Author Archives: truman

When a Speaker Can’t Govern, No One Wants the Job

When a Speaker Can’t Govern, No One Wants the Job

By Rachel Schmidt

October 20, 2015

The Speaker of the House is a high-power position that sets the tone for the House of Representatives and is second in line for the presidency; a dream for any ambitious politician. Yet, no one seems to want the job. Speaker John Boehner is resigning, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) has made it clear he doesn’t want it, and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy dropped out of the running. The reason for the widespread hesitancy could be related to the strong divisions in the Republican Party that have made Speaker Boehner’s job arduous. There is no easy way, as Speaker of the House, to be able to please the Freedom Caucus, which operates as a “squeaky wheel,” and does not allow for the compromise necessary to create laws. For those of us interested in social justice, a lack of governance and a lack of a Speaker halt any hope of systemic change.

The leadership of Speaker of the House is necessary for the proper functioning of the House of Representatives. He or she is elected from the majority party in the House, and historically, has always been a congressperson. The duties include overseeing procedure in the chamber, appointing members to committees, and setting the legislative agenda for the majority party. The Speaker is not merely an administrative or ceremonial role; there is a great deal of power exercised in this position, especially when deciding what bills are brought to the House floor for a vote.

One example during Speaker Boehner’s tenure is when he applied his power to the issue of comprehensive immigration reform in 2013 and 2014. A comprehensive bill, S. 744, went through much of the legislative process and was passed in the Senate. The hard work of immigration activists paid off as half of the legislative battle was accomplished, but they gritted their teeth in anticipation and hope of what the House would do to follow. Rep. Joe Garcia introduced an almost identical bill, H.R. 15, which received bipartisan support with 200 cosponsors (a bill only needs 218 votes to pass.) Yet, that is where the process uneventfully ended, because Speaker Boehner refused to bring it to a vote. Months of work and compromise can be all in vain, because the Speaker holds the political power to bring a bill to a vote. This situation was particularly frustrating because had the bill gone to the floor, it would have passed.

The power of this office indicates the necessity of not only having the role filled by a politician seeking to create just laws, but also a person who has the ability to govern. The current disinterest in the position of Speaker has been influenced by a House that is ungovernable. The fact is that the Freedom Caucus is difficult to politic with. They have a stringent platform that embraces no compromise, and they make a plethora of noise when they do not get their way. David Brooks, a syndicated, conservative columnist, critiqued this way of legislating as ineffective and a threat to the very institution of democracy.  

We the people cannot effect systemic change without a properly functioning House of Representatives, and therefore, the institution and its capacity for governance must be upheld and respected. Article One of the Constitution outlines the House as the chamber where the will of the people is made a reality. Pope Francis said, “A good Catholic meddles in politics, offering the best of himself, so that those who govern can govern. But what is the best we can offer those who govern? Prayer!” With the current Speaker situation, we better start meddling, and we better start praying!

et cursus.

Blog: Stand Up to the Bullies on Gun Control

Stand Up to the Bullies on Gun Control

By Stephanie Niedringhaus
October 14, 2015

Last week, soon after the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, 20 senators spoke out for commonsense measures to #StopGunViolence. The gun violence crisis is real, and each of us must call for quick action.

Each day, our nation adds new names to the horrifically long list of people who have lost their lives because of guns. In fact, the number (more than 1.5 million) of those who have died because of guns just since 1968 exceeds the number of Americans who have died during ALL U.S. wars (under 1.4 million). Gun violence is one of the most important moral issues we face today.

There is something particularly insidious about the way we treat gun violence in this nation. Immediately after highly publicized shootings, public demands for action to curb such violence are strongly and quickly resisted by a relatively small group of extremists who always seem to triumph, no matter how absurd or dangerous their claims. They actively work to increase people’s fears, citing bogus “facts” to support what they say while deliberately intimidating anyone who disagrees with them.

That intimidation has a strong effect on politicians, who fear the wrath of the NRA and smaller groups of gun rights extremists. But the extremists also target ordinary citizens, showing up at public meetings carrying guns and attacking through social media and other means anyone calling for changes in gun regulations. People are understandably frightened when gun-toting bullies threaten them either directly or indirectly.

