Category Archives: Emerging Justice Seekers

How Do We Treat Our Neighbors?

How Do We Treat Our Neighbors?

August Kissel
November 28, 2018

As a junior at Manhattan College and a student worker in our Social Action Suite, I have been watching this year’s Lasallian Outreach Volunteer Experience members prep for their upcoming immersion experiences.

The teams have spent the past semester preparing and fundraising for their upcoming experiences both abroad and in the United States. This is a time when these students will encounter a world and life experiences much different from their own and have the opportunity for open dialogue with the people they are meeting, and the social injustices they are experiencing.

This past January, as part of the program, I had the opportunity to visit a region of Ecuador called Monte Sinai. We stayed with an organization called Rostro de Cristo, a Catholic immersion retreat program.

Rostro’s goal is to live in solidarity with those in the Monte Sinai community. Each day the year-long volunteers who serve through Rostro go to their jobs at different organizations in the neighborhood, like the local women’s shelter, the nearby school, as well as the after school and tutoring program. The volunteers all live a simple lifestyle so that they are more fully immersed in the culture. We were given only a small taste of this lifestyle and experience during our time in Monte Sinai.

Our team met with neighbors who welcomed us into their homes and were willing to share a moment with us. We discussed the best way to make coconut rice, how the trash system works, and access to clean water. From these discussions we returned to the U.S. with new intentions, asking about our neighbors here and why don’t we get to know them in the same way we did in Ecuador?

Now, as the holiday season is moving forward, may we focus on our neighbors, who they are, what they contribute to our community, and what we can do as neighbors here in our own communities. We each belong to a community and it is our role to meet our neighbors, know them, and support them as we hope they would do the same for us. As we celebrate the end of this year and the start of a new one, may we meet, know, and come to love all of our neighbors.

 

August Kissel is a junior at Manhattan College. She has participated in two Lasallian Outreach Volunteer Experience (LOVE) trips through their Campus Ministry and Social Action program.

(Photo credit of Rostro de Cristo)

Stronger Borders, But Weaker Morals: What’s Happening to Asylum Seekers at the End of the Road?

Stronger Borders, But Weaker Morals: What Happens to Asylum Seekers at the End of the Road

Lindsay Hueston
November 26, 2018

On the westernmost portion of the U.S.-Mexico border, the taunting iron fence stretches from mountain to sand to sea – disappearing after a few hundred yards into the ocean. The water that chops around is the same, splashing both U.S. and Mexican soil. The most radical thing that struck me about being at the border was that birds could fly so easily over it, which seemed so normal – but the U.S. government, simultaneously, so heavily regulated the movement of people on land.

The U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego, CA – June 2013

That was five years ago when I went to the border. Now, instead of birds, there are capsules of tear gas hurled over the border: the only thing in the air now is intense fear.

I’ve had the opportunity to visit the U.S.-Mexico border twice: first in the summer of 2013 during a college campus ministry conference in San Diego bordering Tijuana; and again in the winter of 2016 leading a service-immersion trip to El Paso, a city thoroughly integrated with its neighbor Ciudad Juárez in Mexico.

I never crossed over to Mexico in either of these encounters, but exchanged words, held hands, and prayed with people mere feet away from me, the only thing separating us an immense wall of steel and millions of dollars built up to create a militarized border. I stood on the U.S. side; a recently deported family stood less than three feet away in Mexico. We breathed the same air. We each huddled from the same chill.

That was three years ago; had I met that family at the border there now, they and their three kids would be running away from the fence to avoid tear gas and rubber bullets.

Last week the Trump administration put out a statement authorizing the use of lethal force against families and individuals from Central American countries who trekked thousands of miles to enter our country, with the possibility of closing “the whole border.”

The news of tear gas attacks on thousands of people coming to the United States to flee violence – and being met with more violence – hits me to my core.

Lethal force? For people seeking safety, fearing they’d die in their home country – and facing the possibility of death instead of new life?

I’ve eaten and laughed and cried with people whose life stories and trials are likely near-identical to the droves of asylum seekers searching for welcome in our country. What kind of country are we creating when we say we are a nation of immigrants, then turn away the most vulnerable?

The U.S.-Mexico border in Sunland Park, NM – January 2016

The images and videos I’ve seen are of women, children, families – people who should not be faced with the immensity of physical punishment that the U.S. is inflicting upon them for fleeing violence in their own countries. It is unconscionable that the Trump administration has come so far as to demonize infant children and their mothers, and anyone seeking asylum, so much so as to accept their injury, trauma, and potential death as merely a necessary consequence of our political debate and national security.

