Disrupting a Culture of Resentment, Rebuilding a Culture of Encounter

In February, nine Latino, African-American, and Caucasian leaders from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati flew to Modesto, California, for the U.S. World Meeting of Popular Movements (WMPM). Organized by the Vatican, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development/USCCB, and PICO National Network, the gathering of 700 grassroots leaders from across the country focused on the issues of racism, migration, housing, jobs, and environmental justice.

For the immigrant victim of wage theft, the community leader fighting against foreclosures in his neighborhood, and the African-American woman tackling racial injustice, the issues of the gathering were all ones that directly impacted our delegation’s members. The WMPM injected all of us with new energy and hope, as participants shared each other’s stories, affirmed each other’s struggles for life and dignity, and celebrated our oneness in the Body of Christ.

But the real outcome of the WMPM for our delegation still hinges upon what we can do differently at home in our own archdiocese.

As Pope Francis exclaimed in his message to the WMPM: “It makes me very happy to see you working together towards social justice! How I wish that such constructive energy would spread to all dioceses, because it builds bridges between peoples and individuals. These are bridges that can overcome the walls of exclusion, indifference, racism, and intolerance.”

We all arrived at the Modesto gathering with the sense that we are immersed in a culture of resentment.  Whether it’s between pro-life and social justice advocates, immigrants and non-immigrants, Christians and Muslims, or black and white people, forces in our culture are encouraging us to see someone else as an “other.”  Yet, in his rousing address at the WMPM, Bishop Robert McElroy spoke of the urgency for us to “disrupt” and to “rebuild.”

We left this gathering with a call to disrupt such a false, divisive narrative about ourselves.  We committed ourselves in turn to rebuild it with a “culture of encounter.”

Some institution in our society must be bold enough to turn our heads towards the “Jesus in disguise” in each other, especially in the most poor and vulnerable among us. We, as the Church, can strive to rebuild a sense of universality among currently polarized peoples by creating spaces where we recognize our shared struggles for human life and dignity.  With our comprehensive Catholic moral and social teachings, we have the vision that few political, economic, or social entities can offer to such an urgent task.

A day after our return, our leaders shared their excitement for the gathering with our local Archbishop Dennis Schnurr. “You just made my day,” he responded with a smile.  We agreed to begin organizing a gathering of pro-life and social justice parish leaders, immigrants, people released from prison, crisis pregnancy volunteers, those experiencing environmental injustice, and others.  Not only do we want to see greater justice for all these people, but we also aim to disrupt the culture that tries to pit us against each other, especially by boxing us into “conservative” and “liberal” corners.

We aim to rebuild it with a sense that we are all each other’s neighbors; that everyday people, not politicians or other figureheads, are our own solutions. Our task now is to imagine and create such a space of encounter and dialogue.

If there’s one thing the WMPM showed me, it’s how much our nation sorely needs a faith community that trusts that we can overcome our divisions.

 

Tony Stieritz is the Director of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Catholic Social Action Office


Going Deeper

Find out how Catholics in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati are responding to the call to be “disruptors” for Christ—through an annual World Day of Peace mass, work to accompany formerly incarcerated individuals, religious sisters fighting human trafficking, and new programs to care for God’s creation.

Civilize It: Dignity beyond the Debate

Archdiocese_Civilize_It_LogoI am sure that, on any given day in the U.S. Catholic Church, faithful members are calling their congresspersons, meeting with legislators at their Statehouses, and assembling in their parish halls to write letters. They are advocating at all levels of government on such issues as protecting unborn life, capital punishment, clean energy, religious liberty, and affordable housing.  What’s equally amazing?  We can imagine that two parishioners somewhere are in a lively dialogue about their opposing views on such matters.  These two people are clearly committed to their principles.  But, refreshingly, they are not threatened by the conversation.  In fact, they each want to know if the Holy Spirit has something to say through the experiences of the other person!

This is faithful citizenship in action. It’s promoting God’s vision for life, dignity and care for creation through civic life while recognizing the goodness in those who disagree with us.  As Pope Francis said to Congress, “All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity” (Address, Sept. 24, 2015).

Yet, few would dispute that, with each election season, faithful citizenship becomes more of a challenge. Heightening antagonism and polarization can tempt you and me to abandon our Christian behavior with each other. As my Archbishop recently shared in the newspaper:

One of the songs we sing in our churches includes the refrain, `Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.’ A fundamental cause of all the negativity we face in our national conversation is the speed at which we confidently point fingers at others as the source of our problems. We need to look humbly to ourselves first… We must engage in dialogue with the person who has a view differing from our own. The Lord is active in all our lives, so respect demands that we at least try to understand where the other is coming from. (Archbishop Dennis Schnurr quoted in the Cincinnati Enquirer, May 15, 2016).

 

The content and tone of our political conversations must not be left up to political candidates and the media. We can make clear the type of rhetoric we expect from those honorably seeking public office, and we can exemplify respectful dialogue with each other.  As a Church, we can help shape the public discourse.

buttonTo that end, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati has launched a new campaign, Civilize It: Dignity beyond the Debate.  We invite everyone to join the movement and take the pledge at www.civilizeit.us.

As the webpage explains, “Civilize It is a non-partisan movement and a call for all of us to help change the tone, follow our faith, and quiet the quarrels in our day-to-day lives.”

In the Archdiocese, we’re handing out Civilize It campaign buttons, car magnets, t-shirts and yard signs.  Parishioners have signed letters to our candidates, urging them to keep their campaigns respectful and to consider the full slate of Catholic social teaching in their platforms.

Wherever you are, take the pledge! Share it!  Tell yourself, friends and family that you are part of a movement to infuse civility, clarity and compassion into our political engagements.

Instead of allowing another election year divide American Catholics further, let’s first and foremost respond to the goodness of Christ in each other.

As Pope Francis exclaimed, “No to warring among ourselves!” As we faithfully live out our consciences in the public square, “[l]et us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the ideal of fraternal love” (Joy of the Gospel, nos. 98-101).  Let’s Civilize It!Tony Stieritz at Archdiocese

 Tony Stieritz is the Director of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s Catholic Social Action Office


Go Deeper!

Learn more about civil dialogue with these resources: