A Place at the Table Turns Fifteen—Where are We Now?

November 2017 is the fifteenth anniversary of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ pastoral reflection, A Place at the Table: A Catholic Recommitment to Overcome Poverty and to Respect the Dignity of All God’s Children (also in Spanish).

The 2002 reflection uses the powerful symbol of the table—where we come together for food, where neighborhood, national, and global leaders meet to make decisions, and where we gather as Catholics to worship—to ask: Who is invited? Who is excluded?

Poverty and its causes, including unequal access to resources and to the “table” where decisions are made, are a “moral scandal.” Pope Francis has frequently echoed this conviction, arguing that the scandal of poverty can only be addressed if those impacted by poverty are invited to the table.

In A Place at the Table, the bishops call all Catholics to act, and point to “the essential roles and responsibilities” of four institutions, or legs, which must work together to overcome poverty: (1) families and individuals, (2) community and religious institutions, (3) the private sector, and (4) government.

The bishops note that the debate around how best to address poverty is often too narrow, focusing only on one or two of the “legs” to the exclusion of the others. They call all four legs essential: “a table may fall without each leg.” The Catholic perspective recognizes the complementary roles of each leg and urges a comprehensive approach. Supporting healthy families and assisting individuals to make good choices are important, but the positive role of government is also essential. Faith-based institutions are an integral community support, yet business institutions must also contribute to the common good through decent work, living wages, and good benefits.

This perspective, the bishops write, is based on the Biblical vision of God’s special concern for those who are vulnerable, Catholic social teaching’s emphasis on human dignity and economic justice, and the Church’s rich lived experience feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, and working for justice and peace.

A Place at the Table challenges all of us—parents, children, workers, owners, managers, consumers, investors, community members, and citizens—to work together to live out this vision and call. Through public prayer and private worship, we must anchor our weekday witness in love and solidarity. And our family, parish, and school formation must reflect Christ’s concern for those in need and equip us to confront structures of sin and work for greater justice in the world.

What is most striking about A Place at the Table is its continuing relevance today, fifteen years after its publication. We still have a long way to go in our faith communities and in society. Yet, there are countless examples of how faith communities are working, in inspiring and effective ways, to create “a place at the table.”

  • Catholic Charities in Metuchen, NJ models a unique response to poverty that includes organizing community members to influence local policy around wage theft, immigrants’ rights, housing, and other issues that affect families.
  • In Fresno, CA, a parish community of immigrants recently succeeded in a thirteen-year ecumenical effort to pass a new anti-slum ordinance which will improve living conditions for countless individuals and families.
  • A Catholic school in St. Paul, MN, is helping children invite their Muslim brothers and sisters to the “table” by facilitating a pen-pal relationships between Catholic and Muslim school children in their community.
  • Dioceses around the country are implementing the process of the V National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry (vencuentro.org), which is an invitation for all Catholics to reflect on the gifts, opportunities, and challenges around U.S. Hispanic ministry. The broad Church—not only Hispanic Catholics—are invited to get involved.

There are many ways we can build on these and other efforts. We can continue to ask questions about who is invited, and who is excluded, in policies, programs, and decision-making. We can work with others, through our parishes, schools, neighborhood associations, faith-based and secular networks, to put our faith in action. We can get involved in the V National Encuentro process. We can ensure that the many faces of our diverse body of Christ are included in our efforts and in leadership opportunities.

Together, let’s work to create “a place at the table” for everyone.

Jill Rauh is assistant director of education and outreach of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Ethical Consumerism and our Catholic Faith

Stephanie Rapp, Director of Marriage & Family Life for the Diocese of Columbus

Working with victims of human trafficking forever changed me. The immeasurable suffering of so many of our brothers and sisters broke my heart and it does still each time I think of them. It is unfathomable that human beings are seen as objects and then, are abused, exploited, bought, and sold.

We as Catholics know this is wrong. We know that each human person is created in the image and likeness of God and willed into being by Him. Pope Francis once said, “Things have a price and can be for sale. But people have dignity that is priceless and worth far more than things.”

