Sharing a Common Border and Responsibility

Coll headshotGranado headshotThe Church in Mexico, with deep faith in Christ the King and Our Lady of Guadalupe, searches valiantly with the Church in the United States for ways to collaborate and to respond to the crisis affecting Mexican society. The Church does so despite the threats of violence targeted against her priests, religious and lay workers.

Travelling to Mexico from June 15 through June 19, Archbishop Thomas Wenski and Bishop Oscar Cantú heard of the crucial pastoral work of the Church in Mexico, and offered their support. The visit included significant discussions with key bishops and staff members of the Mexican Bishops’ Conference (CEM). Pertinent U.S. and other governmental officials and members of Mexican civil society were consulted as well.

The bishops visited a migrant assistance facility in Huehuetoca, where refugees are provided food, clothing and medical care. They also journeyed to the historic cathedral in Cuernavaca, learning first-hand of the assistance provided to the poor and marginalized by the Diocese. Mass was celebrated at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, where the beautiful tilma, or shawl, worn by Saint Juan Diego, bearing the miraculous imprint of the Blessed Mother, is preserved and venerated. An earlier visit to the home of this saint in Cuatitlán provided perspective on the profound religious and cultural prominence of the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe for Mexico and all the Americas.

The bishops heard of the impressive work undertaken on behalf of the Archdiocese of Acapulco in providing support to victims of violence and their relatives. One mother movingly described the tragic loss of her teen-aged daughter, murdered by neighborhood friends corrupted by the culture of cruelty and impunity that pervades much of Mexican society. She and other grieving parents eloquently testified to the crucial role of the Church in providing counseling, community and compassion in these sorrowful circumstances.

Archbishop Wenski and Bishop Cantú participated in a press conference held jointly with key bishops from the CEM, where hopes for continued dialogue and collaboration were discussed. As a result, a new relationship has dawned between the committees and offices of the USCCB and of the CEM that address topics of justice and peace. Many issues need to be considered in a collaborative manner between the two respective Conferences. A visit to the United States by a delegation of bishops and staff from the CEM is expected to continue this process of collaboration. Permanent communication between the two bodies will also be realized, using Skype, telephone, e-mail and the electronic sharing of documents. In this way, analyses and reflections on issues, problems or matters of common interest will be exchanged.

Pastoral challenges remain great in Mexico, but the courageous actions of the Church in that country merit the unhesitating support and diligent efforts of the Church in our country. A clear lesson derived from this journey was the importance of the Church’s accompaniment of her people in Mexico, through her many charitable activities, educational outreach and pastoral services. Greater collaboration on policy recommendations and effective governmental communication will be a component of this dialogue. Our peoples share a common border and history, bearing mutual responsibility to enhance the life, dignity and humanity of our citizens. United in this endeavor, and guided by Our Savior and His Blessed Mother, we can strive, through our prayers and our actions, to bring these efforts to a blessed and successful conclusion.

Anthony Granado is a policy advisor for the Office of Domestic Social Development and Richard Coll is a policy advisor for the Office of International Justice and Peace at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Solidarity with the Church in Mexico

Granado headshot

Anthony Granado

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Richard Coll

Stories emerge daily illustrating how complex, and at times desperate, the situation in Mexico is becoming. A culture of violence with attacks on human life and a prevalence of corruption have come to dominate the lives of many Mexicans. Innocent civilians are often caught in a web of narco-criminal activity, economic injustice, and corruption at all levels of Mexican society. Yet the Church in Mexico, with deep faith in Cristo Rey (Christ the King) and Our Lady of Guadalupe, and despite seeing the increasing disappearance and murder of priests, is looking for ways to respond. The Church is reaching out to the faithful here in the United States to find areas of mutual collaboration.

Between June 15 and June 19, 2015, Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami and Chair of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop Oscar Cantú, Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, will make a solidarity visit to reflect with the Church in Mexico. The principal goals for this visit flow from concerns analyzed at the 2014 Fall Meeting of the U.S. Bishops, as well as at meetings of the Committees on Domestic Justice and Human Development and on International Justice and Peace. These concerns include: violence and criminality, narcotics and human trafficking, as well as poverty—all “root causes” of migration that also contribute to the increasing suffering in Mexico.