Extremists make the absurd claim that we can lower gun violence with easier access to guns. Reasonable people, including a huge percentage of gun owners, favor gun regulations that include stronger background checks for gun buyers along with measures to close loopholes and stop the spread of illegal guns. These are minimal ways to begin to address the gun crisis we have today.

Congress has a duty to listen to the reasonable people, not the extremists, and make us all safer. Legislators currently working on firearms regulation legislation must step up their efforts. And President Obama should also take action now to address loopholes that make it easy for violent people to get guns.

We the People must stand up to the bullies. Today’s epidemic of gun violence requires an urgent response. We must act now.

Blog: Senate Introduces Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Bill

Senate Introduces Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Bill

By Joan Neal
October 12, 2015

They said it couldn’t be done. Six months ago, if you had asked people who follow federal criminal justice reform if there would be a bill on this issue coming out of the 114thCongress, you would have gotten a big laugh. Even Hill staffers would have had a one word answer “No.”

the Senate recently surprised everyone by doing just that. A group of nine Senators from both parties held a press conference to introduce The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 which, by their own description, calls for the most significant reforms of the criminal justice system in decades and saves taxpayers millions of dollars in the process.

The bill includes both sentencing and prison reform. With regard to sentencing, some of the key provisions of the bill target and reduce mandatory minimum sentences for some non-violent drug offenses; reduce the three-strike penalty from life imprisonment to 25 years; apply certain provisions of the Fair Sentencing Act and other sentencing reforms retroactively; enhance mandatory sentencing for violent firearms offenders and unlawful possession of firearms; and address mandatory minimums for interstate domestic violence.

To address the burgeoning federal prison population, the bill requires the implementation of evidence-based recidivism reduction programming that not only enhances rehabilitation but also enables offenders to earn ‘credits’ for time served; requires a post-sentencing risk and needs assessment for all prisoners; limits solitary confinement for juveniles and establishes eligibility for parole for juveniles sentenced to life terms as adults or to terms longer than 20 years. Additional administrative reforms are included that require the Federal Bureau of Prisons to operate more efficiently and effectively.

Among the co-sponsors of the bill is the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), previously a staunch opponent of reducing mandatory minimum sentences and other reforms to the criminal justice system. A concerted advocacy effort on the part of the faith community and our national and grass roots partners had a positive impact on his eventual ‘change of heart’. The other original co-sponsors include – Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), John Cornyn (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Tim Scott (R-SC).

While ultimate passage of The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 is not guaranteed, it is an extremely encouraging sign that Congress can accomplish big things if legislators work together for the common good.

Ok, House of Representatives – it’s your turn!

Blog: Today, 9/11

Today, 9/11

By Bethan Johnson, Grassroots Mobilization Associate
September 11, 2015

Two weeks ago as I boarded the Metro to work, I read that Marcy Borders had died of cancer at the age of 42. Her name likely is not particularly familiar to most Americans, since the media has called her ‘The Dust Lady’ for the last 14 years. The photograph of her as she evacuated the North Tower—her fancy dress and shoes coated in white dust, the hint of her pearl necklace still visible, and the overwhelming look of confusion and fear on her face—has been used in artistic efforts tocapture the national mood in the wake of the attacks.

As I finished the article, without thinking, I started calculating how long it would take to walk to work from my apartment so that I could avoid public transportation. I started typing a note on my phone to call my parents and siblings to check in on where and how they were on the 11th (it’s a lingering result of the hours I watched my father pace around the house calling my mother’s cell phone trying to hear if she had gone into the Trade Center to do business that day, as she sometimes did, only to get a busy signal for hours). In the space of two Metro stops, I had totally planned out how I would mark the anniversary and it was entirely based on fear, and, for two weeks, I was committed to that plan.

But when I woke up this morning to participate in a moment of silence and watch a portion of the commemoration ceremony online, I realized that there was a much better way for me to spend this day. I remembered was that, in the midst of all the discussions about the federal budget and the planning for the papal visit, another key piece of legislation was under consideration that could honor those who suffered the effects of the terrorist attacks.

