As the national board for the leaders of U.S. Catholic religious brothers and priests, we are called to discern wisely the signs of the times and to act courageously in our response. Gathering as a national assembly in St. Louis, MO this week, we continue to see the deep scars of racial injustice, white supremacy, and exclusion of many types of people of color both in our communities and our country. We acknowledge our own sin and responsibility for racism in our lives, our religious communities, and our Catholic Church.
“Every proper conscience cannot help but decisively condemn racism in whichever heart or place it lurks. Unfortunately, it shows up in forms ever new and unexpected, offending and degrading the human family. Racism is a sin which constitutes a grave offense against God.” Pope John Paul II
Today, we revive our 2014 national assembly commitments to racial justice and to follow the Holy Spirit into new territory. We need to walk with Jesus into Jerusalem.
Thus, we commit to a long-term process of listening, dialogue, and accountability. This process will enable us to thoroughly discover the historical reality of racism, exclusion, and white privilege in our religious communities. Through such discovery we will generate concrete actions toward racial justice and solidarity.
This process will include engaging these stories and issues at our regional meetings leading up to a focused 2020 national assembly on this topic. We will provide key resources to our members to enable a fruitful and transformative process. We will also explore an anti-racism training for our upcoming board meeting.
The following statement regarding the separation of families upon entry at the U.S. border was released June 20, 2018:
As Christians and Catholic religious leaders, our hearts are broken whenever our sisters and brothers suffer injustice. Many of us minister in border communities. We see the desperation of families fleeing violence and death in their homelands. We know the sacrifice of mothers and fathers seeking safety for their children.
We have once again entered that grace-filled space of deep empathy, pain, and righteous indignation as we see children being torn from their parents arms, desperately reach out and eyes widen with fear; as mothers and fathers fall to their knees in tears, the trauma of their journey suffocates their energy as the window of hope grows dim or even pitch black.
The Trump Administration has scaled-up its policy of separating children from their parents when they come to the border fleeing violence and seeking help. During a six-week span from April 19 to May 31, over 2000 children have been separated from their families, at least 100 of these children are under the age of four. This separation creates major trauma for the children and families and simply adds to the already heavy anxiety of their journey. At least one such parent committed suicide.
While every nation has a responsibility to ensure its borders, Jesus calls us to welcome the stranger and to care for the most vulnerable (Matthew 25). The Administration’s policy of separating families and prosecuting asylum seekers is immoral. The president of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops has clearly stated that “separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral.”
This immoral policy and unjust order must no longer be followed. As religious leaders, we appeal to the heart of each individual person who participates in this tragedy of separating families. We ask you to consider the consequences of your actions and to desist as a matter of moral conscience.
We directly call to the heart of each member of Congress and the Administration. For those who have been resisting this train of injustice over many years, we deeply thank you and raise you up. For those in these institutions who have created this policy or enable it, now is time for repentance, a turning away from this sinful behavior. This immoral practice must end. The President has the power today to change the policy that has created the travesty of family separation. Laws need to be passed to prevent such policies from developing in the future. The root causes of immigration must be the focus. Our immigrants must be welcomed.
We also particularly call on individuals in Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Department of Homeland Security, especially Catholics in these institutions to withdraw their cooperation from these unjust orders. There are effective ways to slow-down or obstruct the process, and even to directly refuse to separate the children. We understand the risks this can pose for those involved. We see you as brothers and sisters. If requested and as possible, we will try to facilitate direct discussions with you and pastoral care while you discern these difficult decisions as Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv. recently suggested at the June 2018 Bishops’ meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We will also try as possible to mobilize resources to support you if such risks materialize into difficult consequences. Yet, know that you will become heroes for justice.
The power of a community resides in the spiritual guidance of the Spirit and in the cooperation of the people. If we allow the Spirit to guide us and we refuse to cooperate in injustice, then the leaders cannot implement this policy of separating children. We have the power if we choose to use it.
Several Catholic groups have opposed President Trump’s nominee for director of the Central Intelligence Agency, saying Gina Haspel’s role in overseeing torture disqualifies her, according to “basic moral standards for human dignity.”
The move marks a rare instance of Catholic activists opposing a government nominee, rather than addressing specific policy questions.
“Confirming someone who actively supervised torture to be CIA Director would send a very unhealthy, unethical, and anti-rule of law message to the world,” said a May 7 letter sent to all U.S. senators ahead of Haspel’s confirmation hearings, which begin Wednesday.
“Our friends and allies would question our opposition to torture, and tyrants and dictators would once again point to us to justify their own use of torture,” the letter said.
