Friday, August 19, 2016

No Exceptions

By Andrea Koverman, SC

As the program manager of a small nonprofit education and advocacy center in Cincinnati, you could safely say that I am up to my elbows in social justice issues. Actually, it often seems more like I’m keeping my head barely above the surface! Planning and hosting events around human trafficking, capital punishment, and racism are all a part of my daily ministry, and there is certainly no end of the work to be done in sight. Sometimes it feels as though I am bouncing from one insurmountable injustice to another, and I struggle to stay grounded and peaceful. It’s times like that when a line from a prayer or piece of Scripture serve as a mantra that connects all that I’m doing, making it feel less fractured and overwhelming and reminding me that we really only have one mission. I received an unexpected and very special gift of just such a reminder in the mail a few weeks ago.

IJPC had just held the fourth gathering in a continuing initiative called Rethinking Racism, which is a series of open space community forums that provide a safe place for people interested in having honest but challenging conversations about our continuing struggle with racism. A local reporter joined us that evening and I spent a good bit of time with him after the event talking about how things were going. We shared with each other our frustrations and deepening sadness about what seems like a lack of progress in overcoming systemic and institutionalized racism. He published an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer shortly after, and included a quote from me in which I say that though some of us haven’t realized it yet, all people lose in a racist society. White privilege keeps us from experiencing it in the oppressive, painful, and sometimes lethal ways that our nonwhite community members do, but the lives of white people are also severely diminished as members of a society that keeps us separated, ignorant and fearful of one another. We too, lose out on the richness and vibrancy of a diverse community. We too, are affected by the blatant disrespect and disregard of human dignity when our brown and black sisters and brothers are treated unkindly and unjustly. 

A week or so later, I was preparing myself emotionally to make a visit to Kentucky’s Death Row. A group of religious sisters from different communities have been making an annual trip for years and invited me to join them. They have earned the trust of the prison officials and are allowed a “contact” visit where the inmates are in the same room with the visitors, and not kept behind a glass window as usual. Though I wanted very much to go, there was a part of me that resisted. A voice in my head kept reminding me that I was going to be locked in a room full of people who had committed horrible violent crimes, and I had to wonder a little at myself for doing that by choice. I was clearing off my bed so I could actually get in it to go to sleep that night, and noticed a piece of mail I hadn’t opened. It was a note from one of our long-time Associate members, Liz Maxwell. She had cut out the newspaper article I mentioned above and written to tell me that she was proud of IJPC and of the work I was doing. She also included a colorful artful rendition of a quote by Blessed Frances Schervier (who founded the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor to serve the neediest of the needy). It read, “Love all without distinction.” There was that unifying and edifying intonation I was so in need of at that very moment, and how very grateful I was for it! I could now answer that pesky little voice that was asking me, “Why go?” with confidence, “Because we are called to love all without distinction, and that’s what I’m trying to do!”

In the weeks that have followed, “Love all without distinction,” is the mantra often on my lips. It has helped me navigate from that death row visit to a Black Lives Matter march of nearly 5,ooo people, to the Circle the City With Love prayer event before the Republican Convention in Cleveland, to the memorial we hosted for the victims of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan 71 years ago, as well as the 160 million civilian casualties of war since then. I serve and pray for people who have the same perspective as me and for those who don’t, for both the victims and the perpetrators of crime, war, and racism as I try to live out my call following the way of Jesus to love all I encounter. I even said it as I pulled over to rescue a box turtle in the middle of the road as I left the prison that day, thinking, “All includes you too, little brother!” 

IJPC website:

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

God reminds us to UNITE

By Sr. Carlette Gentle

I was all set with my topic of writing about my experience of retreat this summer.  Then I returned back home and in a couple days we were facing the threat of a tropical storm hitting my home town of Belize.  Of course some of us took it lightly. It might just bring some rains and wind.  We have been faced with hurricanes before, but somehow it seems like it always misses the city.  However this time, the tropical storm was supposed to increase in strength just before making landfall.  The central point where the eye of the hurricane would hit?  You got it - Belize City.  So on Wednesday, August 3, 2016, Belize City was hit by what is now known as Hurricane Earl.  Earl brought winds of above eighty miles per hour along with heavy rains and tidal waves of 4 to 7 feet.  My community and I have the pleasure of living in front of the Caribbean Sea.  Therefore when a hurricane is upon us, we seek safer grounds.  We decided to evacuate more inland since the coast was predicted to get hit.    

