Category Archives: Connection

Kim Mazyck, associate director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University, discusses the transformative power of dialogue and encounter

The Transformative Power of Dialogue and Encounter

Encounter Changes Everything

Kim Mazyck
August 15, 2023

Kim Mazyck is the associate director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University. She has served in key positions at Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA, and the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur East-West Province. She is a graduate of Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service with a degree in international relations and has a certificate in African studies.

She spoke with Connection about her work with the Initiative and what her journey has taught her about the power of dialogue and encounter.

What do you see as the factors that keep solidarity from taking root in our politics?

Kim Mazyck: I think it’s taking root in some places but not everywhere. I think mostly what we hear in the news is that which isn’t taking root. But I do think that there are politicians and political entities that are still considering what it means to walk with people, what it means to be in solidarity with them. There are some in politics who are really thinking about the impact on the least of these, those living in poverty, those living unhoused. I think there are many people really making sure that as we think about policy largely, we don’t get distracted with things that aren’t important, and we remain focused on people who are really struggling.

That being said, there seems to be a ton of infighting and a ton of distraction with other issues that don’t quite draw us into solidarity. They don’t have us think about the people who really need us to be considering them every time we think about policy and big decisions. I think that people are, to use the phrase we often use, not keeping their eye on the ball. When people are elected to represent a congressional district, or to the Senate, or to any office, even if it’s a local municipality, that comes with the responsibility of representing those people who have put you in office. Solidarity is when we think about, what’s impacting schoolchildren, are schoolchildren eating? How do we make sure people have the things they need, like Wi-Fi in a small county in which a lot of things are generally inaccessible? How do we make sure people can meet their basic necessities? I think some people are really speaking into that. But I also think that the voices that we’re hearing mostly are the ones that don’t speak into why that’s so critically important.

What was the call that you answered to engage on a path of solidarity?

KM: Before going to Georgetown I remember sitting in mass one Sunday … being challenged to think about service. That translated into me applying to and enrolling at Georgetown, eventually in the School of Foreign Service, thinking about diplomacy and the U.S. Foreign Service specifically.

I was in school during a time when the policy of apartheid loomed large in South Africa, and there were lots of protests on campus. By the end of my freshman year, I was very focused on African studies, primarily Sub-Saharan African. That really did shape and form my time there.

I spent a year after graduating teaching in South Africa, in a post-bacc program developed by Georgetown to put people in place to address the issues of what was going on in schools at that time in South Africa. I did that sort of thing for a year, and that year of service was the thing that shifted everything. I connect everything, even where I am now, back to that year in South Africa.

Bryan Stevenson said, “If you want to be a force for justice, you need to get proximate to people who are suffering.” You have worked with Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA. What did you learn about becoming a force for justice through proximity?

KM: I love Bryan Stevenson! I think the important thing about both the work of CRS and the work of Catholic Charities USA is that they are working to alleviate poverty, and to really address what’s going on in communities. Primarily at CRS, before I left and went to CCUSA, I led a number of delegation trips over to different countries in Africa, and that was where we got to encounter. It goes back to what Pope Francis says is so, so critical — that you encounter people.

Within that encounter, you may see suffering, you may see the impact of poverty, you may see what happens when people have been diagnosed with something like HIV, and you may think, there’s no hope. From trips to Uganda where I met night commuters, or communities protecting children from the LRA, to people living with extreme drought in Ethiopia, or a center for child brides… I’ve seen some incredible things. And yet, I always came back with the joy that I experienced more than anything else. I can look subjectively with my American eyes and say, wow, this is a situation I can’t imagine living in. And then I sit down and talk to somebody, I sit and spend some time with someone, and what I walk away with is my cup being filled with joy and community. I remember that I can’t just see them through the lens of poverty, through the lens of oppression, through the lens of a disease. There’s a full person there. And that full person is reminding me that I see God, and that God is also telling me that there’s joy in that experience.

For me, that reflection is what I see at the heart of CRS and the heart of CCUSA — encountering individuals. When we do that, we really know what the joy of the Gospels are all about. We know the joy that Pope Francis is reminding us about. That’s when we are in community with each other. Our brothers and sisters remind us that we’re on this journey together.

You’re at the Initiative, a convening space. Francis talks powerfully about dialogue, telling the U.S. bishops, “Dialogue is our method.” What have you learned about the power of dialogue?

KM: I’m so fortunate to sit with John [Carr], Kim [Daniels], Anna [Gordon], and Christian [Soenen]. What I’ve known about dialogue is that, again, it really fosters that sense of connection. That encounter is so critical. It brings back to me a quote from Pope Francis, that dialogue is the way of peace. Dialogue fosters listening, understanding, harmony, concord, and peace. That’s what we try to do.

When we set up these dialogues, we are trying to bring people who are maybe not on the same path or occupation. As we approach the issues, how can we bring them together to model what dialogue does? Pope Francis keeps reminding us that when we talk to each other, our opinions and approaches don’t seem as far apart as we think they are. When we focus on the heart of the matter, then we can really talk about what needs to be done. We can inspire not just those who are in that dialogue, but even other people if they experience it or watch it. I think we inspire them to have those same dialogues in their parishes, in their schools, and in their families, and hopefully on a larger scale in their communities, in the county, in the state, and in the country. That, to me, is really impactful.

Where do you see your perspective as a Black Catholic woman fitting into a convening space, in those dialogues?

KM: We want to have multiple perspectives, we want to have different ways of looking at an issue. My lived experience as a Black woman, and as a Catholic, all filters into how I see things — maybe differently from you, or John, or Kim. But by dialogue, we listen to each other. That’s when we begin to understand each other. And through that listening, we foster understanding. That’s what dialogue is about: not me coming in prepared to say, “oh, I need to make sure I hit these three points.” But listening to what the other person is saying so that I’m not just ready with my next response — I’m really processing. And that’s the only way we can talk about harmony, and the only way we can talk about really building community.

Compromise is a dirty word in so many spaces. How can lawmakers come together? In what ways can we work together, so that solidarity is not a casualty, and the most vulnerable people are not collateral damage?

