If You Want Justice, Work in Community

“Enlighten those who possess power…the poor and the earth are crying out.” –Pope Francis, Laudato Si’ 246, A Christian Prayer in Union with Creation

      Kayla Profileby Kayla Sue Jacobs, Justice and Peace Ministry

Two weeks ago I joined 60+ faith leaders in New Orleans for the Greenfaith annual Climate Convergence. This multi-religious experience brought together emerging leaders (millennials) from all over the U.S. and Canada to dialogue about goals and hopes, share resources, skills, and talents, develop and strengthen action plans, and most importantly, as I figured out after a couple days into the week, foster community.

This message of community hit home for me before I even arrived at the convergence. I had an early flight to New Orleans so I grabbed a meal with a friend and went to a park that overlooks the city. As we looked at his city, his home, he expressed all of the issues they have to deal with regarding water pollution and climate change, noting that they receive all that the Mississippi brings. That realization hit me like a ton of bricks. Being from the Midwest, and I grew up not far from the great Mississippi, I knew exactly what he was talking about. The chemical run off from industrial farms and factories along the river is a real problem for life downstream. I felt the weight of guilt and apologized to him. The reality of how interconnected we are set the tone for the rest of the week.

The days to follow were filled with new friends, learning about the many faiths that were represented, hearing stories from Louisianans, and prayer.  We heard a panel of Hurricane Katrina survivors. We spent a day on the bayou, a place known as “ground zero of climate change,” visiting the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe of the Isle de Jean Charles, who are among the first climate refugees in the U.S. We held an interfaith prayer service outside of Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise’s office. We met with a fisherman named Coy who said places he used to ride a horse to now takes an over hour long boat ride to get to and who, despite being a 4th generation fisherman, is hesitating to teach his children the trade because of its unsustainability. The places we visited and the people we met had a weird way of making us feel both a sense of urgency and a sense of hope.

During the panel with the Katrina survivors a convergence attendee raised her hand to express her appreciation for Robert Green, who lost his 3 year old granddaughter and mother in the storm. As she began to speak she started to cry. She, a young mother from drought struck California who is expecting another child in the months to come, expressed her fear for her children and future generations. Robert’s story of lost, resilience, and hope touched her and as she was crying and expressing her gratitude he walked down from the panel and held her in his arms and said: “You’ve got to keep on fighting [for justice] and when you get scared, hug somebody.” This is community.

Community is when a mother from California and a grandfather from Louisiana hug it out over a shared passion for an issue that affects them both. Community is caring about future generations. Community is an entire tribe being displaced and they still persevere and work together to preserve their culture and history. Community is when people from many faiths and backgrounds come together to protect the earth and make the world a safer place. Community is being honest with ourselves and apologizing to our brothers and sisters downstream.

My dear brothers and sisters, you too are part of this community. When Christ said “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt. 18:20) He wasn’t only referring to prayer but also action. Our individual and societal actions have an actual effect on communities locally, nationally, and globally. To quote a friend from the convergence, Austin Sisson: “Wherever you stand on climate change, you aren’t standing close enough if your shoes aren’t getting wet.” In other words be with the people, in community. Hear their stories.

We must never lose sight of being community; we were created for it (Gn. 2:18). Climate Change is a vast, complex, and urgent issue. It is going to take all of us to save the earth. It is going to take people of all faiths, of all nations, and of all political views. It is going to take you and me.

What can you do to help?

  • Advocate: here is policy we support
  • Learn: contact us to host a speaker or consider JustFaith
  • Live Simply and Sustainably: here are some tips
  • Contact us: interested in starting an energy efficient project or a green team at your parish? We’d be happy to help! (kjacobs@dioceseofjoliet.org, 815-221-6251)
St Petronille's Group

Show Hospitality to Strangers: A Reflection on Peace Day 2016

 

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by Matt Walker, Peace Day 2016 Participant

The mass migration of men, women, and children flowing into Europe from North Africa and the Middle East has quickly become a global issue.  The numbers are staggering.  Host nations are struggling to deal with the influx of people from divergent cultures.  Pope Francis has acknowledged that “[t]he presence of migrants and refugees seriously challenges the various societies which accept them.”

It is heartbreaking to watch the seemingly endless line of men, women, and children making the arduous trek into Europe, often with nothing but the clothes on their backs and the few items they could grab in the minutes before leaving their homeland.  It is also difficult for most of us here in the States to relate, even in a small way, to the difficulties these refugees and migrants are facing.  Americans are far removed from the plight of these refugees both physically and spiritually.  How can we, who have been blessed with so much, identify and empathize with our brothers and sisters who have so little and face such dire straits?

I wanted to know more about the plight of refugees and migrants.  Fortunately, I learned that the Justice and Peace Ministry of the Joliet Diocese was hosting Peace Day 2016 which focused on the issues surrounding the refugee crisis, and how we as Catholics can better understand and empathize with the struggles these refugees are facing.

I listened to Deacon Greg Kandra of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association talk about helping persecuted Christians in Iraq.  I heard from Congolese refugees who were forced to live in UN refugee camps, all the while praying that they would be allowed to re-settle in the United States.  I watched videos of Catholic Relief Services providing food, clothing, shelter, and medical care to the refugees en route to Europe.  I was provided a small glimpse of what it might be like to be a refugee through a simulation devised by Exodus World Service, which showed me just how quickly life can change for the worse when you live in a country that is politically unstable.

It was heartening to hear that among refugees en route to Europe, the words “Catholic Relief Services” are synonymous with help.  Although these desperate men, women, and children may not know what those words mean, they do know that where they see the words “Catholic Relief Services” or the initials “CRS”, help is available to them, regardless of their religious background.  This brought to mind the words of St. Francis of Assisi, who called upon the brothers of his order to “preach by their deeds.”

Peace Day 2016 drove home the fact that issues surrounding refugees and migrants are more challenging than any 30 second news story can convey.  The United States has been blessed with almost boundless material wealth and resources.  With great wealth comes great responsibility.  As a Catholic and an American, I feel that each and every believer is called to do what he or she can to ease the burden these families are facing.  This is the foundation of the gospel.  To do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

The scriptures teach us “[r]eligion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”  The Church has been provided an opportunity to prove our devotion to God by assisting these refugees in their hour of need.  As I was writing this blog post, our Holy Father Pope Francis visited the Greek island of Lesbos.  When he left, he took 12 refugees with him to Italy.  These families have described the experience of being taken to Italy as

“dreamlike”.  One refugee named Hasan proclaimed “[t]he pope is an amazing, amazing person, an incredible person. Every religious person should be like the pope.”  Another refugee named Osama said “Peace has no religion.  If you think about it, we’re all human.”

Pope Francis was asked whether his taking in 12 refugees was insignificant in light of the scope of the crisis.  Pope Francis replied with the words of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta:  “It’s a drop in the ocean, but after this drop, the ocean won’t be the same.  I’ll respond the same way. It’s a little gesture. But all of us, men and women, must make these little gestures in order to extend a hand to those in need.”

That is the same spirit I felt on Peace Day.  We are all called to help. If every Catholic in the world were to perform a small act of charity in assisting the refugees and migrants, imagine how many of these families would be blessed to know that they are loved and cared for by the body of Christ.  That is what the Church is, after all.  We are the body of Christ, and the world is always watching to see whether or not we live up to our obligation.