We moved inland to Cayo, one of our six districts.  Even inland we had winds hitting us at about 60+ miles an hour accompanied by heavy rains.  At about 12:06pm the TV I was watching to keep up with the storm went out, the fan stopped.  You guessed it power outage.  We were in total darkness. The only thing left to listen to was the sound of the drastic wind, heavy rains on the zinc roofing and debris flying around.  I couldn’t sleep. I laid in the sofa with my ears attuned to all that was happening around me.  I was praying.  And when it sounded like the roof was lifting up in the apartment we were staying in I prayed like mad.  The wind and rain continued for what seemed like forever. Later on I learnt that hurricane Earl was moving 20 miles per hour but slowed down just before hitting the Country.  So it went from twenty miles per hour to fourteen miles per hour.  Around 4:30am the winds subsided and rained eased.  I thought to myself, we made it through and I sighed a sigh of relief.  

When we got back to the City, I realized how much damage was done.  There were down powerlines, houses fell off their foundations or were collapsed, roofing was flung all over the street like paper, homes were flooded with several feet of water and thick layers of mud. Century old trees were down and fruits scattered everywhere.  The population was in shock and wondered what would happen next.  And then the uniting was evident.

People came together to assist each other.  Power saws were borrowed, brooms and energy were lent, water shared, tears were shed, hugs and embraces were given and a huge thank you to God that all lives were spared. It was evident that people were grateful.

So after all of this, my message is that we can unite.  We can be there for our neighbours. We can look beyond the boundaries of religion, race, cultural backgrounds, economic status, family feuds, education levels, age, etc. and see our brothers and sisters for who they really are “Children of God”.  We as a people can look beyond ourselves to reach out to others to show the unity and love that God so wants us to exhibit.  “WE CAN” do this and sometimes it takes a disaster to make us aware of this.  

We in Belize are thankful for your continued prayers during the hurricane and also as we aim to recover some level of normalcy.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Coming Home

By Sr. Cecilia Harriendorf

"If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion, 
             and avoid the people, you might better stay home."
                                                                         James A. Michener

I love this James Michener quote . . . The Pulitzer Prize winning author captures, with humor, some of the tension and many of the challenges associated with traveling.  

I've been away from home for some time now - bringing student nurses to Guatemala since 2011 and living here, full-time, for the past three years.  This brief reflection is to let you know that I have returned to the United States.  

Living in a different culture, learning another language, being in relationship with new people and observing other ways of doing things is never easy.  Still, the past three years has been an incredible experience and I look to the future with a respectful nod to the past. 

I will always remember the kind, loving and hard working Guatemalan people who have welcomed me into their lives.  And, perhaps I'll take things a little less for granted.  Simple, basic needs, such as having enough food to eat, and clean running water and sufficient electrical power are rarely taken for granted in rural Guatemala.  

Introducing students, adult volunteers, Associates and Sisters to the people here and to our various Sister of Charity activities has been a privilege and a joy.

As of August 1st, I will live and work at Saint Patrick Villa, a Sister of Charity convent in Nanuet, New York.  Home for 15 semi-retired Sisters, these women enjoy a wide variety of backgrounds - in education, science, the arts, administration, etc. and each is a living example of what it means to be "Charity Alive" in the world.  I look forward to sharing prayer, community and ministry with them - and with you - in the years ahead.

Let's stay in touch and never stop exploring ways that we can provide service to a world in need of all the goodness and kindness it can get. After all, you don't have travel around the world in order to help shape it for the better.  

Enjoy the summer and, wherever you go, happy traveling.
Lots of love,
Your sister Ceil 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Mary of Magdala: 2016

By Alice Ann O’Neill, SC

Mary Magdalene: Disciple of Jesus! Apostle to the Apostles! Myrrh-Bearer! Prophet! Witness! Mary is remembered in many ways by Christians but perhaps her best title is Friend of Jesus!

Mary came from a town called Magdala, which was located near the modern day Israeli town of Migdal. Mary’s town of Magdala was on the western coast of the Sea of Galilee (now the Sea of Tiberias) with the hills of Mount Arbel as its backdrop. Incidentally, Mary’s ancient town is currently being unearthed through a large archeological project ( Magdala was near to Capernaum, the epicenter of Jesus’ three-year ministry. Where Mary came from is the reason for one of her new titles, Mary of Magdala, instead of referring to her as Mary Magdalene (meaning reformed prostitute). 

I recently read The Gospel of Mary of Magdala by Harvard Divinity school professor Karen King. This book is not exactly “spiritual reading” because you need to wade through it like a large academic article but it certainly was a fascinating story. I have often wondered why the writings of the women at the beginning of Christianity are not extant for us to learn from and grow spiritually through their perspective. Since I am a reformed conspiracy theorist, I will not mention that I had a theory that these women’s writings do exist and are locked away deep in the basement of the Vatican. The Holy Spirit helped a few words from Mary of Magdala to surface a few decades ago.  Maybe Pope Francis can go on a walk in the Vatican’s sub-sub basement someday and find some more writings for us.

King’s book begins with a full translation of the extant words from the scrolls that were discovered in Egypt. Here are a few excerpts which spoke to me:

Jesus said, “Peace be with you! Acquire my peace within yourselves! For the child of true Humanity exists within you. Follow it! Those who search for it will find it.”

