Tag Archives: human-rights

God With Us on the Move

2 Sep
Photo via MN Historical Society

Photo via MN Historical Society

A friend of mine spent ten weeks working at a migrant center in Tijuana this summer. Tijuana is a city generally seen as the last stop for migrants from Central America trying to cross into San Diego. Lately, the center is also housing large numbers of people from all over the world seeking asylum and refugee status in the United States. The arrival of refugees from places like Haiti and even as far as Syria is fairly new for the city.

The journeys of the migrants and the refugees weigh heavy on my heart. There are oh so many people on the move, looking for a place to rest, willing to travel across to world to find a country who will welcome them. The courage it takes to set out, the energy it takes to travel, the resilience it takes to continue on shows the remarkable strength of the human spirit. They are looking for a fresh start, a safe place to build a future. Only then can they properly grieve their past.

Abraham had been promised land as far reaching as the eye could image and descendants that numbered the stars. Yet as an old man, when his beloved wife died, he had no land, and Isaac, his only son, had no wife. Abraham could have given up. He could have sat down, pouted, and waited for God to follow through on God’s promises. Yet the story simply tells us that Abraham mourned for his wife and then rose from his grief. He got busy, buying land to bury Sarah and went looking for a wife for Isaac. Both of these acts furthered God’s plan for him. The promises came true. Abraham shows the same courage, energy and resilience as the world’s migrants and refugees. Part of grieving his past required him to continue building his future.

People who have been through great trauma benefit from having opportunities to rebuild families and careers. Good work is good for the soul. Building a future creates space to heal from the past. When the worst happens, we can become angry with God and give up, or we can hear God whispering to us to move. Then God can fill the space we create.

Is it possible that God is waiting for us to act? Perhaps God is calling to us from the future, beckoning us to create space for God’s will on earth. The migrants and refugees arriving at Tijuana have heard the call. They seek room to build a future full of good work and flourishing families. Healing from their past depends on it.

Gospel Reflection for November 29, 2015, 1st Sunday of Advent

24 Nov

Sunday Readings: Jeremiah 33.14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3.12-4.2; Luke 21.25-28, 34-36

“Stay watchful.”

(Luke 21.36)

Advent begins with a gospel that imagines Jesus coming in glory. The gospel fairly froths with frightening images. Scary gospels can hardly worry us more than our everyday headlines and breaking news. Refugees swarm north across border after border, seeking a safe future for their families. Climate change threatens our planet.

Beginning next Sunday in Paris the United Nations sponsors the 21st meeting among nations to negotiate a limit on global warming to 2 degrees celsius. We are inextricable bound together on our home planet. We are all neighbors profoundly called to cooperate and survive together. What we know we want for our own families is what refugees and immigrants are seeking – safety, education, a future. Jesus insists that the loving actions he teaches and lives will get us through not only every day but any day.

Who do you see as a source of hope we humans can help build a world in which all can thrive?

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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.

Gospel Reflection for September 22, 2013, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

16 Sep

Jesus said, “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.  Neither can you serve both God and wealth.”

Luke 16.13

In the parable that forms Sunday’s gospel (Luke 16.1-13), Jesus surprisingly holds up an embezzler as a role model in ingenuity in protecting his own interests when he get fired.   Luke’s gospel does not let the self-serving manager go without criticizing him.  A series of sayings follow that pass judgment on dishonest people.  The saying insists that whoever is dishonest with a little can’t be trusted with a lot.  No one can trust a cheater.  No one can serve two masters.

What good things do you take for granted that are beyond the reach of poor people in your area or in the world?

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Example of a Good Shepherd: Norman Borlaug

18 Apr

John’s gospel makes an extended comparison between Jesus and shepherds who pasture, protect, and water their flocks and who at night sleep in the opening of the sheepfold. Jesus is both the good shepherd and the gate to the sheepfold. This Sunday the Church reads from John 10, where the gospel makes this comparison.

A man died in September 2009 who like a good shepherd used his brains and energy that millions on our planet might eat.  Norman Borlaug believed food is a moral right.

Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for developing disease-resistant wheat that grew well in Mexico, India, Pakistan, and African nations where population was outrunning food production. Famine seemed inevitable when Borlaug finished his doctorate in 1942.

Gospel Reflection for Lent: How does the Holy Spirit work in our world?