KM: When we bring together our dialogues, we try to give a mix of perspectives, and I think that’s a tool. We continue to invite women religious, many of whom are on — I hate using the term “front lines” because it sounds so militaristic — but they are the ones responding in schools, in hospitals, in soup kitchens, in places where there’s the greatest need. And so we try to reflect that perspective, including with professors and lawyers, and we invite lawmakers to be a part of that so that they begin to also have a new perspective.

Again, it’s the modeling. We’ve done 151 dialogues; we’ve had almost 300,000 people listen to us. What does that change look like? How are people thinking differently? How are they conversing? We have a gathering after a dialogue, in person, so that there’s an opportunity for people to break bread, if you will — to talk, to have conversation, to not have to be on a microphone, so that they can ask a question maybe they were too embarrassed to ask in front of a large room.

We can’t be labeling each other because we disagree. When we’re invited into dialogue, we’re here together, we’re going to work on this together. That’s what Pope Francis is asking, too. The Initiative is saying that if we sit down and listen to each other, then we’re going to foster and better our understanding of each other. And even if we have completely divergent perspectives, we only get closer. It’s like anything — when you know somebody, it’s harder to demonize them, when you’ve actually sat next to them and had a conversation. Then they aren’t this person who thinks so differently than you. They are a human being with thoughts and a heart, like you. That goes back to solidarity. It’s when we see each other as both children of God, both built in the image and likeness of God.

What does healing our politics even begin to look like?

KM: The discourse of nationalism is about who is and who isn’t an American, but what I believe and know to be true is that we’re all Americans. We need to be more clear about that and have conversations about that.

This column was published in the Quarter 3 2023 issue of Connection. 
Manufactured Crises in Politics Hurt Vulnerable People.

The Smoke of Manufactured Crises

The Smoke of Manufactured Crises 

When Fearmongering Clouds Our View, We Risk Embracing Terrible Policy  

Ronnate Asirwatham
August 8, 2023
Ronnate speaks into a microphone at an outdoor event. She wears a coat and a red hat. Behind her is a board with heart-shaped sticky notes with writing on them.

Ronnate Asirwatham is NETWORK’s Director of Government Relations

When we see smoke where it shouldn’t be, for instance in a residence or other building, our survival mechanisms kick in, and we move as quickly as we can in the opposite direction. This is a natural, even understandable response. But in Washington, the old saying “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” could be replaced with a new formulation, which goes something like, “Where there’s smoke, there’s somebody trying to goad you into doing the wrong thing.”  

A fire is an emergency. But a fake fire, a manufactured crisis, is more like a virus that has infected our politics. This year has seen several of them playing out, all of them set intentionally, all of them engineered to try to get someone else to do the wrong thing, whether out of fear or other questionable motives. When someone buys into the toxic narrative of a manufactured crisis, they hasten the harm they sought to avoid. Anthony De Mello, a Jesuit priest, once noted that reality cannot hurt us, but our reaction to it can. That wisdom applies here. 

Most recently, we witnessed the debt ceiling debacle, in which House Republicans demanded a budget that slashed vital human needs programs such as Medicaid, SNAP, and WIC in exchange for raising the debt ceiling and keeping the U.S. from defaulting on its debt. Never mind that the same Members of Congress voted to raise the debt ceiling without any conditions three times during the Trump administration. The threat of default was a purely manufactured crisis employed by these members to get President Biden and Democrats to do something that their constituents didn’t want them to do.  

While the deal struck between the President and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy could have been far, far worse, it will still impact millions of people who rely on SNAP for their basic food security. And placing the burden on people living in poverty is a morally abhorrent way to reduce deficits in the federal budget, especially when raising revenue through taxes on the ultra-wealthy and corporations would be far more effective.  

Sadly, making life more difficult for communities of people who need support is an element all of these fake crises have in common. At the state level, we have seen this year a record number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills (over 400 as of April!) introduced in legislatures across the country. These bills stoke a narrative of hysteria that presents drag queens and transgender people as the greatest threat to children. Not gun violence or Christian nationalism. It’s especially alarming because manufactured crises at the expense of marginalized groups of people is a well-documented tactic of authoritarian regimes in their efforts to grab and consolidate power against the will of the majority.  

Finally, we have the U.S.-Mexico border and the insistent bad faith chorus decrying the very conditions that they made possible by inconsistent and inhumane policies at the border. By not wishing to be portrayed as weak on the border, the Biden administration has perpetuated enforcement-only measures, such as the asylum ban, which exact a terrible human toll on people fleeing violence and other dangerous situations in their home countries. NETWORK and our immigration coalition partners opposed these rules by the Administration, as we also oppose bad bills in Congress, such as the Secure the Border Act (H.R.2) and a bipartisan Senate bill aimed at replacing Title 42.  

What then can we do? We must stay awake and vocally oppose the efforts of those trying to goad us into doing the wrong thing. The more we change our behavior out of fear of what bad actors might say or do, the more we ensnare ourselves in those webs. We owe the vulnerable people targeted by these manufactured narratives a response of true solidarity. That is the healthy defensive response that needs to be developed in our politics. Rather than the smoke of fake crises, we should be devoting our energy to kindling the fire of justice, renewing the face of the earth. 

Ronnate Asirwatham is NETWORK’s Director of Government Relations. In 2023, Washingtonian Magazine named her among the 500 most influential people in Washington for the second year in a row. 

This column was published in the Quarter 3 2023 issue of Connection. 
Sr. Eilis McCulloh, HM, speaks at a reparations vigil in Cleveland in June 2022.

The Welcoming Call

The Welcoming Call 

Solidarity with Migrant People is Intrinsic to the Vocation of Catholic Sisters

Sr. Eilis McCulloh, HM
August 1, 2023
Sr. Eilis McCulloh, HM, pictured with Eilis, amember of the Congolese community in Cleveland, Ohio.

Sr. Eilis McCulloh, HM, pictured with Eilis, a member of the Congolese community in Cleveland, Ohio.

