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Social Action Has Two Feet

5 Jun


Speaking Truth to Power

29 May
Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

“If I am killed, I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people.” –Mon. Oscar Romero

This prophecy of Oscar Romero came true. He was killed for speaking out on behalf of the poor in El Salvador. He did rise again in his people.

On five different occasions, I brought a group of high school juniors to El Salvador for a ten-day justice education trip. We sat at the feet of Salvadoran people and learned about Romero’s death, the twelve-year civil war that followed, and the role the United States played in that war. We stood on the alter, right where Romero was shot. We went to his tomb to pay tribute, and we ran our fingertips over his name etched in stone alongside all the others killed during the war. We acknowledged his death, but we were also surrounded by his spirit everywhere we went. I have never felt anything quite like it. In the rural villages they sing his praises. In the city his face is painted in mural after mural. People want to share what they know about him. He lives on in the continued justice work being done, in the hope of the people. He is their champion, their saint, and in the heartbeat of the people, his spirit is alive and well.

Romero’s story is one that gives me so much hope. He was an intellectual, a well trained lover of liturgy. The higher ups thought he would be moldable and obedient to them. They were wrong. Instead, Romero answered the call to go and see his people. What he saw converted his heart. He did not tell the poor people of El Salvador that they should live gracefully in poverty and love the Lord. Instead, he accused the unjust political and economic systems for their suffering and demanded change. He refused the large dwelling for the Archbishop in the capital and lived in a humble, small room. He preached truth to power, and received death threats immediately. He became a pastor of the people.

On May 23rd, Archbishop Oscar Romero was beatified. This is a move that also gives me hope. El Salvador’s history is full of repressed truth, secret buried bodies, and the wealthy taking charge of the country’s narrative. Pope Francis is allowing the truth to breathe, to have its turn. Romero was killed for his beautiful faith and his advocacy for the poor.

Mon. Oscar Romero reminded us that violence and repression is never the answer. He warned us that a system where a few hold too much power and have too many resources while others want is not sustainable. It seems that now is the perfect time to celebrate the life and teachings of Romero so that we too may live into a world that is more equitable and free.

12 Nov


“We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programs, mechanisms, and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment, and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality.”

Joy of the Gospel #204

In 2000 at the United Nations, 192 nations committed to 8 Millennium Development Goals to achieve by 2015. It took only 10 years to achieve the first goal — to cut in half the number of people living on $1.25 a day. Today 90% of the children in our world complete primary school, both girls and boys (goal 2). More than 2.3 billion people had safe drinking water by 2012.

In fact, the success of the MDGs shows more is possible. The United Nations is working on Sustainable Development Goals to focus and further the work of a sustainable future for all.

“Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, enabling them to be fully a part of society” (Joy of the Gospel #187).

What is a way you work to include people in poverty in our economy?

World Food Day

16 Oct

“For I was hungry and you gave me food.” – Matthew 25.35

Today is World Food Day. World farmers produce enough food for Earth’s more than six billion people, but nearly 870 million people struggle to survive on less than a $1.25 a day with little access to Earth’s abundance.

Contact Bread for the World or to involve your Christian community in the advocacy efforts on behalf of policies to end hunger.

Pope Francis’ Nudge Toward Happiness

13 Aug

At the end of July, Pope Francis did an interview with “Viva” in Argentina. From that interview, Catholic News Service then published a story about Pope Francis’ top ten tips toward happiness. In very Pope Francis style, there were profound in their simplicity. They were relational and down to earth and refreshing. They also clearly drew on the seven tenants of Catholic Social Teaching.