So, does it matter what “things” we buy? Can our consumerism be directed for the betterment of others?

Let us look again to Pope Francis. In a speech delivered on January 1, 2015, Pope Francis called us all to honor God with our purchases, highlighting the fact that people are at the heart of every product we buy. His speech also brought awareness to the issue of human trafficking in the marketplace. Our pope encouraged us to “practice acts of fraternity towards those kept in a state of enslavement” and not to give in to the temptation to purchase items that may have been produced by exploiting others. He invited us to be socially responsible consumers, stating that “every person ought to have the awareness that purchasing is always a moral – and not simply an economic – act.” What we purchase, and who we purchase from, is important and linked to our faith.

The sad reality is that the exploitation of others may be involved in the production of everyday products such as coffee, tea, chocolate, jewelry, clothing, etc. In addition to trafficking, poor working conditions, unfair wages, child labor, and production methods that harm the environment, are common business practices. Yet, praise God, there are simple ways we can all help. One way is by supporting ethical trade!

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) defines ethical trade as “a transparent commitment by a company to treat its workers and suppliers fairly, care for the environment, and invest in the community.” There are many ethical companies that one can purchase from, including ones that partner with CRS. These companies go a step further and ensure that they are not involved in any practices that conflict with Catholic social and moral teaching.

So, what do we do with this information?

Do what the students at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish School in Grove City, Ohio did – take action! In the 2015-2016 school year, Denise Johns, guidance counselor for the school, introduced me to a group of students called Legacy Leaders. This group of students eagerly learned about ethical trade and immediately wanted to do something to educate others and promote justice. They made ethical trade their social justice theme for the school year, enthusiastically taking on many substantial projects including the following: holding an assembly for the student body explaining ethical trade in a child-appropriate manner, selling ethically traded products at a school craft fair, ensuring all teachers in the school had curriculums addressing ethical trade, and facilitated school-wide participation in Catholic Relief Service’s Rice Bowl Lenten Program.

Let us all be like the students of OLPH, raising awareness and using the power of their purchases to transform lives.

Here are some ways that Catholic Relief Services suggests we do this:

  • Pray;
  • Learn;
  • Buy only what you need;
  • Shop ethical companies;
  • Create community with ethical trade via a consignment sale, community order, coffee sale or CRS Fundraiser.

Stephanie Rapp is the Director of Marriage & Family Life for the Diocese of Columbus and a Fair-Trade Ambassador with Catholic Relief Services.

Reflecting on the Church’s teaching about immigration

Official logo for the “Share the Journey” campaign, a two-year program that Caritas Internationalis launched Sept. 27.

“We see, for example, how quickly those among us with the status of a stranger, an immigrant, or a refugee, become a threat, take on the status of an enemy. An enemy because they come from a distant country or have different customs…because of the color of their skin, their language or their social class…because they think differently or even have a different faith….And, without our realizing it, this way of thinking becomes part of the way we live and act…Little by little, our differences turn into symptoms of hostility, threats and violence. How many wounds grow deeper due to this epidemic of animosity and violence, which leaves its mark on the flesh of many of the defenseless, because their voice is weak and silenced by this pathology of indifference!” Pope Francis to the Consistory of Cardinals

Many of us have little to no personal experience of the experiences of marginalized groups mentioned by the Holy Father. Perhaps our only interaction comes through news, movies, music, or social media. I would like to share a few experiences of people whom I care about being marginalized whose “wounds grow deeper due to this epidemic of animosity and violence.”

A friend of mine sent me a text recently after her encounter with a person exclaiming anti-immigrant sentiments. “I was spit on,” she said. “I am too stressed and slightly scared to be outside in public.” Sadly, this was just one of several encounters she had over the course of a few days in the past several weeks. She is a Latina and has regularly been the target of such hate in her hometown of Dubuque. However, as has been reported across the nation, these unprovoked attacks on immigrants have come with more regularity in recent years.

Anti-immigrant sentiment is nothing new to America. Irish, German, and Italian Catholics were depicted as violent, apish, uncivilized, dirty, and generally undesirable. Many of the same things said about undocumented and legal immigrants today were said about immigrants of the past.