18 Feb

In the gospel for the 1st Sunday of Lent the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness, where he duels with the devil.  The Spirit fills Mary, Elizabeth, Zachariah, and Simeon before descending upon Jesus at his baptism and leading him into the desert.  All these activities culminate in Jesus’ first preaching, his inaugural address in his hometown synagogue.  He reads from the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me and has anointed me to bring glad tiding to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year of God’s favor” (4.18-19).  Jesus rolls up the scroll, sits down, and with all eyes on him, develops his first sermon—9 words in English, under 50 letters, perfect for Twitter:  “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  I am that Spirit-filled prophet.

The Holy Spirit anoints Jesus to stir up a year of favor, the jubilee year the Old Testament Book of Leviticus requires every 50 year to give the poor a fresh start, to prevent a permanent underclass.

Makes me wonder what the Holy Spirit is stirring up in our time.  Pope Benedict has done something new is resigning, an act of humility.  He’s done what he can with the strength he has.  Benedict set in motion a Year of Faith that celebrates the 50th anniversary of Vatican II.  Fifty, hum, could it be time for a jubilee year in the Church, a new beginning?  By my lights we profoundly need a Spirit-filled leader who can reengage the Church with the needs of the times and find God coming from the future and not only the past.

Once on a two-hour car ride with my youngest sister and her youngest daughter, we shared our answers to the questions: What two people have most influenced you in your life?  My two were both wise, learned women older than me.  My sister’s two were her children.  Her answer stunned me.  I hadn’t thought about learning from younger people.  As a nun I don’t have children to learn from, and of course, neither do the cardinals who will gather on March 15 to elect a new pope.  Will they elect a leader like their predecessors who appointed them?

How does the Holy Spirit work in our world?  Richard Gaillardetz maintains that one of the most important acts of the Second Vatican Council happened in the first 15 minutes when the bishops voted to recess rather than accept the list of bishops the Curia proposed for membership on the commissions preparing council documents.  The bishops gathered, met one another in language groups, and learned about each others’ abilities.  A greater diversity of members on the commissions resulted.  Diversity opened the doors to the Spirit.  So did, celebrating Eucharist during the Council in various rites, the Byzantine, Syriac, Melekite.  The bishops experienced a bigger church than most knew.

Already in 1963, some bishops noticed the Council included Protestant observers but no Catholic women.  Cardinal Suenens led the rally to include women.  Carmel McEnroe tells about the 23 women who attended Vatican II as auditors in the book Guests in Their Own House. The woman were heads of international organizations of lay people and heads of religious orders, except for one married woman, who with her husband were the head couple in Mexico of the Christian Family Movement.  They had 12 children.  She had a big job representing married Catholics.  The 23 women contributed most to the commission that preparing the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes. the document closest to the Spirit-filled mission that Jesus announces in his inaugural message, the document that calls Catholics into solidarity with those in our world poor and afflicted.  It is the fullest statement of Catholic social teaching and human rights.  Here is a paragraph the women succeeded in getting into the document.

“With respect to the fundamental rights of the person, every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language, or religion is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God’s intent (GS29).

Now is a crucial time for we the People of God, the whole People of God, the Baptized, male and female, clergy and laity to participate fully, actively, consciously in our life as Church.  Now is a time to pray for sure.  Now is also a time to let the Spirit of God do something new in all of us.  Benedict started to twitter online.  Maybe we can create access to the cardinals online.  We can give voice to the needs of the poor, the need for women to become fully equal in the Church, the need to welcome and connect with alienated Catholic.  Let the whole Church find ways to text and tweet, blog, and send cards and emails, dialogue with our neighbors, and be part of the election.  Visit Futurechurch.org.

I heard Father Geoffrey Diekmann speak on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Vatican II.  Someone raised a hand and asked him why there were no women scripture scholars on the committee that created the new lectionary.  “We never thought of it then,” he said.  What about now?

As we begin Lent, Jesus challenges us to live God’s word as he does.  May the Holy Spirit lead us as well as the Irish say to speak the truth and shame the devil.

Radical, Mutual Love

21 Jan

Radical, Mutual Love. A guest post from Ellie Roscher.


