From Prison to Rome: The Impact of the Year of Mercy on Reentry

Dominic and his children get their boarding passes for Rome

Dominic and his children get their boarding passes for Rome

Rome was an amazing trip – it was more than I ever imagined, and to have my wife and children join me was the icing on the cake! I’ve dreamed of being able to take my family out of the country and experience some amazing places like Rome, but what was even more amazing was the reason why we were invited to Rome. The Jubilee Year of Mercy Mass, dedicated to those who are incarcerated and prison and jail ministers, reinforced and gave even more assurance that the work we do in re-entry with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is touched and blessed by God!

In his homily, Pope Francis shared, “We know that in God’s eyes no one can consider himself just (Rom 2:1-11). But no one can live without the certainty of finding forgiveness! The repentant thief, crucified at Jesus’ side, accompanied him into paradise (Lk 23:43). So may none of you allow yourselves to be held captive by the past! True enough, even if we wanted to, we can never rewrite the past. But the history that starts today, and looks to the future, has yet to be written, by the grace of God and your personal responsibility. By learning from past mistakes, you can open a new chapter of your lives. Let us never yield to the temptation of thinking that we cannot be forgiven. Whatever our hearts may accuse us of, small or great, ‘God is greater than our hearts’ (1 Jn 3:20). We need but entrust ourselves to his mercy.”

Tiffany Hunter, Jeffery Whalen, and Dominic Duren - three returning citizens who went to Rome for the pilgrimage

Tiffany Hunter, Jeffery Whalen, and Dominic Duren – three returning citizens who went to Rome for the pilgrimage

My trip to Rome had me thinking of my faith and ways to not only strengthen my relationship with God, but my wife’s and children’s as well.  We take for granted the martyrs that sacrificed their lives for merely the right to worship. Pope Francis’ homily is affirmation that God is touching the work we do and the path we are taking is the right one.

I’m so blessed to be part of this movement that not only saved my life but turned me into a leader and gave me an opportunity to help others who struggle to get their lives back on track after incarceration.

The Cincinnati delegation prepares to depart to Rome

The Cincinnati delegation prepares to depart to Rome

To be able to attend a Mass led by the Pope is a once in lifetime experience. But to attend a Mass by the Pope that focuses on those who are formerly incarcerated and their was mind blowing! I’m grateful for the opportunity to broaden my horizons by the experience I had in Rome. I learned so much and have such a greater appreciation for the sacrifices people made for their faith. I want to thank the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Brother Mike Murphy, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and each and every person that attended the pilgrimage to Rome for the amazing experience that I and my family had.

The work we do is hard and frustrating at times but Pope Francis has inspired me to do more, as much as humanly possible: educate, connect, engage, build meaningful relationships, organize, and advance issues that build safe, loving, and thriving communities! To have Pope Francis’ support and encouragement for the fair treatment of those who are formerly incarcerated is evidence that our suffering is not going unheard or unseen. I have not felt this hopeful in a very long time!!!!

Thank you, Pope Francis, for providing hope to a population of people who have been hopeless for far too long!

Dominic Duren was among those from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati invited to the Vatican for a Jubilee Year of Mercy Mass for people who are incarcerated and those who minister in prisons and jails. He is the Re-entry Coordinator for The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Cincinnati Ohio.


Going Deeper!

Lear more about St. Vincent de Paul’s two major reentry projects in Cincinnati:

The Help Program, founded by Br. Mike Murphy and provides the leadership development and community support for the returning citizens.

BLOC Print is a social enterprise that provides training and jobs.

CCHD: A Voice of Hope for Those on the Margins

The USCCB collection to support the Catholic Campaign for Human Development will be taken up in parishes nationwide on the weekend of November 19-20. Please give generously.working-on-the-margins

 

Pope Francis reminds us, “we Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it” (2014 Message for Lent, December 26, 2013).

For the past several years I have served as chair of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) subcommittee, where I have seen how CCHD answers this call by giving voice to those on the margins of society experiencing the stark realities of poverty. I want to share with you the work of a few CCHD-supported groups across the country. These are just some of the many programs that speak to the dignity of each person, opening doors and providing hope for a more just and peaceful society.