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act—named after a New York Police Department officer who died of respiratory disease often attributed to his work as a rescue and recovery worker at Ground Zero—is set to expire this month. Although the law includes its own $1.6 billion health care and monitoring mechanisms, the act also created the funding necessary to establish the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund, which uses its $2.75 billion to help first responders pay for medical expenses related to the terrorist attacks. Covering costs related to the development of dozens of forms of cancer, respiratory problems, and other long-term medical issues, the funding has already helped thousands of first responders gain the access they need to adequate medical coverage and is still reviewing thousands of more cases. Currently, there is no state without a survivor of the attacks and only six Congressional districts without a registered survivor or responder.

Passed in 2010, the law’s five year authorization timeline will soon expire. While some believe that the fund has enough money to survive for a few months without the reauthorization of the act, if Congress fails to renew the law, the money will soon dry up and leave many without the money they need to survive or remain healthy. First responders and survivors are now calling on Congress to pass The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act, which not only reauthorizes the 2010 act, but also makes it permanent. Next week, more than 100 first responders will come to Congress to lobby for just this policy, for essentially the lives of their friends and family.

While supporting EMTs, fire fighters, police officer, and survivors who had risked their lives and health in the face of terrorism may seem to be without any real opposition, the reauthorization of this act and with it the funding it provides is no small order; while the rhetorical bipartisan support exists, acting on these feelings may prove more challenging. The bill famously languished in Congress and faced a filibuster for a long period of time before passing almost ten years after the attacks. Moreover, given the gridlock in Washington and the focus remaining on the large issue of the entire federal budget, the reauthorization plan could face an uphill battle without a reminder from We the People.

First responders’ call for government action speaks to me, reverberating in my bones, for many reasons. Catholic Social Tradition has taught me that we are called to stand in solidarity with those in need and compels us to advocate for human dignity. When I try to imagine the actions of these responders, all I think of is Jesus’s lesson to the apostles “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13) I feel compelled to live out Jesus’s call in this small way in the face of the need of those who heeded his commandment in the most dramatic of circumstances.

Listening to the stories of survivors as they talked about how they were diagnosed with life-threatening or life-altering conditions, as a cancer survivor, I also saw in them brothers- and sisters- in-struggle. To date, the Center for Disease Control has reported detecting 4,385 cases of cancer in responders and survivors. Being unexpectedly and unavoidably under siege from your own body is traumatizing on its own and I feel strongly that no person should be forced to fight for their life and for recognition by the government at the same time.

Finally, as a resident of the United States, I have internalized a respect for those who serve our nation. The rhetoric of honoring the people who risk their lives for our nation’s safety that is so frequently used in politics now faces a real test of its veracity with The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act. To me, making the law and the funding it provides permanent is a way of acknowledging the hardships of responders and survivors and supporting efforts to recognize their continued bravery. This law now stands before all of Congress, which means that we all have a role to play in reaffirming our commitment to these ideals and expressing our solidarity for their struggles.

Today, I took the metro to work and will call my family at the end of the evening to ask them how their day was instead of where they were. After a moment of silent reflection, I spent the morning to reach out to my members of Congress to tell them how passionately I feel about their need to act on this issue. It took only a matter of minutes, but it entirely changed my day.

Today I used my passion to respect human dignity, I lifted up my voice to amplify the calls for justice and recognition by survivors, and devoted time to listening to the account of those lives the Fund saved, and, honestly, no scenic walk around the nation’s capital or few more moments of feeling secure could ever compare.

Blog: Criminal Justice Reform and Gun Violence

Criminal Justice Reform and Gun Violence

By Joan Neal
August 31, 2015

The country may be reaching a tipping point for criminal justice reform. Both on Capitol Hill and on Pennsylvania Avenue, a steady drumbeat for some kind of reform is likely to reach a crescendo as early as September when Congress returns from their August recess.

The House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Representative Robert Goodlatte (R-VA), took up the issue just before they adjourned in order to address such bills as the Youth Promise Act co-sponsored by Reps. Bobby Scott [D-VA] and Walter Jones [R-NC], the Safe, Accountable, Fair, and Effective (SAFE) Act co-sponsored by Reps. Bobby Scott and James Sensenbrenner [R-WI] and the Smarter Sentencing Act co-sponsored by Reps. Bobby Scott and Raul Labrador [R-ID]. All of these bills have Senate cosponsors as well. Before leaving in August, Chairman Goodlatte announced his plan to introduce bipartisan legislation to the floor of the House, and Speaker John Boehner expressed his commitment to bring such legislation to the full chamber for a vote.