Firing tear gas on children and families who are here seeking asylum is both legally and morally wrong.

The actions of the U.S. government in turning people away and further militarizing our borders are a result of systematic racism, and do not reflect the core of our foundational communal values. The immigration system in our country has long been broken, but the recent attacks against immigrants and refugees under this administration have attempted to fundamentally reshape our system with the aim of closing our border to all but wealthy, white immigrants.

The structures of our country were never set up to benefit the most marginalized, but we don’t have to accept policies that perpetuate these evils. Instead, we can change them.

Children shouldn’t choke on tear gas. Parents shouldn’t have to make pilgrimages hundreds of miles on foot to seek a better life for their families. People in neighboring countries shouldn’t have to face a life-threatening decision: stay and die, or go and live.

Bridge into Juárez, Mexico from El Paso, Texas – January 2016

Yet our administration sees these migrants from Central America as criminals for the very fact that they are pleading to us for help.  We are failing to live up to our own laws and international human rights obligations to offer asylum to those who qualify. We are willing to let innocent people die before we open our borders.

It isn’t right – none of it is right.

We must continue to pressure the Trump administration against the harmful consequences they are inflicting upon our sisters and brothers who deserve protection, not condemnation.

Did You Eat Today? Do More Than Thank a Farm Worker

Did You Eat Today?
(Do More Than) Thank a Farm Worker

Erin Sutherland
November 19, 2018

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend an interactive presentation and mindful dinner entitled “A Harvest for Justice,” led by Stoneridge Academy’s Director of Social Action, Lauren Brownlee. Lauren described her recent trip to Washington State to meet with other members of the National Farm Worker Ministry.  While learning about the challenges farm workers face in access to housing, adequate health and safety, just wages, and those that specifically impact women, I was both parts equally shocked and horrified.

I was immediately reminded of the striking similarities between the injustices farm workers experience and the issue areas NETWORK has chosen to focus on to “Mend the Gaps” in our society.  The gap for farm workers is even wider than that of the general population because of the inability of farm workers to organize collectively, or the fact that citizenship status can deter people from coming forward and reporting abuse.  Especially as Thanksgiving approaches, it makes me angry to think about how our national dinner table is supplied by people who are being exploited.  All of us, especially those who are dedicated to fixing societal gaps, need to do better to rectify the ways in which we are participating in an unjust food system.

As I reflect on all I have to be thankful this year, the evening left me wondering what more I could do to show my respect for farm workers and be an ethical consumer.  Attendees discussed eating mindfully, hosting a documentary watch-party like watching Food Chains, and participating in online campaigns.  While these are a great first step, I think it is also important to think more broadly about how to dismantle the unjust, capitalist produce market.

One way is to buy produce directly from farmer-organized initiatives or with ethical certifications.  As someone with modest income, I also understand how difficult it can be to pay a little more for ethically sourced produce.  One thing I’ve started doing is making sure to keep my food waste to an absolute minimum.  This is one way I can show my solidarity with those who worked so hard to pick the food in my fridge by making every effort to consume it all.  This means packing leftovers, coming up with creative solutions to using produce that is starting to look iffy, and supporting companies like Hungry Harvest that save perfectly good food from landfills by re-selling produce that couldn’t be sold at the grocery store.

My journey to becoming an ethical consumer and demanding positive change in the produce industry is just beginning.  Far from feeling hopeless or overwhelmed, I feel equipped with the knowledge to move my appreciation past words and into action.

Respecting Creation: How to Navigate the NAFTA Renegotiation

Respecting Creation: How to Navigate the NAFTA Renegotiation

José Arnulfo Cabrera
November 7, 2018

For the past year, the Trump administration has been renegotiating a new version of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada. Trade is a priority issue for President Trump and his Administration has emphasized the need to increase trade benefits to Americans as part of his “America First” agenda. While NETWORK affirms the need to improve the working condition in the United States, we also believe that any deal must benefit workers and those in poverty in all three countries. To that end, we and our faith partners sent a letter to the Administration outlining priorities for the renegotiation.