“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

This vision of radical, mutual love that Paul had for the Galatians came straight from Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ hopes for the church were revolutionary. Irrational. Almost unimaginable. The harsh power boundaries that existed in Jesus’ community between Jews and Greeks, slaves and free people, and men and women are hard for us to fully grasp today. For example, Jews and Greeks are not seen as oppositional groups in our society. It is easy for us, then, to read this passage without giving Paul and Jesus credit for how counter-cultural their vision of unity was. Widows, aliens and orphans are three groups repeatedly mentioned in the Bible as needing advocacy. We can infer from these named groups that women, foreigners and children lacked human rights in the Biblical society. Times have changed. We do not have slavery. Widows tend to have the rights they need to survive. Yet we can understand human made rifts that have societal consequences. Try: There is no longer Baptist nor Catholic, there is no longer Iraqi or American, there is no longer homosexual or heterosexual; for all are one in Christ Jesus. Our church still struggles to come together united as one in Christ Jesus.

What groups of people would you mention if we were to update this verse from Paul to the Galatians about our modern day church?

How can our church community take serious steps toward turning Jesus’ vision into reality?6708304967_0a295d7538_m

Monday we celebrate the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. Like this verse from Galatians, it is easy to recite famous lines form Dr. King’s speeches without fully feeling the revolutionary, irrational ideas he was preaching. His vision incorporated all people being judged by the content of their character more than the color of their skin. He also stood up against the War in Vietnam. His vision of unity had economic and political consequences. When he was shot, he was in Memphis organizing non-violent marches and boycotts to advocate better wages and safer conditions for black sanitary workers. His vision came from Jesus’ vision of radical, mutual love. He worked to address the poverty, unemployment and lack of education leading to lack of economic opportunity for black Americans. There is no longer black or white; we are all one in Christ Jesus.

What steps have we taken as a society to actualize Dr. King’s vision of America?

How can our church community take serious steps toward turning Dr. King’s vision into reality?

On Martin Luther King Day, we also celebrate the other men and women who worked for civil rights alongside Dr. King. John Lewis, now a US Representative, was trained in nonviolence by Reverend James Lawson as a young student. Nonviolence is not easy. In his memoir, Walking With the Wind, Lewis talks about being trained to take hatred into your body while being beaten and transform it into love. He was trained to picture his attackers as small children, vulnerable and innocent. John Lewis took his skills in nonviolence to sit-ins, boycotts, and on the Freedom Rides and indeed risked his life for Jesus’ vision of radical, mutual love. John Lewis was the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The work that students did during the Civil Rights Movement is a testament to the power that young people have when they chose to organize and change their communities for the better.

What advantage do you have over older people in your ability to organize and change your communities?

How are you told that you are not powerful as a group of people? How are you empowered as young people to make your communities better?

If you could organize with other students like John Lewis did, what issue would you address? Would your want your group to be nonviolent?

What can you do on Monday to celebrate Jesus, Paul, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis?

Photo courtesy of alvesfamily via Creative Commons License.

Peace Be with You

20 Apr

via Peace Be with You. by Claire Bischoff

In this Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 24:35-48), Jesus utters a seemingly simple greeting upon appearing to his disciples after his resurrection: “Peace be with you.” It is the same salutation we offer to others sitting around us at mass each week for the kiss of peace. Saying “peace be with you” has become such a habit for many of us that we may have stopped thinking about what Jesus has wished for us and what we wish for others. Peace.

My guess is that many of us consider ourselves to be peaceful people and to have peace in our lives. I have never had to suffer through war waged on the soil of my country. I have never used physical violence against anyone or had it used against me. I even feel guilty if I accidentally hit a squirrel while driving, and I always try to take bugs trapped inside my home outdoors instead of squishing the life out of them. Yet the type of peace I allude to here is what some have called “negative peace,” that is, peace that is simply the absence of violence. Of course, negative peace is much better than violence or oppression and as such is an important baseline measurement of peace. But I believe when Jesus says, “Peace be with you,” he is calling us to live into a peace that goes beyond this baseline understanding, a type of peace that can be called positive peace.

Positive peace is a lot more difficult to identify and achieve than negative peace. In fact, given the reality of sin in the world, positive peace is more of a journey than as a destination. Positive peace encompasses positive content and is something we can strive for across the full range of relationships in which we find ourselves: relationship to self; relationship to other individuals; relationships within groups of people, communities, societies; and relationships with the planet on which we live and the other living things that also call this planet home. What might positive peace entail in each of these relationships?

Relationship to self: Peace in relationship to the self involves being kind to yourself; not being overly critical of yourself when you make mistakes; and accepting and respecting who you are, your body, your personality, your spirit. Living in peace with yourself means respecting and treating your body as a temple of God–eating well, exercising, and resting. It involves seeking help for physical, emotional, intellectual, or any other kind of problem you may be struggling with.