According to family oral history, I am the descendant of an undocumented immigrant who boarded a cattle ship as a stowaway in Europe and entered the United States in the late 1800s. His name was Christian Schmidt. He rarely spoke about where he came from and how he got here because he was fearful until the day he died, even after becoming a naturalized citizen, that he would be sent back to an uncertain fate. He was here for decades, raised a family, farmed the land, passed on his Catholic faith, and helped to build up his adopted nation. His descendants became school teachers, farmers, social workers, priests, deacons, nurses, soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines— the very fabric of America. Even so, he and many like him were considered a “enemies,” threats to America, all because they came “from a distant country” with “different customs.”

The situation Christian found himself in generations ago is the same millions of migrants find themselves in today. His fears were the same as the fears of immigrants today. His desires and dreams were the same as those of immigrants today. His intrinsic dignity as a child of God, made in the likeness and image of our creator, was the same as that of the immigrants today.

How can we help change the narrative about immigrants, whether here with or without proper documentation? As the Psalmist says: “seek peace and pursue it” (PS 34:15) we ought to recognize that building peace does require action, we must actively pursue peace by turning away from the “pathology of indifference” of which Pope Francis speaks.

Pope Saint John Paul II spoke in particular about undocumented immigrants in 1996 stating we must consider the issue “from the standpoint of Christ, who died to gather together the dispersed children of God (cf. Jn 11:52), to rehabilitate the marginalized and to bring close those who are distant ….The first way to help these people is to listen to them in order to become acquainted with their situation, and, whatever their legal status with regard to State law, to provide them with the necessary means of subsistence.”

Christ calls us to seek compassion and understanding for our brothers and sisters who present themselves to us as Christ in our midst. Let us join our voices with those of Pope Francis and our bishops to promote a welcoming attitude towards all immigrants, including those without documentation and advocate on their behalf for comprehensive immigration reform that keeps families together, respects the human rights and needs of immigrants, reduces wait times for the immigration process, allows for earned legalization, restores due process for migrants, and allows for the nation to maintain safety for all. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also promotes: “increasing lawful means for migrants to enter, live, and work in the United States, law enforcement will be better able to focus upon those who truly threaten public safety: drug and human traffickers, smugglers, and would‐be terrorists. Any enforcement measures must be targeted, proportional, and humane.”

The recent recession, the largest refugee crisis since World War II, and some devastating acts of terror worldwide have shaped the discussion on immigration and security proposals in our nation. Though these are legitimate concerns on their own it is problematic to point to immigration as the source of these problems. Studies have shown that immigrants, whether here legally or undocumented, are far less likely to commit crimes than natural born citizens of the United States. Communities with higher numbers of immigrants, again regardless of immigration status, are generally more economically stable and successful than areas with lower migrant populations. It is also important for us to recognize that the net immigration from places like Mexico is nearly zero, meaning that the people who come from Mexico each year are nearly equal in number as those returning to Mexico in the same year. Undocumented immigrants also pay tens of billions of dollars’ worth of taxes each year and billions more into the economy with their commercial purchases. Understanding the facts about immigration can help us to promote policies that are not based on fear but on faith, hope, love and justice; making our nation stronger and building a greater culture of encounter and culture of life. Let us stand up in solidarity with the marginalized, opposing “animosity and violence” when we encounter it in speech or action, especially within our own spheres of influence. The immigrant is our brother, our sister, Christ in our midst.

For more information on the Church’s teaching and approach to immigration reform go to: www.justiceforimmigrants.org

Mark Schmidt is Director of the Office of Respect Life and Social Justice in the Archdiocese of Dubuque.

This post was adapted for ToGoForth. Read the original version at The Witness.


Going Deeper!

Join Pope Francis’ two-year campaign to Share the Journey of migrants and refugees. Visit ShareJourney.org for stories of migrants and refugees, a toolkit for leaders, social media content, and more.

