Bishop Richard E. Pates on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development

Most Rev. Richard E. Pates, Bishop of Des Moines

Most Rev. Richard E. Pates, Bishop of Des Moines

“… the poor no longer wait, they seek to be protagonists, they organize, study, work, demand and, above all, practice that special solidarity that exists among those who suffer, among the poor…” -Pope Francis, October 28, 2014

Just before Thanksgiving each November, parishes across the country offer people the opportunity to contribute to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). CCHD is the anti-poverty program of the Catholic bishops of the United States. As the days of fall grow colder and shorter, it’s a bright sign of hope.

There are many problems weighing upon our nation today, too many to mention. Too many people don’t seem to count anymore. There’s a loss of compassion in the face of so many unable to find jobs and unable to raise families with confidence. Our society tolerates the destruction of the earth that should be our common home. This is a time of exclusion—the young, the old, the migrant, those in search of work are all feeling exclusion’s cold sting.  They fall victim to a “throw-away” culture of which Pope Francis warns.

Enter CCHD. CCHD supported groups are demonstrating that, even in the midst of these painful realities, solidarity is more powerful than exclusion. In my experience as a priest and bishop, I can tell you that the work of CCHD is a sign of God’s presence in our suffering communities, a sign of hope. Let me tell you how CCHD and CCHD supported groups are making that possible.

  • CCHD is about community and solidarity.

The remedy to the poverty and coldness in human interactions today—in families, between employers and those seeking dignified jobs, between politicians and everyday working families—must be a genuine solidarity. Real solidarity can restore community relationships and build a society in which no one is forced into the bondage of poverty. CCHD brings people together to exercise real solidarity and look for solutions to common problems. In Iowa City, the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa brings together immigrant workers from Latin America, Africa and Asia. Together, these workers assist each other in recovering stolen wages from unscrupulous employers, keeping their immigrant families together, and building positive relations with local law enforcement. This is what solidarity looks like.

  • CCHD is evangelization.

    Amos

    AMOS’ work led to the development of a fully equipped, professionally staffed mobile obstetric clinic that visits the city of Ames twice a month.

Expressing our love for those in need by empowering them with tools for a better life is a way of expressing Christ’s love. It testifies to God’s Kingdom and to the truth of Catholic social teaching. Our participation in the work of CCHD gives witness to our commitment to love as Jesus loves. In the Diocese of Des Moines, parishes and faithful Catholics involved in the Amos Institute for Public Life have worked together to create Project IOWA.  This project trains people with new skills and places them in jobs that pay living wages. As Pope Francis recently said, “…love for the poor is at the heart of the Gospel. Land, housing and work, those things for which you are fighting, are sacred rights. Claiming those things is not unusual, it is the social doctrine of the Church.”

  • CCHD evangelizes us.

Those involved in the work of CCHD experience that special solidarity that exists among those who suffer. Those encounters resonate with the experience of the suffering Jesus, but also with the Resurrected Lord whose power brings restoration to broken communities. In this way, CCHD is a great gift to the Church.  CCHD can reinvigorate parish life. Parishes in the Diocese of Davenport have been enlivened by their participation with Quad Cities Interfaith and through their work to secure public transportation for parents who need to get to work. By encountering Jesus in the needs of our neighbor, we are brought to a deeper faith.

In these difficult times, the work of CCHD is a sign of hope. By restoring warmth to our relations with one another and to our communities, CCHD supported groups are building pathways out of poverty and rebuilding societies on a foundation of justice.

Speaking to participants at the World Meeting of Popular Movements, Pope Francis said that true solidarity in action brings “the wind of promise that fuels the dream of a better world.” As he said, “May that wind become a gale of hope.”   Please give generously to the CCHD collection.

Richard E. Pates is the bishop of Des Moines and the immediate past chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace.

A Pilgrimage for Peace (2 of 2)

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Bishops discuss peace with former President Peres of Israel.

Led by Bishop Richard Pates, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice & Peace, 18 bishops from the United States recently returned from a “Prayer Pilgrimage for Peace in the Holy Land.”  In their own words, here’s what they hope:

As U.S. bishops, we humbly acknowledge that we do not understand all the complexities of the situation, but in faith we do understand some things clearly. We reaffirm the longstanding position of the U.S. bishops and the Holy See and support a two-state solution: a secure and recognized Israel living in peace with a viable and independent Palestinian state. The broad outlines of this solution are well known; but there has not been, nor does there appear to be, the determined political will to achieve it.

