Respect Life Month: Working to End the Death Penalty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Going Deeper

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

For I Was Hungry and You Gave Me Food

thanksgiving-1705784_1920Every November, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, we are grateful for food, the ability to feed our own families, and the need to ensure our entire human family has enough to eat.

Our holiday table reminds us of many other important tables: tables where families comes together to share a special meal; tables where our nation’s decision makers negotiate trade, aid, and public policies that affect us all; and, the most sacred of tables—the altar where the church gathers to be nourished by communion. Let us enter this month remembering that each table calls us to act with faith and hope.

November is the anniversary month of the pastoral letter “For I Was Hungry & You Gave Me Food: Catholic Reflections on Food, Farmers and Farmworkers,” first issued in 2003. The letter seeks to highlight the issues of food and agriculture and their connection to our faith.  The letter states, “We focus on how food and fiber are produced, how land is protected and how agriculture is structured, compensated, and regulated to serve the ‘common good.’”

The purpose of the bishop’s letter was to address the concern that food and agriculture are “little seen and less understood” by a post-industrial society living increasingly technological lives. It is true we are further removed from food and agriculture than ever before. Yet what we eat, who grows and harvests that food, and the state of the earth that produces these goods are the very things we need to consider as Christian disciples. It’s a valuable consideration this harvest month, and every month. More than a decade since it was first published, the bishop’s pastoral letter still serves as a poignant reminder that food and agriculture must be viewed from a deeply faith perspective.

November is also Native America Heritage month. Native Americans were once the most agriculturally prosperous group of people in the United States. Yet a snapshot of hunger and poverty today on reservations is nothing short of a banquet of scarcity.  Sixty percent of the counties with majority Native Americans face dangerously high food insecurity rates, according to Feeding America.  These statistics are a sobering reminder that many marginalized brothers and sisters are missing from our tables of plenty.

A broader overview of the state of hunger in our country reveals that 48 million Americans live in households that struggle to put food on the table, and that 1 in 5 kids live at risk of hunger.

Unfortunately, Thanksgiving won’t be a feast for everyone.

The bishop’s pastoral letter addresses the complexities of our food system but it is also a profoundly hopeful document. “We know these are not easy times, but as believers we have hope for the days ahead: We have the capacity to overcome hunger in our nation and around the world,” the letter said.

Through Bread for the World’s Offering of Letters campaigns, churches across the country advocate to end hunger by putting food and agriculture into focus. These annual policy advocacy campaigns remind us that God intended for all to be fed.

This Thanksgiving, let us remember that ending hunger in our lifetime will only be a reality if we act with faith and hope at all the sacred tables in our lives.

Krisanne VaillancourtKrisanne Vaillancourt Murphy is the Senior Associate for National Catholic Engagement at Bread for the World.


Going Deeper!

Read about how parishes in the Archdiocese of New York are together advocating to end child hunger. You can hear more about this creative effort by participating in our live event on Dec. 20 at 2 p.m., which will feature this and other stories of acting together as communities of salt and light.

Forming Our Children to Go Forth

“Families should not see themselves as a refuge from society, but instead go forth from their homes in a spirit of solidarity with others. . . A married couple who experience the power of love know that this love is called to bind the wounds of the outcast, to foster a culture of encounter and to fight for justice. God has given the family the job of ‘domesticating’ the world and helping each person to see fellow human beings
as brothers and sisters.” 

–    Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, nos. 181, 183

Jacob, Matthew, and Sarah still hold my hand when we walk to school.  For now, it’s an instinctual reflex for them.  I extend my hand and their little hands swing up to meet mine.  This probably won’t last much longer, but I hope it does.

As I think about it, the metaphor of walking together about sums up how my husband Jay and I try to foster a culture of encounter within our family. Pope Francis’ latest exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, affirms the role of the family—the domestic church—as a “vital cell in the transformation of the world” (AL 324).  To be relevant in the world, the road must be made by walking.  Remarks like “they grow up so fast” may sound cliché but with two of our three children in middle school beginning this fall, we realize how quickly time passes and just how small a window we parents have to help form our children into reconcilers, rebuilders, and restorers in God’s world.

Our deepest prayer for our children is that each one knows they are loved by God—hopefully first experienced by the love and acceptance they find at home.  We hope and trust that they are able to extend that love to others.  Maybe with God’s grace andfamily at basilica their discerning hearts, they will even desire to discover what call God has placed uniquely on their hearts.

