Prayers of Compassion and Hope for the DRC and South Sudan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rediscovering My Neighbor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Good Samaritan Challenges Us to Pray

The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) reminds us that prayer is an encounter with Christ, who is present in every member of our human family.

This is a story about people encountering one another on one of life’s roads. So many of us are tempted to pass by others without recognizing their needs, their common dignity. In this story, that’s not the case. The Samaritan, traveling down the road, was “moved with compassion at the sight.” This is the moment of encounter—a prayerful experience of seeing Christ in the face of the stranger.

We must be open to experiencing God in our encounter with others. In fact, this can be a powerful form of prayer. What if we aren’t encountering someone on a physical road? We can still encounter others in our prayer by calling to mind their stories, the faces of individuals on the news, etc.

How can we embody this call to encounter in our prayer this Lent? How can our Lenten prayer be both a moment of encounter and a “walking with” our fellow travelers on life’s roads?

Find this video, which features Prof. Helen Alvaré, JD, and all of CRS Rice Bowl’s Share the Journey tools for reflection.

CRS staff Eric Clayton

Eric Clayton works at Catholic Relief Services. He holds an MA in international media from American University and a BA in international studies and creative writing from Fairfield University. He currently lives in Baltimore with his wife, daughter, and pet hedgehog.

Migrants, Refugees, and an Invitation to Metanoia

Jesus Christ wants to change your life. Before you change your life, you have to change your mind.

A key concept for the life of Christian discipleship is metanoia.  Derived from the Greek word meta, for “beyond” and nous, for “thinking” or “mind,” metanoia means thinking beyond. Thus, the term metanoia was coined by early Christians as a way to describe how encounters with Christ necessitate thinking beyond what was previously thought. This term also highlights how the Holy Spirit urges a life of conversion.

If we are to follow and worship the crucified God-Man we must be open to heart and mind paradigm-shifts. The call to metanoia is made by our Lord in his Beatitudes.  For example: poverty is a blessing, meekness is strength, and persecution for righteousness is glory.

Bottom Line:  You can’t be a disciple of Jesus unless you are prepared and open to changing how you think about things. Most often, this thinking will be opposed to the thinking of the world.

Recently, the Office for Social Justice in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas was blessed to work with a great team of people to help Archbishop Naumann organize and celebrate the World Day of Migrants and Refugees with a special Mass and multicultural festival.  Catholics from the various immigrant and ethnic communities of the archdiocese came together in a liturgy that reflected the multi-national, universal identity of the Roman Catholic Church by utilizing different languages and musical styles. The Mass was followed by sharing a potluck meal and fellowship as families who had immigrated from Asia, Europe, Central and South America shared their food and culture with one another. People who weren’t accustomed to worshipping with each other came together to pray for all the migrants of the world.

It was a time for metanoia, to rethink how our Catholicity calls us to recognize that ultimately we are called to share a common home in Heaven. Pope Francis reminded us, in his message for that day,  “Every stranger who knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ, who identifies with the welcomed and rejected strangers of every age (Matthew 25:35-43).”  Each person is precious; persons are more important than things, and our institutions must be measured by how well they support the life and dignity of human beings, particularly when they are vulnerable, as in the case of child migrants.

As our government wrestles with its immigration and refugee policies, especially on the issue of DACA, let us as Christians be open to a metanoia on immigration that sees people not as enemies at the gate that we ardently resist, but persons of inherent worth that we desire to prudently welcome.

Bill Scholl is the Social Justice Consultant for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and Diocesan Director for their local Justice for Immigrants Campaign.

Going Deeper
Visit USCCB’s for materials and resources to encourage encounter, learning and action for and with immigrants and refugees.



How One Worker-Owned Cooperative Offered Hope and Economic Development

When the big industry in a region closes its doors, or moves out of state or out of the country, there is justified anger, grief, and hand-wringing. Workers who depended on the jobs, checks, and benefits may have few employment alternatives.

Unemployment benefits can’t make up the lost income. The economy sags. The human toll follows.

But Opportunity Threads, a group that receives funding from the Catholic bishops through the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), offers a story of hope amid such adversity.

For much of the last century the economy of western North Carolina has depended on furniture and textile industries. But when these industries closed operations in the area, local people stepped in to develop an alternative model of economic development.

Opportunity Threads is a “cut-and-sew” cooperative that employs 23 full-time workers, who in turn support at least 100 family members. Molly Hemstreet, now the general manager of Opportunity Threads, grew up in the area and taught English as a Second Language to recent immigrants. She and several community members pals identified a growing consumer interest in local, sustainable goods that support the “triple bottom line” of social, economic, and environmental benefits to a community.

Working with one used sewing machine after hours in a borrowed room, they helped start a local renaissance in micro-manufacturing. Together they turned the excess inventory of irregular socks from a local small producer into winsome stuffed animals, and introduced “up-cycling” to the area.

With grant assistance from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the U.S. Catholic bishops’ domestic, anti-poverty program, Opportunity Threads was soon established as a worker-owned business that draws on skilled un- and underemployed people in the community of Burke County, North Carolina, to create sustainable livelihoods and put a new face on textile production in the rural South.

Molly supports worker ownership because it gives people responsibility and a voice in the company and promotes dignity and respect. The long route to worker-owner may take a worker up to 18 months, but the painstaking training and vetting pays off by creating a group that works together as a balanced team. As further proof, Opportunity Threads has yet to lose an owner or “pre-member” to a vote of the worker-owners.

But that’s not all. Opportunity Threads has actively helped other suppliers and producers work together and share jobs. Molly calls it “co-opetition.” The work has developed into the Carolina Textile District, which aggregates work, screens producers, and determines who’s best for a job. Molly said the pie of the textile industry is large enough for everyone to have a piece without competing and being at each other’s throats.