We have a 24-year track record with the current NAFTA agreement and we know that the agreement created great benefits for large corporations, but time and time again it has failed to benefit the common good.  For example, NAFTA flooded the Mexican market with subsidized corn, wheat, and soy from the U.S., forcing literally millions of family farmers off their land. The pacts also allowed huge U.S. corporations to move in, driving tens of thousands of additional small- and mid-sized Mexican employers out of business. In fact, real wages in Mexico are lower today than before NAFTA was enacted. During this same period working families in the U.S. have suffered as well from flat wages and loss of jobs in the manufacturing sectors.  The new NAFTA, if done right, has the opportunity to make incremental changes to the status quo.

On September 30, the Administration laid out newly designed NAFTA 2.0. NETWORK, along with our faith and secular partners, began reviewing the new deal with the hope that progress would be made. Thankfully, there were some important areas of progress made on key faith priorities. There are, however, areas where the new NAFTA fails.  We expect the Trump Administration will sign the NAFTA 2.0 on November 30 and then send it to Congress for consideration under fast-track authority which allows for an up or down vote on implementing legislation without possibilities to filibuster.  We don’t expect it to be taken up by Congress until early next year.

What does this mean for NETWORK advocates?  Plain and simple, we must work over the next few months to seek changes to the agreement that will substantially improve NAFTA 1.0.  As a faith-based organization, we believe the global economy must care about and respect people and creation. The renegotiation of NAFTA can and must make North America a model of the trade policy we want to see across the world.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS): There are four areas where we see significant improvement in the new NAFTA 2.0. The first issue pertains to the Investor-State Dispute Settlement process, or ISDS, which gives giant corporations the ability to sue foreign governments over their domestic laws. To date, those courts have been used largely to attack domestic health, safety, and environmental laws.  This gives a lot of power to corporations over affected communities. The new NAFTA completely eliminated the ISDS between the U.S. and Canada, and between the U.S. and Mexico the ISDS was replaced by a new version of ISDS. The new one eliminates extreme investors’ rights, and remedies key procedural concerns. Unfortunately, there is a loophole in U.S.-Mexico’s new ISDS that gives nine U.S. oil and gas companies power going into ISDS courts. NETWORK and our partners will work to close this loophole.

Labor: Faith partners affirm the need for strong worker protections in all countries so that workers receive good wages, have the freedom to organize and work in healthy and safe environments. The NAFTA 2.0 text establishes new rules to end wage suppression “protection contracts” in Mexico – which, if enforced, could make a big difference over time on Mexican wage levels and incentives to outsource U.S. jobs to Mexico.  Recently, Mexican workers arrived at a new plant to find that a “union” they never voted for has signed a contract they never approved locking in low wages. Workers who strike are fired. Labor organizers face violence and intimidation. This is a step forward.

The key problem is that there is no language that ensures these rules will be enforced. Unless strong labor standards are made subject to swift and certain enforcement there is no way to ensure the new rules are implemented. NETWORK and our partners will continue to work to improve the agreement so it contains real enforcement mechanisms that allow workers to thrive. Without enforcement of these new rules, they are meaningless.

Environment:  To have a global economy that cares and respect all creations we must uphold environmental protections. NETWORK recognizes that climate change is real and disproportionately affects the poorest residents, especially the poor in developing countries and small islands. We can’t accept or have a trade deal that continues to contribute to climate change. NETWORK, along with our faith partners, hoped to see the new NAFTA prioritize long-term ecological sustainability. NAFTA 2.0 eliminated the forces that made countries export natural resources that they seek to conserve. This is a good start, but NAFTA 2.0 still has a long way to go. Unfortunately, NAFTA 2.0 failed to adopt, maintain, implement, and enforce domestic laws that ensure the seven core multilateral environmental agreements. The deal also failed to mention the word “climate change” along with stating the economic and national security challenges that climate change creates.

Access to Medicine: This is one of the biggest failures in the current NAFTA 2.0.  NETWORK is a strong believer in affordable medicine and healthcare for all. Therefore, we want NAFTA 2.0 to increase access to affordable medicine, not to limit it. Further, we believe the U.S. government should prioritize pharmaceutical corporations and allow them to continue monopolizing their product through trade agreements. The new NAFTA keeps expanding the monopoly of big pharmaceutical companies, and allows many big pharma companies to keep medicine prices high, and moves further away from affordable medicine. We are working with our faith partners to change the current pharmaceutical language so we can begin to move towards more affordable medicine and eliminate the current monopoly pharmaceutical companies have now. NETWORK will work to eliminate the bad policies included in NAFTA 2.0 which line the pockets of pharma will harm patients.