Disarmament Week: Disarming Our Fears and Our World

Nuclear war protesters demonstrate outside the White House in Washington (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Each year on the anniversary of its founding (October 24), the United Nations observes Disarmament Week. This seems particularly fitting since the United Nations was founded “to maintain international peace and security.”

Whenever I think of disarmament, I am reminded of these haunting passages from the Second Vatican Council: “[T]he arms race is an utterly treacherous trap for humanity, and one which ensnares the poor to an intolerable degree.” “Rather than being eliminated thereby, the causes of war are in danger of being gradually aggravated. While extravagant sums are being spent for the furnishing of ever new weapons, an adequate remedy cannot be provided for the multiple miseries afflicting the whole modern world” (Gaudium et spes, 81).

It is no secret that our nation and world are caught in this vicious trap. Congress and the Administration have proposed dramatic increases in military spending at the same time that they have propose dramatic cuts to resources for diplomacy and human development/poverty reduction. Our nation already spends about one-third of all military spending worldwide. The United States spends as much as the next eight nations combined, many of them are our allies.

I believe this overemphasis on armaments is driven by deep-seated fears and a lack of hope. If we want to move our world to resist the arms race, we must first resist the fears that drive it. It is possible to overcome fears and to reverse the arms race. And this doesn’t require optimism or blind trust. It just demands that we consider other options in dialogue with other nations.

For example, our nation could embrace the Arms Trade Treaty. This Treaty regulates international trade in conventional arms, making such trade more transparent and accountable. It entered into force on December 24, 2014. Ninety-two states have ratified the treaty, and 41 states have signed, but not ratified it, including the United States. The failure of our nation to ratify that Treaty is particularly damaging since our nation is the world’s largest arms exporter.

In addressing the vexing issue of nuclear disarmament, Pope Francis wrote: “Spending on nuclear weapons squanders the wealth of nations. … When these resources are squandered, the poor and the weak living on the margins of society pay the price.” The Holy Father went on to say, “The desire for peace, security and stability is one of the deepest longings of the human heart. … This desire can never be satisfied by military means alone, much less the possession of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction” (December 7, 2014).

Our hearts long for peace. We must disarm our fears in order to disarm our world.

Stephen M. Colecchi is director of the Office of International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.


Going Deeper

The Catholic Study Guide for Use with Nuclear Tipping Point can help small groups reflect on Catholic social teaching on nuclear weapons while watching the Nuclear Tipping Point film.

Being an Ethical Consumer: A Call for People of All Ages and Backgrounds

Deisy Muñoz Viesca, policy intern for Migration and Refugee Services, USCCB

Living in the United States, I think many of us take for granted the ready accessibility of food resources. Supermarkets across the nation offer a variety of food that is not necessarily produced in this country. For example, the United States imports 80-90% of its seafood. A simple trip to your local supermarket when you are craving tuna or shrimp is likely just a couple of minutes away. But do you ever think about the process or individuals who were involved in getting that food to your kitchen table?

When I first heard about ethical consumerism and product labeling, it was the summer before my first year of college. A friend was talking to me about the importance of fair trade labeling for coffee. She explained how fair trade certification kept companies accountable for just payment to their employees throughout the supply chain. This seemed like a beneficial endeavor to me, and I’ve kept it in mind since. Ethical consumerism came up again at my local parish in Colorado where only fair trade coffee is served. I was shocked to learn that engaging in ethical consumerism is a shared concern for both hippy-college students in Boulder and suburban daily Mass-goers in the suburbs of Denver

Catholic social teaching tells us to respect and support human dignity because we were created in the image and likeness of God. Yet our patterns of consumption can inhibit people living from a dignified life.

Human trafficking has become a global phenomenon that puts women, men, and children at risk. For example, in the seafood industry, tens of thousands of people are exploited due to the isolated nature of work on boats and lack of regulations. These vulnerable conditions can lead to forced labor, sexual servitude, and debt bondage.