The letter was signed by Pax Christi USA, a national Catholic peace organization, and groups representing religious men and women, including the Conference of Major Superiors of Men and Network, a Catholic social justice lobby.
Other signers included the Franciscan Action Network, Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns, National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, USC Province of the Society of the Sacred Heart and the Institute Justice Team of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.
“Catholic social teaching is clearly against the practice of torture because it violates human dignity, and it is certainly not in accord with Jesus’ way of reconciliation and love of enemies,” Eli McCarthy, director of justice and peace for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, told NCR.
McCarthy cited Pope John Paul II’s 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor, which condemned physical and mental torture as intrinsic evils.
Silver Spring, Md. – We are moved by the anxiety and suffering of the Dreamers to escalate our accompaniment and our resistance to injustice, especially as the March 5th deadline approaches. On Friday Feb. 23rd, Catholic leaders from the religious conferences of the U.S. (Conference of Superiors of Men and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious), Mexico, Caribbean and Latin American Confederation of Religious, and Canada crossed borders to meet for the first time as a group, and journeyed to the border wall at Sasabe, AZ. We offered a prayer service for Dreamers as well as all our migrant sisters and brothers. We sensed the deep pain of their struggles and the desire in us for our country to build bridges, not walls between communities and countries. We heard from a Samaritan leader in Tucson about how immigrants continue to die in the desert and more walls mean more deaths.
Religious leaders participating in the encounter were Fr. Brian Terry, SA, Fr. Mark Padrez, OP, Fr. Roberto Salvidar-Ureno, MSpS, and Fr. John Pavlik, OFM Cap from the U.S. Conference of Superiors of Men, Sr. Teresa Maya, CCVI, Sr. Sharlet Ann Wagner, CSC, and Sr. Carole Shinnick, SSND, from the U.S. Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Sr. Clara Alcantara Torres, ME, Br. Francisco Flores, FSC, and Fr. Gerardo Maya Gonzalez, MJ from the Conference of Major Superiors of Religious in Mexico (CIRM), Sr. Mercedes Leticia Casas Sanchez, FSpS from the Caribbean and Latin American Confederation of Religious (CLAR), along with Br. Louis Cinq-Mars, OFM Cap and Sr. Michelle Payette, MIC from the Canadian Religious Conference.
Sr. Clara Alcantara, ME: “Thank you for allowing us to participate in this experience of solidarity and presence with the reality of migration and dreamers. In religious life we have to be where there are no signs of the kingdom and actions such as today are steps to create chains of encounter and prayer.”
Sr. Teresa Maya, CCVI: “Standing on the US-Mexico Border contemplating the miles of desert where thousands of migrants have died in an effort to get to a better life I prayed for our Church. I prayed because I realized what losing DACA means. We could fail the young men and women who deserve the basic human rights of work, education, and legal personality. But I prayed for all Christians everywhere to stand up and refuse to fail our fellow human beings by the complicity of silence. This would be the greater moral failure, to remain silent when human dignity is being refused.”
Sr. Michelle Payette, MIC: “At the foot of this wall, in the desert, we prayed in solidarity with Dreamers and migrants. The text of Leviticus 19: 33-34 guided our prayer: If a foreigner resides with you in your land, you will not mistreat them. The foreigner who resides with you will be for you like your compatriot and you will love them as yourself, for you have been strangers in the land of Egypt. I am Yahweh your God.”
Fr. John Pavlik, OFM Cap: “Praying at the border of Mexico and the United States, with the steel and concrete wall running far onto the horizon, and standing shoulder to shoulder with women and men religious from Mexico, Canada, and the United States, allowed us to touch a periphery, a narrow space but opening to wide, empty spaces where real persons have perished in braving harsh, unforgiving landscape in order to escape harsh and deadly social conditions. How many of the citizens of the three countries represented at the wall in Sasabe came to another land for similar reasons? As women and men of the Gospel, we could not close our ears to the cry of the downtrodden nor could we close our eyes to persons hurting; let not our country want to become cruel again by evicting those who endured great pain to escape worst. We are much better than this self-protective impulse.”
Together, we renew our commitment to act in concrete, courageous solidarity with Dreamers and all our migrant sisters and brothers across the Americas. This Tuesday Feb. 27th in the U.S. we will be participating in the Catholic Day of Action with Dreamers. We strongly encourage our fellow Catholics to participate in this day and for our Catholic congressional representatives to take a leadership role in passing a clean Dream Act.
The Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM) supports and offers resources for U.S. leaders of Catholic men’s religious institutes. CMSM promotes dialogue and collaboration on issues of religious life as well as peace and justice issues with major groups in church and society. There are more than 17,000 religious priests and brothers in the United States.