Agriculture:  NAFTA 2.0 does not address the needs of small farmers and locks in many of the agriculture rules that have devastated family farmers.  In fact, NAFTA 2.0 seeks to provide new intellectual property rights that stop farmers from being able to save and share protected seeds. The new NAFTA allows agricultural biotechnology products that will bypass national efforts to ensure safety, effectiveness, and impact on workers, rural communities and ecosystem should be rejected. All of the current agriculture problems NAFTA has created allows big corporate farmers to overpower small farmers in all three countries; because of that, it is slowly monopolizing farming. NETWORK will continue to work to protect small farmers.

NETWORK Responds to Week of Violence, Bigotry, and Anguish

NETWORK Responds to Week of Violence, Bigotry, and Anguish

NETWORK Staff
October 29, 2018

After a would-be assassin mailed pipe bombs to 14 prominent Democratic figures, including the families of 2 former Presidents; after a gunman tried to enter a Black Church in Kentucky intent on doing harm but was unable to gain access so walked to the nearest Kroger grocery store and killed two people instead; after all of that, there was the terrible mass shooting of Jewish worshippers at a Pennsylvania synagogue.  It was a devastating week and we are still reeling from it.

Nevertheless, we join the country in offering our most heartfelt and sincere condolences to the family and friends of those 11 people who were killed in Pennsylvania and the 2 people in Kentucky.  No words can express how profoundly we grieve with you in your time of need.  We stand together as the nation mourns your, and our, loss.

At the same time, we condemn, in the strongest possible language, these senseless murders of 13 ordinary people, worshipping at Tree of Life Synagogue and buying groceries at the local Kroger store.  They were simply going about their day until two white men, fueled by anti-Semitism and racial animus, attacked them.  These innocent people lost their lives to hate and fear in a country founded on freedom, opportunity and religious values.

But our Catholic faith tells us that we are all created in the image and likeness of God.  No exceptions.  And as a result, every human being is imbued with an essential dignity that must be honored, respected and protected.  The hate-filled actions of the gunmen belie that fundamental truth.   Whether or not you are religious or have some faith-based beliefs, there is something profoundly wrong in society when people turn to violence against others simply because they belong to a different religious tradition or have a different skin color.  We condemn every action based on hatred, bigotry and violence.

Sadly, this is not the first time we have witnessed, endured and decried the presence and menace of such evil in our midst.  But this can be the last.  This is a time when the whole country can stand up and speak out against it.  This is a time when we must demand of our leaders and each other the guarantee of civility, respect and safety for everyone.  For our sake.  For our children’s sake.  For the sake of our country’s future.  We must not let this hatred, violence and division defeat us.  The only question is:  will we do it?  Or will we once again pay a terrible price for our silence?  People are fond of saying “we are better than this.”  Now is the time to prove it.

May God grant eternal rest to those who were slain.  May God shower peace and consolation on all those who mourn.  And may God have mercy on all of us if we fail to stand up to this moment in history.

Reflection: Philadelphia Nuns on the Bus Town Hall

Reflection: Philadelphia Nuns on the Bus Town Hall

Saint Joseph’s University students
October 24, 2018

The Nuns on the Bus stopped in Philadelphia for a Town Hall at Saint Joseph’s University. Students, community members, and local sisters alike came to learn about tax justice and talk about how the 2017 GOP Tax Law is impacting Philadelphians more specifically.

 

Two students shared their reflections on the event below:

 

 

“I really enjoyed attending the Nuns on the Bus event that took place at Saint Joseph’s University. Before attending, I researched into who the Nuns on the Bus are and learned they are a lobbying group located in Washington D.C. which tend to have more liberal views. Each sister introduced herself to the audience and explained who they are, which order they are a part of, and why they joined the bus. I found it interested that although these women are part of different orders, they come together for the same reason, change that will benefit everyone. The social justice issues each woman stood for were education, immigration, economy, social services, and many more.

“After introductions, each woman took a persona. This persona belonged in a socioeconomic class and demonstrated through steps how they benefited from the current tax reform. They then demonstrated through steps how Trump’s tax reform would not benefit everyone yet only certain people. Before seeing this demonstrated, I never completely understood the impact it would have on each social class. I would read about the impacts it would have and look at the statistics. Seeing the steps helped me to comprehend what this really means for the economy. After seeing these demonstrations, I enjoyed the group discussions. The woman I talked to told me she believes that voting is the best thing for change. She believes that voting needs to rise for my age group and all the decisions made in the elections now will affect my generation the most.

