Photo credit: Carolyn

Photo credit: Carolyn

By Sheila Read, Justice & Peace Specialist

A friend who is active in many of our ministries serving the poor recently confided that she was struggling. The situation with a family was heartbreaking –  and there wasn’t much she could do to change it.

Since July, our Support Circle team had been working hard, but without success, to help a homeless family find an affordable rental house. It’s a major challenge to find housing in Raleigh for a low-income family with four children – and a landlord generous enough to give a family with a history of eviction a second chance. The family is separated, with the mother and six-week old baby sleeping on a cousin’s couch. Recently, the engine blew up in their car, the vehicle the father depended on to get to work in Durham.

We want so badly to make things better for the family, but the incident was a reminder that so much is out of our control. Seeing my friend’s distress reminded me of the difficulty of getting involved in people’s lives, and brought back memories of why I burned out doing social work. We often end up as helpless witnesses to disappointment, hardship and tragedy.

What to do then? My husband is a former endurance cyclist who loves to say, “go harder.” But in times of suffering the stance I am learning to embrace is countercultural. I found a quote that I copied onto a whiteboard in my office: “Don’t just do something. Sit there.” To me, this means to pray, to practice breathing, to contemplate by watching my thoughts and worries and feelings come and go, trusting that all is well in the moment and all is in God’s hands. This is the practice of centering prayer. I find it much easier to talk about than to do.

The Franciscan friar Richard Rohr founded the Center for Action and Contemplation after working for years with social justice activists, who he realized often burned out and become angry, bitter or cynical. Rohr teaches about the importance of practicing a new consciousness grounded in experiencing the present moment as a gift from God. If we can quiet our worrying minds, let go of our plans of action, and step outside of our egos, we can learn to hold the paradox of our world – the simultaneous presence of the beauty of love and the ugliness of pain.

What does God ask of us? To be merciful as he is merciful. And often being merciful means learning to quiet our anxieties about doing enough, and to learn to praise God for what is.

Update: As of Saturday, Nov. 1, the family is housed in a rental home. 

 

Photo credit: James Balog

Photo credit: James Balog

“Our earth speaks to us and we must listen if we want to survive.” – Pope Benedict XVI

One signal from the Earth seems increasingly clear: Emissions of greenhouse gases are affecting the global climate. The Vatican also is clarifying its position on climate change: It’s real and humans have a moral responsibility to act.

The Catholic Church accepts the scientific consensus that the evidence for global warming is unequivocal, principally caused by humans, and that inaction carries great risks, said the Vatican’s representative to the September UN summit on climate change. In the last three years, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences has issued two reports affirming the reality of man-made climate change and recommending action. More than a decade ago, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (2001) described climate change as a serious problem that requires human action motivated by the virtue of prudence.

Climate change raises ethical and moral questions because it affects all people, particularly the poorest, who are most exposed to its effects, Cardinal Pietro Parolin testified to the recent UN summit on climate change. All people have a responsibility to protect creation for the common good of people across the globe and for future generations.

Since his inauguration, Pope Francis has consistently emphasized the importance of “protecting the environment,” which he said, “all too often, instead of using for the good, we exploit greedily, to one another’s detriment.”

The church has a special role to play in social action to address climate change. Scientific, technological, economic and political entities fail to adequately spur action because they don’t address the ethical reasons for action. In recent decades, globalization has resulted in a dawning awareness of the interdependence of the global community. The growth of ecological understanding has shown the interconnection between humans and all parts of the natural world.

Ethics brings in the principles of justice and equity, of care for others outside our immediate families. An ethical approach to climate change also challenges the Western materialistic lifestyle.

Pope Francis talks frequently about the evils of a “throwaway culture” and the “globalization of indifference.” In the modern throwaway culture, the idolatry of profit, money and consumerism lays waste to both the natural world and to people’s lives, especially the young, the elderly and people in developing countries.

Cardinal Parolin said that market forces, devoid of ethics, cannot solve the interrelated crises of poverty and the exclusion of most people from opportunity and treatment with human dignity. Questions of human dignity and values cannot be reduced to technical problems.

Confronting global warming will involve not only a global political effort but also a fundamental change in lifestyles and models of development, Parolin said. We must relearn to value people above things.  We must rediscover the value of the common good in shaping economic policies and build a future for the entire human family.