After the resurrection, Jesus said to Mary, “I saw you. You did not see me nor did you know me. You mistook the garment I wore for my true self. And you did not recognize me.”

Mary of Magdala said, “Do not weep and be distressed nor let your hearts be irresolute. For his grace will be with you all and will shelter you. Rather we should praise his greatness, for he has prepared us and made us true Human beings.”

Peter said, “Sister, we know that the Savior loved you more than all other women. Tell us the words of the Savior that you remember, the things which you know that we don’t because we haven’t heard them.”

Mary of Magdala said, “From this hour on…I will receive rest in silence.”

When I professed my perpetual vows as a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati, the Gospel I chose for the mass was the Resurrection when Jesus meets Mary of Magdala in the garden outside His tomb (John 20: 11-18). Jesus says Mary’s name and in that moment, she recognizes Jesus. When my mother calls out my name in a large, noisy crowd, I recognize her voice. I have heard her voice since I was in her womb. I know her. When my dear, close friend calls me by my name, I always smile then turn around and speak to her. I love to hear her say my name because she knows me – the true me. I love to remember through the Resurrection story that Jesus knows me deeply and intimately and calls me by my name in every moment. My hope is that in calling out Jesus’ name in prayer, that moment by moment through my life, I will know Jesus more deeply and intimately like His friend, Mary of Magdala.

This painting by Akiane is how I imagine Jesus looked
when he said, "Mary!" in the garden outside the tomb.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Riding for Justice, Propelled by the Holy Spirit

By Sr. Mary Ellen Lacy

In 2012, I was working as the healthcare and immigration lobbyist for Network, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby in Washington, D.C.   In Spring of that year, Paul Ryan released his budget.   It was readily apparent that he planned to balance the budget on the backs of the Poor.  His budget block granted Medicaid, stripped Pell grants and decimated other human dignity programs.  It was simply horrible.  To make matter worse, he said it was consistent with the Catholic faith.  It was just too much to take sitting down.  We in D.C.  knew a moral budget was possible because many social justice organizations in D.C. had already come together to write a Faithful Budget.  We were planning for its release around this time in order to counter his approach; namely, that more should be taken from impoverished folks.

Within days of this budget “crisis”, Network celebrated our 40th anniversary.  Imagine! It had been 40 years since 47 sisters went to our nation’s capital to address the needs of the Poor with their Congressmen. As I have been told, the plan was to stay and lobby for one or two weeks.  At the end of the planned time period, it was apparent to all that some should stay back and continue the political fight for justice for those who live in poverty.  They recognized that our Poor needed a constant amplification of Their voice.  So, two sisters, funded with $87.00, remained in D.C. to speak up for the disenfranchised, the discounted and the dispirited in the United States.  That was the seedling company that became Network.

Oh, our anniversary party was grand.  We had activists and EJ Dionne speak.  Sisters and activists from all over came to celebrate the work we had, were and would continue to do.  We strategized how we could make ourselves better known and create a greater circle of interest in our work.  We worked in small groups and we prayed for the answer.

BAM! Within 10 days the answer arose like a puff of smoke.  The Vatican published the results of an assessment they had started 3-4 years earlier.  It was a simple 7 page assessment that cited the USA sisters for spending too much time in service to the Poor and not enough time speaking out about church dogma.

I remember how I found out about the assessment results.  Casey, from Faith in Public Life and our future bus director, emailed the USCCB press release to Shannon at Network. Shannon sent it around. I read this somewhat disappointing assessment of the USA nuns and noted that Network was pointed out as an agency that garnered Vatican suspicion. Huh.   I was 4 years vocation and I was working at a place that the Vatican was questioning.  I briefly wondered if my council knew.  My next reaction was to think that it was an old assessment from 3-4 years ago and to dismiss it.  Within an hour, the truth began to sink in.  Our organization, comprised of 8 people, had, indeed, captured the attention of the Vatican.  Whoa.  That cannot be good.  Or can it?

Activists from all over DC were concerned and deeply disappointed.  They loved Catholic sisters and spontaneously called and came to our offices to offer support.  A general meeting was scheduled to explore how we might best respond. What followed next was nothing shy of genius.

About 35 of us gathered in the Network lunch/meeting room.  The bigwigs of D.C. activism sat at the table seats and we lesser known folks were seated behind these experienced players.  At first, Catholics and non Catholics wanted to strike back at the church, citing its infractions vs. the sisters’ clean reputation.  We dismissed that idea rather quickly because tearing our church apart was not an option.  People bantered about various ideas.  Someone said that we should use our heightened publicity to serve the Poor and hold up the work sisters actually do.  Insodoing, we would be spotlighting the kinds of programs that Paul Ryan wanted to kill.  We could then introduce our faithful budget that protected the good works that sisters and other faith leaders perform.  This idea had a smooth political flow and it sparked interest.  It was then suggested that we should do a whistle stop train campaign that was done in early politics.  Then someone else said, “No, nuns drive school buses, it should be a bus”.  Everyone laughed but soon, the bus idea picked up speed.  Those of us in the back row looked askance at each other as if to say, these guys are nuts.  Then I said a silent prayer that my council would let me go.

