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Living the Eucharist through encounter, racial and economic justice

We are bringing the power of the Eucharist to the neighborhood as we seek to encounter and work for racial and economic justice.
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Our parish, St. Peter Claver Catholic Church, in New Orleans, LA, seeks to bring the Word of God and the transformative power of the Eucharist into the neighborhood around us. As members of the Micah Project, a faith-based community organization, we work with other faith institutions to address issues that impact our community, such as reducing mass incarceration, removing the check box on job applications which states, “I'm a convicted felon” (Ban the Box), the re-entry of returning citizens, and racial and economic justice. We are involved in community mediation efforts to facilitate dialogue with law enforcement and reduce racial bias in policing. Our participation in the Year of Encounter with Pope Francis program helped us to understand the connection between economic issues, such as wages, and racial justice. It also helped us to discover and support efforts in our community to seek a just wage for young people who are unemployed or under-employed. Following Pope Francis’ example, we participated in Micah’s foot-washing ceremony, which was across from City Hall, for persons in our community who are formerly incarcerated and homeless, as a gesture to these community members, and to local officials, of our desire for encounter and inclusion. As part of our current evangelization efforts, we are knocking on doors to encounter our neighbors and learn about their pastoral needs, their experiences with neighborhood safety, community-police relations, emergency response, transportation, blight, schools, and other issues. We will compile these results, provide assistance where needed, and share the information with our city government, law enforcement, and local leaders as we work together for safer and more equitable communities.

 

Witnessing to Faith and Love in Ferguson

In response to the shooting of Michael Brown, which occurred in our parish boundaries, we have engaged in numerous efforts for prayer, encounter, and honest conversations about peace, justice, racism, and our response in mercy. 
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After the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown and the unrest that followed, our parish of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, in Ferguson, MO, prayed for peace by holding a vigil night of prayer, twelve weekly gatherings to recite a Rosary for peace, and a prayerful procession to honor Brown and pray for our communities. As we discerned our response to the situation, we asked ourselves, “Are we the victim, or are we the chosen?” We decided that our response must be the latter.  We began a “Lean In” process to help all of us imitate Jesus’ example of compassionate listening to the stories and experiences of people of races and cultures different than our own. Each Sunday, we recite together a special “Lean In” prayer when we gather for the Eucharistic celebration.  Our parish has hosted numerous events to reflect on the sin of racism, which remains prevalent not only in our community, but around the United States. At the commissioning of paintings for our parish of two African American Catholics whose legacy inspires us, Fr. Augustus Tolton and Sr. Thea Bowman, we discussed and prayed together about how we can response to hatred, anger, and racism with love. We continue to discuss these holy examples and how they inspire us in our current context as we make a series of pilgrimages and prepare for a Week of Mercy, during which we will reflect on peace, justice, racism, and our response in mercy. One of our most creative responses, however, was when, inspired by Bishop Braxton’s The Racial Divide in the United States, our pastor engaged children in each grade level of our parish school to study holy men and women from a variety of cultural backgrounds, such as St. Martin de Porres, Sr. Kateri Tekawitha,  St. Juan Diego, Fr. Augustus Tolton and Sr. Thea Bowman. Each class then performed a dramatization of different saints’ lives as part of an all-school Mass, in which the parents also participated. This engaged families in conversation about the holy men and women, their lives, and their application to today’s reality.  These witnesses of faith and love are now featured in a Hall of Fame Wall. The wall depicts visually the pride and dignity with which we hope our children will engage in dialogue and peace. 

 

Homilies inspire our parish to be missionary disciples

Our pastor uses the Sunday homily to reflect on the ways Scripture calls us to live our faith by loving God and neighbor.
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Our pastor uses the Sunday homily as an opportunity to reflect on the ways that Scripture calls us to live our faith in our community. Father writes his homilies influenced by the social teachings of the Church and issues that our Social Justice Ministry and other ministries are involved in at our parish. This approach ensures that the social mission of the Church permeates our parish life, even our worship. Topics range from Faithful Citizenship to immigration reform and global solidarity. The homilies are true teaching moments and ground us in prayer and the scriptural call to do justice.

