned to lives of desperation, fueled by depression, and crime chosen as a path by anti-social elements in the sub culture.  Adding to the challenge of the Christian task are the people on the other side who easily dispense themselves from indifference and numbness felt in the face of some overwhelming social inequities surrounding us.

Whereas our nation has addressed many legal barriers to ending racism with civil rights legislation, we must continue to be vigilant for we are now challenged to deal with attitudinal and economic barriers to ending racism. The Church’s voice, strong in instances, muted in others, has tried to break through social walls that divide.  We find that people listen and may even nod in the affirmative to what is preached, but certain stubborn social patterns continue.

Christian faith affords us opportunities to reach to the deepest recesses of our hearts to search out attitudes and dispositions and information from our rearing that need discarding if we would live as a redeemed people. For example: ‘From where do my impressions of others originate?  Do I tend to label people or place them in categories?  Do I tend to expect the worse or the best from others regardless who they are?  When are the numbers of minorities close by too many for my comfort level?

What attitudes and approaches are we leaving to the young in legacy so they can help eradicate this original and pernicious sin of our society called racism?

Most Reverend Joseph Perry is an Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago and Episcopal Vicar for Vicariate VI. Bishop Perry is the Diocesan Postulator for the Cause of Canonization of Father Augustus Tolton.

This blog post was adapted for ToGoForth. Read the original version on the Catholic Chicago Blog.

This week, Catholics from all over the country are gathering to pray and learn about what it means to dismantle internalized judgments of our neighbor. The Social Action Summer Institute hosts a number of sessions to help bring about this clarity at Saint Xavier University on July 17-21st. For more information, visit: www.chicagopeaceandjustice.org/SASI. You can also follow the conversation on social media #SASI2016.

Wage Theft: A Threat to the Worker and to Economic Development

Don Bosco's Gonzalo Cruz with Cardinal Dolan at Pope's Workshop

Don Bosco’s Gonzalo Cruz with Cardinal Dolan

Wage theft is not only an urban problem. Don Bosco Workers began as a parish program at Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Westchester County in 2000. The program was in response to the growing social unrest in Port Chester over “workers on the corners” and the alarming levels of wage theft as a consequence of workers being uninformed and unaffiliated.

A Catholic Campaign for Human Development — the domestic anti-poverty program of the Catholic bishops of the United States — grantee beginning in 2006, we incorporated in 2008 including a worker-driven board of directors. Today, we represent more 200 paid members organized as a General Assembly of Workers who decide on how to strengthen the organization through skills training, leadership development, and education.

In September 2014, in collaboration with Communications Workers of America, Local 1103 in Port Chester, we launched a new campaign to address wage theft as a threat not only to the Westchester worker but to economic development throughout the county. No Pay No Way: Wage Theft Is Bad For Business educates the community on how responsible business owners suffer, when other businesses fail to follow labor law. Research shows responsible businesses are simply less competitive because their cost of doing business (paying their workers) is higher.

Just about one year into No Pay No Way, we collaborated with the Attorney General of New York in the prosecution of a local restaurant owner for wage, overtime, and safety violations for five female workers. The employer was sentenced to repayment of $47,000. The women are now thinking about investing their recovered wages in a worker-owned eco-cleaning business.

Last year, we were honored to construct the chair that Pope Francis used when he celebrated Mass at Madison Square Garden. We were called the Pope’s workers, and this continues to inspire our work for justice.

When workers are treated fairly according to the law, workers and responsible small business thrive, and there is greater economic development for all.

Gonzalo Cruz is the Director for Don Bosco Workers, Inc.

Go Deeper!

As Don Bosco Workers, Inc. works to protect worker rights, visit this page from WeAreSaltAndLight.org which contains resources on ethical practices for business leaders and institutions.”