I’d be ever so grateful if you’d consider donating to my online fundraiser to raise $5,000 to build a safe and simple house for a family in need in Haiti. My family already donated, so now its up to friends and strangers to get us to the goal. (Thanks in advance!)
I only had room for a few photos in the article. So here are a few more postcards from my Christmas in Haiti.
So for the past two weeks I have been in (a one-sided yet public) 140 character conversation with President Donald J. Trump.
I committed on the first Monday of his presidency to pray for him (and our country/world) every morning and to send him a tweet each day. I also pray with the newspaper in the morning, and so my messages are often focused on a recent policy announcement. And as you may guess, I have been troubled by many if not all of them these first two weeks.
By taking to prayer my righteous anger and disbelief at policies which do not seem to reflect equality, justice, the common good or other American values, I realize something happens within me.
I do not soften my belief in the Gospel or justice or the need to speak strongly on behalf of those who are most vulnerable. I do not soften my resistance to evil or injustice. Those are strenghened.
But I do soften my heart. I relate as a human being to the human being presently holding the highest elected office in this country. I engage rather than disengage. I focus on the heart of the matter. Sometimes I even offer advice. And I always offer my prayers.
This daily practice is not easy, but for me I believe it is important. If I am to talk the talk of nonviolent resistance grounded in the primacy of love as taught and modeled by Jesus, then I need to live that out in my own life, words and actions. My #dailytweet @potus is one simple yet challenging spiritual practice.
Because it is public, I am accountable.I have also heard from various quarters that others have found my daily tweets helpful to them as they reorient themselves in this time. One friend told me how she appreciated that my messages were not soft on policy or on where I disagree with the President, but grounded in the Gospel and respectful.
That is my goal, to be grounded in the Gospel. And to model respectful dialogue, even if the odds of him reading or responding are slim.
Those are my reflections two weeks in. We will see where this journey leads!
My latest column on Global Sisters Report has been published, inspired by my Congregation’s statement: Welcome Immigrants and Refugees.
The Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace have long had a concern for immigrants and refugees. In 1881 our founder Margaret Anna Cusack (Mother Clare) wrote to the Irish bishops: “Whatever opinion many of us may have as to the cause of emigration, of the fact there is no question.” Seeing the massive waves of emigration from the starvation of Ireland to the promise of America, she expressed grave concern for the safety of the new immigrants, especially young women in a strange land. …
Every year our community celebrates Founder’s Day on June 5, the anniversary of Mother Clare’s death. This year we celebrated by issuing a congregational statement she would no doubt have supported: Welcome Immigrants and Refugees. We “express our grave concern for refugees, asylum seekers, and our migrant brothers and sisters.” Not only do we call on all governments to provide safe haven, we also urge them to address the root causes of forced migration, such as economic inequality, war, arm sales, and environmental degradation.
Yes, this is a teaching document, but it is so much more. It is a poetic reflection on what it means to be human. It is a challenge to “every living person on this planet” (3) to responsible living on our common home for present and future generations. It is an invitation to shift our understanding of our relationship with the rest of creation from one of domination to partnership, from exploitation to protection, and from separation to connection.
It is certainly significant and meaningful to have a religious and world leader with the credibility of Pope Francis unequivocally state that “. . . we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. . . . mainly as a result of human activity” (23). However, his message is much deeper and even more challenging.
Having just finished my second reading of Laudato Si’, I think that his most radical message is that we are family. God has put us into relationship with each other and all of creation, and we therefore share responsibility for the whole. “Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another. Each area is responsible for the care of this family” (42).
Periodically on Fridays I will share some words of wisdom from the founder of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. Known in religion as Mother Francis Clare, Margaret Anna Cusack was a prolific writer and advocate for women and children. She was very attuned to the social realities and situation of oppressed people in her day.
