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 JusticeforImmigrants.org 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 PovertyUSA.org, 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 | teakphillips@archstl.org | 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.

Pastoral Letter “Strangers No Longer” Still Strong 15 Years Later

Each week’s news seems to bring new attention to the migration crisis: the Rohingya fleeing Myanmar, child migrants escaping violence in the Northern Triangle countries of Central America, refugees from war torn areas in the Middle East, and others.

The migration of peoples from one country to another is hardly new to the modern age, but the sheer numbers of people being displaced in recent decades—due to violence, economic need, environmental causes, and other reasons—has challenged governments to take stock of the various crises giving rise to migration and to find ways to respond in responsible ways.

Following the massive displacement of people that coincided with World War II, Catholics sought to better understand ways in which their own tradition could inform their understanding of the phenomenon, and how best to respond to it. Perhaps one of the most prominent efforts in the early post-World War II period was the publication of Pope Pius XII’s Apostolic Constitution, Exsul Familia, which explicitly held up the Holy Family as an archetype for refugees.

Subsequent popes continued to explore the question of migration, and in doing so addressed the responsibility of receiving countries toward migrant communities, the responsibilities of migrants living in a new homeland, and the importance of providing protections to marginalized populations. The Migration Day messages that are issued every year by the pope are a very useful resource to better understand the teaching of the Church on migration.

In 2003, the bishops of the United States and Mexico made an important contribution to this effort with the publication of their joint pastoral letter, Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope. This letter, whose principles are still current, aimed to clarify some of the unique challenges confronting their respective countries with regard to migration, understand the application of Catholic teaching, and provide guidance to policy makers as they try to respond. An important part of this letter consists in the bishops’ effort to provide guiding principles that should inform policymaking. These include:

  1. Persons have the right to find opportunities in their homeland.
    All persons have the right to find in their own countries the economic, political, and social opportunities to live in dignity and achieve a full life through the use of their God-given gifts. In this context, work that provides a just, living wage is a basic human need.

    2. Persons have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families.
    The Church recognizes that all the goods of the earth belong to all people. When people cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families, they have a right to find work elsewhere to survive. Sovereign nations should provide ways to accommodate this right.

    3. Sovereign nations have the right to control their borders.
    The Church recognizes the right of sovereign nations to control their territories but rejects such control when it is exerted merely for acquiring additional wealth. More powerful economic nations, which can protect and feed their residents, have a stronger obligation to accommodate migration flows.

    4. Refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded protection.
    Those who flee wars and persecution should be protected by the global community. This requires, at a minimum, that migrants have a right to claim refugee status without incarceration and to have their claims fully considered by a competent authority.

    5. The human dignity and human rights of undocumented migrants should be respected.
    Regardless of their legal status, migrants, like all persons, possess inherent human dignity that should be respected. Often, they are subject to punitive laws and harsh treatment from enforcement officers from both receiving and transit countries. Government policies that respect the basic human rights of the undocumented are necessary.

On the pastoral letter’s tenth anniversary, I helped to edit a volume that reflected on many of the themes of the letter, and highlighted some of the important developments that occurred since its publication. Just five years later, as we celebrate the pastoral letter’s fifteenth anniversary, we find ourselves in a new set of circumstances as efforts to restrict migration in the United States are in full force.

Given these changed conditions, it is as important now as ever for Catholics to understand Church teaching on migration and in doing so push for legislation that respects the human dignity of migrants. The Justice for Immigrants Campaign, launched partly in response to the publication of the pastoral letter, is an important mechanism that Catholics can take advantage of in this regard. I urge you to visit the website and sign up to the listserv, so that you can receive regular updates on migration related phenomenon, and better understand what the Church is doing in this field.

In addition, the recently initiated migration campaign, Share the Journey, is an effort on the international level to educate Catholics on migration issues and Church teaching. In the U.S., the campaign is being implemented by USCCB, CRS, and CCUSA. On the website you can find a variety of useful resources to educate and inspire others to take action in defense of migrants and vulnerable populations.

Todd Scribner, PhD, is the Educational Outreach Coordinator for the Office of Migration Policy and Public Affairs, at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Going Deeper
Visit www.wearesaltandlight.org and find dialogue resources to address difficult issues on immigration. Also, find inspiration by learning how a diocesan Immigration Team Fosters Participation and Respect for Human Dignity.

Nine Days of Prayer for a Suffering World

As we witness suffering in the world around us, the Christmas song, “O, Holy Night,” particularly stands out to me:

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.  