There is no military solution to the conflict, but tragically violence on both sides undermines the trust needed to achieve peace. Violence always sows seeds of further violence and fear. We witnessed the horrific devastation of whole neighborhoods in Gaza and heard about tragic deaths on both sides, especially a disproportionate number of Palestinian noncombatants, women, and children. The local Christian community in Gaza described the nightly terror they suffered during the war. Israelis in Sderot and elsewhere described their dread of Hamas rocket fire.

The route of the barrier wall, the confiscation of Palestinian lands in the West Bank, especially now in the Bethlehem area and the Cremisan Valley, and any expansion of settlements threaten to undermine the two-state solution. Many reported that the window of opportunity for peace was narrowing dangerously. If it closes, the futures of both Palestinians and Israelis will be harmed.

Bishops discuss peace with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

Bishops discuss peace with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

Many persons with whom we met joined us in commending the recent initiative of Secretary of State John Kerry, but said renewed U.S. leadership is required for peace. For the sake of both Israelis and Palestinians, the United States must mobilize the international community to support both parties by adopting parameters for a lasting solution, including borders, an open and shared Jerusalem, and a timeline.

Pope Francis, in word and gesture, inspired hope on his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in May. After another Gaza war, hope is now in short supply. One person on our journey told us that the Holy Land is the land of miracles. The miracle we need is the transformation of human hearts so each side is less deaf to the concerns of the other. In solidarity with our brother bishops and all people in the region, we urge alternatives to the cycle of hatred and violence. Peace is possible.

Go deeper:
Learn about the USCCB’s advocacy for peace in Palestine and Israel.

A Pilgrimage for Peace (1 of 2)

Led by Bishop Richard Pates, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice & Peace, 18 bishops from the United States recently returned from a “Prayer Pilgrimage for Peace in the Holy Land.”  In their own words, here’s what they saw:

Bishop Malone inspects the devastation in Gaza.

Bishop Malone inspects the devastation in Gaza.

We went to the Holy Land as men of faith on a Prayer Pilgrimage for Peace. Motivated by the love of Christ and deep concern for both Israelis and Palestinians, we went to pray for peace, and to work for a two-state solution and an open and shared Jerusalem. Arriving in the wake of the recent Gaza war, though, we encountered pain, intransigence and cynicism. Even the young people are discouraged. But we also saw signs of inspiration and hope.

Prayer was the central element of our pilgrimage. Through daily liturgies at holy sites and local parishes, we experienced our communion in Christ with local Christian communities. We are grateful to those at home who supported our pilgrimage with prayers and interest. We also prayed alongside Jews, Muslims and other Christians. Prayer is powerful. We know peace is possible because God is our hope.

We met with people of goodwill, Palestinian and Israeli alike, who yearn for peace. We were inspired by the commitment of the staff and partners of Catholic Relief Services, The Pontifical Mission, and the local Christian community, who are providing relief to the people of Gaza; by the efforts of Christians, Muslims, and Jews who are building bridges of understanding; and by the mission of the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre. We were moved profoundly by our visit to Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, and were encouraged by Bethlehem University, a Catholic institution that is building bridges between Christians and Muslims as they study together to create the future of Palestine, and by the Church’s schools that are open to all.

We are compelled by the Gospel of Peace to share the fruits of our prayers and encounters with Israelis and Palestinians. Two peoples and three faiths have ancient ties to this Land. Sadly, Jerusalem, the City of Peace, is a sign of contradiction. We were told more than once that the city could erupt in violence as it has on far too many occasions.

Bishops gather at the Separation Wall in Jerusalem.

Bishops gather at the Separation Wall in Jerusalem.

The towering wall that divides Israelis and Palestinians is another sign of contradiction. For Israelis, it is a sign of security; for Palestinians, a sign of occupation and exclusion. The contrast between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories is also a sign of contradiction. In crossing the border one moves from freedom and prosperity to the intimidation of military checkpoints, humiliation, and deeper poverty.