For generations, Catholic Sisters in the U.S. have served alongside immigrant communities. Time and again, we have responded to the call to open our homes and hearts to meet the needs of families seeking asylum or newly arrived refugees. Our sisters and our communities have sponsored refugees, opened service agencies, taught English as a second language (ESL), served along the border, accompanied individuals and families, represented them in court, and advocated for just immigration policies. In so many ways, we have lived the call in Scripture to welcome the stranger and love our neighbor as ourselves.  

My own story of ministry is a part of this multi-generational call. In 2010, I began my own journey working with the Somali refugee community in St. Cloud, Minn. In subsequent years, I ministered alongside people from Bhutan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Burma (Myanmar), Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guatemala, and so many other countries. I learned about the asylum system in Immokalee, Fla. and witnessed the conditions that force a person to flee their homeland in Haiti or Guatemala. My own community, the Sisters of the Humility of Mary, remains connected through the sponsorship of Mary’s House in Cleveland. This work connects me with generations of sisters who have felt this call.  

Ministering alongside asylum seekers, refugees, DACA recipients, and other immigrants has shifted the way many of us Sisters understand immigration policy. We can no longer distance ourselves from the dangerous anti-immigrant rhetoric that has energized lawmakers to pass legislation to shut down and militarize the border, expand Title 42, deport asylum seekers from Haiti, or create an app that only recognizes white faces. 

These horrible policies impact the people who are a part of my extended community. They affect our neighbors. They affect members of our own family. We no longer have the luxury of waiting for Congress to fix the broken immigration system; we must do our part to ensure that a just and equitable immigration system remains at the forefront of our representatives’ minds.  

It was this sense of urgency that drove over 100 sisters and associates and their sponsored ministries to Washington DC in December 2021 to march for, pray for, and call for the end of Title 42. At that event, Sisters shared stories of ministering at the border, in Florida with the Haitian community, and in cities across the country. We shared a common understanding that our lives are forever changed by time spent ministering in El Salvador, Honduras, and many other countries. 

We shared with each other our own experiences of accompanying a family seeking asylum, only to watch helplessly as they were turned away by Border Patrol, or telling an individual that, according to current policy, they do not have a valid asylum claim even though a return to their home country would most certainly result in death. We also shared about moments of community — of shared meals of pupusas or beans and rice that made the Body of Christ a tangible offering that widened our understanding of community. All of these moments further strengthened our deeply held belief that the country’s immigration system needs an overhaul. 

As women religious, our individual community’s charism informs how we respond to the call to minister alongside our country’s diverse immigrant communities and advocate for justice. While our ministerial actions might vary, we all believe that all people, no matter their country of origin, economic status, family composition, gender or sexual orientation, or reason for migrating, deserve the opportunity to apply for asylum.  

This is the foundation of our belief as Christians: that all people reflect the Imago Dei — the image of the loving God who created them. Therefore, we will continue to call on our elected officials to stop playing politics with the lives of our immigrant siblings and create an immigration system that works for all people. 

Sr. Eilis McCulloh, HM is NETWORK’s Education and Organizing Specialist and a co-host of the podcast Just Politics, produced in collaboration between NETWORK and U.S. Catholic magazine.  

This column was published in the Quarter 3 2023 issue of Connection. 
Biden's Aggressive Asylum Ban Causes Great harm

Care for the Border

Care for the Border 

True Investment Means a Move from Militarization to Community 

Briana Jansky
July 25, 2023

A child wearing a cap walks with a backpack and a stuffed animal at the US-Mexico borderWhen the COVID-19 pandemic stopped the world in its path in 2020, the Trump administration used it as an excuse to prevent asylum seekers from coming through at the U.S.-Mexico border. These policies aggressively restricted access to ports of entry for those who were fleeing imminent danger. Now, three years later and with the state of emergency officially ended, migrants still face unjust policies and unethical barriers that prevent them from safely seeking asylum in the United States. 

Asylum is a necessity and a human right. In his message for the 2023 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis writes that “even as we work to ensure that in every case migration is the fruit of a free decision, we are called to show maximum respect for the dignity of each migrant; this entails accompanying and managing waves of immigration as best we can, constructing bridges and not walls, expanding channels for a safe and regular migration. In whatever place we decide to build our future, in the country of our birth or elsewhere, the important thing is that there always be a community ready to welcome, protect, promote and integrate everyone, without distinctions and without excluding anyone.” 

In contrast to a witness like this from the world’s most prominent religious leader, in the U.S., policymakers struggle to provide ethical and welcoming pathways and policies for migrant people. The U.S. government refuses to enforce the law, where asking for asylum is legal regardless of the manner of entry to the country, and continues to focus on more militarization. Increased militarization at the border continues to make life even more difficult for incredibly vulnerable people and harms the fabric of solidarity in communities. 

Policy Breakdown  

The Title 42 expulsion policy, a pandemic rule put in place by President Trump and continued under President Biden, allowed U.S. officials to swiftly turn away migrants seeking asylum at the border. While Title 42 ended on May 11, when President Biden ended the public health emergency, the Administration has expanded and enacted other policies to further attack the right to asylum, despite President Biden’s promise to put an end to such practices. The new laws are the most aggressive ban on asylum the U.S. has seen in almost 30 years, preventing access to protection for migrants at the border by over 50 percent.  

A May 11 statement from 16 Catholic organizations — including NETWORK, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, Hope Border Institute, Kino Border Initiative, Franciscan Action Network, Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns, and Pax Christi USA — gave voice to Catholic outrage over the move: 

“Through continued restrictions on asylum and the militarization of the border, the U.S. government has shut the door to many of our siblings who are calling out for help. This failure to provide welcome sends a clear message to the rest of the world that the U.S. will not keep its previous asylum promises and instead continues to turn away from those most in need,” the statement said.  

The Biden administration’s new rule — the “Asylum Ban” — guts current asylum law. Currently, it is legal and right for people seeking asylum to come into the U.S. and ask for asylum at the border or after crossing it and encountering any government agent. The Biden administration has superimposed the Asylum Ban onto this law.  

“The current Asylum Ban policy is set for one goal and one goal only — to keep people out. Policies supporting asylum must uphold the national and international protection norms, and this rule does not do that,” says Ronnate Asirwatham, Government Relations Director at the Network.