The world is broken. There is suffering. And God Himself comes into that suffering to be with us. This is the true nature of compassion – to suffer with. But awareness of the brokenhearted and God’s great gift of Himself could easily become just another insight that comes and goes. So in the New Year, how do we carry the message of Christmas in our hearts? How do we live its truth in our lives, rather than pack it away with the ornaments?

We are called to love one another as Christ has loved us, to enter compassionately into the suffering of others, and to share Jesus’ love with them. One important way we can do this is through prayer.

A specific invitation to prayer surrounds January 22, when our nation will mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in the U.S. throughout the nine months of pregnancy. Since that tragic decision, more than 57 million children’s lives have been lost to abortion, and many women and men experience – often in silence – deep and lasting suffering due to their involvement.

The U.S. Catholic bishops are inviting the faithful to participate in 9 Days for Life, a period of prayer, penance and pilgrimage set aside from January 18-26 to observe this anniversary by taking part in local events and by joining Catholics across the country united in prayer. Each day of the novena includes simple prayers and different brief intentions, reflections and actions. Along with prayers for the end to abortion, the novena also includes prayers for other intentions related to human dignity, such as the end to the use of the death penalty, for those nearing the end of their lives, and for all who are on the path of adoption.

Visit http://www.9daysforlife.com to download a free app, to sign up for daily emails or text messages, and to access other helpful resources. Daily intentions will also be posted on social media with the hashtag #9DaysForLife. Follow People of Life at http://www.facebook.com/peopleoflife.

In this New Year, let us remember the brokenhearted and the suffering in our prayers and, remembering Christ’s own love for each of us, reach out to be with others in support and in love. Though we may not see the immediate effects of our prayers and good works, we can trust in God’s power to work through us.

Anne McGuire is Assistant Director of Education and Outreach for the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities.

Miracles of Charity

“Human closeness at these times gives us strength, there is solidarity.”
– Pope Francis, Aug. 18, 2014

Human closeness gives us strength that leads us to solidarity. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on these words from Pope Francis since the Weather Channel monitors began to light up with the approach and landfall of Hurricane Harvey in late August, then the arrival of Hurricane Irma, trailed by the passing of Hurricane Jose, followed by the power and destructive force of Hurricane Maria. Wow! At one point I thought: “This is a disaster nightmare!  How do we process it all?  Where do we even begin to sort out what to tackle first?”

More than 20 million people were affected by one month of hurricanes.  Thousands of families lost loved ones, hundreds of thousands lost their homes, and countless individuals lost their income, their jobs, and their livelihoods.  Those who previously lived in poverty were now critically vulnerable, while many who never sought social services before had begun a poverty journey difficult to overcome.

The need was overwhelming, but in the days and weeks following the hurricanes, so too were the miracles I witnessed while supporting agencies in their disaster response, like the clients in Houston who offered and helped to unload the CCUSA Mobile Response Center, filled with much-needed resources, when no other volunteers were available.  These clients set up the distribution site and cared enough to serve each other until everyone received the resources needed. Indeed, in every place that was impacted by the hurricanes, the miracles of charity and generosity were evident.

  • The Diocese of Corpus Christi was “ground zero” for Hurricane Harvey, but the people there didn’t think twice about sharing their resources with the Diocese of Victoria, which had none. They packed up the CCUSA Mobile Response Center vehicle and sent it off to Victoria.  When the truckload of resources arrived, the people were waiting.  A mop, Clorox, food, water, diapers: these basic supplies brought tears to the eyes of those who were left vulnerable.  When the supplies dwindled in less than two hours, neighbors came with more and more goods.  Like the miracle of the loaves and fishes in the Bible, enough supplies arrived to serve hundreds of people during the following hours.
  • Catholic Charities San Antonio organized a convoy of 72 trucks that hauled $4.1 million in relief supplies, which were loaded by 600 volunteers and driven to Catholic Charities of Galveston/Houston. Upon arrival, the contents of the trucks were off-loaded by 300 volunteers.  Staff from Catholic Charities agencies in Albany, Camden, and Gary assisted with every aspect of the disaster services being provided. And in the days that followed, more than 450 CCUSA Annual Gathering attendees from across the country continued to support the disaster work in Houston and Beaumont by operating call centers, canvasing neighborhoods, participating in distribution sites, assisting in food fairs and mucking/gutting homes in the hopes of moving each family one step closer in their recovery process.
  • While activities continued in Texas, Florida began to respond to its own catastrophe following Hurricane Irma. Each of the Florida agencies began to support one another, providing mutual aid assistance and sending disaster supplies to those areas hardest hit.  Catholic Charities staff from Charleston South Carolina packed their bags to provide assistance to Catholic Charities Venice.
  • Hurricane Irma also caused havoc in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands (St. Thomas and St. Croix), and Catholic Charities/Caritas Puerto Rico reached across the sea to provide immediate help to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Two weeks later, Hurricane Maria brought devastation not seen on the islands since the 1920s.  Yet, despite the challenges that occurred in the previous weeks, both Texas and Florida agencies took immediate actions in support of their suffering Catholic Charities family members in Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands.