He encouraged things like fighting becoming egocentric through generosity. “Live and let live.” Letting go of negativity in the name of becoming healthy made the list. By ending being negative about other people, showing our own low self-esteem, we can find more happiness. Moving through life calmly, “with kindness and humility,” like a pool of water. Other tips included combating the stress of consumerism by celebrating leisure with art, playing with your family, turning off the TV and choosing literature. He highlighted the Sabbath by urging Sunday to be a day for family, a holiday. He held up the dignity of work by urging us to create good jobs for young people. Young people need opportunity and labor to give them hope. Love of nature, for the Pope, is tied to happiness. He said, “I think a question that we’re not asking ourselves is: ‘Isn’t humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature?'” In this time of war, we must work for peace. He does not mean being quiet, but being proactive and dynamic in our work for peace. “The call for peace must be shouted.” And finally, he stated strongly “But the worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyzes.” Instead, the Pope calls for respecting others’ beliefs, witnessing, communicating and making dialogue that attracts.

Since the interview, the Catholic News Service write up has gotten some serious traction. I overheard a conversation about the Pope where one young person said to the other, “Wow, that man is a serious force for PR in the Catholic Church right now.” A recent college graduate said to me, “How about that Franny huh? You know, if he asked me to come back to the Catholic Church, I think I would.” Pope Francis is speaking truth from his position of power in a way that people are ready for and open to receiving. Young people who were kids during 9/11 are now coming of age to see fighting all over the world in places like Gaza and Nigeria, often in the name of religion. So when the Pope calls for an end to proselytism and a recommitment to shouting for peace, young people, who are often skeptical of the hypocrisy and violence tied to organized religion, perk up a bit. These are the same young people struggling to find meaningful work after the recession as college tuition skyrockets. They are the same young people who started know about bullying over social media and have to navigate screen time and bombardment of marketing messages through media. What Pope Francis is saying is striking a cord and resonating and seeming to make a whole lot of sense to people young and old alike.

In his relevance, he is living exactly what he said about proselytism. He is creating curiosity and witnessing to others with his words and actions. He is encouraging dialogue and making himself approachable and attractive as the most powerful man in the Catholic Church. The way he is posturing himself with power is inviting others to relax, lean in and listen a little closer. I have seen less defensiveness about and combativeness toward the Catholic Church since he became Pope. In a time of serious religious strife around the world, we may do well to take his ten tips toward happiness quite seriously.



5 Jul Ellie Roscher

This year when Ramadan started, my heart and mind wafted over to Nairobi, Kenya. I spent the past two Ramadans in the slum of Kibera, outside of Nairobi, at a girls’ secondary school there called Kibera Girls Soccer Academy. I was not expecting to be able to do so much inter-faith dialogue, but Ramadan opened that space up easily. I witnessed, asked questions and walked with Muslim students, teachers and administrators through their holy month. Here is a journal entry from my Ramadan time in Kibera:

In Kibera, though many religions are represented, Christianity and Islam are the most prominent. The girls all struggle with their tribal religions and how those beliefs fit. They have lived through great violence in the name of tribal loyalty. They carry varying degrees of skepticism toward belief in witchcraft. They do not want to give up their ancient tribal identity entirely, but they feel a pull toward Western ways of thinking and learning. It is easy to tell the two groups, Christian and Muslim, apart. The Muslim girls wrap their hair in pretty head wraps and wear long skirts, for the sake of modesty. On Fridays, the Muslim girls go to mosque. On Sundays, the Christian girls go to church. The two groups of girls respect, admire, and intermingle with each other effortlessly.

At the crescent moon, Ramadan—or the month of fasting—began. They did not eat until sundown for a month. The girls who fast genuinely liked it. Fasting in the slum is not that hard; the girls are used to being hungry. “I look forward to it,” Asha said. “It gives me more time to sit and think.” Freidah added, “When I get hungry, I pray, and God gives me strength. It is easier to see blessings during this month.”

Their parents have eased them into the fasting when they think they are old and healthy enough to handle it. They must wait a little longer into the day to eat every year, until they are fasting until sunset. It makes them feel like adults in their worshipping community and brings an element of mindfulness to their days. Asha said, “Fasting is good for the mind, body, and spirit. It is important in our community because there is so much poverty here. After fasting, when someone tells me she is hungry, I really know how that feels. If the whole world fasted, there would be no more hunger because fasting builds compassion. When I fast, I realize why people who are hungry beg for food.” It helps them see food as a blessing.