Similar efforts are in the works in the Senate. Sens. Dick Durbin [D-IL] and Mike Lee[R-UT] introduced theSmarter Sentencing Act, which proposes the reduction of some mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenses; the Second Chance Reauthorization Act cosponsored by Sens. Robert Portman [R-OH], Marco Rubio[R-FL], Kelly Ayotte[R-NH] and Patrick Leahy[D-VT]; the Record Expungment Designed to Enhance Employment (REDEEM) Act cosponsored by Sens. Cory Booker [D-NJ] and Rand Paul [R-KY],and the Corrections Oversight, Recidivism Reduction and Eliminating Costs for Taxpayers (Corrections)Actcosponsored by Sens. John Cornyn [R-TX] and Sheldon Whitehouse [D-RI] to reduce the size of the federal inmate population. There are other bills that have been introduced as well. Sen. Chuck Grassley [R-IA], Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, generally a critic of sentencing reform, has been working with a bipartisan group of senators since early August and is said to be poised to bring a bill that reduces the number of federal prisoners and the cost of running federal prisons, to the full Senate chamber for a vote in September.

President Obama has called for a major overhaul of the federal criminal justice system, commuted the sentences of 47 inmates serving long prison terms for non-violent drug offenses and is said to be prepared to make other changes by executive order.

As unlikely as it may be that this dysfunctional Congress can do anything productive, it seems that the stars might just be aligned to actually pass significant criminal justice reform legislation by the end of this year.

Gun Violence Prevention

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for gun violence prevention legislation. While Sen. John Cornyn [R-TX] introduced an NRA-endorsed bill to reward states that submit more information to the federal background check system about residents with known mental problems, it is much narrower than the measure expanding background check requirements for private and gun show purchases, which the Republicans and the NRA defeated in 2013. Sadly, nothing more is happening on this issue now nor is it likely to happen during this term.

Blog: Important New Tax Information

Important New Tax Information

By Laura Peralta-Schulte
August 28, 2015

NETWORK continues to advocate for making permanent the 2009 Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit improvements set to expire in 2017 as well as to strengthen the EITC to include younger, childless workers. These essential anti-poverty credits have been hugely effective at helping families achieve financial stability. If the key provisions expire, 16 million Americans, including 8 million children, will fall into — or deeper into — poverty.

So far, NETWORK has generated over 6,500 signatures of religious leaders and concerned citizens from around the country asking Congress to prioritize these anti-poverty tax credits. Members of our grassroots community in key districts have also met with key Members of Congress in their districts this August recess asking that the credits be made permanent.

From a process standpoint, there will be at least one, but possibly two, tax bills this fall that could provide an opportunity for action. The first is the Highway Bill, an important jobs bill that funds U.S. roads, bridges and public transportation. Republican leaders in the House and Senate have suggested that the highway bill be expanded to include making permanent select business credits, such as the research and development tax credit. Advocates for the EITC and the Child Tax Credit are urging lawmakers to also make permanent the working family tax credits, particularly if they are providing expensive tax breaks to wealthy corporations.

A second tax bill that could move forward is a short-term extension of a number of mainly business tax credits that are typically extended a year or two at a time. If we are unsuccessful in getting the EITC and CTC made permanent in the Highway Bill, we will seek an extension of the credits in this bill.

Decisions about whether to include the EITC and Child Tax Credit proposals are being made now. It is imperative for advocates to talk to their Member of Congress and explain why it is critical that they take action this fall in support of these key anti-poverty measures.

Blog: Immigration Update

Immigration Update

By Laura Peralta-Schulte
August 28, 2015

The Republican presidential contest is in full swing and one of the key issues that have been discussed thus far is the issue of immigration. Unfortunately for supporters of comprehensive immigration reform, the hysteria and demeaning rhetoric on the campaign trail has spilled over to the Halls of Congress with anti-immigrant Members of Congress once again pushing legislation to further militarize the U.S. border and to increase enforcement actions against immigrant communities around the country. The religious community, working with immigrant rights groups, is actively working to stop anti-immigrant legislation in Congress.