This is only the beginning. Disaster recovery services will be required for years to come. We can wait no longer to embrace fully the call of the earth and the poor as one single cry for justice and solidarity. Pope Francis explicitly reminds us that the “deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet.” Catholic Charities USA affirms the veracity of this statement, an observable truth that is on display for all to see as both the intensity and the frequency of severe storms ravage our country and bruise and batter its poorest inhabitants. Meaningful investments in community mitigation, improved floodplain management, and increasing access to affordable housing are critical activities that represent tangible opportunities for all persons of goodwill to reduce the risk and exposure of natural disasters and, at the same time, demonstrate our unyielding commitment to justice and a preferential option for the poor.

May these stories inspire us all to heed the call of Pope Francis to offer human closeness that gives strength and leads to solidarity.  Every embrace of comfort, every tear shed with each other, every story of survival shared, every compassionate touch, and every action that provides hope is part of that miracle by which we, as Catholic Charities, have a profound impact as we support one another and provide meaningful and life-changing assistance to the 20 million disaster survivors who are on their road to recovery.

Kim Burgo is Senior Director of Disaster Operations at Catholic Charities USA. Zach Cahalan, Strategic Director of Disaster Operations at Catholic Charities USA, contributed to this story.

Going Deeper
Find inspiration in this story of solidarity between parish communities through aid for reconstruction.

“Rise, Take the Child and His Mother” and Flee to Egypt: A Scriptural Refrain that Echoes with Today’s Migrants

A family was in flight from a brutal regime. Not knowing where to turn for safety in their own land, they packed what they could carry and fled to a nearby welcoming country, where they waited, protected until a change in national leadership finally made it safe to return home.

The story is familiar to Christians. The Gospel of Matthew (2:13-23) tells the story of the Holy Family escaping the brutal rule of Herod the Great. They fled to Egypt, where they were safe from what Matthew describes as Herod’s order to kill all boys younger than age 2, in order to eliminate the Messiah whose birth had been announced to him by the Magi.

But it also is the story of many of the contemporary 65 million people worldwide who have been forcibly displaced from their homes, whether to safer parts of their own countries or to adjacent nations.

The Holy Family’s flight to Egypt, observed on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, just after Christmas, is the second Scriptural story during the season to focus on their status as migrants – the first being Mary and Joseph’s trek to Judea to register for the census just before Jesus was born.

The experiences of Mary and Joseph resonate with today’s immigrants and refugees. Sometimes people leave their homelands with every intention of returning quickly: “as soon as I earn enough to buy my family a house in my country;” “as soon as the soldiers and rebels stop fighting in my city;” or “as soon as the police can get rid of the gang tormenting my children.”

Others flee situations so difficult they assume it’s a one-way journey. Wars, famine, environmental destruction, crime, political and religious oppression or inescapable poverty can all compel someone to permanently leave home.

People in all of these situations are served by the 330 nonprofit immigration organizations that make up the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, known as CLINIC. The members of the network range from one- or two-person operations like the Crosier Community in Phoenix, to large, archdiocesan Catholic Charities agencies with numerous staff attorneys and accredited representatives who assist thousands of immigrants a year.

The last year brought a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety for many immigrants. Among the major unsettling actions and proposals were: the cancelation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA; the termination of Temporary Protected Status for several countries and impending decisions on cancelation for several more; changed priorities for deportation and other enforcement; increased use of detention for people who had no criminal records; changed criteria for visa approvals; reductions in the number of refugees admitted; and proposals to eliminate a foundational principle of American policy, family-based immigration.

Through it all, the members of the network established by the U.S. bishops in 1988 to serve low-income immigrants have stepped to the fore.

In the Archdioceses of Miami and Boston, that has meant significant efforts to help Haitians whose TPS status will expire in 2019 to figure out their options. Is there a relative living in the U.S. whose legal status would allow them to sponsor their TPS-holding family members?

In dozens of cities, that has meant legal services agencies gathered staff and volunteers on evenings and weekends to help screen thousands of immigrants from around the world, to evaluate whether they might have overlooked a path to legal residency in the United States. In a project to screen 3,000 immigrants in southern states last spring, 15.4 percent of the people whose applications were reviewed were found to have a likely path to legal status. Several people turned out to already be U.S. citizens—derived from having a citizen parent, typically—but were unaware of it.