The California Catholic Conference works with dioceses throughout California to advocate for criminal justice reform and provide spiritual outreach for communities. With a grant from CCHD, the California Catholic Conference expanded its Nightwalk programs in neighborhoods all over California. During Nightwalk—an event led by community leaders, elected officials, and clergy—community members walk the streets of violence-prone neighborhoods together in an effort to promote peace and reconciliation. These walks unify communities and give them a chance to find pathways out of violence together. Just as it is important to unify communities, it is also important to heal the wounds of individuals affected by crime and violence. The California Catholic Conference also sponsors healing circles that bring both victims of crime and families of the incarcerated together for honest dialogue and healing. By training more leaders to facilitate these meetings, the restorative power of God’s compassion and mercy is more widely spread. As Bishop Richard Garcia of the Diocese of Monterey said, “It’s really a question of reaching out to everyone with that merciful love of our God.”

 Through a CCHD national strategic grant, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has been working across the country to promote the safe, effective entry of citizens returning from incarceration into communities and into the workforce. Through St. Vincent de Paul’s partnership with local Catholic institutions and the business community, as well as through programs like job training, returning citizens are able to find jobs, stability, and a future. In an effort to break the cycle of crime and prison reentry, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul also empowers returning citizens to work for the systemic changes needed to promote criminal justice reform. With these new skills, they have been able to advocate for policies that will support fair hiring practices. Through these programs and partnerships, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is shifting systems to ensure the success of returning citizens.

Pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati's prison ministries are seen in Rome Nov. 3. Pope Francis will celebrate a Mass for those who work in prison ministry Nov. 6 in St. Peter's Basilica. (CNS photo/Junno Arocho Esteves)

Pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s prison ministries are seen in Rome Nov. 3. Pope Francis will celebrate a Mass for those who work in prison ministry Nov. 6 in St. Peter’s Basilica. (CNS photo/Junno Arocho Esteves)

Often, when juveniles are arrested their record follows them their whole lives, decreasing their chances of finding gainful employment and increasing their chances of reoffending. Together with the Catholic bishops, groups like the Direct Action and Research Training Center (DART) in Miami are working to reduce the number of juvenile arrests, giving children a real chance at success. Thanks to a strategic national grant from CCHD, DART works with school and law enforcement officials to decrease the number of school-based arrests and promote alternative, constructive interventions that give children a second chance at their future. Because of their work, school systems are now able to implement restorative justice practices affecting over 65,000 students and resulting in a decrease in suspensions and arrests.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) works to be a voice of hope for those on the margins of society experiencing the realities of living in poverty. CCHD supports programs to heal the wounds of crime and violence, advocate for more just policies, protect God’s creation, and develop strong communities.

The Mercy of Jesus is abiding and always urgent. CCHD sustains the Holy Father’s initiative to bring the joy of the gospel to our brothers and sisters living on the margins of American life. Although we will soon conclude the Year of Mercy, a time of extraordinary grace, we know that our work has just begun.

Bishop Soto

Jaime Soto is the bishop of Sacramento and the chairman of the USCCB’s Catholic Campaign for Human Development.


CCHD: Dando Voz a Los Que Viven en la Periferia de la Sociedad

El papa Francisco nos recuerda que “los cristianos estamos llamados a mirar las miserias de los hermanos, a tocarlas, a hacernos cargo de ellas y a realizar obras concretas a fin de aliviarlas” (Mensaje para la Cuaresma 2014, 26 de diciembre de 2013).

Durante los últimos años me he desempeñado como presidente del subcomité de la Campaña Católica para el Desarrollo Humano (CCHD), donde he visto cómo la CCHD responde a este llamado dando voz a los que viven en la periferia de la sociedad experimentando las crudas realidades de la pobreza. Quiero compartir con ustedes el trabajo de algunos grupos apoyados por la CCHD en todo el país. Son sólo algunos de los muchos programas que ponen de manifiesto la dignidad de cada persona, abriendo puertas y brindando esperanza para una sociedad más justa y pacífica.

