Love Must Win Out

Bethany Welch

Bethany J. Welch, Ph.D.

For nearly a year now, I have had the distinct privilege of accompanying two asylum seeking families from the Horn of Africa. When I look back at the appeal letter that I wrote to garner support for their arrival in South Philadelphia, I am both humbled by what has transpired since and embarrassed by how naive I was when the journey began.

I believe in the power of advocacy. I work on systems change. I go to protests to shine a light on injustice and I have made a career of helping urban neighborhoods build capacity to fight the effects of poverty.

What I have not done is let love prevail. Until this year. Which is why, now, I believe firmly that love sits at the intersection of mercy and justice. Not the love of paper valentines and heart shaped boxes of candy, but a radical, transforming love manifest to us in the Incarnation.

My part of the story begins in late August of 2015 when, in response to the call of Pope Francis to give shelter to migrants and refugees, St. Thomas Aquinas parish and the adjacent social justice center, which I direct, began to consider providing material support for specific families. This would be above and beyond the work that we already do as a community of immigrants and refugees around education, advocacy, leadership development, legal outreach, streetscape revitalization, and more.

As I wrote to donors then, the story of the two families that we did receive is a universal tale of struggle to find safety and a chance at a better life. They escaped torture and assault. They made their way from one country in Africa to the next, up on through South America and eventually to the Texas border. When these two single mothers and their young children landed in a detention facility in Pennsylvania instead of the wide open streets of a democratic America, it was compassionate pro-bono legal counsel who contacted me to discuss the prospect of finding a welcoming community to support them. It turns out that, while Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would not allow them individual freedoms while awaiting an asylum hearing, they could be “signed for” by a U.S. citizen with a valid address and be released to his or her care.

Fighting for justice, motivated by righteous anger, does not sustain you when the system is this broken. The flame burns you up and out. I have seen this happen to dear colleagues and I’ve suffered from it myself. The difference this time was that I took on the system in the context of a loving community of believers who proclaimed hope in the face of despair and I did so without a political agenda. There is a valiant and important movement to close the detention center where these families were held, but this round, that wasn’t where my efforts were focused.

Instead, I was asked to enter into the suffering of strangers by staying present with them, every day, rain or shine, for fun errands like shopping for Christmas dresses and in the profoundly raw moments of listening to a proud, beautiful 25 year old woman sob with the indignity of having to explain why she needed to find a long skirt that would cover the lacerations caused by the ICE issued ankle monitor bracelet, a condition of her release from the detention facility.

In 1977, a few years before he was murdered in the act of celebrating Mass, Blessed Oscar Romero said, “Let us not tire of preaching love; it is the force that will overcome the world. Let us not tire of preaching love. Though we see that waves of violence succeed in drowning the fire of Christian love, love must win out; it is the only thing that can.” This kind of love is what these two women and their children have demonstrated to me during our time together.

Love says goodbye to your parents and siblings in the hope that you can make more of a difference in their lives by leaving than by staying.

Love is months on the road, at the hands of smugglers, in order to extract your four year old from what will be a life of famine or military conscription by a corrupt government.

Love is not giving up on humanity when you ask for asylum from the nation held up as a model of a free and fair society and instead, authorities place you in a prison.

Love maintains a persistent, echoing cry for medical care when that four year old son is plagued by gastrointestinal viruses that rip through the close quarters of the detention facility in the same way cholera and dysentery take hold in a refugee camp in a developing country.

Love hopes all things, even when your court date for a preliminary hearing is postponed yet again.

For one of these families, love did win out. The first pair were granted asylum in late May, which situated them to receive refugee style benefits and we were able to match them with an affluent suburban parish to accompany them for the next year of life in America. For the second, the finish line keeps getting moved, even as they become more and more invested in the life of our parish and take on a larger part of my heart. While I continue to see my calling as one of fighting injustice through advocacy and innovative community building projects, I have learned that the work must be rooted in love, for this is the only force that will overcome the world.

Bethany J. Welch, Ph.D. is the founder of the Aquinas Center in Philadelphia, PA and recipient of the 2014 Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award granted by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Nominations for the 2016 awards are being accepted through July 31, 2016.