All hope is not lost. We can use our power as consumers to help prevent and reduce these atrocities by becoming ethical consumers. The Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking (CCOAHT) began a campaign last Lent called “Labeling for Lent: An Effort to Prevent Human Trafficking”. This campaign began as an effort to raise awareness about the reality of human trafficking in the seafood industry. A survey was conducted asking consumers if they would like seafood companies to include labeling on their packaged products to eradicate human trafficking and forced labor in their supply chains. More than 2,000 participants supported such a step.

Personally, I’ve struggled with being an ethical consumer because of my budget. I grew up in an immigrant household were the priority was to feed five people, not to buy products of ethical companies. Real barriers can present themselves when trying to be a conscious consumer. But think about it this way: exploited workers don’t have an option. Individuals are stripped of their freedom and dignity thousands of miles away, and, yet, we as American consumers have the capacity to stop this injustice. I’m not asking you to radically change your entire shopping routine because frankly that’s unreasonable. I am simply asking you to keep in mind our Catholic social teaching on the dignity of every human and be mindful of the products you purchase and companies you consequently support.

In the words of our Holy Father for the 2015 World Day of Peace, “Together with the social responsibility of business, there is also the social responsibility of consumers. Every person ought to have the awareness that purchasing is always a moral – and not simply an economic –act.” But this call is not limited to those of the Catholic faith – anyone can be an ethical consumer.

For more information on how to become an ethical consumer and an advocate against human trafficking, please visit:

Deisy Muñoz Viesca is a policy intern for Migration and Refugee Services at USCCB. She is pursuing a degree in Political Science and Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado – Boulder.


Going Deeper

At WeAreSaltAndLight.org, read about creative ways that faith communities are educating and acting to engage Catholics in supporting ethical trade, including a new fair trade program at a Catholic school, a fair trade coffeehouse and retreat by parish teens, and a Catholic university that helped start a fair trade cooperative.

Living out God’s vision of a world without hunger


Every summer I look forward to embracing the fall season. As the morning air crisps, I wake up relieved.  The days shorten into longer, cooler evenings.  The light softens and becomes a bit hazier.  Meals are bit warmer, spicier, and filling. Fall is a season of feasts.  Here in the United States, we have a national holiday that embraces, with enthusiasm, this thought.  This leads me to believe I am not alone in my association of fall and feasts.

The gospel story for Sunday, October 15, while featuring an invitation to a feast is complicated and somewhat gruesome.  It is the gospel parable of a king who invites guests to a wedding feast for his son.  The guests refuse to attend.  The king then issues more invitations to a wider array of people.  Those invites are refused and his messengers are killed.  Again, the king is so insistent people should come to the wedding feast that invites are issued to those in the streets. When a guest shows up not being properly attired, the king has him bound up and dragged away.  “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

The wedding feast is a popular image that is used to connote the kingdom of heaven throughout the Bible. In this Gospel from Matthew, we make a connection – the king issuing invites to his son’s wedding is God, inviting us to participate in a life with Jesus Christ, his son.  Of course, all of us are invited to participate in a life with Jesus, but many refuse.  Further, those who do wish to participate, those who say, “Yes,” are required to participate fully.  It is not enough to just show up.  We need to properly prepare!

We must attend to the wishes of our King, and one of his commands is that we feed the hungry. In today’s world, we know that there are many people who are hungry, spiritually and physically. We are called to continually prepare our hearts and ask ourselves whether we are living into the mandate to care for all our brothers and sisters: Who is going hungry? What are we doing to ensure that others are fed?  Are there policies that are preventing people from getting food?  How are we answering these questions?

Advocates in the Diocese of Joliet prepare to delivery more than 5,000 letters to Congressional Leaders at Lobby Day

One way that we can answer is by participating in the work of Bread for the World, an organization that acts as a collective Christian voice urging decision makers to end hunger at home and abroad.  This year we are marking Sunday, October 15 as Bread for the World Sunday.  This is an opportunity for your church or community to join with others in living out God’s vision of a world without hunger.

St. Louis Catholic Church in Pinecrest, Florida has been a covenant church with Bread for the World for decades. They collect an Offering of Letters with the full support of their pastor.  In May, parishioners wrote and signed a total of 1,976 unique letters to their congressional leaders.  1,672 letters came from adult members of the parish, while 304 letters were written by students from the attached parish school.