The current rule makes setting up an appointment via app the sole means of accessing asylum in the U.S. Use of the CBO One app disproportionately affects Black, Brown and Indigenous immigrants because their access to technology is harder, and they are discriminated against three times as much as lighter skinned immigrants.  

“The proposed rule seeks to make migrants passing through other countries first claim asylum in those countries, and in most cases, especially for Black, LGBTQ+, and Indigenous immigrants, that is impossible,” notes Asirwatham. “The ways in which these laws are applied target the only way that people can seek asylum and this truly affects the most vulnerable.”  

“These people who are migrating are still there, and still need our help,” points out Marisa Limon Garza, executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy center. “It’s troubling that so many people are unclear about their path forward. We’re still unclear about a lot of the logistics and what will come next.”  

“In our attempt to provide fundamental humanitarian aid to those most vulnerable, our community gets policed as though we are criminals for being good Samaritans.”
—Patrick Giuliani

Many migrants face dangerous conditions in their home countries, including extortion and torture, only to be met with resistance and restraint at the border. Turning them away from safety and security doesn’t make those problems go away, and deterring and detaining them only leads to a host of other issues.  

“People on the move face lots of dangers,” says Mayte Elizalde, communications specialist at the Hope Border Institute. “Migrants in different countries are targets for violent attacks. In Mexico, there are reports of people being extorted by authorities.”  

The Footprint of Militarization 

Instead of creating policies that result in an intricate system of oppression of human rights, the government could enforce the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, which clearly states that seeking asylum is a legal right regardless of the way one enters the United States. The U.S. government could also fund and train more people to help evaluate asylum seekers’ applications and assist the organizations at the border and in the interior that welcome migrants with food, water, and adequate shelter, and promote agency and well-being. The U.S. government aids detention centers significantly more, funding them up to 200 times more than organizations that are focused on serving and caring for migrants.  

In Mexico, there is a lack of transparency around the conditions of the detention centers, and the human costs are catastrophic. The sordid conditions rose to U.S. national news back in April, when 40 migrants died in a fire that broke out at a detention center in Ciudad Juárez.  

“Based on reports of the detention center in Ciudad Juárez, it showed that the center was lacking clean water, food, or hygiene products,” notes Elizalde. “What happened in these detention centers was a reflection on what our immigration system does. Mexico has now become a host country and has not met the humanitarian needs of the people they have accepted to host. … The U.S. creates policies that force people to be in a country where they are not taken care of, but instead put in danger.” 

It is not only detention centers outside of the U.S. that are failing to meet the basic needs of immigrants, but ones within the U.S as well. There have been repeated warnings and reports of inhumane and illegal policies and practices that take place in CBP custody, and yet the U.S. government has not done anything. In May, Anadith Alvarez, an 8-year-old Panamanian girl, died at a U.S. detention center in Texas. She was the third child to die in U.S government custody in six months.  

“These people who are migrating are still there, and still need our help.”
—Marisa Limon Garza

As NETWORK lobbies Congress and the Administration to move the U.S. government away from militarization and toward building community, organizations such as the Hope Border Institute, Kino Border Initiative, and the Haitian Bridge Alliance see first-hand how current policy harms everyone.  

“We often welcome groups from all across the country to learn about the binational community at the border and what people migrating today are facing. Last year we had to complain to port officials because we noticed that students of color were being more frequently sent to secondary inspection or asked more questions, even though they were born in the U.S.,” says Sr. Tracey Horan, Associate Director of Education and Advocacy for the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, Ariz. “It is frustrating to see how my coworkers of color who cross the border regularly face more checks and interrogation both at the ports and at checkpoints in the interior.”  

Patrick Giuliani, policy analyst at the Hope Border Institute in El Paso, Texas, concurs: “We see the U.S. surge resources that are used to further criminalize migrants and police not only the border but our community. In our attempt to provide fundamental humanitarian aid to those most vulnerable, our community gets policed as though we are criminals for being good Samaritans.”  

Briana Jansky is a freelance writer and author from Texas. 

This column was published in the Quarter 3 2023 issue of Connection. 
Reflections on Solidarity and Democracy - Connection

The Edge of Solidarity

The Edge of Solidarity  

Renewal Comes from Expanding Our View of the Human Family 

Joan F. Neal
July 20, 2023
Joan F. Neal, Deputy Executive Director and Chief Equity Officer at NETWORK

Joan F. Neal, Deputy Executive Director and Chief Equity Officer at NETWORK  

This past spring, the Vatican issued a document repudiating the “doctrine of discovery,” which was used to justify colonialism and atrocities against Indigenous people for centuries. While this movement by the church is welcome and long overdue, it is not without its flaws. Not only does the Vatican document minimize the church’s active and supportive role in colonialism and the oppression and abuse of Indigenous people, it also makes no mention of the transatlantic slave trade. Once again, the institutional church has failed to take responsibility for its role in enslaving human beings.  

This is a helpful illustration of how even those who seek to be allies in the struggle for justice in our society will be confronted time and again by the limits they place on solidarity — by the people whose struggles we fail or choose not to see. Solidarity is like the edges of a canvas or picture frame. It can be extended wide to include the entire human family. Or it can be narrowed so that some individuals, or even entire communities, are left standing beyond the edges of our “family picture.”  

Solidarity can also be like the aperture that adjusts how much light is let into a camera lens. When we set the aperture of solidarity wide, the light can be dazzling, causing so many people — overcome by their role in systems and structures of injustice and oppression — to shut down and retreat to a place of defensiveness and frailty. Every time a politician or media figure decries “wokeness” in our society, I shake my head, sadly aware that this is probably a person who sees the systemic problems and injustices in our midst, but also doesn’t want to do the work to correct these problems, perhaps afraid of what they might be asked to give up in the process.  

It is essential that we persist in doing the real work of solidarity — that we let in the light and extend the frame to the whole picture. We know from Scripture and Catholic Social Teaching (such as articulated by Pope Francis in Laudato Si’) that all of us are connected. When we’re selective in our solidarity, we can make well-intentioned missteps. Recall, in the wake of the 2016 election, how reporters flocked to diners in rural Pennsylvania in an effort to understand and empathize with the “left behind” Trump voter. This attempt at solidarity with one group was admirable, of course, but failed to recognize the wave of destructive policies against Black and Brown communities and the very fabric of U.S. democracy that was unleashed by Trump’s victory. 