We see our primary role in parenting of our children as encouraging Jacob, Matthew, and Sarah to engage the world around them—confronting injustice, witnessing hope in action, experiencing joy, asking for forgiveness, displaying compassion, showing empathy, and loving even in the midst of anger or fear.

We have found that ordinary everyday life presents our family with invitations to foster a culture of encounter.  For our little Murphy domestic church this means living inside the city where our neighbors, classmates and colleagues are diverse.   When Jacob comes home from school asking why so many classmates rely on free and reduced-price meals, we can talk about the dignity of the human person. When Sarah attends PTA meetings by our side, she sees her community coming together for the common good. When Matthew’s best buddies in school are from different religious and ethnic backgrounds, our family is enriched by authentic solidarity.

For our family, fostering a culture of encounter means watching the nightly news together and discussing what we see.  During the non-stop campaign coverage for this year’s elections, this means talking about what the candidates stand for and exploring what our faith has to say about the topics debated. One of the hardest things to explain is that while neither political party shares all of our Catholic values, we cannot simply retreat from political life and its respective duties.

Admittedly, this kind of parenting isn’t for everyone. From where we sit, the road to a culture of encounter is made by walking.

Pope Francis put it best in the last few words of Amoris Laetitia: “All of us are called to keep striving toward something greater than ourselves and our families… Let us make this journey as families, let us keep walking together.” Pope Francis, (no. 325)

Krisanne VaillancourtKrisanne Vaillancourt Murphy is the Senior Associate for National Catholic Engagement at Bread for the World.

 

Going Deeper
For some practical ideas about how families can practice solidarity with others, visit this page on WeAreSaltLight.org.

Survive and Thrive: Child Nutrition and Health

Krisanne Vaillancourt

Krisanne Vaillancourt-Murphy, Bread for the World

I have three kids and work full time, so like many moms, I try to maximize the efficiency of my children’s routine doctor visits. Jacob, Matthew, and Sarah file into one exam room together for their yearly check-ups. One, two, three exams and we’re finished. Done.

However, a couple of years ago, a flawlessly planned family trifecta of appointments was instead interrupted by Murphy’s Law (note my last name). It was also a profound ah-ha moment. Dr. Ratner told me that each of my children needed vaccination shots. Murphy vaccinations are never smooth or simple, and here we were with three kids getting shots at the same time.

As a mother, I thought to myself, How in the world is this going to play out without absolute chaos, tears, and drama? Short answer is that it played out exactly as I feared. There was a veritable Murphy family meltdown in exam room 2 at Children’s Pediatricians & Associates that day.

Like every mother would, I felt awful that my kids feared the needles and the pinches associated with them. I found myself crying along with my kids, but it wasn’t for their pinches or their drama. Actually, my tears were because I realized right then that the shots were lifesaving, a form of privilege that so many children around the globe don’t have. After working at Bread for the World for over a decade, the statistics related to children who die from preventable diseases are quite real and even numbing sometimes. Every five seconds a child dies from preventable causes.

So there I sat, consoling my crying (screaming) kids and giving them hugs, yet painfully aware of the privilege my children “enjoyed” that day. On the occasion of this routine doctor’s visit, my children were three little faces of the “surviving and thriving” statistic.  Each born into this privilege due to a series of factors having nothing to do with them.  Grateful, humbled, and horrified all at once. That was the reason for my tears.

I’ve thought of that day many times since Bread has launched this year’s Offering of Letters: Survive and Thrive. The inoculations we have easy access to are not a universal right. My children will not only survive but will thrive because their growing bodies and minds have never known a day of hunger. Nutrition is the first and foremost building block for healthy children to flourish and live into their God-given potential. My children. Our children. God’s children.

If all of God’s creation is to thrive, the U.S. Congress must invest in global nutrition. Congress should increase funding in the Nutrition Programs in the Global Health Account to at least $230 million and robustly fund the mother and child health sub-account, which includes vaccinations for children. That is why many people of faith are joining Bread for the World on June 7 to deliver our message directly Capitol Hill. You can join us–in person or from wherever you are.

Together, let’s make sure that all children can thrive.

Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy is senior associate for national Catholic engagement at Bread for the World.

This blog post was adapted for ToGoForth. Read the original version on the Bread for the World blog.