Pope Francis is said to be finalizing an encyclical on the environment that is expected to more thoroughly address climate change. In a homily in May, the pope urged people to nurture and safeguard creation as God’s greatest gift to us. Because while God always forgives, creation never forgives and – he warned – if we destroy creation, in the end it will destroy us.

Marcus & Jennifer's familyMarcus and Jennifer are expecting their first child together to be born Aug. 7. At a time when most expectant parents would be nesting and putting final touches on the baby’s room, the couple is praying to find a home for their family.

For more than a year, Marcus, Jennifer and Marcus’ three children, ages 9, 8 and 6, have been homeless, going back and forth between staying in hotels and in the living rooms of family or friends.

The couple expressed new optimism that they will soon find a home. Catholic Charities recently matched them with a Support Circle of 12 St. Francis parishioners who will walk with the family for a year, helping empower them to become more stable financially. Under the Support Circle program, the family qualifies for rental subsidies from the parish and from CASA.

“Things seem like they’re working out a little bit,” Marcus said. “Last week I was telling Jennifer faith and patience go a long way.” Marcus is soft-spoken and beams when he speaks of his children. Jennifer has a beautiful smile and long wavy hair. She looks tired and admits to being anxious about the upcoming birth and finding a home for the family. The couple met several years ago when both were working at a group home for people with developmental disabilities. Jennifer said she had no intention of being involved with a man with children but when she saw Marcus doing his daughters’ hair, she knew he was a keeper.

Support Circle members are working with the couple to find a home in Raleigh as soon as possible. Their ideal is a three-bedroom, two-bath home that has a fenced yard or a park nearby. The maximum rent they qualify for is $900 per month.

Not that long ago, Marcus and Jennifer thought life was going well. Marcus had finally been granted full custody of the children after their mother had failed to show that she could provide a stable home. Marcus had a full-time job and a part-time job and Jennifer also worked full time. They lived in a rented townhouse and owned two vehicles.

Then they both lost their jobs. Marcus and Jennifer had been working contract jobs helping with surveys at RTI. Contracts typically ranged from a couple of weeks to several months or longer. Normally, when one contract ended, they were offered a new contract fairly quickly. But this time, the company had no work for them.

The couple ended up being evicted. Within a few months, their vehicles were repossessed. “With our income being less, we were pulling money from car payments to buy food,” Jennifer said. Marcus said that when his pickup truck was repossessed, he almost didn’t care. He had stopped driving it because it cost him $50 per day in gas to fill it up, as his job doing commercial installations often required him to travel long distances.

The couple’s precarious finances were hit further when they moved from Johnston County to Wake County and their food stamps, which provided $560 worth of food per month, didn’t transfer.  Jennifer said they went six months without food stamps. They were one of thousands of families affected by recent well-publicized bureaucratic backlogs in the state Department of Health and Human Services’ Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Marcus has been determined to keep what stability he can in the lives of his three children and has been driving them daily to the charter school that they attend. The family loves being outdoors and music of all kinds. Last month, the children’s grandmother took them on an outing to Myrtle Beach, their favorite beach. Z., 9, said she likes candy, ice cream, and walking along the boardwalk. A., 6, said shyly that he likes seashells.

Update: Jennifer gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Zyan, on Aug. 14.

By Sheila Read, Justice & Peace Specialist

For many years, I was a news junkie who was deeply immersed in politics. As a former journalist on Capitol Hill, I had to be. But I also longed for a better world, and thought that politics could bring that about. What else could change the flaws in our social and economic system that creates so many unjust consequences? After 12 years in Washington, I was disillusioned.  I was tired of empty rhetoric, vitriol and outright lies. Tired of what I saw as the focus on power rather than creating ethical policies. 

So when my husband and I moved to North Carolina, I unplugged from political news. I focused on my new work as a clinical social worker in a state psychiatric hospital. But it wasn’t long before I realized that state political decisions on mental health reform were having a huge impact on the lives of the patients. The hospital was overwhelmed with record numbers of patients being admitted. State funding for mental health had been cut. Policy on community treatment had been changed and was being carried out ineffectively, resulting in a revolving door of patients who were falling through the cracks, going without medication or adequate therapeutic support.