The situation of Christian Palestinians is an added sign of contradiction. The Christian community is emigrating at alarming rates. As we learned from Patriarch Fouad Twal, the unresolved conflict and occupation undermine human dignity and the ability of Christians to raise their families. Israeli policies in East Jerusalem prohibit Christians who marry someone from outside the City to remain there with their spouse, and security policies restrict movement and confiscate lands, undermining the ability of many Christian families to survive economically. The harsh realities of occupation force them to leave. Muslims also suffer similarly, but have fewer opportunities to emigrate…

Go deeper:
Learn about the USCCB’s advocacy for peace in Palestine and Israel.

Fr. Edward: Witness of Faith in Central African Republic

Bishop Pates in Central African Republic

Bishop Pates in Central African Republic

In July, Bishop Richard Pates, Chairman of the Committee on International Justice & Peace, traveled to Bangui, Central African Republic. He visited the campus of the Major Seminary of Saint Marc on the outskirts of the city.

The tree-covered campus is normally a quiet place for religious study and peaceful reflection. But when rebel forces overthrew the government in March 2013 and serious fighting in Bangui broke out in December 2013, that all changed.

Near the seminary, the fighting started in a Muslim neighborhood and Notre Dame Fatima parish. Thousands streamed into the seminary compound seeking shelter, according to Fr. Edward Tsimba, CICM, a missionary priest from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the seminary’s rector. He said they housed them as best they could on the seminary grounds, in classrooms, dining rooms, dorms, the chapel, and even the piggery, to provide shelter from the rains.

They had urgent needs for water, sanitation, food and tents for temporary shelter.  “I have always believed that if you act with whatever you have at hand, God will take care of the rest”, said Fr. Edward. “I used all the money I had to provide water and food. Soon money ran out. That was when humanitarian organizations came to help.  They brought food, medicine, kitchen materials, tents, and helped us with our water supply.”

Then people came with illnesses and small wounds. The seminary had to search for medicines and first aid supplies to deal with malaria, diarrhea and minor cuts.  Fr. Edward bought what he could, and outside organizations helped set up a small clinic.  Fr. Edward is not a doctor, but learned a lot of simple medicine from this experience.

The displaced filled classrooms for three months. Classes were suspended for the 34 seminarians who also worked to provide for the needs of their new guests. Other Catholic orders offered the seminarians space where they could pursue their studies until the end of the school year.

Fr. Edward found the enormous workload tiring.  He and the seminarians worked from sunup to sundown scrambling to care for the 10,000 people who came to their doors. At times he was awoken in the middle of the night by an urgent knock on the door to resolve a fight that had broken out or to get help for a woman in labor. One sad night a delivery went very badly. The mother lost her child. They had to bury the poor child during the night in secret by the light of a motorcycle.

There were days when the crowds of people, constant noise, stress, fatigue and even discouragement overwhelmed Fr. Edward. He would escape to his office and turn on the air conditioning to block out the sound of distressed humanity outside. He would get up the next morning barely refreshed and go outside to his veranda. There people who had slept on the concrete floor would smile and greet him with a hearty, “Bonjour, Rector!  How did you sleep?” The greeting stirred him from his sadness and gave him the courage to carry on.

Children flocked around Fr. Edward as he walked among the camp tents. He has taught the kids the fist bump and the kids love it. “They hit my hand hard. I blow on it as if to cool it down and invite the kids to do the same. One day a new mother came to me to tell me that she was going to name her child ‘Rector.’” He told her that his name is not Rector. “Then what is your name?” she asked.” “My name is Edward.” “Then it is Rector Edward,” she said. He laughed heartedly. The child is a girl.

Six months later, the number of people sheltered has dropped to about 9,000.  Classrooms and the chapel are being cleared so classes and masses can resume. “When I asked people to help clean the chapel, they went to work immediately and right after we held mass to thank God for the improvements in the situation and for the grace to continue on.”

“This experience has taught me, the other teachers and the 34 seminarians lessons we could not learn in class, like how little it takes to be happy,” Fr. Edward shared. “Many of the displaced have lost everything, yet they remain welcoming to each other. I have learned how resilient and strong the human spirit is. When people of God call on their faith to deal with their terrible losses and find the courage to move on, it is an inspiring thing to watch.”

Stephen Hilbert is a policy advisor on Africa and global development in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.

Go deeper:
Learn about the USCCB’s advocacy on the Central African Republic.