Today, it’s clearer than ever that we face a political movement in this country whose capacity for solidarity is completely closed off to others and only includes themselves and people who look and think like them. Christian nationalism embraces the dismantling of democratic structures and weaponization of systems of government to punish those outside of their group and to further oppress people who question this raw use of power that benefits only a white, wealthy few. 

This aggressive anti-democratic movement has been on full display as it moves through state legislatures and other government bodies. It is animated by an awareness that, ironically, feeds into the worst aspects of its own rhetoric: that white Christians represent a shrinking, dying demographic, and that their values are not shared by younger generations. Of course, full participation in society by a multitude of diverse communities is not the end of anyone’s way of life, unless that way of life is defined by racism. The fear of being replaced by one’s neighbor is the antithesis of solidarity.  

Pope Francis has distinguished between populist political movements, which destroy democracy, and movements that are truly popular — that is, of the people — which can be a source of deep renewal in their societies. During this first half of 2023, NETWORK has embraced Pope Francis’ distinction and embarked on a movement for unflinching solidarity, declaring that communities in poverty cannot be held hostage to reckless and cruel budget cuts. That migrant people cannot be left out of our calculus of who matters as we build this country anew. That Black and Brown people, women and children are also made in the image and likeness of God, and their dignity must be respected. That solidarity is our only path out of the destructive environment of our society today.  

We affirm time and again that universal solidarity cannot be separated from the long-term protection of our democracy and the transformation of our politics. In fact, it is the key to lasting freedom and equality, and to the renewal and the authenticity of our own popular movement. Leaving people neglected outside the limits of our frame is a recipe for disaster. But journeying together in true solidarity is indeed the way to the Beloved community, “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” 

Joan F. Neal is NETWORK’s Deputy Executive Director and Chief Equity Officer.

This column was published in the Quarter 3 2023 issue of Connection. 
Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland Erin Zubal, Diane Therese Pinchot, and Susan Zion, pictured at a Cleveland stop on NETWORK's Pope Francis Voter Tour in the fall of 2022.

Rethinking the Future

Rethinking the Future

Sisters Will Continue to Work In and For Community

Sr. Erin Zubal, OSU
April 21, 2023
Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland Erin Zubal, Diane Therese Pinchot, and Susan Zion, pictured at a Cleveland stop on NETWORK's Pope Francis Voter Tour in the fall of 2022.

Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland Erin Zubal, Diane Therese Pinchot, and Susan Zion, pictured at a Cleveland stop on NETWORK’s Pope Francis Voter Tour in the fall of 2022.


I am often asked “what it is like to be a young sister?” I hear this question a lot, by well-intended, inquisitive people, people who seem sincerely interested in my response. I have a good friend who likes to respond to the well-intended questioner with, “She is not as young as she used to be.”

And we all laugh. Indeed, none of us are as young as we used to be,

While it is a question that is often asked of me, my age — or rather the chronological age among my community — is something I rarely think about. When I entered the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland 17 years ago, I knew with all my being that I was called to religious life at this moment in history, and the probability was high that I would always be the youngest. You see, no one has entered the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland since me. My lifelong yes to living a life of chastity, poverty, and obedience also came with saying yes to living out the call as the youngest.

Being the youngest is an incredible gift. I have had and continue to have the best teachers — women who have paved the way in mission, ministry, justice, and advocacy, women who have modeled for me strength and a lifelong commitment to learning and formation. My sisters have taken risks, spoken out, and have advocated for the most vulnerable among us, especially women and children. And I continue to by humbled by the ways my sisters show up for me. When I start a new ministry, when I need help in learning the ways of faithful service, and when I simply need to be reminded that we do the work together and with all of our collaborators, I am not alone.

Religious life is transitioning, changing, evolving. The truth is that all Catholic Sisters aren’t as young as we used to be. The numbers of women religious actively serving in hospitals, schools, and social service agencies are declining. Many congregations are having conversations about the legacy they will leave when their communities reach completion. Our legacy, charisms, and missions are being lived out by our associates, co-members, and co-workers. And this is where the mission of NETWORK enters the picture as well.

When I arrived at NETWORK, I was no longer the youngest. Instead, I joined a multi-generational, diverse group of talented, committed, and dynamic people. I arrived at a time when NETWORK was celebrating its 50-year history and taking the long look back. And while we took the time to look back to our foundation, we have also been taking the time to look forward to the next 50 years and all the ways the organization can continue to engage in meaningful political ministry.

And this is part of the legacy that Catholic Sisters leave as well. At NETWORK I see how Catholic Sisters, even with our declining numbers, will continue to work in community in the years ahead. Our calls and our charisms are broken open, beyond the boundaries of religious life, and shared with people from different walks of life in communities far and wide. And this new and different form of community works together for changes in laws that will foster ever-deeper and more inclusive communities. This is a rethinking of the future of religious life, but one that brings the Gospel ever more fully out into the world.

The same God who called the thousands of women religious before me is the same God who called me. And it’s the same God who calls Catholics to live their baptismal call out in the world and who inspires people of goodwill to work for justice and build up the common good. Today and each day, I renew my “yes” filled with hopes and aspirations, limitations, and weaknesses to live this life with my sisters, colleagues, and everyone who shows up wanting to make the world a more just and inclusive place.

Sr. Erin Zubal, OSU, is NETWORK’s Chief of Staff.

This column was published in the Quarter 2 2023 issue of Connection.
Colin Martinez Longmore and Sr. Eilis McCulloh, HM, of the NETWORK Grassroots Mobilization Team and co-hosts of the Just Politics podcast, stand with a cutout of Pope Francis at University of Detroit Mercy on Oct. 12, 2022, on NETWORK's Pope Francis Voter Tour.

Gen Z’s Voter Vision

Gen Z’s Voter Vision

Young Catholics See Connections to Their Faith When They Vote for Justice

Nora Bradbury-Haehl
April 19, 2023
Colin Martinez Longmore and Sr. Eilis McCulloh, HM, of the NETWORK Grassroots Mobilization Team and co-hosts of the Just Politics podcast, stand with a cutout of Pope Francis at University of Detroit Mercy on Oct. 12, 2022, on NETWORK's Pope Francis Voter Tour.