La Conferencia Católica de California trabaja con diócesis de toda California para abogar por la reforma de la justicia penal y brindar acercamiento espiritual a las comunidades. Con una subvención de la CCHD, la Conferencia Católica de California expandió sus programas Nightwalk en vecindarios de toda California. Durante Nightwalk, un evento dirigido por líderes, funcionarios electos y clérigos de una comunidad, miembros de la comunidad caminan juntos por las calles de vecindarios propensos a la violencia para promover la paz y la reconciliación. Estas caminatas unifican a las comunidades y les dan la oportunidad de encontrar juntas salidas a la violencia. Así como es importante unificar las comunidades, también es importante curar las heridas de las personas afectadas por el delito y la violencia. La Conferencia Católica de California también patrocina círculos de curación que reúnen a víctimas del delito y familias de los encarcelados para sostener un proceso honesto de diálogo y curación. Al capacitar a más líderes para facilitar estas reuniones, el poder restaurador de la compasión y misericordia de Dios se difunde más ampliamente. Como dijo el obispo Richard García, de la diócesis de Monterey, “es realmente una cuestión de acercarse a todos con ese amor misericordioso de nuestro Dios”.

Mediante una subvención estratégica nacional de la CCHD, la Sociedad de San Vicente de Paúl ha estado trabajando en todo el país para promover la entrada segura y efectiva de los ciudadanos que regresan del encarcelamiento a las comunidades y a la fuerza de trabajo. Mediante la asociación de San Vicente de Paúl con instituciones católicas locales y la comunidad empresarial, así como mediante programas como capacitación laboral, los ciudadanos que regresan pueden encontrar trabajo, estabilidad y un futuro. En un esfuerzo por romper el ciclo de delito y reingreso a prisión, la Sociedad de San Vicente de Paúl también empodera a los ciudadanos que regresan para que trabajen por los cambios sistémicos necesarios para promover la reforma de la justicia penal. Con estas nuevas habilidades, han podido abogar por políticas que apoyen prácticas equitativas de contratación. A través de estos programas y asociaciones, la Sociedad de San Vicente de Paúl está cambiando sistemas para asegurar el éxito de los ciudadanos que regresan.

A menudo, cuando los menores son arrestados sus antecedentes penales los siguen toda su vida, disminuyendo sus posibilidades de encontrar empleo decente y aumentando sus posibilidades de reincidir. Junto con los obispos católicos, grupos como el Direct Action and Research Training Center (DART) de Miami están trabajando para reducir el número de detenciones de menores, dando a los niños una oportunidad real de éxito. Gracias a una subvención estratégica nacional de la CCHD, DART trabaja con funcionarios escolares y de aplicación de la ley para disminuir el número de arrestos dentro de las escuelas y promover intervenciones alternativas y constructivas que den a los niños una segunda oportunidad en su futuro. Debido a su trabajo, los sistemas escolares pueden ahora implementar prácticas de justicia restaurativa que benefician a más de 65,000 estudiantes y que disminuyen suspensiones y arrestos. La Campaña Católica para el Desarrollo Humano (CCHD) trabaja para ser una voz de esperanza para los que viven en la periferia de la sociedad experimentando las realidades de vivir en la pobreza. La CCHD apoya programas para curar las heridas del delito y la violencia, abogar por políticas más justas, proteger la creación de Dios y desarrollar comunidades fuertes.

La Misericordia de Jesús es permanente y siempre urgente. La CCHD apoya la iniciativa del Santo Padre de llevar la alegría del Evangelio a nuestros hermanos y hermanas que viven en la periferia de la vida estadounidense. Aunque pronto concluiremos el Año de la Misericordia, un tiempo de gracia extraordinaria, sabemos que nuestro trabajo recién ha comenzado.

Bishop Soto

Jaime Soto es el Obispo de Sacramento y el presidente del subcomité de la Campaña Católica para el Desarrollo Humano (CCHD).

“It shall be a Jubilee for You”: Civic Engagement in the Year of Mercy

“‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, … [He] has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; …to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, … to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor’ (Is 61:1-2) … I present, therefore, this Extraordinary Jubilee Year”.

Pope Francis quoted this passage from Isaiah, (proclaimed by Christ at the beginning of his ministry), to formally declare the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Isaiah speaks of his call to participate in the Divine work of creating a more just world. His joyous call is our call as well. There are as many ways to be missionaries of mercy as there are people, but I propose yet another way – a way vibrantly lived out by St. Vincent De Paul Parish in Philadelphia, namely, that of civic participation.