“Reflecting on the event, I really enjoyed this presentation. I feel I have learned more about the tax reforms and what changes need to be made to better everyone in the United States instead of benefiting a select few. Voting is one-way change can be made and I do believe that my generation will be most affected by what we vote on now. Through attending this event, I feel that I have gained a better understanding about how decisions made by those we elect into political office will affect everyone in some form.”

— Kella Pacifico

“I really enjoyed going to this event.  It gave me a platform on which I was able to have intentional conversations about the new tax laws and the potential detriment that they could have on our society.  I was given the opportunity to provide a younger student prospective to the nuns and other people around me as to why most college students are not engaged with this issue and our small groups bounced ideas for solutions.  I would like to thank both Network and all of the Nuns on the Bus for spreading awareness and empowering people all over the country to vote in favor of social justice.  University students like myself need to embody the words of Saint Ignatius Loyola to “go forth and set the world on fire.”

— Michael Williams

View more photos from this event here.

Reflection: Listening to Hear, Not to Respond

Reflection: Listening to Hear, Not to Respond

Siena Ruggeri
October 16, 2018

I had the pleasure of accompanying the NETWORK Nuns On The Bus and their local allies on a small part of their journey across the United States to tell the truth about tax justice. The sisters held a Town Hall for Justice on the campus of my alma mater: Regis University in Denver, Colorado.

I came home for two purposes— to see family I’ve been far away from, and to welcome my D.C.-based NETWORK coworkers to my home. This visit reminded me of the importance of community in justice work. My two worlds came together that Sunday— the community I do the work for, and the community I do the work with.

Community organizing and advocacy is different when it’s centered on your own community. I did not feel like the D.C. insider looking in on “Middle America,” but rather an active participant in this struggle.

Regis is located in a working-class Latinx neighborhood that is quickly being replaced by luxury condos and artisanal coffee shops. Students are struggling to find affordable housing while the cost of their education continues to accelerate. Families, many of them families of color, are being pushed out of Denver and the neighborhoods they were instrumental in establishing.

The east Denver communities I taught in (Montbello and Green Valley Ranch) are home to working class people of color who have been pushed out of Denver’s heart and into the plains: far away from well-funded schools, accessible grocery stores, and reliable public transportation.

Twenty miles north of Denver, I’ve seen my hometown of Lafayette gentrify. Our town’s identity as a town was founded by the Mexican-American working class as an affordable and more racially diverse alternative to Boulder. It is now becoming a higher-altitude Silicon Valley. I know I can never afford to buy a house in the town I grew up in, let alone afford to have a family here.

My own family relies on Medicaid. Every time I hear a Washington politician attack Medicaid and people with preexisting conditions, I think of my family back in Colorado. If Medicaid continues to get cut, my sister could lose the ability to live independently as a young woman with a disability.

The Coloradans attending the Town Hall for Justice were telling similar stories. They shared their worries about our chronically underfunded schools switching to four-day weeks, our people with disabilities losing their Medicaid coverage, the skyrocketing cost of living that prevents us from finding affordable housing and child care, and the rapid development that is pushing so many people to the margins. My community expressed the same truth I knew— Colorado may appear to be a booming economy, but that economic growth has been unequal, and has pushed the people who made Colorado what it is to the margins.

It was heartening to know I was not the only Coloradan concerned about these issues. Being separated from your community can be alienating; it’s frustrating when not enough people in D.C. offices understand what’s happening 2,000 miles away in the Colorado plains and foothills.

If I could pick a word to describe the town hall, it was cathartic. My friends and family expressed to me how good it felt to be heard by people in Washington who had a genuine drive to take their stories to heart and do something about it. It reminded me of the privilege it is to be trusted with these stories and have the capacity to do something for my community people while on Capitol Hill. I also felt less alone in this struggle; I was reminded of the amazing, like-minded people in my network who are doing the same work on a more local level. We’re all mending the gaps together.

NETWORK is people-powered, and now I have a greater understanding of what that means. The stories of people on the ground is what fuels us. It was an important reminder of why I do this work. It can be easy to get caught up in the individualistic story of my work and my job and my career and forget that social justice work is about amplifying other people’s stories.