I ended up resigning in protest of the broken system and unsafe working conditions. Looking back, I realize I missed an important opportunity. I could have spoken out to legislators in state government and advocated on behalf of those I had seen suffering under the new policy.

Recently, I was reminded of this lost opportunity. Inspired by Pope Francis, the Franciscan friars of Holy Name Province approved a new mandate to advocate on behalf of people who are poor and marginalized and to work to bring media attention to important social concerns. “Politics is one of the highest forms of charity, because it serves the common good,” Pope Francis has said.

The core of the Gospel message is to love God -and to show that love of God by loving our neighbor as ourselves. If my own family member had been suffering because of shortcomings in the mental health system, would I have become involved in advocacy? Where are you falling short today in speaking on behalf of others who lack a voice? Let us pray for the grace for our eyes to be opened to the people suffering around us – and for the courage to advocate on their behalf.

Meeting Michael

By Sheila Read, Justice & Peace Specialist

Michael HollowayOne of the best conversations I’ve had in a long time was with a man named Michael Holloway. I met Michael at a 4th of July party when I approached his picnic table with a smile and warm greeting. The greeting was meant for my husband, who was sitting behind Michael. But it was Michael who responded first.

The conversation started on the subject of softball (Michael was wearing a softball T-shirt), and ranged from food to church to movies to poetry and sleeping under the stars. Michael had plenty of time to talk, as he was waiting for the line for hotdogs, chips and watermelon to get shorter.

We both were attending the 6th annual Interdependence Day Cookout thrown by Love Wins Ministries at the new Oak City Outreach Center, which now serves three meals a day on weekends in downtown Raleigh. Love Wins, founded by Rev. Hugh Hollowell seven years ago, is a ministry to people experiencing homelessness. Unlike most ministries to people who are homeless, however, Love Wins’ main focus is not on sharing food or offering shelter but on building relationships. From the beginning, Hugh has emphasized that the opposite of homelessness is community.

Something about the conversation with Michael made me realize at a deeper level than I ever had before that we all are brothers and sisters. The talk flowed naturally, and we had surprising things in common – like a love of words and a shared appreciation for nature. Michael moved to Raleigh in 2010 to be near his 13-year-old son, who lives with his ex-wife in a southern suburb of Raleigh and plays basketball constantly, dreaming of attending college on a basketball scholarship.

Michael didn’t mention – nor did I ask – how he came to be sleeping outside in a park. One recent night he heard a scuffling in the leaves behind him and was delighted to see a beaver. He said sometimes the stars seem close enough to touch.

Michael said he grew up in a rough area of Miami, four blocks from the beach. He began writing poetry at an early age. In his neighborhood, people could not afford greeting cards for birthdays or anniversaries or holidays. When he was 11, his friends began asking him to write cards for them. Soon his parents’ friends recognized his gift for words and requested he create cards for them, too. One day, his mom sat him down and said, “You know, it couldn’t hurt if you charged a quarter or 50 cents for the cards.”

He recited to me a poem he wrote in honor of Maggie, a Love Wins staff member. As I wrote it down, he looked over my shoulder, making sure I got the words right as well as the line breaks and stanzas.

To Those That Give

Some give us what we want.
Some give us what we need,
like the clothes we are wearing
or the shoes on our feet.

Some might take us to church
because they have that type of heart.
Some might give us a job
so we can have a new start.

Some might give us their phone number
so we don’t feel alone.
Some might give us a bus ticket
so we can get back home.

I’m not thinking about what you drive
or where you might even live.
I just want to say thank you
to those that give.

by Michael Holloway

By Trevor Thompson, Director Justice and Peace

I left my house on Sunday morning driving my white minivan northeast on Route 401 towards Louisburg. I volunteered to pick-up seasonal farm workers from their tucked-away camps off muddy dirt roads called “Country Boy Lane” and “Bubble Creek” and bring them to a 1pm Spanish liturgy at Our Lady of the Rosary. I met three other parishioners at a fairly new Food Lion outside of Wake Forest and headed north in a caravan.

migrant camp 2

Our first four stops yielded no farm workers taking up our offer. With Sunday sometimes a work day when inclement weather disrupts the work schedule during the week, two camps were working in the fields. The other two vacant camps had a significant number of men in town doing laundry and running errands.