St. Vincent de Paul parishioners prepare for voter engagement work

St. Vincent de Paul parishioners prepare for voter engagement work

The parish is a member congregation of the interfaith community organizing group, Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild (POWER).  POWER, which is funded in part by a Catholic Campaign for Human Development grant, will have more than 20 of its congregations participate in Get Out the Vote initiatives. This non-partisan effort will start internally. They aim to ensure that 100% of the members of each participating congregation are registered to vote. The congregations will then go forth into their communities with voter registration forms in hand. Members will participate in door-knocking campaigns, and be trained to assist citizens in the voter registration process.

What does voting have to do with mercy? Mary Laver, a lay leader at St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Outreach coordinator for POWER, and co-author of the PICO Year of Encounter program, says that the answer lies in Catholic social teaching’s (CST) emphasis on the necessity of participation. Our civic participation is an “extension of the belief that Catholics have in the dignity of the human person” Laver says. She believes that Christ’s call of mercy in Matthew 25, (the call to give food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, and company to the prisoner), points beyond these immediate needs to the “need for every person to be a tangible part of how society is run…” and ultimately “to the need for mercy and justice.”

CST proclaims that it is our duty and basic human right to participate in society for the advancement of the common good. David Koppisch, associate director of POWER Philadelphia, says that the spirit of Get Out the Vote campaigns, and consequently the spirit of merciful participation, should continue beyond election day. POWER groups, particularly St. Vincent De Paul, work to keep voters engaged on social justice issues year round. After helping people feel included in the civic process by encouraging them to vote, POWER congregations then encourage them to be ‘year-round prophets’ by speaking out about injustices in our communities between elections. In 2014, they worked to pass a ballot referendum that would provide just wages to airport subcontractors, most of whom were living in poverty. Bringing good tidings to the afflicted. POWER organizations are also working to ensure that public schools in Pennsylvania that serve our poorest children get the resources they need.

This year, may we view our right to civic participation as an opportunity to be instruments of mercy.

marsha forsonMarsha Forson was a summer intern for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.


Going Deeper!

You too can help your faith community form consciences and participate in political life! FaithfulCitizenship.org includes dozens of resources in English and Spanish, including bulletin announcements and inserts, a Faithful Citizenship 101 video, a voter registration guide, tips for conducting a candidate forum, and guidelines for appropriate, non-partisan political activity.

Moved by Mercy

rlp-16-cover-photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A prayer for creation

Contemplating the sunrise when we crossed the Tyrolean Alps

Contemplating the sunrise when we crossed the Tyrolean Alps

Let me begin with a little known story about the Pope. When Pope Francis was a young priest in Argentina, he was appointed rector of the Jesuit seminary. One of the first things he did was to convert the seminary grounds into a farm where “students collected honey, milked cows, and cleaned out the pigsty [and] where they often met the rector in his plastic boots.” For young Fr. Bergoglio caring for the farm meant learning humility, being in touch with the poor, feeding the hungry, and finding an ideal space for prayer and contemplation – a place where the word of the Gospel became flesh. One could make the case that the Pope’s encyclical Laudato si’ and integral ecology were already taking shape in his farm experiment. The experiment worked: the seminary boomed and there was a huge increase in vocations.

The idea that Christian prayer must be connected to the created world is also central to Pope Francis’ message for the “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation”, whose one-year anniversary we celebrate today. Quoting Laudato si’ the Pope reminded us that “the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature” and that Christians are called to a profound “spiritual conversion… whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them.” Doesn’t this sound like something the Pope could be teaching the seminarians at the farm?

More important than the farm itself is the ideal that lies behind it, which has to do with the relationship between prayer and creation. I will call this ideal “prayer in the flesh”, taken from the title of a talk by Fr. Bergoglio. His point was that some Christians are unaware that they suffer from a modern heresy he calls ‘neodocetism’ and that we need to bring prayer to the level of concreteness, to the level of our bodies. We can pray when we touch the hands of a beggar, walk on trails, clean a pigsty, eat with the hungry, milk a cow, look at the sky, etc. Jesus is present in these moments when our flesh engages everyday reality. As in Bergoglio’s farm, care for creation can serve as a locus for us to live ‘a spirituality of the flesh.’