CMSM was a signatory to a recent statement signed by 751 leaders of Catholic organizations, religious orders and justice and peace committees which challenges President Trump’s threat to “totally destroy” North Korea and his efforts to repudiate the Iran deal negotiated by the Obama administration.
The following information comes to us by way of Sr. Joan Mumaw of Friends in Solidarity, the U.S. partner to solidarity with South Sudan. Their offices are part of the shared building with CMSM.
This is what many are saying about South Sudan. Reading newspaper accounts of the ongoing violence, which began as a power struggle between political leaders and rekindled unresolved ethnic hostilities, one would think there is no hope for peace in this new country.
There are, however many peace-making initiatives taking place both inside and beyond the borders of South Sudan. The government has initiated a National Dialogue on reconciliation and peace which is now holding regional gatherings. The South Sudan Council of Churches has received funding from the US Government, through Catholic Relief Services, to develop peace building initiatives at all levels. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development, IGAD, comprised of the countries surrounding South Sudan, has taken the initiative to hold talks with the opposition leader, Riek Machar, who is being held captive in South Africa. IGAD is also hosting meetings in Ethiopia with the hope of bringing opposing sides together and honoring the August 2015 Agreement.
With the splintering of the SPLA, the national army, and emergence of local militias, there are no longer just two “sides.” Any peace initiative needs to deal with all the factions and include not only government leaders, but also civil society, women and the youth.
The greatest potential for peace making is the country’s rich heritage of community-led peace processes. The churches are well positioned to assist local communities coming together to resolve local conflicts and reflect on the larger conflict besetting the nation. Bishop Emeritus, Paride Taban, from Torit Diocese, has established the Kuron Peace Village and called on leaders from the area to gather in the village to engage in processes leading to reconciliation and forgiveness.
Solidarity with South Sudan, working with the National Pastoral Director, is introducing the concept of active non-violence to groups of women, young adults, diocesan pastoral leaders and clergy – building awareness and skills over a three year period. In turn, these groups will plan together for similar workshops at the local level. Sr Annette St. Amour, IHM, a member of the training team, writes, “A quality of the South Sudanese people is resilience. Month after month, year after year they have been living in the midst of conflict, insecurity, poverty, hunger and now hyperinflation with the rising cost of food and basic necessities. They express being ‘sick and tired’ of war and conflict.” They are open to any initiatives which will end the conflict and are eager to learn skills to avoid conflict in the future.
We invite religious communities to join with the South Sudanese people in praying for peace with this Prayer for South Sudan. You can also access the Advent Brochures at Advent Journey. To make a tax deductible donation in support of Solidarity peace-building initiatives click here.
The University of San Diego’s Frances G. Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture hosted a conference recently. It was entitled “The Catholic Church Moves Towards Nonviolence? Just Peace/Just War in Dialogue,” and brought together peace activists, theorists and military educators for the purpose of dialogue, listening and to gain a better understanding of each other’s viewpoints.
Highlighting the weekend was the participation of Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, archbishop emeritus of the Cape Coast and current prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, and his Oct. 7 talk, “Christian Nonviolence and Just Peace.”
As Catholic religious leaders in the U.S., CMSM is sick with grief and disgust at the recent decision by the administration to put children and young people in abrupt uncertainty by ending DACA. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program provides work authorization and temporary protection from deportation to about 780,000 people who were brought to the United States as children. We have already heard reports of DACA students so disoriented by this decision that they have risked suicide. Further, the decision not only puts these children of God at risk of deportation in the near future but also even death in unknown, often dangerous countries.
Over 90% of these youth have graduated high school and nearly 90% are employed. If a legislative fix is truly desired then the administration should work with Congress rather than throw these children and young adults into turmoil. Our leaders should be asking what is justice rather than exact a narrow obsession with the apparent rule of law. It is simply not justice to further marginalize the vulnerable. God calls us to care for immigrants and treat them “no differently than the natives born among you.” (LV 19:34).
CMSM Executive Director, Rev. John Pavlik, OFM Cap. proclaims, “The President and Congress are playing the welfare and the lives of children, young people, and families against legislators who have shirked their responsibilities to provide the citizens of the United States an immigration policy worthy of the principles on which our society and our government are based. The moment to act justly and rightly is now.”
We see once again that we can no longer rely solely on phone calls, emails, statements, meetings with politicians, and spirited vigils or rally’s. We need to tap further into the creativity of prayer driven nonviolent resistance. In accord with our recent CMSM resolution on Gospel Nonviolence, we lift up our commitment to “solidarity and protection through accompaniment and nonviolent resistance for vulnerable immigrants.”