And throughout the country, reaching out to vulnerable immigrants has been as essential as sharing know-your-rights materials, teaching families what documents they should prepare in case someone is unexpectedly taken into custody for deportation and as simple as providing a card to carry with an immigration attorney’s phone number. Meanwhile, in response to inquiries from parishes and other faith communities about how to help immigrants, we’ve developed resources to guide discernment for shaping a community response.

The year ahead will likely be even more difficult for millions of immigrant families, as policies changed in 2017 are fully implemented. As we begin our 30th year as CLINIC, we will remain vigilant and attentive.

Patricia Zapor is Communications Director at Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC)

 

 

Going Deeper
Visit www.sharethejourney.org to find inspiring stories of hope and to learn about ways to take action in support of refugees and immigrants, such as resources for parishes, and how to send a letter to your legislator. Take action by being part of the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering (CSMG) in Washington, DC, February 3-6.

Improving relationships between whites and people of color

“We’re bringing slavery back.” These words were told to a friend of mine’s 10-year-old son recently while at school in Indiana. He is black and faced taunts and harassment at school for several days. When his mom attempted to contact the teacher to address the issue she received no reply.

I myself have experienced such prejudice first-hand on many occasions. Several years ago a devoted Catholic woman whom I consider a part of my family discovered I was dating a black woman and told me “I’m not one of those KKK people but I think there are enough white women that you shouldn’t be dating [a black woman].”

As we look around our modern times we can clearly see that racism still exists in our society. Hate crimes are on the rise, white supremacy and white nationalism are coming back into the mainstream. An Associated Press survey, conducted in 2012 with researchers from Stanford University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Chicago, found that 51% of participants held explicitly racist views toward black people. A similar study was done in 2011 and 52% of those participants reported anti-Hispanic attitudes. Such prejudice was found across the partisan spectrum.

Archbishop Kurtz in 2015, then-president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), spoke on the effects of racism in America: “A violent, sorrowful history of racial injustice, accompanied by a lack of educational, employment and housing opportunities, has destroyed communities and broken down families, especially those who live in distressed urban communities. Confronted by these realities, the familiar words of Blessed Pope Paul VI still resonate and continue to call us to action in our day: if you want peace, work for justice …The bishops called for decisive action to eradicate racism from society and considerable progress has been made since 1979. However, more must be done.”

We can see the reality of racial injustice and disparity that Archbishop Kurtz speaks of in our own state of Iowa.

The Iowa Data Center reports that the median income for black families was roughly half that of the general population of Iowa in 2014. The poverty rate in the black population is nearly three times that of Iowa’s population as a whole. And the unemployment rate for black citizens is three times that of the general population in Iowa.

These disparities are also prevalent in our criminal justice system. Throughout our nation data frequently shows that black citizens are more likely to be stopped and searched even though white citizens are often equally or even more likely to be in possession of illegal paraphernalia compared to black citizens. Black citizens are also more likely to be convicted and receive harsher sentences for the same crimes as compared to white citizens.

According to the Sentencing Project, a non-partisan organization that studies racial disparities in incarceration and promotes restorative justice alternatives to prison, nearly 26% of Iowa prisoners are black while only 3% of the total state population is black. The state of Iowa is in the top five of highest incarceration disparity rates for black folk, with a rate more than 11 times that of whites. For Latinos the disparity is much smaller, though the incarceration rate is still almost double that of whites.

Despite these disparities, there are reasons to be hopeful for positive change. The Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court remarked in his State of the Judiciary address in 2015 on the efforts by law enforcement, school officials, community members, and others to work with a restorative justice approach to help reduce this disparity and provide more support to those in need.

The Chief Justice noted: “Iowa may be a leader in the nation in the statistics showing racial disparities in its criminal justice system, but…Iowa can also lead the nation in finding solutions to end racial disparities.”

A shining example of the good work towards peace and justice in our own state is that Iowa was first in the nation to pass a “racial impact” law in 2007 that required any increase in penalties or creating new crimes be studied to see how such legislation could potentially impact people of color disproportionately compared to white citizens to help prevent racially motivated laws to be enacted. More still needs to be done.

In the face of these somber facts a task force was convened by the USCCB and chaired by Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta. His recent report to the November Assembly of U.S. bishops recommended that the faithful engage in prayer for peace in our communities, open channels of dialogue with communities affected by racism, and that the church “find its bold prophetic voice” among other things.

Dialogue asks of us to leave our own places of comfort where we dominate and reach out to others so that we may hear their stories and their experiences. This can be challenging when others’ experiences do not readily match up to our own personal perspectives or experiences, but this makes dialogue even more important especially if we are not the ones regularly receiving the insults, oppression, and hate of racism.