We arrived at the next camp, three trailers surrounded by fields of lush-green, sun-grown brightleaf, a single elm tree, clothes lines strung in several directions, folding chairs, and a make-shift table with a barbeque grill. Out walk 8 men ready to go to Mass. Three of them came into my van. I don’t speak any Spanish. We nodded, smiled, and said some easy greetings. There was a good bit of silence as we drove down their lane and headed towards the church.

Migrant Ministry

We arrived a little before 1pm to the church. Because it was the feast day of Corpus Christi, the community was finishing up adoration of the Blessed Sacrament before Mass was to begin. We walked into the church, which is a rented building south of downtown, and found our seat next to a family with two girls around the same age as my daughter. Mass unfolded in its consistent way despite being in a language not my own. As I received Christ’s body into my own, I felt a peculiar sense of solidarity with everyone gathered in this humble church in faith and love. As Deacon Pat challenged us during his homily, we are living out what Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” All together, no matter what language we speak, what land we call home, or what jobs we have, gathered around the table, we are the Body of Christ.

After Mass, we took the farm workers to the OLR Food Pantry where they were able to collect some miscellaneous food and clothing items, many of which St. Francis parishioners have donated. We headed back to the camps to drop off the men. My final image was of one of the guys I transported holding his bag of donated items on his porch. He turned towards me, smiled, and gave me a thumbs-up.

Migrant mass

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A retreat presenter last year challenged staff to sum up the Gospel in one word. Most of us said “love” or “service.” When we had gone around the room and 30 people had said their word, Fr. John Durbin pronounced a word none of us had said: Conversion.

At a recent celebration of the 11 graduates of the 2013-14 JustFaith program at St. Francis, conversion was a theme underlying the testimonies of participants. JustFaith is designed for people who are longing to do more to live their faith in the world but aren’t yet sure what changes to make in their lives to follow Jesus’ call to serve the poor.

Fr. David McBriar told graduates, alumni and prospective participants in the next JustFaith group that the program “empowers you to develop compassion and a compassionate commitment to our church, our community and our world, and prepares and energizes you for social ministry.”

St. Francis has been offering JustFaith for since 2002. The program runs from September through April, meeting for 24 sessions in a small group. Participants are invited to a lively and challenging process of spiritual transformation and in-depth learning of Catholic Social Teaching through books, videos, discussion, prayer, retreats and meetings with people experiencing poverty and injustice.

Lynn LemayLynn Lemay spoke of the incredible sense of community that formed among members of the JustFaith group. “They were some of the most amazing people I met in my entire life,” Lynn said. She summed up the impact of JustFaith in the word intentional. “I found this intentional drive, that no matter what I did, I talked and reflected about how I’d changed and where I wanted to give.” Lynn said that before JustFaith she led a privileged life and never really saw people who are poor. NowI see it all in a really personal way. I see the pain, I see the homeless, I see the suffering, I see the disenfranchised,” she said. JustFaith “is one of the most profound beautiful things I’ve ever done. I recommend it to anybody who wants to learn more about themselves, learn about their faith, and have a closer relationship with Jesus, to walk with Jesus,” Lynn said.

Joan_MontiJoan Monti is a grandmother who has been very active in the Catholic Church for a long time, yet had not participated much in social ministry with people who are poor until joining JustFaith. She was profoundly affected by an immersion trip to hear the stories of people who are homeless at Love Wins Ministries in downtown Raleigh. She still thinks about the man who had supported himself for years but recently lost his job and become homeless. “I could see in his face the sadness and the anguish that so much of what he was trying to do was hang onto his dignity and self-respect,” Joan said. “For me that kind of put a face on homelessness that there but for the grace of God go any one of us.”

Chuck_SmallChuck Small, a former journalist who now works as a high school guidance counselor, said that to him JustFaith is about unlearning speed, unlearning distance, and unlearning innocence.” He realized that he didn’t know a lot of what was going on in the world related to poverty and injustice, and that now that he knows, it’s an opportunity for action.

Jim FalangaJim Falanga, who runs his own IT consulting business and is active in the Knights of Columbus, said, “For me the journey is the struggle to have that communion, that sense of communion with all people.” Before JustFaith, Jim was active in doing service, but saw it more as a matter of doing for others through serving at food pantries and homeless shelters. “Now it’s more a matter of showing up, of being present with other people. It’s brought me a certain sense of joy,” Jim said.