In fact, so many other groups have asked Opportunity Threads how to establish a successful worker-owned model that Molly and others formed The Industrial Commons, which also got a grant from CCHD. The Industrial Commons now helps small- to mid-sized industrial firms and networks create economic opportunity for low-income workers, improve livelihoods, develop democratic workplaces, and root ownership in communities to create sustainable change.

From where I sit, that looks like a tremendously positive alternative to handwringing and despair.

Beth Griffin is a free-lance journalist with an abiding interest in social justice.

 Going Deeper

In most dioceses in the U.S., Nov. 18-19, 2017, was the national collection to support the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the domestic anti-poverty program of the U.S. Catholic bishops. Nov. 19 was also the first World Day of the Poor.  Use this Poverty Map to find out about work in your part of the country that is supported by the bishops through CCHD.

A Reflection for Poverty Awareness Month

Listening is an important ingredient to every healthy relationship. Can you think of an instance in which a relationship in your life either deepened or was challenged due to the ability or inability of one or both parties to listen to the other?  Our relationship with Christ, and with our neighbors, in whom Christ is present, is the same way. The readings for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Jan. 28, 2018) reminded us of the importance of listening. Listening to God’s call for our lives, our communities, and our world is essential. We first listen, and then we are called to respond. What a fitting theme to reflect on during Poverty Awareness Month!

As we heard in this Sunday’s first reading, we might recall that throughout the Old Testament, God speaks through prophets like Moses, calling the people to repent of their unfaithfulness—which is often illustrated by their worship of false idols, immoral living, and failure to care for those who are poor and oppressed. In the first reading, Moses describes the role of a prophet, who is to be God’s “voice” to the people. Moses invites the people to listen to God’s words to them.

Moses’ message from God to the people spans numerous chapters in Deuteronomy. The instructions aim to help the people remain in right relationship with both God and neighbor.  Part of the instructions are about caring for the stranger, orphan and widow (14:29) and forgiving the debts of those who are poor (15:1-11), for example. Moses exhorts the people to listen (18:15). Those who listen to God’s voice, engaging in both right worship (orthodoxy) and right practice or deed (orthopraxy), will flourish.

The refrain of the Psalm likewise exhorts the people to hear God’s voice: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

Listening is also key in the second reading. Paul writes to the community at Corinth in anticipation of Christ’s second coming, which he and the early Christians believed was imminent. Whatever our state in life, this reading calls each of us to create space in our hearts and lives so that, “without distraction,” we can listen to God’s voice.

In this past Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus—the son of God, the one about whom the prophets spoke—speaks words that elicit immediate response.  “He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him,” the people remark.  If “even the unclean spirits” obey, then those who are “faithful” should be even better at recognizing Christ’s voice!

We can peel back another layer to this story by asking: Who is the man with the unclean spirit, whom Jesus liberates? In Jesus’ time, mental illness, disability, and disease were frequently attributed to demonic possession. (See, for example, Mt. 9:32-34, 12:22-32, and 17:14-21; and Lk. 4:31-41.)  As a result, those who were sick, disabled, or mentally ill were on the peripheries. They were ignored or even intentionally marginalized. But not by Jesus. Jesus approaches the man in today’s Gospel without fear. He sees the person behind the condition. In some other healing stories (e.g. Mt. 9:32-38, Mk. 1:29-45, etc.), Jesus is “moved by pity” or compassion.  He speaks with authority, healing the one who is sick or possessed. Those who watch the miracles rarely seem to understand Jesus’ message. We know his invitation to faith and compassion is not only for the Gospel crowds and Pharisees: it is for us today as well!

We all struggle to listen to Christ’s call. This can be challenging due to our busyness or from our unwillingness to prioritize prayer or to encounter Christ in the “other.” How can we listen, when the world around us seems so much in turmoil?  Instead of viewing prayer as a way to escape from the realities around us, can we think of it as a special time to unite the deepest concerns of our hearts, and of the world, with Christ’s loving presence?

Try this prayer exercise: find a quiet space and read the Gospel reading again (Mark 1:21-28). Imagine that you are a character in the story—perhaps someone in the crowd, perhaps the man with the unclean spirit. Imagine how it would feel to be there. Imagine using your senses: what do you see around you? What do you hear? What do you smell? Imagine seeing or meeting Jesus.  React to what he says and does. Enter into the story.

Then, read the story again. This time, substitute a modern-day person into the story for the person with the unclean spirit—perhaps someone who is often rejected: a homeless person; someone with a mental illness; an undocumented person; an individual with a disability; a refugee. Watch Jesus see and approach this person. See what happens. Let this exercise lead you into prayer for those on the peripheries. Pray about how Christ might be calling you to respond.

In God is Love, Pope Benedict XVI challenged us to allow love of God and love of neighbor to “become one: in the least of our brethren we find Jesus himself, and in Jesus we find God” (no. 15).

The month of January is Poverty Awareness Month. Connecting love of God and love of neighbor in prayer can help us form a strong foundation through which we can open our hearts to see Christ’s face in those who experience poverty—over 40 million people in the United States. At, a website of the Catholic bishops in the United States, you can learn facts about poverty, watch videos, and read stories about how faith communities are responding.

Another part of our response is to allow ourselves to be “moved with compassion” to imitate Jesus’ example of healing. Consider: how can I imitate Jesus and encounter someone on the peripheries? Following the footsteps of Jesus, we are all called to listen to God’s voice, recognize his presence in our neighbors, and respond with acts of charity and justice.

This reflection is excerpted from a liturgical aid for the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Jan. 28, 2018), by the USCCB Dept. of Justice, Peace and Human Development.

The “New Selma” Is Being Watched

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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