Wage Theft: A Threat to the Worker and to Economic Development

Don Bosco's Gonzalo Cruz with Cardinal Dolan at Pope's Workshop

Don Bosco’s Gonzalo Cruz with Cardinal Dolan

Wage theft is not only an urban problem. Don Bosco Workers began as a parish program at Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Westchester County in 2000. The program was in response to the growing social unrest in Port Chester over “workers on the corners” and the alarming levels of wage theft as a consequence of workers being uninformed and unaffiliated.

A Catholic Campaign for Human Development — the domestic anti-poverty program of the Catholic bishops of the United States — grantee beginning in 2006, we incorporated in 2008 including a worker-driven board of directors. Today, we represent more 200 paid members organized as a General Assembly of Workers who decide on how to strengthen the organization through skills training, leadership development, and education.

In September 2014, in collaboration with Communications Workers of America, Local 1103 in Port Chester, we launched a new campaign to address wage theft as a threat not only to the Westchester worker but to economic development throughout the county. No Pay No Way: Wage Theft Is Bad For Business educates the community on how responsible business owners suffer, when other businesses fail to follow labor law. Research shows responsible businesses are simply less competitive because their cost of doing business (paying their workers) is higher.

Just about one year into No Pay No Way, we collaborated with the Attorney General of New York in the prosecution of a local restaurant owner for wage, overtime, and safety violations for five female workers. The employer was sentenced to repayment of $47,000. The women are now thinking about investing their recovered wages in a worker-owned eco-cleaning business.

Last year, we were honored to construct the chair that Pope Francis used when he celebrated Mass at Madison Square Garden. We were called the Pope’s workers, and this continues to inspire our work for justice.

When workers are treated fairly according to the law, workers and responsible small business thrive, and there is greater economic development for all.

Gonzalo Cruz is the Director for Don Bosco Workers, Inc.

Go Deeper!

As Don Bosco Workers, Inc. works to protect worker rights, visit this page from WeAreSaltAndLight.org which contains resources on ethical practices for business leaders and institutions.”

Archbishop Thomas Wenski: Support the Catholic Campaign for Human Development

Thomas Wenski is the archbishop of Miami and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

Today, 1 in 7 Americans, including 1 in 5 children in the United States, live in poverty. The scandal of poverty, hunger and other forms of injustice, remind us of our Gospel call to share the good news, and promote human dignity and the common good.

For over forty years, the Catholic bishops of the United States through the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), have been working to break the cycle of poverty by empowering people, in their own communities, to be agents of change and engineers of justice.

With continued high levels of poverty and income inequality, talk of statistics and structures can be dehumanizing, numbing and easily dismissed in polite conversation. But poverty and injustice aren’t just for political talking points or academic debate, and as people of faith we can’t avert our gaze to the real struggles and suffering of our brothers and sisters in need. The reality of poverty and injustice is less visible in the news or out of the mouths of our country’s decision makers. But make no mistake, it’s there. Barriers to justice and thriving are found in the unrest in Ferguson Missouri, in the continuing break-up of immigrant families, and in persistent unemployment and non-family-wage jobs. For too many people, poverty means precious time away from family, job insecurity, no retirement, isolation, silent tears and stifled human dignity.

The bishops of the United States know that poverty can’t be simply reduced to graphs and charts, but must be challenged as an affront to people – loved ones, families struggling under the great weight of indifference, our neighbors. The only way out of this cycle of desperation is to work together to find just and lasting humane solutions. The answer to the problem of poverty in America today will not be affluence, but solidarity.

CCHD’s mission is to address the root causes of poverty in America by supporting the passion, creativity and imagination present in our local parishes and communities. In my home state of Florida, CCHD groups are working on disrupting the school to prison pipeline and empowering citizens returning from incarceration to integrate into local communities in healthy and productive ways.

With your support, CCHD brings Catholic social teaching alive by funding initiatives that empower communities. We do this with your help, giving them a voice in their future, providing them the opportunity to participate in society with dignity and giving people a chance to raise a family with confidence and security. Examples of stories of hope abound, and I invite you to take a look.

Pope Francis continues to draw our attention to the reality of exclusion in our society. He reminds us of our responsibility to disrupt it with tenacity, courage and love. As he said recently, “We have to return to making human dignity the center and on that foundation build the alternative societal structures that we need.”