This summer I took this ideal of ‘prayer in the flesh’ and decided to put it into practice. I invited three young men and a guide to undertake a pioneer pilgrimage for the Year of Mercy. In May we left from Rome on foot and walked to Krakow for World Youth Day on July 25th. We walked every day for two-plus months covering over 2000 km (about the distance from Washington, DC to Dallas, TX) along a ‘scenic route’ through Italy, Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, and Poland. This pilgrimage was certainly an experience of prayer for creation: we prayed together and alone, during the day as we walked and stopped at shrines, during Mass and adoration. But we also prayed in creation: through the beauty of landscapes, incredible churches, and art– and prayed in the flesh: through blisters, injuries, weight loss, sores and muscles, and even the in gratitude for the incredible food.

What did I get out of this experience of ‘prayer in the flesh’? So many things which I cannot fit into a short blog post. But I can share one important lesson I learned: patience. You just have to learn patience on a trip like this because everything just takes so long! It would take about two days by car and two hours by airplane to cover the same distance we walked in two months. Impatience, resentment, complaints, weakness, stoicism, grumbling, and long faces don’t really get you any further any faster. All you can do is put on a good face in the morning and walk your ‘today’ until tomorrow comes. If it rains, you take a break. If it rains all day, you get wet. If you go without dinner, you try to get a big breakfast the next morning. You learn that God is in charge and He doesn’t always give us what we want, but always gives us what we need. And this… requires… patience. A long pilgrimage like this is a masterful lesson in patience that is learned because it is lived in the flesh.

The day I arrived in Krakow I gave a presentation about Laudato si’ and our pilgrimage for the Year of Mercy. I was lucky to have a brief chat with a cardinal, and he asked me only one question: “So what did you learn about mercy?” After bumbling around for an answer a word came forth from the inside: “patience.” Mercy takes patience, the kind of patience of the father who is waiting, for years, for the prodigal son to arrive. “Merciful like the Father” is also “Patient like the Father” – not anxious or stressed waiting, but hopeful waiting. It’s not the impatience of the prodigal son, nor the resentful and fake patience of the older brother. These are not the rhythms of mercy.

This was the lesson I learned through my ‘prayer in the flesh’ and the one God had in store for me. But Jesus has many lessons in store for each one of us. And, we don’t have to go on long journeys to distant places to find them, but only look at the concrete world around us in the circumstances and places we live, and make a decision to do something incarnate with our prayer: celebrating a meal with friends, gardening, spending an evening in the park with the family, cleaning the garage, or going for a walk. These of course must be accompanied by encounters with Jesus Christ at Mass, adoration, confession, biblical reading, prayer groups, etc. But the Pope’s emphasis lies in the invitation for us to bring our prayer into the flesh.

For this second World Day of Prayer for the Care for Creation the Vatican suggests the following prayers. And the Season of Creation we begin today is a wonderful time for us to bring this prayer into our daily lives.

ricardo simmondsRicardo Simmonds is the Environmental Policy Advisor for the Office of Domestic Social Development, within the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development of the USCCB.

Lent: A Time to Live Mercy

Joan RosenhauerThe Sixth Station of the Cross speaks in a special way to how we live out mercy during Lent. In this Station we see Veronica not just wiping the face of Christ, but reaching out—at some danger to herself—to touch Jesus, to be present to a man who was suffering. Why would she do this? What difference was she really making? After all, Jesus was on his way to die—a simple cloth wasn’t going to change that.

So often, we are tempted to feel this way as we look out at our world so full of tragedy. We think, our little gesture won’t amount to anything—a few dollars here, some time spent there. What difference will that make? At those moments, we should remind ourselves of Veronica. Veronica was quite literally present to the suffering Christ. She reached out to him, and he reached back. That’s what we’re called to do. We should never underestimate the value of simply being present, of reaching out in mercy and love to another human being, someone made in the image and likeness of God. And we must allow those whom we serve to reach back, to touch our hearts and our lives. As we are the hands of Christ, so, too, are those whom we serve.

This is what the Holy Father has called us to reflect on during this Year of Mercy. This is what we do each Lent. We call it the CRS Rice Bowl Effect.

How can a cardboard box help you touch the face of Christ during Lent?

Meet Mayra. She’s a young student from Honduras whose life has been changed thanks to the prayers, fasting and almsgiving of Catholics in the United States. She’s also one of the people featured in CRS Rice Bowl this year. This video has more.

You saw how CRS Rice Bowl has given her the tools and confidence she needs to succeed in school—even in a country beset by poverty, violence and hardship. Mayra has received her diploma and is now looking to tutor her peers. And she’s made a new friend in Fabricio.