Pope Francis’s arrival in Washington, DC and his address to Congress on September24 present a challenge to anti-immigrant Members as well as the Republican leadership in Congress. It is widely expected that the pope will raise the issue of immigration during his trip and call on Members of Congress to pursue policies that welcome immigrants and refugees. It is hoped that his visit will have a positive impact on the Hill.

One of the most immediate threats this September is a bill that passed the House right before August recess and is set to be taken up in September. Sponsored by Senator Grassley and Senator Vitter, it is called the “Stop Sanctuary Cities Act” (S. 1814). The Grassley/Vitter amendment seeks to coerce law enforcement agencies (LEAs) to implement DHS’s immigration detainers, even though multiple federal courts have found that such detainers present constitutional problems. Under the amendment, law enforcement officials in over 300 cities and countries that refuse to honor the detainers risk losing federal justice department (“DOJ”) and housing department (“HUD”) funding. The amendment also creates new mandatory minimum sentences that would create unprecedented overcrowding in the federal prison system, even as other leaders and lawmakers including the senators’ own colleagues on both sides of the aisle have committed to reduce incarceration levels in our nation’s prisons and jails.

A second threat exists to immigrants in budget and tax debates. There are some human needs programs and tax credits, such as the Child Tax Credit, that benefit immigrant communities. There are already a number of proposals to cut back or eliminate these benefits to immigrant communities.

Finally, our community continues to demand that the Obama administration end the practice of placing young mothers with children fleeing violence in Central America in detention facilities. Family detention victimizes young mothers and children who are not a threat and have committed no crimes. Further, there are humane alternatives for detention for this vulnerable group.

Blog: Beyond the Surface – Putting Care for Creation to the Test

Blog: Beyond the Surface – Putting Care for Creation to the Test

By Sarah Kenny, NETWORK Intern
July 14, 2015

Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’s revolutionary encyclical, has engendered a sustained media feeding frenzy since its release this June by successfully engaging individuals across borders, ethnicities and creeds. Over the course of 180 pages, the acclaimed leader of the Catholic Church analyzes the state of our land, water, sky and fellow creatures; confirms a destructive relationship between the actions of humans and the deteriorating condition of our planet; and proposes initiatives to address damage of the past and preserve resources for the future.

The complex connections and propositions within this document yield tremendous power to connect individuals across the world in a collective effort to protect our mutual home, yet politicians and religious leader’s commentaries have limited the news cycle from circulating many of the underlying petitions that Pope Francis calls his people to consider.

Buzzwords such as “climate change” and “papal authority” have dominated the narrative surrounding Laudato Si’, words that encapsulate present holdups over both the legitimacy of climate change in relation to human activity as well as the pope’s role as a social activist. While op-eds and editorials debate the reality facing our physical environment, there have been few mainstream pieces that have delved into the encyclical’s emphasis on humans, although the word “human” alone makes well over 100 appearances throughout the document.

My dismay that the media has not yet illuminated the consequences of a changing environment on its people was piqued earlier this week when I learned that the U.S. State Department has alleged plans to shift Malaysia’s Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act rating up from a Tier 3 to a Tier 2.

Although the connection between human trafficking and the state of our environment is frequently overlooked, Picolotti and Talliant assert in Linking Human Rights and the Environment that “victims of environmental degradation tend to belong to more vulnerable sectors of society – racial and ethnic minorities and the poor – who regularly carry a disproportionate burden of [human rights] abuse.” Pope Francis has artfully woven this very link between environmental changes and the world’s vulnerable people throughout his encyclical, a thread that stems from the basic Christian tenet of caring for those who are less fortunate.

Point 91 under Part V: Universal Communion proclaims, “Everything is connected. Concern for the environment…needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.” Such compassion for those who are vulnerable is not a fundamentally radical principle; however, the pope’s exhibited application of this Gospel truth yields the potential to create a significant impact on current global issues, such as the U.S. State Department’s projected course of action concerning Malaysia.

In conjunction with other leaders of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has uncontestably demonstrated his staunch stance against human trafficking throughout his papacy. At the 2014 annual Lenten Fraternity Campaign in Brazil, Francis not only attested that “it is not possible to remain indifferent before the knowledge that human beings are bought and sold like goods,” but he went even further to condemn any and all who by any means facilitate this form of modern slavery: “whoever uses human persons in this way and exploits them, even if indirectly, becomes an accomplice of injustice.”