Relationship to other individuals: Peace in relationship to others involves actively seeking ways to be kind to others, including offering help if you notice someone needs it. It involves accepting and respecting other people for who they are. It also means working to restore relationships when relationships are challenged by disagreements or misunderstandings.

Relationship to society: Peace in the larger society involves working to help create social systems that serve the needs of everyone, especially the needs of the poor and oppressed. As the bumper sticker says, “If you want peace, work for justice.” (Before this was a bumper sticker, it was the title of Pope Paul VI’s address on Peace Day in 1972.) It also means finding constructive ways to deal with conflicts—be they religious, political, etc. In other words, peace does not mean there is never any conflict. It means that “people are interacting non-violently and are managing their conflict positively—with respectful attention to the legitimate needs and interest of all concerned.” (Quotation from Irenees.net, a website of resources for peace)

Relationship with Earth: This relationship is especially appropriate to reflect on this Earth Day 2012. Human beings have not always treated the earth and the other living things on this planet with the respect due them as part of God’s good creation. Restoring peace in our relationship to the Earth means finding little things we can do every day to lessen our carbon footprint—walk, bike and carpool more; go meatless one or more day a week; and reduce purchasing and purchase products with as little waste in packaging as possible. It also means getting involved in larger projects—like the high school students in this week’s Spirit who started a recycling program at their high school—and advocating for governmental policies that protect the environment.

Go through the four areas of relationship listed above. How can you work for more positive peace in each of these areas in your own life? What is one thing you can do for more peace to be with you this week?

Photo courtesy of  Inspire Kelly (Vita Bella) via Creative  Commons License

Response to #KONY2012 from a Sister in Uganda

19 Mar

Marion Weinzapel is one of four Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet working in the Diocese of Gulu, Uganda, with Archbishop John Baptist Odama.  She describes how the Kony 2012 video gone viral complicates the peace process many have long worked on in her own informal interview with him. 


Mar. 9, 2012: Sr. Marion Weinzapfel, Gulu

Archbishop Odama: “This is a complex issue. It can’t be handled so simply. It will not be easy to have Kony caught. In the process there many be many loses of life. But for us in general, [Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative], we always advocated a process of dialogue.” [Archbishop Odama was not speaking on behalf of the ARLPI but out of the spirit of this group which he chaired from 2000-2010. The ARLPI may be forthcoming with their own statement.]

When the ARLPI wanted to talk with the LRA, we managed to meet LRA leader, Sam Kolo, in Paluda in Palabek on the 29 December, 2004. That was possible because we had first gone to the military and asked them to withdraw all mobile forces in the area. [Kolo himself later came out and has since attended Gulu University.] All were thinking that 2005 would be the year of peace. But in 2005, the government forces attacked the LRA and shattered the trust that had been built up.”

The ARLPI worked together with religious, cultural and political leaders. The Rwot David Archana representing cultural leaders and Mrs. Betty Bigombe was present for this historic 2004 meeting with Kolo along with Jacob Olanya.”

In November, 2008, another meeting with the LRA took place. The meeting lasted for 6 hours and I spoke directly to Kony: ‘Kony, your life and the lives of those in your hands, and the lives of all those in Uganda—civilians, military, government and those of Sudan are very precious and should not be lost.’ I could see that Kony listened intently and that statement made an impact on him. I wanted to arouse a sense of humanity in Kony and touch his heart. But two weeks later, ‘Operation Lightening Thunder’ happened. The LRA then responded with vicious attacks on civilians.”

In September of 2010, I visited the United States with the now retired Bishop Ochola of the Anglican Church to converse with the State Department, Office of African Affairs, to address the issue of military intervention in the bill: ‘Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009.’ We asked to keep the application of the new law focused on non-violent actions.

It is clear that Archbishop Odama feels that the world-wide effort to stop Kony through the video KONY2012 by Invisible Children hinders rather than helps the situation. “Kony will only hide deeper and the trust needed for dialogue become more elusive. The Archbishop explained that you can’t do both—have a military option and a peace process going. You either do one or the other and leave enough time for success.“

Finally, Archbishop Odama says that current efforts for dialogue are moving slowly. Leaders are now trying to work in low-key ways with their counterparts in Sudan and Central African Republic. Yet, they have not given up hope that dialogue can still happen.

Related information can be found at the Africa Faith and Justice Network.

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