Her contemporary experience was the Irish famine. The common folks were starving, and the young and able bodied (men and women) were being forced to emigrate to make money to keep their family alive back home. Margaret Anna, then Sister Francis Clare Cusack of the Poor Clare Convent in Kenmare, County Kerry, experienced this first hand. Her Sisters fed the poor in the area district, and she funded a famine relief fund for the people of Ireland through the sale of her books. As an example of her impact, here’s a tidbit from a letter to the editor of the Dublin Free Press by a Mr. J. Sullivan:
The poor, starving people have to depend almost entirely on the funds obtained by that lady for relief. She has disbursed within a very short period, very little short of $10,000, to the poor of that district …
Serving the poor in need was not enough for her. She asked questions as to why they were poor, and looked at the social structures that perpetuated (and created) the problem. In terms of trafficking, she also looked at the situation where young women especially were made vulnerable to victimization. She saw that they were being forced to emigrate to seek work, in factories or most often as domestic servants, and she was worried for their safety–spiritually as well as physically.
“How many girls are driven to a life which they abhor simply to get bread, the bread which is denied to them by those who squander on folly what is due to justice!”
“I knew that the only way out of their victimization was to help them become economically and intellectually independent.”
She reflected on what her faith taught her, and was motivated to do as much as she could for those who Jesus had loved so well … poor and starving people.
And she acted.
I wish with all my heart that our girls were not obliged to leave their own country; but since they will do so, it is a most urgent duty of charity, and it would undoubtedly be a public benefit both to America and Ireland, to help them prepare for their future lives.
She founded St Joseph’s Sisters of Peace in 1884. Her aim was to prepare young Irish women before they emigrated, giving them skills that would help them both to survive and support their families. She also opened homes for “working girls”– meaning simply girls that worked. These homes were places of safety, rest, and renewal. Really, if you look at it through the lens of what we know today about human trafficking, she was seeking to support vulnerable women and prevent them from being trafficked.
So, what does she have to say to us today about human trafficking? Based on her own response in her day, I think she would encourage us today :
Meet the needs of vulnerable people (Charity)
Examine Root Causes (Social Analysis)
Make connections (Theological Reflection)
Act to change the systems where injustice thrives (Systemic Justice)
In light of all this, I am very proud of something our CSJP Leadership Team did yesterday – we approved a statement in support of the End Modern Slavery Initiative Act of 2015, an important piece of bipartisan legislation recently introduced in Congress. We also joined in Shine a Light on Slavery Day, which is today, by taking a picture of our hands with red x’s marked on them to show our commitment to end slavery.
There is a social media campaign today as part of Shine a Light on Slavery Today. If you blog, tweet, or use Facebook, consider writing on the issue of modern slavery/human trafficking and add the hashtags #EndItMovement and #EndSlaveryAct.
Periodically on Fridays I will share some words of wisdom from the founder of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. Known in religion as Mother Francis Clare, Margaret Anna Cusack was a prolific writer in her day. She was also a strong advocate for justice, especially for people who were economically poor and those who found it necessary to migrate.
Whatever opinion many of us may have as to the cause of emigration, of the fact there is no question.
~ 1881 letter to Irish Bishops
She wrote these words in 1881 in a letter to the Irish Bishops. She was looking at the massive waves of emigration from the starvation of Ireland to the promise of America, and was concerned for the safety of the new immigrants, especially women, in a strange land. Her letter asked the Bishops to form an “Emigrants Aid & Protection Society” in conjunction with the American Bishops. Sadly, it seems they didn’t form such a society, but 3 years later Mother Francis Clare founded the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. One of our first ministries was providing safe housing and services for immigrant women in New Jersey.
The Leadership Team of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, want to express our appreciation for the actions taken last evening by President Obama to remove the threat of deportation for millions of families who have been living and working in the United States for years. It is past time that some action was taken for the many families who were living under the threat of immanent deportation. Most especially, it is important to end the fear of children that when they come home from school or work their parents may not be there.