It is too easy to become removed from the realities of the groups we advocate with on the hill. It is tempting to fall in the mindset that you are advocating “for” these groups and stop taking the time to listen to their worries and their hopes. These realities are painful— it is much easier to read a report or a policy briefing than to look someone in the eye and listen to their fears. Even worse, a lot of the time there’s not a satisfying response to alleviate their pain. It is because NETWORK takes the time to listen that makes us better advocates and better allies to the people we represent in Washington. I’m grateful to work for an organization that reinforces the importance of listening.

The Nuns on the Bus is of course about telling the truth about taxes and economic inequality. I think its real strength, though, is not its telling of the truth, but its listening to the truth of many Americans who feel left behind and dismayed by the inhumanity and moral ruin exhibited by members of Congress. Washington’s elite can deny our facts and our statistics, but they cannot dispute the stories we collect on the road. In a society dominated by talking points, hot takes on Twitter, and 30-second political ads, listening is sacred.

Listening is the foundation of allyship and solidarity. If I’ve taken anything from this experience, it’s the importance of reaching out and listening. We may not be able to come up with all the answers, but we all have the capacity to listen. True democracy exists in relationships. If we’re serious about fixing our political system, it’s not enough to prescribe solutions. We must do the hard work of building community, and the first step of that is taking the time to be present and listen. The Town Hall for Justice showed me what’s possible when you take that first step, and it’s a truly beautiful thing.

View more photos from this event here.

Coming Out—and Catholic

Coming Out—and Catholic

Lindsay Hueston
October 11, 2018

Today, October 11, is National Coming Out Day, which celebrates LGBTQ+ people and the right to live their lives openly. The day commemorates the National March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights and acknowledges the struggles that LGBTQ+ people face when coming out, and instead transforms them into reasons for celebration.

I’ve been more confident in owning my identity since working at NETWORK, where one of our four values of inclusion is to welcome and affirm the LGBTQ+ community. It can be daunting to be associated with a Catholic organization and simultaneously be a member of a group the church often actively discriminates against.

But I hadn’t always felt so unquestioningly welcomed in Catholic spheres: National Coming Out Day was a trepid joy entirely unfamiliar to me until a few years ago. I had tip-toed my way out of the closet during my entire senior year of college, painstakingly and anxiously. I finally reconciled the fact that I was gay that same April.

I was afraid, lonely, and liberated. At age 21, I had absolutely no idea that being gay was a possibility for my life, much less being able to recognize it in myself. In part, I blame it on Catholicism and the not-so-welcoming attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community that still permeate today’s church.

Overarching homophobia is still present in the church and our greater society. I had only been out for a few months before the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, when I realized the tense societal climate into which I’d stepped. Hate crimes still happen. There have been more than 20 trans women of color killed in the U.S. so far this year. A nine-year-old boy died by suicide when he was bullied after coming out as gay to his classmates, and they told him to kill himself. Recently, a Catholic parish in Chicago burned a rainbow flag, even after the archdiocese told them not to. Discrimination and hatred of the LGBTQ+ community is still alive and well, and much of that ugliness is rooted in warped religious beliefs.

In the few years that I’ve been out, I’ve come to view coming out as a kind of resurrection and a cathartic (and utterly Christian) practice. When I was most anguished about coming out, something tiny inside me whispered, “And Jesus wept.”

I wept, too, when I let go of the idea that I had to be straight. I had always been gay; what had died was my own self-expectation, and the presumably-straight self I had constructed. It was painful to grieve the self I was losing, and instead lean into this new life. Coming out felt like dying, but it also felt like rising again – like resurrection.

The process of reconciling my church, my faith, and my sexuality was an enormous hurdle, and I still struggle with it. No Catholic I knew growing up was out, and the few LGBTQ+ adults I encountered later on were always cautious about sharing their sexuality in Catholic spaces. I devoutly attended CCD classes as a child, and later paid rapt attention in high school theology. I have been in too many rooms where the words “Catholic teaching” and “unnatural” and “not God’s plan” had been thrown around. Morality automatically meant heterosexuality; at least, that’s what I absorbed. These words made me uncomfortable and defensive, but I never knew why.