On Fridays of Ramadan, Abdul invites friends over to his house to break the Ramadan fast with his family at sunset. His wife, Zachia, cooks from noon to seven to prepare a feast. Girls from the soccer team come by to help her. The men sit on the floor and wash their hands, snacking on samosas and sipping homemade passion-fruit juice. Abdul’s friends arrive one by one, removing their shoes and joining him on the floor. Bowls of rice, beans, chicken, noodles and salad are passed and passed until everyone is full to bursting. Black tea is poured and mango shared to comfort bulging stomachs. Late into the evening, Abdul’s friends walk through the dark Kibera dirt roads toward home.

Fasting is about mindfulness. “O you who believe. Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become deeply mindful.” (Qur’an 2:183). It was a blessing for me to be able to witness this holy month of mindfulness in another culture and see the faith in action in young women. They truly believed and articulated how this heightened mindfulness brought blessings to their lives. For them, Ramadan is a time of sharpened prayer, and vibrant community strength.

Justice Through Sport

17 Jun
via flickr user Corpus Christi Soccer Academy

via flickr user Corpus Christi Soccer Academy

When I lived in Uruguay, I took a trip to see my friends in Argentina during the 2006 World Cup. It was thrilling to live in South America during the Cup, to be among people who loved the sport and were devoted to their team. We went to a local joint to watch the Argentina-Germany game. In a heart-breaking match, Germany advanced on a penalty shoot- out after being tied 1-1 during regulation time. The folks in Argentina were totally devastated. On the streets after the game, I, with my blond hair and blue eyes, got accused of being German on multiple occasions. It felt a little intimidating. These people take their soccer very seriously.

“No, no, I’m not German. I’m American. I was cheering for Argentina!”

It was the one time in Argentina that being from the United States just about saved me life.

After living among soccer enthusiasts, I was not at all surprised to see that Pope Francis had something to say about the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. After all, he came to the Vatican from Argentina.

“To win, we must overcome individualism, selfishness, all forms of racism, intolerance and manipulation of people,” he said. He said being “greedy” in football, as in life, is an obstacle.

“Let nobody turn their back on society and feel excluded!” he said. “No to segregation! No to racism!”


“Sport is not only a form of entertainment, but also — and above all I would say — a tool to communicate values that promote the good that is in humans and help build a more peaceful and fraternal society,” he said.  (READ THE FULL HUFFINGTON POST ARTICLE)

Historically, sports have been at the forefront of social change. The influence of the global athletic stage is not to be discounted. There have been athletes so talented, so enticing to watch, they have broken open social movements: Jackie Robinson, Mohammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, Tony Smith and John Carlos, Billy Jean King, Magic Johnson and Gareth Thomas to name a few. A victory in the sporting arena can feel like a victory for an entire marginalized people. Athletics becomes a staging for life itself. And soccer is the world’s sport. I know from being welcomed into soccer games in El Salvador, Uruguay and Kenya that soccer is a universal language. Any patch of ground can be a pitch. Any two objects can make a goal. You don’t even need a ball. I’ve met amazing soccer players all over the world who started out as kids practicing with nothing more than some paper tied up with a string. Soccer has the power of universality. Maybe that’s why Pope Francis has such a large collection of soccer jerseys. And why he is hoping that the World Cup can be a celebration of solidarity.

If there is a sport that has world power, it’s soccer. And it’s biggest, most strategic stage to do some good is the World Cup. How interesting that Pope Francis knows that, cares, and is using the event to remind us what is truly important.

Economic Justice

15 May

At the end of April, Pope Francis tweeted, “Inequality is the root of social evil.” He then expanded on that statement a few days later in a talk with U.N. officials in Rome. In addition to calling for redistribution of wealth, he asked the U.N. to address “structural causes of poverty and hunger, attain more substantial results in protecting the environment, ensure dignified and productive labor for all, and provide appropriate protection for the family.” Conservatives immediately named these comments Marxist and socialist.