CCHD supports groups working on the margins and building up their local communities. We all know that there is still much work to be done. Join us in making solidarity a reality for our Church, our neighbors, our family members and those who just need a fair shot. Please give generously to this important collection.

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.

Bishop Jaime Soto on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development

The USCCB collection to support the Catholic Campaign for Human Development will be taken up in parishes nationwide on the weekend of November 22-23. Please give generously.

Bishop Jaime Soto, Chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee on CCHD

Bishop Jaime Soto, Chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee on CCHD

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development is the anti-poverty program of the Catholic bishops of the United States. Thinking about CCHD, my thoughts turn to the latest flashpoint of anger and civil unrest in our country—Ferguson, Missouri.

When the bishops created CCHD forty years ago, core to its mission was overcoming poverty by bringing together people of diverse backgrounds and different income brackets to identify solutions to poverty. Forty years later, the turmoil of Ferguson seems to pose a unique threat to our country. Yet there are eerie echoes of the past.

Just after the police shooting of the young black man, Michael Brown, there was much speculation and punditry about the reasons for the explosion of outrage. It’s right to ask whether adequate resources are available to stem a rising tide of frustration in our communities. And there are real concerns about racism, profiling and the militarization of local police enforcement. But I want to draw attention to one aspect that caught my attention in a radio report I heard in those initial days.

An African-American woman, active in the community of Ferguson, spoke about low voter turnout in the area. This may be just one underlying factor among many, but not an insignificant one.

Low voter participation means that structures intended to promote the common good may be far from representative. Confidence in decisions made and trust in those who make them become fragile. In Ferguson, authority was disconnected from accountability, fomenting a volatile social imbalance that only needed a spark. What little social fabric existed quickly unraveled.

As a bishop, I’m troubled to see violence erode a community. I’m also concerned about the underlying problems of diminishing public participation and representation. In my home state of California during the recent elections, a comparatively small percentage of citizens turned out to vote. We need to be sober about the problems of stale voter turnout.

Even a nation of laws cannot survive without the participation of ordinary people. Liberty loses its meaning without a common purpose fashioned from the crucible of thoughtful, respectful social dialogue. Groups supported by CCHD are working to reverse the process of community implosion by engaging citizens in critical conversations and activating the community’s native talent, resources and creativity. CCHD groups are reinforcing and creating social bonds based on faith, sharing and solidarity. In Ferguson, they are addressing racism and lack of opportunity for so many young people who feel excluded. Groups like Sacramento Area Congregations Together, in my diocese, are organizing parishes to reintegrate ex-offenders into the community in safe, productive and meaningful ways. Efforts like these help keep people from returning to prison and a life of crime.

Growing political polarity and economic disparity, as well as dwindling social civility seem to be pushing more people to the margins, either by coercion or self-exclusion. The relation between this growing exclusion and questions of democratic participation is not casual.

Pope Benedict XVI gave these questions, and the challenges they pose for Christians, much thought in his encyclical on charity, Deus Caritas Est. He proposed that even if a society could perfectly administer justice, Christians would still have the duty of charity. Charity is no substitute for justice. Charity implies justice. It enables a free society to build social bonds that justice alone cannot forge. We should listen carefully to the wise instruction of the Book of Proverbs: “He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will himself also call and not be heard.”

Through the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the bishops of the United States offer a unique contribution towards overcoming the hostility and indifference plaguing our country. The empowerment of local groups committed to breaking down the walls of race and income inequality, in the name of a greater solidarity, reverses the trend of disintegration that we’re witnessing in places like Ferguson. The credibility that CCHD supported groups bring to the table of democracy is a love for neighbor that satisfies the demands of justice and exceeds them.

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

Social justice. Are we listening?

A word cloud from the social encyclical of Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate.

A word cloud from the social encyclical of Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate.

It seemed not long ago that Pope Francis set off a firestorm of controversy around the question of social justice. That seems to have died down now. Of course, he keeps speaking, but are we really listening?

If you weren’t paying attention, you may have missed a classic Pope Francis moment last week. Speaking on the anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, Francis called for “deep reforms” in our economic and public life.