Colin Martinez Longmore and Sr. Eilis McCulloh, HM, of the NETWORK Grassroots Mobilization Team and co-hosts of the Just Politics podcast, stand with a cutout of Pope Francis at University of Detroit Mercy on Oct. 12, 2022, on NETWORK’s Pope Francis Voter Tour.


On Nov. 9, 2022, the day after the midterm elections, President Joe Biden expressed his gratitude to young voters. “I especially want to thank the young people of this nation, who voted in historic numbers,” he said, and named the issues they came out for: “They voted to continue addressing the climate crisis, gun violence, their personal rights and freedoms, and student debt relief.”

Gen Z has embraced a platform of social justice — economic, racial, climate, immigration — and they don’t just care about it, they vote about it. In 2018, young people ages 18-29 set a record for voter turnout, 28.2 percent, and again this past fall they came just short of that previous performance at 27 percent. Indeed, Gen Z voters, the largest and most diverse generation of American voters in history, are making waves — and stopping them. The much-hyped “Red Wave” of Republican victories in 2022 never came ashore. The nation’s youngest voters made sure of it.

The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) urges that “all citizens be mindful of their simultaneous right and duty to vote freely in the interest of advancing the common good.” The Venn diagram of Catholic Social Teaching and the values of Gen Z voters has a wide region of overlap.

But do Gen Z Catholics know it?

Seeing Connection

According to Colin Martinez Longmore, they do. Martinez Longmore is the Grassroots Outreach and Education Coordinator at NETWORK, where he works on equipping young justice-seekers with faith-based advocacy skills and opportunities. A co-host of NETWORK’s “Just Politics” podcast, produced in collaboration with U.S. Catholic magazine, Martinez Longmore spent several weeks in the fall of 2022 visiting college campuses and other venues as part of NETWORK’s Pope Francis Voter Tour, making the case for multi-issue voting across generational lines.

Gen Z voters, one of the most racially and ethnically diverse generations, “are also growing up surrounded by an American popular culture that is much more accepting of diversity than before,” says Martinez Longmore. He contends that because of this, their understanding of the equity and social justice aspects of Catholic Social Teaching is more innate than previous generations.

Emely Hernandez

Emely Hernandez

Emely Hernandez, a 24-year-old studying and working in Chicago, also makes the connection between the church’s social teaching and her own vote.

“There is so much beauty and thoughtfulness in the teachings of the Catholic Church that focuses on upholding the dignity and respect for every human,” she says, naming the call to family, community, and participation as the principle that motivates both her vote and her career. She describes the latter as “focused on advocacy work against human injustices” and “working to promote the greater good for those who are poor and vulnerable.” Her current position involves supporting unhoused individuals, low-income families, immigrants, and refugees.

Ethan Carrino is a Michigan-based college student and a recent convert. He describes a “disconnect” he encounters with some older church leaders over hot-button and social issues.

Ethan Carrino

Ethan Carrino

“As a mixed-race Catholic who’s felt racism in the church, raising awareness ending bias, and having inclusion is very important.” Carrino grew up going to Catholic schools but came into the church through a campus RCIA program.

“Our church calls all cultures/ethnicities to itself,” he points out. Regarding voting, Carrino says his faith pushes him to take note of things Jesus would speak on and think about what the Gospel calls him to do.

“It’s easy sometimes to only see an issue a certain way, but being Catholic helps me to see how the issue impacts everyone, especially those in need,” he says.

According to Tuft University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), a non-partisan, independent research organization focused on youth civic engagement in the United States, “Youth are increasing their electoral participation, leading movements, and making their voices heard on key issues that affect their communities.” The first Gen Z member of Congress, 25-year-old Maxwell Frost, got his start organizing with the anti-gun-violence group March for Our Lives. Voters of Tomorrow, a pro-democracy research and advocacy organization, was founded in 2019 by then 17-year-old Santiago Mayer.

What is Meant by Catholic?

Do Gen Z Catholics see a connection between the church’s teachings and their vote? Christian Soenen, projects manager of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University and one of NETWORK’s 2022 Social Poets, says perhaps.

Christian Soenen

Christian Soenen

“I think this largely depends on which circles of Gen Z Catholics I am in,” Soenen says. He observes that very devout Catholics on both the left and the right connect their Catholic identity with their vote but that different aspects of religiosity inform their different conclusions on politics.

“Among my friends on the right, ritual, symbol, and personal discipline are components of their practice of faith that then create a cultural lens through which to understand politics” Soenen says, which in his observations translates to conservatism. On the left, “the social message of the Gospels and the prophets form the core of their understanding of their faith.”

Among left-leaning young Catholics, this understanding manifests as a desire for a more inclusive and equitable society that prioritizes issues like poverty and healthcare.

Audrey Carroll

Audrey Carroll

Audrey Carroll, 24, is a political communications professional and former NETWORK staff member. She says her faith provides a framework for the values she cares about and votes for, “by encouraging me to always be in pursuit of justice and the common good.” Carroll says being Catholic teaches her to avoid supporting “policies and legislation that only protect and benefit people with power and privilege” and to reject policies that “intentionally marginalize underserved communities and individuals.”

Nick Cook, 24, works in Rochester, New York at a refugee outreach center. He has worked with homeless veterans and, during college, volunteered with a Catholic organization that serves the people living in poverty in rural Pennsylvania. Cook says he votes the way he does because of his Catholic faith and Catholic Social Teaching. The issues that he identifies as a part of that influence also have wide appeal among his peers: “Respect for all God’s creation — environment, option for the poor and dignity of the human person — higher minimum wage, more expansive public benefits, care for refugees, the homeless, anti-death penalty, anti-gun.”

But he also identifies two big sticking points: “I disagree with a narrative I hear that Catholic voting should lead to voting for anti-abortion candidates without regard for any other issues, especially because I believe conservative candidates have more opinions opposing Catholic social teaching than more liberal candidates.”