In March 2014, the pope spoke at the Church and Law Enforcement in Partnership Conference in England and Wales, where he met with former sex slaves, helped facilitate a declaration of commitment to ending human trafficking between the Catholic Church and chief police officers from over 20 nations, and assisted the Catholic Church of London with the Bakhita Initiative, a four-pronged approach that aims to address consequences of human trafficking. December of that same year, Pope Francis joined spiritual luminaries from all creeds and cultures and signed the Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders Against Modern Slavery, a historic commitment that has pledged to “eradicate modern slavery across the world by 2020 and for all time”.

Pope Francis extends his commitment to eradicating modern slavery by explicitly addressing human trafficking in Laudato Si’. In Part V: Universal Communion, he asserts that “it is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted.” This succinct claim represents an unequivocal bridge between a respect for the environment and a respect for all the people who inhabit it. While the pope has petitioned certain groups to make a commitment to combat this global epidemic, as he did with law enforcement authorities during the 2014 Church and Law Enforcement in Partnership Conference by deeming them “primarily responsible for combating this tragic reality,” he unequivocally casts blame upon all of God’s people for the sin of indifference towards our environment in the pages of his encyclical. Laws and enforcement of those laws lay a framework for combatting this humanitarian crisis; yet the pope cautions that “when the culture itself is corrupt and objective truth and universally valid principles are no longer upheld, then laws can only be seen as arbitrary impositions or obstacles to be avoided.” Although Malaysia is among our nation’s top 25 largest trading partners and their participation in the TPP may very well be economically expedient to U.S. businesses, can our culture be as corrupt as to diminish Malaysia’s ongoing human rights violations for a gamble at capital gain?

I am exhausted by news headlines saying presidential candidates plan to declare a position on climate change in response to Pope Francis. I am indifferent to further analysis on whether the pope has overstepped his boundaries by championing the issue of climate change, an issue that many call the gravest problem facing future generations. I am, however, hopeful that as time quells the sensational upset over the advent of the encyclical’s publication, leaders of all backgrounds and beliefs will open themselves up to the rich layers of wisdom, truth and good that lay not far beneath the document’s surface. I am optimistic that the words ofLaudato Si’ can serve as a profound reminder for peoples and institutions for generations to come to prioritize care for the vulnerable above personal and economic gains.

Guest Blog: Reflection on NETWORK’s “Just Advocacy Week”

Reflection on NETWORK’s “Just Advocacy Week”

By Billy Critchley-Menor
July 13, 2015

Originally appeared on the Strength from the Cloud blog

 “We’re not about that polarization crap.”

To many millennials, the Catholic Church has become an outdated and irrelevant institution. Many in our parents’ generation have forgotten, watered down, or walked away from the Church. But what perhaps is even more tragic than the number of people leaving the church, is the divide we find inside it. Growing up in today’s Catholic landscape, millennials are exposed to a heartbreaking and toxic polarization between “liberal” and “conservative” Catholics and are often, it seems, pressured to choose a side, or get out. I am strengthened however, by the millennials I have met who refuse to choose a side and refuse to get out.

Recently, I flew from my home in Duluth, Minnesota, to Washington, D.C. to attend Just Advocacy Week, a week-long training on Catholic social justice and advocacy for college students. The event was put on by NETWORK, the Catholic Social Justice Lobby.  As a long-time fan, spending a week with the organization was almost a dream come true. Although, knowing that NETWORK and the institutional church have both publicly criticized each other on different occasions, I was skeptical of the crowd I would encounter. I expected to spend the week with people who were quick to correct “Catholic” to “liberal Catholic,” people who cared about social justice but demonized the Church and saw the sacraments as secondary. My expectations however, were shattered by the other young people I met.

I anticipated a week that would perpetuate polarization, but instead found beaming hope in millennials who said, “We’re not about that polarization crap.” I encountered a group of college students eager to salt the earth, to defy the stereotypes of their generation, and to serve their Church with the gospel as their guide and the sacraments as strength.