One would have thought that after a speech in which he once again called for “redistribution of wealth” and “redistribution of sovereignty”, there would have been controversy to follow. Instead there was uncanny silence.

He also had harsh words for poverty and inequality, saying that inequality threatens to erode our democracies. He ended his speech with a heartfelt plea to “keep alive the concern for the poor and social justice”.

No doubt about it, Pope Francis keeps talking about social justice. But, are we receiving his teaching? Do we believe that social justice is a meaningful term, that it has something to offer in terms of shaping American society, the economy and public life?

Pope Francis clearly does. In the same speech, he defines social justice as the difference between a society based on exclusion and one founded on inclusion.

Groups supported by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development struggle on the border between inclusion and exclusion. They work to stretch the border of fairness and dignity to more and more communities. They certainly know what a society built on exclusion looks like. Unemployment. Anxiety. Job insecurity. Drugs. Stolen wages. Excluded immigrants. Environmental damage. Catch up with the bills. Not making rent. A criminal record that comes back to haunt. Expensive education. No time to think about family. No time to think about community.

These are the hard truths of social injustice. You only come to know them by living its harsh reality or by exercising solidarity with those who do.

But CCHD groups also appreciate the hard won truths of social justice. Community. Economic empowerment. Jobs. Participation in public life. Education. Health. Culture. Fairness. Justice. Raising a family with confidence. The power to change one’s life for the better.

For Pope Francis, social justice isn’t a detached, abstract discourse. As he says, it’s about “overcoming the structural causes of inequality and poverty.” It’s about putting the pieces of a broken society back together. It’s about building “an economy and a market that does not exclude people, and which are equitable.” The question of social justice is not a grandiloquent discourse on the theological conditions of the perfect society. It is about how to live and love in a broken world.

A word cloud from a speech of Pope Francis on the Church's social mission.

A word cloud from a speech of Pope Francis on the Church’s social mission.

Because we have put profit before people, competition before community, there are those who suffer exclusion from our markets and from our democracy.

The bishops of the United States define just what social justice looks like in their 1986 pastoral letter on the economy, Economic Justice for All. In their words:

“Basic justice demands the establishment of minimum levels of participation in the life of the human community for all persons.”

For the bishops, social justice requires society be molded so that all can participate in our economy and public life. Participation and inclusion are the yardsticks of social justice.

If that’s true, that might mean that we need to take Pope Francis’ call to redistribute wealth and sovereignty seriously. How do we make sure all can participate in an economy that guarantees dignified work and the ability to raise a family? How do we make sure that all voices are represented at the table of our democracy? Those aren’t abstract questions. As Pope Benedict XVI put it in Caritas in Veritate:

“Testimony to Christ’s charity, through works of justice, peace and development, is part and parcel of evangelization, because Jesus Christ, who loves us, is concerned with the whole person.”

Do we want a society based on inclusion or exclusion? Our commitment to love like Jesus demands we hear the question.

McCloud headshotRalph McCloud is the executive director of the USCCB’s Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

Go deeper:
Learn about poverty in the United States and what CCHD groups are doing to address it at PovertyUSA and PobrezaUSA.

Follow CCHD on Twitter.

Race, Economic Justice & Ferguson: An Interview with CCHD’s Ralph McCloud

The recent tragic events in Ferguson, MO have brought to the forefront issues of racism, public accountability and the role of faith leaders in communities. Organizations supported by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development are working to rebuild community ties in Ferguson, and join the Archbishop of St. Louis in his call to “dismantle systemic racism”.

Recently, the online journal Millennial interviewed Ralph McCloud, director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, to discuss these issues. With the kind permission of Millennial, we’ve re-produced the interview in its entirety here.


Ralph McCloud serves as the executive director of the USCCB’s Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

Ralph McCloud serves as the director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

It seems as though one of the things motivating people to protest is the sense that racial bias is leading to unequal and unjust policing. Do you see this as a major problem in the country? If so, what can be done to address it?

Racism continues to be a major problem in the country. Unjust stops, arrests, the use of militia-type tactics on citizens and discriminatory sentencing policies have led to a growing distrust among African Americans and other people of color toward police and the judicial “system.” There is a feeling that we will not be treated fairly and because of that, there is growing polarization, mutual disrespect and alienation on all sides… until it erupts unfortunately in a tragedy. You know there’s a problem when police view neighborhoods as war zones and kids feel like they’re under occupation.