We can begin to engage in such a dialogue by reading books and experiencing art and culture by people of ethnic backgrounds different from our own, greet one another on the street with smiles and charitable “hellos”, engage in conversation with others from various backgrounds, contact organizations that serve predominantly people of color and ask if you can make a visit and hear their stories, and speak out when you encounter racism in your own life. These are just a few ways for us to engage in building peace and nurturing relationships with our neighbors.

Our Catholic faith also has a vast treasure to be discovered in the lives of saints from across the globe. There are more saints of the African continent than the entire continent of North America. Several American saints, or those in the process toward sainthood, have African, Native American, Latino and Pacific heritage. Discover these holy men and women like Venerable Pierre Touassaint, St. Kateri Tekawitha and Servant of God Thea Bowman, to name a few. Pray for their intercession that there may be greater peace in our communities, stronger bonds of solidarity between peoples, and pray for the strength and courage to evaluate our own lives to discover how we can more readily participate in bringing about greater peace in our communities.

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!

Learn about how parishes in one part of the country are engaging in dialogue through Sacred Conversations on Race (+ Action). Visit WeAreSaltAndLight.org for helpful resources like “A Guide to Dialogue on Difficult Issues” and “Encouraging Civil Dialogue.”

Prayer for Immigrants/Oración por los inmigrantes

Join us in praying for families of mixed status, victims of racism, migrant laborers, young people brought to the U.S. as children, and all who are in the shadows.

Hear Us, O God

“Know that the LORD is God,
he made us, we belong to him,
we are his people, the flock he shepherds.”
– Psalm 100:3

Hear us, O God.  Hear our families of mixed status. Hear those who wait in fear of separation, burdened with anxiety.

Hear us, O God. Hear all who are called “foreigner.”  Hear us when we experience cold stares or mistrust because of the color of our skin or the language we speak.

Hear us, O God. Hear our brothers and sisters who sweat in the fields. Hear those who work long, backbreaking hours growing food, serving us at restaurants, and cleaning our homes.

Hear us, O God. Hear those young people who were brought to this country as children.  Hear their dreams for a future of hope.

Hear us, O God. Hear vulnerable women and children. Hear those who have fled domestic violence, rape, or gangs to seek safety in this country.

Hear us, O God. Hear those who work in the shadows and are exposed to exploitation and harassment. Hear those for whom just pay for a just day’s work is always uncertain.

Hear us, O God. Hear us as we raise our voices. Hear your people as we seek laws and policies to protect the vulnerable and welcome the stranger.

Standing together—a single yet diverse body of Christ, we pray:  Shepherd of the flock, hear us. Be with us, restore us, and strengthen us, for we belong to you.

May your kingdom come and your will be done.  Amen.


Escúchanos, oh Dios

“Reconozcamos que el Señor es Dios,
que él nos hizo y a él pertenecemos,
que formamos su pueblo y su rebaño”.
– Salmo 99:3

Escúchanos, oh Dios. Escucha a nuestras familias con estatus migratorios mixtos. Escucha a los que esperan con temor la separación, cargados de ansiedad.

Escúchanos, oh Dios. Escucha a todos los que son llamados “extranjeros”. Escúchanos cuando experimentamos miradas frías o desconfianza debido al color de nuestra piel o al lenguaje que hablamos.

Escúchanos, oh Dios. Escucha a nuestros hermanos y hermanas que sudan en los campos. Escucha a los que trabajan largas y extenuantes horas cultivando alimentos, sirviéndonos en restaurantes y limpiando nuestros hogares.

Escúchanos, oh Dios. Escucha a esos jóvenes que fueron traídos a este país siendo niños. Escucha sus sueños de un futuro de esperanza.

Escúchanos, oh Dios. Escucha a las mujeres y niños vulnerables. Escucha a los que han huido de la violencia doméstica, la violación o las pandillas para buscar seguridad en este país.

Escúchanos, oh Dios. Escucha a los que trabajan en las sombras y están expuestos a la explotación y el acoso. Escucha a aquellos para los cuales una remuneración justa por un día de trabajo justo es siempre incierta.

Escúchanos, oh Dios. Escúchanos cuando alzamos nuestras voces. Escucha a tu pueblo en nuestra búsqueda de leyes y políticas que protejan al vulnerable y acojan al extraño.

Juntos de pie, un solo pero diverso cuerpo de Cristo, oremos: Pastor del rebaño, escúchanos. Acompáñanos, restablécenos y fortalécenos, porque te pertenecemos.

Venga a nosotros tu reino; hágase tu voluntad. Amén.