This forthcoming visit will allow a continuation of discussions begun at a meeting last month in Mexico City, with key bishops and staff of the Conferencia del Episcopado Mexicano, or Conference of Mexican Bishops (CEM), as well as with pertinent U.S. and other governmental officials and members of Mexican civil society. Archbishop Wenski and Bishop Cantú will listen, learn and express solidarity with, and support for, the crucial pastoral role undertaken by the Church in Mexico in response to the ever present challenges facing our two nations. The Universal Church, most recently in the statements of Pope Francis, has consistently singled out economic inequality between nations as a global disorder that must be addressed. These topics must remain the subject of an on-going collaboration and dialogue between the Church in Mexico and in the United States. Another major goal of the visit will be to understand better the situation in Mexico, so that the Committees, and the USCCB, can better collaborate with, and advocate on behalf of the Church and people of Mexico, here in the United States.

The U.S. government, through the “Mérida Initiative,” provides significant amounts of foreign aid to this region. But U.S. aid and assistance should prioritize development rather than focusing mostly on militarized security investments in Mexico. U.S. policy should ensure that projects and resources emphasize, for example, the agricultural sector and small businesses development in Latin America. In addition, more emphasis on the institutions of sound governance needs to be encouraged by international and local national policies including: combatting corruption, fostering a stable and fair judiciary, and promoting the rule of law and human rights.

U.S. policies should reflect the importance of controlling demand for illegal drugs and curbing the illicit drug trade, and curtailing the arms trade, weapons and human trafficking, as well as the resultant violence that accompanies these illicit activities. All these areas are subjects for continuing fruitful discussion with the bishops and staff of the CEM, as well as with governmental representatives and leaders in civil society in Mexico.

The forthcoming solidarity visit to Mexico offers an opportunity for our two nations, but one Church, to stand in solidarity and promote a culture of life, mercy and peace.

Anthony Granado is a policy advisor for the Office of Domestic Social Development and Richard Coll is a policy advisor for the Office of International Justice and Peace at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

US and Canadian Church Stand in Solidarity with Latin American Bishops to Lift Up Perils of Irresponsible Mining

Archbishop Timothy Broglio, Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini, Archbishop Pedro Barreto, Bishop Roque Paloschi and Bishop Donald Bolen stand before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Archbishop Timothy Broglio, Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini, Archbishop Pedro Barreto, Bishop Roque Paloschi and Bishop Donald Bolen stand before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

At a historic hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights yesterday, bishops representing the Latin American Episcopal Conference, CELAM, testified on the effects of exploitative practices of mining and extractive industries on communities and the environment in Latin America. Joined by Archbishop Timothy Broglio, representing the USCCB, and Bishop Donald Bolen, representing the bishops of Canada, Peruvian Archbishop Pedro Barreto, Guatemalan Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini, and Bishop Roque Paloschi of Brazil detailed in strong and compelling terms the human rights, public health and environmental consequences related to operations in Latin America by U.S. and Canadian mining companies. They urged that U.S. and Canadian mining companies be held accountable to laws and standards that protect local economies, the environment, indigenous communities and vulnerable groups even when operating outside of the country.

The extraction of natural resources, such as oil, gas and minerals, is a central feature of modern economies. Without a doubt, extractive industries can contribute to economic development and opportunity. When exploited improperly, they also bring about social conflict, feed corruption, displace people from homes and lands, pollute air, rivers and seas and destroy people’s health.

The Church is deeply concerned about these practices. Catholic social teaching calls us to uphold the life and dignity of every human person, to be in solidarity with our brothers and sisters worldwide, and to care for God’s creation. As Catholics, we believe that those in poverty have a first claim on our consciences, especially when economies, communities and ecosystems are at risk. And what about economic development and profit? The profits that can accrue from natural resource extraction ought to be but a means to an end, the common good and the benefit of all. Pope Francis has strong words for the type of system that puts profit first and people second:

In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule. (Evangelii Gaudium n. 56)

The U.S. bishops have long been concerned about the impacts and consequences of irresponsible extractives and mining operations throughout the world, especially in Latin America. In recent solidarity visits, we had the amazing opportunity to accompany bishops from the United States, including Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, to South and Central America. We heard powerful testimonials from community members, civil society organizations and religious men and women. We also heard from bishops advocating for their communities’ rights to live in a healthy environment and to have a say in the decisions that affect them. It was a moving experience to see how the lives of community members are impacted by irresponsible mining practices, and inspiring to witness their struggle for their rights to live out their dignity as God’s children, even in the face of persecution.

Bishop Pates meets with community members during a meeting in Guatemala on the effects of mining.

Bishop Pates meets with community members during a meeting in Guatemala on the effects of mining.