By the end of this one meeting, it was decided that someone would get ahold of a known agency that did these kinds of campaigns.  We would also need more nuns to ride.  We noted that we could stay at sisters’ motherhouses along the way to save money on housing during the trip.  But we would have to strike fast to make the most of the publicity to save impoverished people from the Ryan budget. We would meet later to explore a name for our new endeavor.

Within 5-6 weeks the first Nuns on the Bus hit the road.   We had no idea what to expect and we did not have near the money we needed to set off on this trip.  But we believed we were following the call of the Holy Spirit to save the programs that help our brothers and sisters on the margins. So we took the risk.  And that was Catholic, Mr. Ryan.   We travelled the 8 swing states holding up the works that sisters performed with federal funding.  We took in stories of those who would be impacted by the deep cuts envisioned by Paul Ryan so we could take them back to D.C.   Thousands of people came out to stand with us and our impoverished sisters and brothers to say no more cuts to their programs.  We used all the stories to lobby Congress and cradled the resulting sentiments to propel our passion for justice.  That was an election year and all 8 states went blue.

That was 4 tours ago.  NETWORK’s Nuns on the Bus are hitting the road again – daring to call on elected officials and candidates to Mend the Gaps in income and wealth inequality in our nation. We will bring the bus to both the Republican and Democratic Conventions where we will educate people on the gaps that we are experiencing in our society and NETWORK’s proactive policy strategy that can bridge those divides. Our goal is to bring a politics of inclusion to divided places, change the conversation to mending the vast economic and social divides in our country, and counter political incivility with our message of inclusion. (see Network website)

I will be joining the bus in Toledo on Saturday, July 16, 2016, and I will ride through to the end.  I will ride again because I believe in a nation where all men can be given a chance to provide for their family in the manner and dignity in which God intended.  We can make that happen if we get people talking to each other and owning their responsibility to one another.   Congress is gridlocked.  Change, if it is to be had, will bubble up from hopeful springs of good neighbors at the ground level.  I hope to see you at one of our events.  Please pray for us.  We will be blogging from the bus to keep all “menders” up to date.  

Sunday, July 3, 2016

I am a Rebel.

By Sr. Paris Slapikas

A little while ago I was in a grocery store wearing an SCN REBEL T-shirt and a woman behind me in line commented on it.  She said the larger caption, "I am a Rebel," caught her attention and she was intrigued by the rest of the message. She explained that she had been a high school teacher in an inner city school in Philadelphia for many years and her experience of a rebel was a student who challenged any semblance of authority and didn't like to follow rules.  I smiled at her, remembering my experiences of working with street kids and vulnerable youth.  I told her I could appreciate how her image of a rebel had been formed but suggested that there are other, more mature and socially conscious ways to be a rebel. I went on to tell her that I was a Sister of Charity of Nazareth and these are values we embrace.

This encounter helped me in two ways.  First, it reminded me of the power of language and the importance of communicating the meaning behind our words and how our own experiences shape us and lead to certain understandings and assumptions.  Secondly, it challenged me to be mindful every day to choose to be a rebel.  The T-shirt is cool and it made for a good conversation piece; however, I am being called to act for justice, to share my time and talents, to live simply, to work for peace, and to do the right thing.  OUR WORLD NEEDS REBELS.     Are you a rebel?  If yes, how?

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Avanti - Moving Forward

By Rejane Cytacki, SCL

During these last six months, I have been searching for a new ministry, one that involves environmental education. The liminal space of not knowing where and what I would be doing is a hard space to be amidst the busyness of writing resumes and cover letters, job searching, and interviews. Yet, I knew I needed to remain in that uncomfortable space. So this spring when I received my copy of the LCWR reflective journal entitled “Avanti!”(Which means “forward” in Italian) many reflections resonated with me. 

There are two elements in the reflections that spoke to me about my liminal space. First that of waiting in hope and faith for the unseen future and second moving forward at the same time. While this may seem paradoxical both elements were present in my ministry search. I needed to be rooted in prayer and patient and yet doing the work necessary to allow the future to come to fruition.  I love the line from Bea Eichten’s, OSF reflection on page 17 that says, “God hears my “Yes” and draws me forward.” This is where my passion for care of creation intersects with God’s call. That call has drawn me forward to find a ministry at an eco-justice center allowing me to work in a life giving ministry in collaboration with another religious community.