In Mayra, we see Christ—and we reach out across culture and countries to be present. That’s the CRS Rice Bowl Effect.

How does Christ reach back? What effect does Mayra have on us?

Let’s take a moment to reflect on the image below.

Photo Credit: Catholic Relief Services

Photo Credit: Catholic Relief Services

When I first saw this image, it made me pause. It’s a beautiful photograph, artistically done, with good lighting and excellent composition. But more importantly, what really touches the viewer is that it quite clearly shows love, the love shared between grandmother and granddaughter. I saw this photograph before I had heard Mayra’s story, before I’d met her or her grandmother. But what is evident in this image comes through clearly in her story: we see the love of a grandmother for her granddaughter. We see a grandmother who will sacrifice to help improve the life of someone she loves. Perhaps, we even glimpse the merciful love of God, a God who loves and sacrifices no matter the cost.

That, too, is the CRS Rice Bowl Effect—and it’s powerful. It’s inspiring to me to see the hard work of this elderly woman. She challenges me in my own life—to love, to sacrifice. And, she challenges me in my own relationship with God.

This Lent, I hope you will share the CRS Rice Bowl Effect with your families and the communities you serve. Encourage them not just to reach out to those in need through their Lenten almsgiving, but, through prayerful reflection, to allow the stories of these women and men to touch their own lives.

Then we, too, can truly be like Veronica, encountering the suffering Christ. And we, too, can live Pope Francis’ call to mercy.

Joan Rosenhauer is Executive Vice President, US Operations at Catholic Relief Services

Humble Listening in The Year of Mercy

Sr. Kathleen McManus Credit: Clarice Keating/Catholic Sentinel

Sr. Kathleen McManus, OP
Credit: Clarice Keating/Catholic Sentinel

She is brilliant and beautiful, and she was my student in an Introductory Theology course. She is Muslim, and she spent the better part of her childhood growing up in Kurdistan.  At semester’s end, I learned of the atrocities she witnessed as a child, including the murder of her grandfather. And I learned that she keeps that part of her story hidden from others, because she wants to be normal; she wants to fit in. She is safe now, but the people she left behind are not.

Victims of poverty, violence, and political turmoil, all of those who are disenfranchised by society, all who dwell on the margins – these are the ones who reveal to us the Reign-of-God-not-yet-come. They reveal it by contrast, precisely through their cries for deliverance from all the ravages of the anti-Reign. How do we train our ears to hear the voice of God in these cries? Moreover, how do we attune ourselves to the silence of the countless voices rendered mute by systems of dominance? From what do we need to empty ourselves in order to encounter the Truth to Whom we claim to belong?

In every global context from which the cries of suffering arise, women bear a unique burden of voicelessness, even as they bear the burden of care for life in its most basic, embodied form. Witness streams of refugees seeking safe haven from violence and torture: Amidst this dire pilgrimage, it is women who struggle to sustain children and the infirm on their perilous journey in the hope of freedom. And, as terror spreads a global shadow, we who are accustomed to dwell secure are startled by the prospect of our own vulnerability.

The attacks on Paris drew an immediate response of solidarity from the Western world, especially the U.S. Why? With the constant violence inflicted upon people in the Middle East, why the dramatic response to this incident? We know why: They are us. And that became all the more evident in the tragic San Bernardino shootings. We are vulnerable, and we Americans don’t like to think of ourselves as vulnerable.

Answers are elusive. Perhaps our call is to a saving question: Might this glimmer of felt vulnerability be our means of solidarity with the truly helpless vulnerable masses? Might it open the ears of our hearts to the voices drawing us into communion with Truth? Might it mark out a path of encounter mediating the healing of relationships, systems, and perceptions that will enable the reign of God’s mercy to come on earth as in heaven?

Pope Francis has inaugurated a Year of Mercy. And now we approach Christmas, when we celebrate God’s Mercy born in human flesh. How might we bear God’s Mercy in our flesh? How might our persecuted and suffering sisters and brothers teach us the vulnerability that issues in mercy? The Year of Mercy is a time for humble listening.

Kathleen McManus, OP is Associate Professor of Theology (Systematics) and Director, Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry Program at the University of Portland

 


Sr. Kathleen McManus will present at the 2016 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering on The Global Suffering of Women as an Ethical Imperative for the Church. See registration information and schedule.