 

Friendship with visiting priest becomes a parish-wide cultural embrace

When our parish befriended visiting priests from Ghana, we were motivated to start a project to understand and celebrate Ghanaian culture, as well as funding health care in Ghana.

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Our relationship with Ghana began when our parish community of Our Lord Christ the King befriended a visiting priest from Obuasi, Ghana. As our parishioners developed a relationship with him, they soon felt compelled to assist the Ghanaian people as well. Our Ghana Health Care Project donates money to help Ghanaian families access health care. We also began to appreciate Ghanaian culture. Our eyes were opened to the beauty of the universal church when we celebrated a Ghanaian cultural mass with petitions for the people of Ghana and a reception with Ghanaian food and music. Our embrace of the Ghanaian culture has helped us appreciate the diversity within our own parish and in the global Church.

 

Social justice pilgrimages help students live call to faith, peace and justice

Our students participate in social justice pilgrimages focusing on civil rights in the U.S. South, immigration on the border, and the conflict in the Holy Land. The students pray, reflect and learn before, during and after the pilgrimages.
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We believe that God is calling each and every one of our students at Lewis University to be an instrument of faith, peace, and justice in this world. To help them realize this call, we host social justice pilgrimages focusing on three different issues: civil rights in the U.S. South, immigration at the U.S-Mexico Border, and the Israel-Palestine conflict in the Holy Land. Before each trip we offer a course which prepares them for the experience. In class, students pray together, go over the details of the trip, reflect on their spiritual journey, learn about the history of relevant social justice issues, and talk about how those issues are currently affecting our world today. When they return from the trips, students share their experiences with other students, faculty, and staff through stories and reflections. This year, Campus Ministry and the History Department are coordinating a week-long Civil Rights Pilgrimage which travels to over 15 famous civil-rights related sites, including the National Civil Rights Museum, in Memphis, TN and the Birmingham jail, in Birmingham, AL. We hope to show students that this amazing movement in American history was inspired by an unwavering faith in God and that they too have the power to be stewards for peace and justice in the world.

 

Seeking criminal justice reform and abolition of the death penalty in Texas

We pray and advocate to stop the use of Capitol Punishment in the state of Texas.
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We pray and advocate for an end to the death penalty because we believe that mercy truly does triumph over judgment. An initiative of the Texas Catholic Conference, we raise public awareness and provoke collaboration on the issues of criminal justice and the death penalty across the state. Our goal is to bring about policy changes that reflect the mercy of God for those who have sinned and sought forgiveness. In our state, which has the highest number of executions carried out each year, we seek legislative action to stop the use of the death penalty, request stays of execution, and offer prayers for each execution conducted in Texas.

 

Bishop leads prayer walks, helps parishes address causes of violence

Parishes participate in Bishop Madden's prayer walks as part of broader efforts for peace.
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Years prior to the death of Freddie Gray and the unrest that followed, one of our auxiliary bishops, Bishop Madden, began leading prayer walks in the neighborhoods of West Baltimore that are plagued by violence. The walks begin at parishes, such as St. Gregory the Great, St. Bernardine, St. Peter Claver, and others, in order to emphasize that we begin with Christ in the sanctuary and then bring his presence into the streets. A cross leads the procession and we sing as we go, stopping at several locations—often where shootings have recently occurred—for Scripture readings, testimonials, and intercession. We also stop to pray at places of hope in the community, such as job readiness and rehabilitation centers. We complement our prayer with work to address the causes of violence, such as drug addiction, pervasive poverty, access to quality education and healthcare, joblessness, and dismantled families. Many parishes put faith in action through offering social services. Others are involved in local organizing and advocacy to ensure that communities have access to the resources they need. A few parishes have worked to support centers where neighborhood conflicts are resolved by people in the community who are trained to broker peace.

 

As executions continue, youth pray for life and dignity

Our youth pro-life team organizes prayer for our parish community when an execution takes place.
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At St. Catherine of Siena, our Youth Pro-Life team meets monthly to engage in pro-life issues from “womb to tomb,” including abortion, human trafficking, euthanasia, and the death penalty. Our youth team takes the lead in organizing prayer for our parish community whenever an execution is taking place in the state of Texas. The youth lead all who gather in praying the Rosary for Mercy. Praying together helps our community reflect and act on our Catholic commitment to protecting the life and dignity of all God’s children, no matter who they are or what they have done. Our prayer together leads to challenging but respectful conversation about human life and dignity and our call as Catholics.