His other concern is also common among Gen Z voters: “Thinking about the term ‘Catholicism’ sparks ideas of a lack of openness to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, even though I and many Catholics I know are open to that. I also believe respect for the gay and transgender community should be included in respecting the dignity of the human person too.”

Where We’re Rooted

Gen Z Catholics, depending on where they worship and what movements or media they are connected to, may or may not hear their own views and values supported by church leaders. Nonetheless, those who are committed to Catholic Social Teaching seem to be firmly rooted.

Martinez Longmore describes his own sense of it: “My Catholic faith instilled instilled in me a deep sense of reverence for the inherent dignity of every person, and an awareness of God’s unique preference for marginalized and shunned communities. So I see issues like creating a just immigration process, or reforming the criminal legal system, or addressing the root causes of poverty through public policy as a very Catholic thing — even if I don’t hear those issues talked about at my local parish or by faith leaders.”

Soenen at Georgetown offers a caveat on the importance of formation: “A Catholic whose faith formation hasn’t included any significant focus on the social dimension of the Gospel will have very little reason to reject the present destructive forces in politics: populist nationalism, nativism, and romanticized notions of the efficacy of capitalism, to name a few. In this case, faith might actually become an obstacle to social justice, especially if it is understood to place morals in a dimension that is somehow separate from the public square.”

But Soenen’s thinking on young Catholics whose faith causes them to care about social justice is that they will have “an extraordinarily impactful dedication to social justice and will carry with them a moral that is more consistent, coherent, and focused on the common good than another system of social values.”

He adds, “When faith and politics are understood together, the faith adds a sense of transcendent importance to the politics, while knowing that that importance is fully expressed in human terms. My Catholicism, for me, means that a political injustice offends both God and humans, and because of that, it has a much stronger hold over my conscience than it would have if the religious component were absent.”

Nora Bradbury-Haehl is the author of “The Twentysomething Handbook” and “The Freshman Survival Guide.”

This story was originally published in the 2nd Quarter issue of Connection. Download the full issue here.
Christian leaders gather across from the U.S. Capitol for a sunrise vigil organized by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and Faithful America, marking the second anniversary of the January 6 insurrection.

Relational Politics

Relational Politics

Democracy’s Future Depends on Fostering Community

Mary J. Novak
April 12, 2023
Christian leaders gather across from the U.S. Capitol for asunrise vigil organized by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and Faithful America, marking the second anniversary of the January 6 insurrection.

Christian leaders gather across from the U.S. Capitol for a sunrise vigil organized by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and Faithful America, marking the second anniversary of the January 6 insurrection.


Early in the morning on Jan. 6 of this year, a diverse group of faith leaders from different Christian denominations gathered across from the U.S. Capitol for a sunrise prayer vigil. I spoke at this event, representing NETWORK and the concerns that many Catholics have for the future of the United States. We prayed together for our democracy, and it felt like a glimpse of the Beloved Community that our system of government is capable of fostering.

The challenge that faces all of us is that this group was not representative of the rhetoric and political movement currently claiming the mantle of “Christian” in U.S. politics. One of the results of the 2022 midterm elections has been the ascendancy of extremists in Congress who assert a nationalist brand of politics that is corrosive to our system of government. If anything is clear from the January 6 Committee hearings and other current signs, our democracy is not yet out of the woods.

Democracy is the container for all the social and political issues that our Catholic tradition so richly informs — the dignity of the human person, economic equity, the rights of workers. We work for them in a pluralistic context, always seeking to build up the common good. Democracy offers protections that policy alone cannot cover and which other systems and philosophies, like Christian nationalism and Catholic integralism, openly reject. These seek to ascribe some uniquely dominating role to Christianity in society and invariably end in oppression and violence. The protections of democracy have remarkably held us through these past years, and the midterm elections played out without violence, despite coming a year after the insurrection of January 2021. I believe this was possible precisely because people got involved, especially at the local level.

At NETWORK, our field is very engaged and active among the countless justice-seekers who have been awakened in the past six years. I see in them an opportunity to recapture a certain relationality in our politics that has been lost in recent decades, and some NETWORK Advocates Teams are already embracing this in moving ways. We cannot achieve lasting change without authentic investment in the human relationships that run through our government and our society. The Catholic Sisters who founded NETWORK believed in this model, and we have seen it start to re-emerge with a new generation of political activists, as was evident in the awe-inspiring turnout of Gen Z in the last election.

But what we need for the long haul is a true political movement that breaks through the polarization and moves us into a space where we can creatively imagine what our democracy needs to look like to meet people’s needs and truly respond to the signs of our times.

One of the real hazards of our politics, as pointed out by Rachel Kleinfeld and others, is that the very polarization and obstructionism that creates gridlock in our politics wears down people’s faith in our system of democracy over time, because they do not see it delivering for them. People need clean air, clean water, affordable housing, pathways to home ownership,  protections against discrimination — things that the government can and has delivered for people in the past! And we have been fortunate that the Biden administration has been able to deliver in areas like infrastructure and pushing back a bit against trickle-down economic policy.

But so much remains to be done. Part of our democracy work is addressing spiraling wealth inequality, the stratospheric inequity in our society that keeps wealth out of reach for so many and concentrated in the hands of the few. The wealth divide works to severely undercut people’s belief in this democratic system, because they do not see it as fair, they see that it can be corrupted, and again, they do not think it can deliver for them.

Despite the peril of the present moment, so many people of goodwill are responding to the challenge. Are enough people unsettled? No, frankly. But in our frustration with the polarization and stagnation brought about by a small number of ideological extremists with access to way too much funding and power, we can look around and see that we are not alone. We even find community in that space. And as we continue to organize and unify our vision and work for lasting change, we find something to be hopeful about, which can ground us for the long haul.

Mary J. Novak is NETWORK’s Executive Director.

This column was originally published in the 2nd Quarter issue of Connection. Download the full issue here.