Is there an issue of systemic or structural racism that is motivating those protesting?

Why is it the norm when dealing with people of color and alleged “criminals” to utilize violence? Why do we consider certain types of communities disposable? It’s a fact that racism shapes American attitudes and policies around criminal justice. It is systemic and structural, but on many levels and by many systems… We spend a great deal of time and energy applauding the gains we’ve made, but we ignore how far we still have to go. This isn’t just a law enforcement issue; it’s also about health care, education, economic opportunity, political participation. There are systems and structures in the United States keeping people from living up to their God-given dignity. Violence has never been solution to our problems.

What role does material inequality play in undermining efforts to reduce racial divisions and achieve a more unified, just society?  Do you see a connection between economic injustice and the protests in Ferguson?

Without question. In Ferguson, I see folk denied access and opportunity. Violence is the reaction of a society that refuses to address the growing divide between those who have and those who are disposable, what Pope Francis calls the throw-away culture.

People of color are more likely to be denied access to those things they need to reach their goals, what you might call the American dream. Historically, when people are denied opportunity, frustration and anger reach a boiling point.  People want to exist in a peaceful society, where they can raise families, contribute, educate their children, and be safe. When these goals are out of reach for lifetimes and generations, despair sets in.

What can be done to bring greater economic justice and reduce poverty in America?

This tragedy should make us rethink the evil that rampant inequality is inflicting on our communities, the use of violence to enforce it, and the “roping off” of opportunity to growing parts of our society. Whether its people of color, immigrants from the wrong country, or a growing group of people below the poverty line, we have to ask whether it’s appropriate to police the margins with violence and punishment. This type of punishment starts with impoverished communities and poor education, continues with lack of economic opportunity, and ends up in a prison and immigrant detention cell.

A preferential option must be shown to those communities where high poverty exists. Intensive efforts must be made to stimulate economic development, to educate tomorrow’s work force, to give families a sense of ownership and pride in their communities. Will we treat people, as Pope Francis has asked us to, as artisans of their own destiny or will they be objects of punishment and exclusion?

The protests in Ferguson have increased calls for criminal justice reform. One element is sentencing reform. Can sentencing reform be done in a way that brings greater safety and security to the people living in economically depressed areas while reducing unfairness in the system and helping those who have committed relatively minor crimes from falling into a life of crime? A number of existing proposals seem to disregard the impact on the law-abiding citizens in these areas who want greater safety and security for their families and who are disproportionately the direct or indirect victims of these crimes. The preferential option for the poor seems to create an imperative to drive down crime rates and drug abuse in poor areas, but also to eliminate unfair sentencing and counterproductive penalties that will result in more crime. Is this type of reform possible? A second element of criminal justice reform might be to help rehabilitate those who are imprisoned and help to reintegrate them into society. Would this be helpful? What reforms might be useful in this area?

It’s a fact born out in American history that more prisons don’t make our communities safer.

When you look at the current sentencing guidelines, for drug offenses in particular, huge disparities exist. The pall of criminalization keeps extending over more and more groups of people on the bottom while at the top we’ve witnessed rampant impunity. Who are we criminalizing and why? Who do we fear and why? We need to ask questions that get to the root of the problem.

The culture of our prisons isn’t one that leads to success on the outside. We need to assist persons who have made mistakes and who want to do better to get on a path to success, which includes employment, education, housing, voting privileges, etc. Restorative justice is becoming popular to help heal both the victims and the perpetrator of crimes. Another approach is to look (pre-sentencing) at what unique needs the perpetrator had going in—drug and alcohol use, anger issues, depression, family problems, low educational achievement, etc. and make sure those issues are dealt with before re-entry, making rehabilitation a condition of release. It is also critically important to acknowledge the faith component of rehabilitation. Inmates need access to those things that will strengthen and sustain their faith life.

All of this can only happen when local communities come together in trust—trust inter-racially, trust inter-economically, trust neighborhood to neighborhood. Sadly, Ferguson is any city USA and any city USA can be Ferguson.