In Honduras, we visited a community near a mining site in Siria Valley. There we met with young children at an elementary school, beautiful and bright, who had rashes on their faces, arms and bodies from exposure to air and water pollution from the lead, arsenic, cyanide and cadmium used in mining. We met an 8 year old boy suffering from neurological damage and physical leg deformities that did not permit him to walk. In Guatemala, an indigenous woman told us, “You are lucky. In your county the life of a tree is respected, the life of a bird is protected, but in my country the life of a person is not respected.”

In his letter of support to the bishops of Latin America, Bishop Oscar Cantú, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, observed that the United States, joined by Canada, “must do more to support the claims and interests of these affected communities. It must require that U.S. enterprises operating in these regions abide by the same standards of care for human life and ecology as apply to their operations in the United States.”

The authors with Bishop Roque Paloschi.

The authors with Bishop Roque Paloschi.

Cecilia Calvo is the coordinator of the USCCB Environmental Justice Program and Richard Coll is a policy advisor on Latin America and global trade at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.

The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Questions of Free Trade

Mulloy and Coll

Tom Mulloy and Richard Coll of the USCCB.

Quick, take a look at the tag on your shirt.

Where was it made? El Salvador? Vietnam? China?

How about that fruit you ate for lunch? A banana from Costa Rica? An apple from Chile?

Do you have a neighbor or loved one who has lost a job because their plant closed?

Do you know where that phone or tablet came from? Even more than where they are assembled, the plastics, state of the art glass, and precious and other metals are all produced in hundreds of far off places.

When it comes to the immigration debate, have we really ever stopped to ask why so many people take the frightening and courageous step of leaving their home country to come to the United States in search of work?

The answers to these questions are determined, in large part, by the international trade agreements our country negotiates with others. Our country’s trade policies touch almost every aspect of our lives. What’s more, they touch the lives of almost every other person on the planet, many in very consequential ways. Despite this, most Americans are unaware of the importance of trade deals, and the current debate happening in Washington goes largely unnoticed.

Debate about a new trade agreement is raising these very questions. The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) would create rules among a significant number of nations in North and South America as well as Asia.

This debate will have profound consequences on the lives of those in poverty and on vulnerable communities, both here in the United States and around the globe. This is why the Catholic bishops of the United States, taking a cue from Pope Francis, are following the conversation closely. Earlier this year, Archbishop Thomas Wenski and Bishop Oscar Cantú wrote to Congress, saying that:

Trade policies must be grounded in people-centered ethical criteria, in pursuit of the common good for our nation and people around the world.

They laid out criteria for just trade policy that would accomplish this, stressing that the question is not whether trade itself is good or bad; Catholic teaching affirms that trade, properly oriented, can be good. The real question is how to craft trade policies that affirm human life and dignity, encourage the development of peoples, and advance the common good. History tells us that many trade policies, as crafted and implemented, have harmed many and have actually contributed to the challenges of excessive economic inequality, migration, hunger and conflict.

As Archbishop Wenski and Bishop Cantú point out, a critical step in achieving a just framework is participation. As with any issue, trade agreements must be debated and constructed in a way

that will assure that voices from affected sectors of society can be heard and that their interests are reflected in whatever agreements emerge.

Historically, trade negotiations are granted special status, formerly known as ‘fast track’, now known as ‘Trade Promotion Authority (TPA)’. However, many have raised concerns that this process does not allow for all affected parties to have their voices heard.

Trade agreements may be complicated, but the criteria that should guide them are simple and rest on core tenets of Catholic teaching. A commitment to these criteria, laid out by Archbishop Wenski and Bishop Cantú, would be an important first step toward creating a more just world.

Richard Coll, Esq. and Tom Mulloy are policy advisors at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.

Go deeper:
Learn more about USCCB advocacy for just trade agreements.

Towards Dialogue & Reconciliation with Cuba

Bishop Oscar Cantú, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, issued a statement today in response to the release of Alan Gross and to the further decisions by the Obama Administration to build normal relations with Cuba. In his statement, Bishop Cantú expressed his joy at Mr. Gross’ return, and provided strong support for the process of expanding dialogue, trade and communications with Cuba. The bishop also agreed on the need to reexamine Cuba’s previous designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.

For decades, the USCCB has supported normalization of relations with Cuba. The Conference believes that dialogue and reconciliation will foster democracy, human rights and religious freedom in that country. By engaging and strengthening Cuban civil society through increased cultural, religious and business contacts, the likelihood of positive change in Cuba will be enhanced.

Read more on the USCCB’s advocacy related to Cuba.

Coll headshotMr. Richard Coll is an international policy advisor on Latin America and global trade at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.