A few months into my year as a Jesuit Volunteer, I came out to my spiritual director amidst shallow breaths and a racing heartbeat. I knew she’d be accepting of me, but as with many LGBTQ+ Catholics, I am perpetually on the defensive when it comes to not knowing if people will truly accept me in a religious setting.

To my utter relief, she congratulated me and said maternally, “Oh, honey. This is where your spirituality lies.”

And it is. I don’t remember when I became a part of the church, or how I knew I was gay. Both of these things have simply always been a part of me and have shaped my worldview. My sexuality is inextricable from my spirituality; I can’t dissect the ways in which I experience God without including my queerness.

My spirituality has shown brighter in places like El Paso and Ecuador and Philadelphia and Seattle—and yes, too, in attending a church service with a woman I dated briefly, our hands intertwined as we acknowledged the God among and within us.

Yet coming out has also meant living amidst fear, and deciding to rise above it. When I came out, a spiritual dam broke within me; I was no longer holding myself back.

I celebrate National Coming Out Day, now, as a recognition of my desire for changes in our society and in the Catholic Church: a sharing of vulnerability in the hopes that it will spur something new. Each time I come out to someone (especially in a Catholic setting), I put aside my fears and feel another small part of myself owning my identity. I understood, more concretely, that I too was made in the image of God – that we are all made in the image of God.

The shame still exists, but it’s dwindled. What takes its place, now, is the understanding that I am whole as I am created, and my sexuality is inextricable from who as I am as a person. In coming out, my relationship with God has strengthened, and I feel more full: at home in my skin, in myself. In the same way, I feel that I am able to be at home at NETWORK. I don’t have to fear that I will be judged or fired or scorned for my sexuality; many others don’t have that luxury and that freedom. To be in such a place is a gift, a sigh of relief.

Coming out, for me, was a personal challenge, but a spiritual one as well. It still is; I’ve questioned my place in the Church, if I still wanted to be part of an institution with a tenuous relationship to its LGBTQ members. Yet painful as it can be, I couldn’t imagine my life without my deep-ingrained Catholic faith, or the fact that I’m gay.

I’ve decided that coming out is better than staying hidden, and embracing myself as both gay and Catholic is often difficult, but life-giving. I shouldn’t have to compromise myself, nor should any Catholic in a similar situation.

Happy National Coming Out Day, all. You are exactly wonderful as you are.

Reflections on the Kavanaugh Hearing

Reflections on the Kavanaugh Hearing

Alannah Boyle
October 5, 2018

Catholic Social Justice teaches us that all people have inherent dignity. We are called to uphold the dignity of every person as an equally valuable member of the human family.

It is our Catholic duty to believe women. Was it not women who shared the seemingly impossible truths of Jesus? Mary, a virgin, announced she was pregnant with the child of God. Mary Magdalene spread the news that Jesus had risen from the dead. At first they both were not believed. Both women knew this would be the case when they told people. They did it anyway.

Dr. Ford’s courage has inspired the country. She had nothing to be gained, and yet still told her story. She knew she would not be believed by many, and yet she did it anyways.

Watching Dr. Christine Blasley Ford’s testimony was incredibly painful. I and many of those around me found ourselves bursting into tears throughout her testimony. The triggers varied, but many had the same thread: we identified with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. As Sister Simone said, “almost every woman I know has a #MeToo moment.” In watching Dr. Ford, it was clear her story was not unique: we have experienced the visceral memory of trauma, we have experienced being cut off or talked down to by a powerful man, we have desperately tried to stay composed while retelling the intimate details of our trauma.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is all of us, and goes to show that hers is not a new experience. We are all Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in the same way we are all Mary and Mary Magdalene: for centuries we have told our truth and still not been believed.

We have both a biblical and moral responsibility to believe women.

Working in an environment committed to women in leadership, such as the one at NETWORK, has been refreshing. Engaging with my co-workers guided by sister-spirit is a compassionate environment rooted in Catholic Social Thought that I am proud to be a part of.

When Dr. Ford recounted the story of her assault to the Judiciary Committee, she spoke to 17 men and just 4 women. Twenty-seven years ago, when Anita Hill testified before the very same committee, she spoke to 0 women. We are moving in the right direction, and the treatment of Dr. Ford reflected this, but there is something to be said about telling stories in an environment of those who have a shared lived experience. We need more women in positions of leadership not to blindly support women, but to identify with the experience of having to fight to be heard.