We Have Power to Use

We Have Power to Use

Positive Change is Not Inevitable; Nor is it Beyond Our Grasp

Min. Christian Watkins
April 4, 2023

In a world that is moving and changing seemingly at an uneasy pace, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness are quite pervasive. With social media hyperstimulation, news cycle fatigue, and electronics exhaustion, it can be paralyzing to do anything other than what is necessary just to exist. When billionaires can financially influence elections, nominations to the Supreme Court, and entire media platforms in hopes of steering events according to their will, the power of the individual can be easily neglected. But regardless, one thing the sacred texts and my mother constantly remind me of is that we have more power than we think.

The system of democracy has been credited to the ancient Greeks. Demos kratos literally translates to “people power.” I constantly see the power that one person’s voice can have in the halls of power. Every time I engage Congress and the Administration, whether through meetings or direct public actions, when people show up, when people use their presence and voice for good, good things happen. This greatly informs how NETWORK approaches all of our key policy areas like criminal legal reform, voting rights, and reparatory justice. It’s all about what we decide to do with the power of the voice and the presence we possess.

April 4 marks the 55th anniversary of the martyrdom of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. An assassin’s bullet may have killed the man, but it couldn’t kill the dreams, prayers, and work of righteous people. One aspect of his legacy that still resonates is how a young Baptist minister from meager beginnings was able to be such a catalyzing force in the movement for good in U.S. politics. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ‘60s culminated in the passage of civil rights, voting rights, and fair housing for Black and impoverished people all throughout our country. Dr. King knew how to build power, through and with people, on and for purpose.

Gains made back then are still active struggles today. As my mother says, it’s an unbearable reality that the rights she marched and voted for in the ‘60s are still in question today. But it is soul-settling to know that Dr. King’s advocacy and pastoral legacy through Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church is alive and well through the life and witness of Rev. Senator Raphael G. Warnock.

It is a blessing that Senator Warnock does not stand alone as a high-profile person of faith engaging with U.S. politics. Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO), Jeanné Lewis of Faith in Public Life, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, Rev. Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, and Rev. Dr. Frederick D. Haynes, III are just a few examples of people I believe embody Dr. King’s legacy of faithful public witness and leadership.

Their witness matters especially because we see today too many bad examples that confine Christian political belief to be represented by a small but extremist segment. Most of them fall under the heading of Christian nationalism — the belief that the U.S. is meant to be ruled by white Christians to serve white Christians. That belief system is contrary to the lofty principles and unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness enshrined in our country’s founding documents.

A tragic consequence of this – in addition to the exclusion, oppression, and loss of life that are the natural consequences of nationalist policy — is that religious faith in the public square becomes synonymous with intolerance and hatred, hostile to other belief systems expressed throughout the nation’s citizenry. It is unfortunate that the faith-filled justice-seeker is a strange, unknown construction to many people in the U.S., especially among younger generations.

As a Black man from the South and minister of the Gospel, I find hope and strength in the model of Dr. King. He reminds us: “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” It is a sin — a deadly one — to assume the cause is lost and not take any action at all. It is a virtue to keep showing up. It is a virtue to honor your God-given gifts through presence and witness. This is how we ultimately push past hopelessness and helplessness in our lives. May your power compel you to keep on showing up for justice, peace, and equity.

Min. Christian Watkins is a NETWORK Government Relations Advocate and minister of The United Methodist Church.

This column will be published in our upcoming Quarter 2 2023 issue of Connection.

“Every time I engage Congress and the Administration, whether through meetings or direct public actions, when people show up, when people use their presence and voice for good, good things happen.”

Restore Basic Function

Restore Basic Function

Fixing America’s Immigration System Starts With Updating the Registry

Congresswoman Norma J. Torres
March 7, 2023

When something isn’t working like it should—such as a car making a strange noise or a computer laboring to perform basic tasks—our human reaction is often to ignore the problem and hope that it goes away. We do this as long as possible, even as our avoidance is clearly allowing the situation to get worse.

In the United States, this is the path we have taken with our immigration system, which we have left broken and ignored for too long.

The problem is that we have no real function to allow people who come to this country, and who work hard and contribute to our communities, to pursue legal status. And because we have avoided addressing the problem, more than 10 million people in our communities live in the shadows, without legal status, and barred from full participation in society. People even wait 30-40 years in line for their documents to be processed. That is all part of the systemic failure we have seen.

We call the U.S. immigration system broken because it doesn’t perform the basic functions it’s intended to carry out.

Now, how often when we finally seek help and take a car to an auto mechanic do we hear that one little part is causing all the problems? It’s a relief and almost an embarrassment to know that our long-avoided problem has such a simple answer.

This too is reflected in U.S. immigration policy.

The Immigration Act of 1929 set up a registry to assist people who came to the U.S. without legal status. It was understood even then that we are better off knowing the people around us are not hiding in the shadows. The registry, which is still the law of the land, offered a rigorous process by which long-time residents could obtain permanent legal residence, and one of the provisions of that process was that a person resides in the U.S. before a cutoff date. Originally, this date was June 3, 1921. It has been updated four times through the years and is currently Jan. 1, 1972.

That’s a long time ago. I had just come to the U.S. two years earlier, at age 5, with my uncle, from Guatemala, which was embroiled in a dangerous civil war. I became a citizen 20 years later. The system worked for me. And that is part of why, in the 117th Congress, I co-led H.R. 8433: Renewing Immigration Provisions of the Immigration Act of 1929. This bill would simply update the cutoff date that, again, exists in current law.

It shouldn’t surprise us that one little provision in our system that hasn’t moved in half a century is broken and needs to be replaced. This bill is a simple change that would have a major impact on the quality of life of so many people. People will be able to present themselves at financial institutions, register their kids at school, go to the doctor, and contact federal, state, and local agencies without being afraid because they don’t have a legal document. While it wouldn’t solve every problem for every person in the U.S. without legal status, it would be a major step forward.

For the thousands of immigrant workers, our neighbors and friends who have been in the community a long time and who have been good Americans in every way, except on paper, we have an opportunity to be better neighbors to them. Delay and avoidance will lead to only more brokenness, and now, we have a path forward.

Let us work to make our communities whole—the time to do registry is now.

Rep. Norma J. Torres represents California’s 35th District. She has served in Congress since 2015.

This story was originally published in the 4th Quarter issue of Connection. Download the full issue here.