In her Huffington Post article, Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlewaite argues this is not Marxist or socialist, but Christian. I agree. Pope Francis reminds us of the encounter between Jesus Christ and the rich tax collector Zacchaeus in Luke 19: 1-10. Zacchaeus had his conscience awakened by Jesus and chose to move toward the justice of economic sharing. The Pope thinks the extreme economic inequality alive in society today can change if politicians and citizens make radical changes to our free market system.

Zacchaeus is not an isolated Biblical story. Jesus’ ministry addressed wealth inequality in Mark: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” and “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.'” Or in Luke: “If you have two coats, give one away,” he said. “Do the same with your food.”

In addition to Scripture, Pope Francis is leaning on a long tradition of Catholics calling for economic justice in the face of economic violence. The USCCB have published some beautiful, powerful statements on economic justice. Their framework includes:

  1. The economy exists for the person, not the person for the economy.
  2. All economic life should be shaped by moral principles. Economic choices and institutions must be judged by how they protect or undermine the life and dignity of the human person, support the family and serve the common good.
  3. A fundamental moral measure of any economy is how the poor and vulnerable are faring.
  4. All people have a right to life and to secure the basic necessities of life (e.g., food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, safe environment, economic security.)
  5. All people have the right to economic initiative, to productive work, to just wages and benefits, to decent working conditions as well as to organize and join unions or other associations.
  6. All people, to the extent they are able, have a corresponding duty to work, a responsibility to provide the needs of their families and an obligation to contribute to the broader society.
  7. In economic life, free markets have both clear advantages and limits; government has essential responsibilities and limitations; voluntary groups have irreplaceable roles, but cannot substitute for the proper working of the market and the just policies of the state.
  8. Society has a moral obligation, including governmental action where necessary, to assure opportunity, meet basic human needs, and pursue justice in economic life.
  9. Workers, owners, managers, stockholders and consumers are moral agents in economic life. By our choices, initiative, creativity and investment, we enhance or diminish economic opportunity, community life and social justice.
  10. The global economy has moral dimensions and human consequences. Decisions on investment, trade, aid and development should protect human life and promote human rights, especially for those most in need wherever they might live on this globe.

Pope Francis believes that the current inequality is society is not natural, but the result of a myriad of human ethical decisions that can be reversed by adjusted human ethical decisions. He is not calling citizens and politicians to Marx, but Scripture and tradition to stand up against the economy of exclusion that marginalizes people.

The Verbs of Everyday Living

11 Nov


This excerpt from Sunday By Sunday for November 17 seems especially apt following the destruction of Typhoon Haiyan:

“In the face of war, earthquakes, famines, plagues – the regular stuff of today’s headlines – Jesus recommends patient endurance. He has taught us how to live every day. Indeed every tragedy catches individuals in the midst of doing good, saving someone besides themselves, rescuing neighbors, helping the disabled, helping clear away wreckage. The courage of soldiers and marathon survivors inspires us as they learn to use prosthetic arms and legs.

Christianity is about the verbs of everyday living: love, share, forgive, include, speak the truth, listen, learn, build, rejoice, have compassion, go an extra mile, lend a hand.” – Joan Mitchell, CSJ

Read the full issue here.

Here is a list of ways to help the survivors of Haiyan – add other suggestions in the comments.

Gospel Reflection for November 3, 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

29 Oct

Jesus asks, “Today salvation has come to this house for he, too, is a son of Abraham.  The Son of Man has come to seek out and save the lost.”

Luke 19.9-10

Jesus’ final statement in the gospel makes his mission clear: he comes to seek out and save the lost.  Jesus draws Zacchaeus, the marginalized tax collector, into the mystery of God’s unconditional love.  In response Zacchaeus pledges the almsgiving that marks a true Jew, a son of Abraham—half his possessions to people who are poor.  He promises to repay anyone he has defrauded fourfold.  Neither the law nor his greed isolate Zacchaeus any longer.

What is your experience of being an outsider?

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