On August 3, 2017, the national assembly of the leaders of U.S. Catholic men’s religious institutes overwhelming approved the resolution “Gospel Nonviolence: The Way of the Church.” Extending the fruit and work of the Nonviolence and Just Peace conference in Rome 2016, this resolution commits and calls members of the CMSM to “use both our individual charisms and experience as religious leaders to 1) significantly build up nonviolent practices and a culture of nonviolence; and 2) to invite Pope Francis to offer an encyclical on nonviolence, which would include a shift to a just peace approach for transforming conflict.”
Many of our members have religious brothers courageously serving and creatively practicing nonviolence in zones of violent conflict in the U.S. and around the world, such as South Sudan, Syria, Iraq, and El Salvador. We see the violence in our streets, the structural violence of massive inequality and preparations for war, and the cultural violence of some political discourse, all white supremacy, and lack of basic respect for others who disagree with us.
CMSM President, Very Rev. Brian Terry, SA says “We need always to remember the words of Pope Francis which reminds us that if we are not giving witness to the Gospel of Christ we are giving testimony to something else.”
The resolution celebrates Pope Francis’ 2017 World Day of Peace Message which affirmed that “true followers of Jesus embrace his teaching about nonviolence” and called us to “make active nonviolence our way of life.” The resolution commits members and calls the broader Catholic Church to regularly pray for conversion and confess our own violence; to educate about Gospel nonviolence and a just peace approach; to train, advocate, and invest in building up nonviolent practices such as restorative justice, unarmed civilian protection, nonviolent resistance, and nonviolent civilian-based defense; as well as to offer solidarity and protection through accompaniment and nonviolent resistance for immigrants, oppressed religious and ethnic minorities, and other marginalized persons. Finally, it commits us and calls the Catholic Church to de-legitimate war by building up alternatives to the violence of lethal force and moving away from justifying war. Further, it commits us to advance Vatican II’s call to “outlaw war” by moving away from just war reasoning and toward a just peace approach for transforming conflict.
U.S. Bombing in Syria: We Must Break Free from Retaliation
President Trump recently launched 59 cruise missiles at an air base in Syria in retaliation for an alleged chemical weapons attack within Syria. We, who are called to be Catholic religious leaders, mourn for all those that died in both of these incidents, and we denounce this use of violence which only exacerbates the habits and structures of violence. In fact, these habits and structures are part of the core root causes of this conflict, which has already killed over 300,000 people and led to almost 5 million refugees and 7 million internally displaced persons.
The President has continuously emphasized the “rule of law” and yet in this case it appears that he obtained no congressional approval, nor did he allow for formal due process investigating the facts of the incident. We strongly support the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ investigation into this incident and call on all parties to provide access.
As Christians, we go deeper and turn to the example of Jesus who courageously resisted injustice, even with his very life, and offered compassionate and merciful justice humanity could not imagine. This week we enter into the Paschal Mystery of Jesus facing the violent structures of Jerusalem, risking his life, and providing a way to overcome through his nonviolent cross.
Pope Francis has clearly said that, “countering violence with violence leads at best to forced migrations and enormous suffering, because vast amounts of resources are diverted to military ends and away from the everyday needs of young people, families experiencing hardship, the elderly, the infirm and the great majority of people in our world. At worst, it can lead to the death, physical and spiritual, of many people, if not of all” (Nonviolence: A Style of Politics for Peace, Jan. 1, 2017). Thus, he called on all persons, especially government officials to use the Sermon on the Mount as the manual for peacemaking and to apply the Beatitudes in the exercise of their responsibilities.
CMSM Executive Director Fr. John Pavlik, OFM Cap., says, “Our hearts were broken as we learned of the suffering inflicted upon Syrian families and children with chemical weapons. And our hearts were wounded a second time in a violent response with cruise missiles bombing, destroying, and killing yet more. The US response manifested strong military power but showed nothing of a united will to lift, rescue, and save suffering people from the ravages of war. The US can be so much better than this.”
The issue we must face is not simply chemical weapons, but war itself along with the habits and structures of violence that enable it. The U.S. has too often been involved in killing thousands in recent wars, especially civilians and children, as we have seen most recently in Mosul, Iraq and our direct support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen. As we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech “Beyond Vietnam” on April 4th, we are reminded of his words that “war is not a just way of settling differences,” and it cannot be “reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love.” Hence, we recommit to Vatican II’s call that “it is our clear duty to strain every muscle to outlaw war” (Pastoral Constitution, 81). Further, we commit to Pope Francis’ call to make “every effort to build peace through active and creative nonviolence” (Nonviolence: Style of Politics for Peace) as we create a “culture of nonviolence…that has produced decisive results” (Letter to Bishop Cupich, Apr. 4, 2017).
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