Another example is Holy Trinity Parish in Georgetown, next to Washington, D.C.  The parish had five people participate in Lobby Day in June.  These Bread for the World members brought around 300 letters that were collected and signed by parishioners from pre-printed postcards.

There are many ways you can participate in the advocacy on behalf of people who are hungry with Bread for the World. Here are a few:

Genevieve Mougey is the Senior National Associate for Roman Catholic Engagement at Bread for the World in Washington, D.C.  She has worked in Catholic advocacy social justice ministries, campus ministry and parish ministry for the past 15 years.  Previously, she was the Poverty Outreach and Education Manager at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in Washington, D.C.


Going Deeper!

Learn how New York Catholics wrote thousands of letters on child hunger to their members of Congress as part of their Offering of Letters. You, too, can participate!

Respect Life Month: Working to End the Death Penalty

“Nowadays the death penalty is inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed.” Pope Francis, March 20, 2015

This memorial dedicated to Sister Paula Merrill, a member of the Sisters of Nazareth, and Sister Margaret Held, a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee, was blessed and dedicated May 20 in Durant, Miss. The women, who were murdered in their home last fall, were nurse practitioners at a local health clinic. (CNS photo/Ruthie Robison, Mississippi Catholic)

Just over a year ago, two Catholic nuns were brutally murdered in Durant, Mississippi. Sister Margaret M. Held, a School Sister of St. Francis, and Sister Paula J. Merrill, a Sister of Charity of Nazareth, were beloved and committed nurse practitioners serving some of the poorest children and families in the country.  The community health clinic where they worked is in the 7th poorest county in the country, in the hungriest and poorest state in our nation.

The sisters’ ministry embodied what the Church calls “preferential option for the poor.”  The senseless loss of these sisters has caused tremendous pain for their families, their local clients, and their religious communities.

If you have followed this story at any length, likely you have been captivated by the courageous, Christ-like response the sisters’ religious Congregations shared following the murder, in part: “We want to reiterate our beliefs as women of faith, that we value life. For years now the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth and the School Sisters of St. Francis have worked to abolish the death penalty, even as we seek justice and truth.”

Close family members and fellow sisters alike say that coming forward with a statement to oppose the death penalty was clear and certain for them. Given the strong faith-held convictions and the life-long healing ministries of Sr. Paula and Sr. Margaret, everyone immediately understood the merciful action the sisters themselves would have wanted to respond to such a tragedy.

The modern Catholic Church is against the death penalty; the last three popes have made the Church’s opposition very clear. And while more Catholics are opposed to the death penalty than ever, statistics reveal that upwards of 43% of U.S. Catholics still support capital punishment.  Given this sobering reality, the response made by the families and sisters is even more courageous an example for us and witness for our times.

The truth is the death penalty is coming to an end and the time is now to make a difference.

As we observe Respect Life Month this October, we are invited to reflect on the depth of our convictions related to dignity of all life and our pro-life stance.  At the time of this writing, a disturbing six executions are scheduled throughout October. These executions demand action.  Catholic Mobilizing Network’s Mercy in Action Project  is an easy way to direct your faithful advocacy to end the death penalty and take a stand for life.

In their living, Sr. Paula and Sr. Margaret sought to heal people on the margins of society.  In their dying these sisters left their legacy of life – lived, shared and sacrificed; a story we recognize by our faith in Jesus Christ.

 Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy is Managing Director of Catholic Mobilizing Network. She is co-author of Advocating for Justice: An Evangelical Vision for Transforming Systems and Structures.


Going Deeper

Respect Life Month is the perfect time to recommit yourself to our faith’s pro-life call.  To facilitate this, Catholic Mobilizing Network has created a Respect Life Month Toolkit to help your parish community renew its dedication to all life. This toolkit is full of resources to help you educate, advocate, and pray to end the death penalty, including a pro-life prayer service, social media ideas and bulletin articles. The toolkit also contains CMN’s new initiative, the National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty, a great way to begin your advocacy for all life, consider signing the pledge if you haven’t already.