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.”

Giving Thanks for Blessings Bestowed

On the evening of February 20, 2015 Catholic Relief Services hosted a 40th Anniversary Rice Bowl event at the The Wilde Lake Interfaith Center in Columbia, MD. Featured at the event were Nationally acclaimed Spirit and Song singers ValLimar Jansen and Pedro Rubalcava and CRS staff and Rice Bowl Speaker Thomas Awiapo.

On the evening of February 20, 2015 Catholic Relief Services hosted a 40th Anniversary Rice Bowl event at the The Wilde Lake Interfaith Center in Columbia, MD. Featured at the event were Nationally acclaimed Spirit and Song singers ValLimar Jansen and Pedro Rubalcava and CRS staff and Rice Bowl Speaker Thomas Awiapo.

As a child growing up in Ghana, my parents died leaving three of my siblings and me to fend for ourselves. The four of us suffered the pain of hunger every day in our little bellies.

Sometimes, all that it takes is a just a little act of kindness to change a life, to save a life. For me, that act of kindness was the smell of food cooking in the school supported by Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl program. I followed the smell of the food to the gate of the school and my whole life completely changed and put me on a path to a better future.

Now, I represent living proof of what your forty-one years of Lenten sacrifices can do in the world. I hold a Master’s in Public Administration and am blessed with a wife and four beautiful children – happy kids who have never known hunger and who are in school and college as well.

For 8 weeks now, I have travelled coast to coast of the United States of America with a simple but very important message: the message of gratitude, the message of thanksgiving for the gift of CRS Rice Bowl and its life-changing effects around the world.

Once upon a time, Jesus cured ten people of leprosy, one of the worse diseases of the time. Only one of those people came back to thank Jesus for cleansing him. Through four decades of unwavering Lenten sacrifices to CRS Rice Bowl, you have cured many people, families and communities of their leprosy of hunger, disease and poverty. Unlike the miracle of the ten lepers where only one of them came back to thank Jesus, I have come on behalf of all the other nine lepers as well to say thank you for participating in CRS Rice Bowl and changing lives.

May you have a wonderful resurrection experience at Easter and may you be blessed for being merciful.

GHA2014092996_300pxThomas Awiapo is the Global Solidarity Coordinator for Catholic Relief Services in Ghana.


Deepen your experience of Holy Week with these resources.

 

Hope in the Lord — A cardboard Rice Bowl and family spirituality

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz

When I read letters from those preparing for Confirmation (the majority of whom are in eighth grade), I always look at what they say about their sponsors. It is usually the most unique part of their letters. Lately these letters include a lot of information about shared meals with sponsors.

I am not surprised. In our culture, we seem to downplay this idea of eating together. We are famous for drive-through lines and food we can eat with our fingers, preferably while we multi-task at TV watching, media communication or driving a car. I have noticed that car ads seem to say little about how a car works and more about the amenities inside … free Wi-Fi, DVD players, and so on.

When a young person stumbles upon a meal shared with someone they really like, something rises up in the very DNA. These meals reveal to the Confirmation candidates the power of being with someone who cares about them and with whom they are sharing a journey.

This is why I believe we are ready for a resurgence of the Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl program. It’s about sharing a meal that means a lot and much, much more.

This Rice Bowl initiative originated in my backyard back in Pennsylvania in the mid-1970s. A priest of the Diocese of Allentown, Msgr. Bob Coll, then in charge of the Propagation of the Faith and with ties to Catholic Relief Services, came up with this very visible way to help Catholics practice the Lenten call to pray, fast and give alms.

In the beginning, it was a cardboard dish with instructions on what to do. Now it is a ready-to-put-together box that receives the coins we want to give to those with great needs and that includes a handout with helpful resources, such as a Lenten calendar, meatless meals from around the world and stories about those who are helped.

The simple cardboard box can provide your family with a way to share a meal together, observe a Lenten fast, pray and give alms. The idea is so simple. First, it is about sharing family meals, perhaps on Fridays of Lent when we observe the discipline of meatless meals.

The meal itself is worth all of our Lenten energy. Young people really enjoy the tradition of sharing a meal, once it is introduced, and we older folk yearn for it too. Keep the meal simple. Canned tuna or bread and soup work very well. (And the Rice Bowl resources include possible meatless meals from around the world.) Pray together before and after the meal.

Then there is the calculation. What would I normally have spent on this meal and have now saved with this simple fare? This amount is put in your Rice Bowl and at the end of Lent, passed on through your parish to Catholic Charities.

Then there is the adventure of looking into who was helped. Twenty-five percent of the donations are distributed locally to organizations that address the corporal works of mercy, such as St. Vincent de Paul, St. John Center for the homeless and the Cathedral’s soup kitchen. For information about how funds are used internationally by Catholic Relief Services (CRS), click here.

Having gone to Africa, the Philippines and Haiti with Catholic Relief Services, I know firsthand of the tremendous good done!

Finally, there is assessing the spiritual benefit to your household: a meal shared, a conversation at the table about those more in need, and a prayer that is matched by a donation.

In most parishes, free Rice Bowls are available for you and your family to use. If you can’t find any, go to  http://www.crsricebowl.org/families for resources for families.

Most Rev. Joseph Kurtz is the archbishop of Louisville and president of the USCCB.


This post originally appeared in The Record, Kentucky’s largest weekly newspaper, serving the Catholic Community in Central Kentucky since 1879.”