Twin Cities Town Hall: Talking About Tax Justice

Twin Cities Town Hall: Talking About Tax Justice

Hanna Potter and Ceara Curry, St. Joseph Workers
October 2, 2018

Editor’s note: before embarking on NETWORK’s 2018 Nuns on the Bus trip, the “Tax Justice Truth Tour,” Sister Simone and Sister Mary Ellen traveled to bring one of the main programs – our Town Hall for Tax Justice – to the Twin Cities. This reflection is from those participants.

We attended a “Town Hall for Tax Justice” with Sister Simone Campbell and Sister Mary Ellen Lacy on Thursday, September 27th in St. Paul, MN at the Carondelet Center, hosted by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet (CSJs). The room was filled with religious sisters, consociates of CSJs, and community members.  And, of course, we as Saint Joseph Workers were present as well.

This event gave us a unique opportunity to see – both visually and through personal narrative – how much the 2017 Tax Bill affects people from a variety of economic backgrounds. We volunteered to help with an activity to demonstrate how the disparity between different economic levels has widened from 1979 to the present, and how the current 2017 Tax Law only widens that gap in inequality.

Seven volunteers from the crowd represented a different economic perspective – one for each quintile and one for the top 1%. Each volunteer had a name and a story. We represented the two lowest quintiles, the next quintile was the “middle” middle class, then the higher middle class, followed by the top 1%, and then a corporation. We started in the year 1979, with participants standing together. As “time” passed, participants were asked to walk farther away from each other – showcasing the gap widening between economic levels. Once the 2017 Tax Law was put into effect in the activity, the 1% and the corporation not only widened the gap by walking away from the lower economic quintiles, but the lower quintiles also walked away from the middle and more towards the poorer end of the spectrum. There wasn’t even enough room in the hall to show how far the gap would really be. The rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer is clearly an understatement.

After the demonstration, Sr. Simone and Sr. Mary Ellen had the room break into small groups to discuss the following 3 questions:

  1. What surprises you?
  2. How is your community impacted?
  3. What would the common good look like?

Reactions around the room were unanimous in their disgust of the effects that the 2017 Tax Law has. What surprised many was just how badly it will impact people. Many were not pleased with the fact that 4% of corporations were projected to raise wages for workers, but in reality only 2.2% have actually raised wages. Companies are not raising wages “out of the goodness of their own heart,” as trickle-down economics would suggest. With fewer taxes being collected, this also impacts public assistance programs that the lower quintiles will need to utilize in order to continue their current quality of living. Programs will accept fewer people or will be shut down completely, because money will be floating around in the pockets of the rich and not in public funding. This will impact communities negatively – people will struggle to upkeep their housing, lose housing, or could face not having enough food on the table.

But how would Catholic Social Teaching of the common good address this situation? Sister Simone says, first, there is a need to depoliticize the situation and to spread the message of radical acceptance: “I care for you, even though I disagree with you…” We must create a shared vision of an alternative to the tax bill and stop bipartisanship. We can all be better by helping one another. The unpatriotic lie of individualism needs to stop; it is “WE the people,” not “I’m looking out for my own people only.”

This Town Hall was so important because not only did it shed light on the negative impacts of the 2017 Tax Law, it invited us – in light of the realities of the law – to reflect on what the common good would look like for all.

So, what is a tax policy that honors and respects the common good? What does tax justice really look like?  Many people present at this event offered suggestions, and Sr. Simone and Sr. Mary Ellen also offered suggestions. An answer rooted in Catholic Social Teaching of caring for one another and of the Earth is a good direction, yet how we accomplish this goal through public tax policy is a difficult question to answer. What we do know is that the 2017 Tax Law does not accomplish the common good, and laws do not have to be permanent.  We can work together towards creating a tax policy that takes care of everyone.

An important take-away for us was that this kind of dialogue needs to continue to happen and people need to take action through exercising their political rights.  We are inspired by this experience, knowing that in order to continue moving towards the common good, we must continue to educate ourselves on tax policy and its effects on all economic classes. In order to work towards the common good, we must come to the middle ground.  We must not only consider how taxes affect the lower, middle and upper classes: we must get to know all sides of the story.

 

Hanna Potter and Ceara Curry are current members of the St. Joseph Worker Program, a year-long service opportunity through the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Hanna and Ceara are St. Joseph Workers in the Twin Cities, and recently attended NETWORK’s Town Hall event at the Carondelet Center in St. Paul, MN.