It is our belief that the actions taken were well within the power of the President and will serve the best interests of this nation. His actions are measured and modest. We still see the need for a comprehensive plan to overhaul this nation’s broken immigration system. That is the work we hope to see congress take up in good faith and with compassion for all.
As Catholic Sisters and Associates we believe strongly in supporting families, and do all in our power to keep them together. Families, in all their contemporary varieties, are the basic cells of society and need to be protected. Families are created in love and it is in the family that the gift of love is first shared and eventually passed on to another generation. America needs strong families.
We have a great love for immigrants. Our sisters first came to the U.S. as immigrants 130 years ago to work with indigent immigrants already here. Many of our sisters serving here in the U.S are immigrants themselves. Today, our work joins us to the poor and marginalized, many of whom are immigrants.
We also believe that the gift of creation, Earth itself, is a gift that was given without borders. We are all one and should not let borders get in the way of realizing our oneness.
Immigrants have been a great blessing to the United States over its history and we have no doubt that today’s immigrants will continue that blessing. Economists tell us that they will be a help to our struggling national economy.
President Obama’s actions, though not helping all who are in the country without proper papers, will hopefully be a first step in welcoming all who are already here. In that hope, we give thanks to God.
The pope said solidarity entails struggling “against the structural causes of poverty, inequality, the lack of work, land and shelter, the denial of social and labor rights,” and confronting what he called the “empire of money.”
Ok, so perhaps I should not have been so surprised. After all, Pope Francis mentioned solidarity 19 times in last year’s apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. And really, the Church’s emphasis on solidarity is not new. It is often associated with the Pope of my childhood and early young adulthood, Pope John Paul II, who understood solidarity as a virtue. In his 1987 encyclical Sollicitudo rei socialis, John Paul described solidarity as “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.”
As I said, I’ve been reading a lot about solidarity in preparation for comps. One book that has really helped me to dig deeper into the underlying challenge and promise of solidarity is Kinship Across Borders: A Christian Ethic of Immigrationby Kristin Heyer. Heyer describes three forms of solidarity.
Institutional Solidarity calls, you guessed it, institutions to understand themselves as collectively responsible to amelioriate the economic and political factors which cause injustice and inequity. The work of the United Nations, at its best, is an example of institutional solidarity, focused on transforming structures for the common good.
Incarnational Solidarity calls us to “immerse our bodies and expend precious energy in practices of presence and service in the real world.” Those of us who “have” can be isolated in our worlds and world views. Incarnational solidarity urges us beyond our protective bubbles to experiences and relationships which “better attune us to our connections.” This might be real life concrete relationships with actual people on the margins. Or this might be adjusting our own consumer choices to honor those we are related to, such as farmers, by making the choice to buy fair trade. Gregory Boyle, SJ sums up well the transformative power of incarnational solidarity when he says: “At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.”
Conflictual Solidarity, according to Heyer, is often “underplayed” in Catholic thought. Until, that is, our current Pope who no doubt was transformed through his own experiences of incarnational solidarity in Argentina. Just ponder this quote from Evangelii Gaudium: “Solidarity, in its deepest and most challenging sense, thus becomes a way of making history in a life setting where conflicts, tensions and oppositions can achieve a diversified and life-giving unity.” If we are truly committed to life and human dignity for all, if we stand with those pushed to the margins, then it’s not just a matter of holding hands and singing kumbaya. We also need to get our hands dirty and sometimes face the necessary conflict. But, as Pope Francis recognizes in EG, how we do this matters. The goal is to seek “resolution which takes place on a higher plane and preserves what is valid and useful on both sides.”
The tradition of Catholic social thought is alive, developing, and deep. The themes peppered in the Pope’s recent talk to activists come from deep within the Church’s tradition. But I will admit, as an activist at heart, that it is also nice to read the Pope recognizing that when he speaks from this tradition, “some people conclude that the pope is a communist.” I believe Dorothy Day had the same problem.