 

Justice-themed popular religious celebrations lead to wide Hispanic engagement

We incorporate social justice concerns into many of the popular events that our people celebrate, such as holding a border Mass on e Día de los Muertos.
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The Diocese of El Paso is along the border and 86% of the population in our diocese is Hispanic. We incorporate concern for social justice into many of the popular religious events that our people celebrate. Each year, during November, when we celebrate our faithful departed on el Día de los Muertos, the bishops of El Paso, Las Cruces, and Ciudad Juarez celebrate a Mass on the border fence separating our two countries. About 300 people gather on each side of the border to remember those who have died trying to cross the border, to announce the Gospel values of life, love, and compassion, to celebrate solidarity, and to pray for immigration reform. During Advent, we hold migrant posadas. During Lent, we have a migrant Way of the Cross. During ordinary time, we encourage parishes to pray a migrant Rosary.  Another way that we form our people in Catholic social teaching is by holding a training for parish leaders called “La justicia social es evangelización, or “Social Justice is Evangelization.” This rooting of our social justice activities in popular forms of prayer and in the language of evangelization has helped us create the groundwork for growing involvement in advocacy around immigration and other social concerns.

 

Praying and acting to fight racism and division

As the nation faced unrest after the Ferguson and New York City court decisions, we held a candlelight vigil and mass to pray for peace, justice and an end to racism.
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Our students care about promoting unity by embracing cultural and ethnic diversity on our campus and in our nation. Following the national unrest after the court decisions in Ferguson, MO and New York City, The Black Students’ Alliance of The Catholic University of America led an effort, in partnership with Campus Ministry to hold a candlelight prayer vigil and Mass for peace and justice. Student leaders spoke about the need to fight racism and division on our campus and in our nation. We sang hymns and walked in silent procession across campus to honor the victims of violence. Our campus chapel was standing room only for our Mass in honor of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of our country. We were called to recognize the way our individual action or inaction contributes to or hinders peace and respect for human dignity in our communities. Our university continues to promote unity and cultural diversity through our language and cultural student organizations, Campus Ministry, and the Office of Campus Activities. OCA produces intercultural programming, multi-cultural leadership training, culture and justice discussions, an intercultural speaker series, and educational opportunities on developing critical consciousness to avoid cultural stereotypes and assumptions.

 

Discovering solidarity through mutual encounter in Guatemala

Our parish and our sister parish in Guatemala mutually encounter, support, and pray for each other.
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Our parish, Queenship of Mary, has built up an ongoing friendship with the parish of Santa Cruz in Chiquimulilla, Guatemala. Through discernment by representatives of both communities, we decided together to develop a microfinance program in the village of La Morena, which is part of the parish of Santa Cruz. We send parishioners on bi-annual delegations to Santa Cruz and La Morena, and their pastor and some parishioners have visited our parish, leading to lasting friendships. In between visits, we strengthen our unity through correspondence and Skype gatherings, observing each community’s special feast days, intercessions, bilingual songs, and by using palm branches from Guatemala on Palm Sunday. In the words of one of our parishioners, “I did not understand what solidarity really means until I went to Guatemala.”

 

Catholics gather to pray and act for an end to trafficking

Each year, Catholics in our Archdiocese gather on the World Day of Peace to pray and commit to action. The 2015 theme was human trafficking.
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Each year, we invite Catholics in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to gather for a special Mass on the World Day of Peace, which is Jan. 1 each year.  In 2015, the theme of Pope Francis’ message for the day was “Slaves no more, but brothers and sisters.”  During the Mass, we prayed and reflected on modern-day slavery, and we included in the celebration the organizations, 9 religious communities, and 11 area high schools, who are active in working to end forms of modern-day slavery in the Archdiocese.   We see the World Day of Peace as an opportunity to gather as one Body in Christ to pray for peace, and then “live” the Eucharist by seeking to end trafficking and exploitation in our community. Our Mass is co-sponsored by the Archdiocesan offices for Catholic Social Action, Worship, and Mission.