Our current culture tells us that we can’t have a conversation about abortion with differing opinions and still break bread together. It tells us that income inequality and canon law are conversations to be had with separate people, in separate occasions, and only with those who share your opinions on both of them. If we truly live out our Catholic faith however, we will be a paradox in the eyes of the world.

This radiant Catholic paradox is what gives me hope. Over the week the sixteen of us college students engaged in conversations about the Earned Income Tax Credit and women’s ordination. We shared the stories of our different confirmation saints and discussed the tragedy of such low tax rates on capital gains that allow the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer. We spent time with Sr. Simone Campbell and learned from her witness to justice on Capitol Hill. We spent some time at the Poor Clares’ in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. We spoke with the same passion as we railed against for-profit prisons and lamented the death of innocent children and wrongly convicted men and women. We eagerly awaited, with the rest of the world, the release of Laudato Si and over breakfast and Metro rides, shared incredible wisdom as we read from and tweeted the papal encyclical with our smartphones.  We shed tears over our racist, sexist, and classist culture, but lifted each other up in joy, laughter, and especially in shared prayer. We refused to let our faith be put under a bushel basket.

Putting our faith into action, we closed the week on Capitol Hill lobbying our senators and representatives to make permanent the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. We were not lobbying as Democrats, or Republicans, we were lobbying as Catholics who understood their moral obligation to engage in the political sphere and work to end oppression of those who live on the margins in America.

On our last evening together, our group listened to a recording of Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech and were reminded that so many of King’s lamentations in 1963 have been left unresolved. Though, as we shared our own dreams we were empowered with King, and the prophet Isaiah to “dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.” It became clear that our passion for justice was rooted in our immense love for God and God’s Church.

This generation of faith is falling in love with the right things. We are falling in love with the Catholic Church and its challenging and radically beautiful paradoxes in a new way. We are falling in love with Catholicism that preaches unity rather than one that requires labels. We are falling in love, and my prayer, like Father Arrupe’s, is that we stay in love and let it decide everything.

Blog: Living Laudato Si’

Living Laudato Si’

By Colleen Ross
July 07, 2015

Recently, NETWORK staff participated in a day away from the office living out Laudato Si’. We began the day at Three Part Harmony Farm – an urban farm in Washington, about two miles away from the office. At Three Part Harmony Farm we met Gail Taylor, the farm’s founder. Four years ago, the two acres that Three Part Harmony Farm now occupies was just empty land with grass growing. Working with the Oblate priests who owned the land, Gail began farming on the land, while also working to change D.C. tax codes that kept her from selling the farm’s produce in order for the land to remain tax exempt. Her efforts resulted in the D.C. Council passing the Urban Farming and Food Security Act in December 2014, which protects the tax-exempt status of land used for urban farms and community gardens as well as identifying new lots for urban farming, and other incentives for farming on land within D.C.

At Three Part Harmony Farm, we harvested peas, pulled turnips, planted cucumbers, and cut raspberry leaves for tea and other uses. With different tasks to work on, everyone learned something new and experienced a different part of farming. LaTreviette Matthews said “I had a great time on the farm. I learned so much about the process of starting and maintaining a farm. I have a greater appreciation for what farmers do.” Nick Moffa connected farming to federal policy: “My experience at the farm was a fantastic opportunity to see the work I do in the office come alive, especially protecting nutrition programs.” Allison Walters reflected later saying: “I thought the farm was an incredible example of what it means to live a life that is aware. Each choice made by the farmer was carefully considered for its impact on the community, the local economy, and the earth. What a great example of living Laudato Si’.” Even more important than learning to plant or harvest, at Three Part Harmony Farm we learned what a mindful, local movement towards a healthy relationship with the earth looks like.

After our close encounter with nature at Three Part Harmony Farm, we moved to Rock Creek Park, a National Park in the middle of the city, to continue our day. After sharing a potluck lunch, we explored the interconnection and intersection of caring for creation and caring for those who are vulnerable and marginalized. Reading excerpts from Laudato Si’ and news stories about the effects of climate change, unjust food distribution, and the exploitation of creation, we discussed the harm that has been done to our planet and our communities and found hope in Pope Francis’s call for a new way of valuing and living in our common home. We ended our day feeling hot and tired, but renewed with a deeper appreciation of our relationships to the earth and to each other.