Category Archives: USA

Black American families strive to build a town free from racism

People camp out on land in central Georgia where organizers hope to create a new town of Freedom, seen July 2020. Handout photograph by FGI2020, LLC.

WASHINGTON, – Haunted by the COVID-19 pandemic’s disproportionate impact on Black people and reports of police violence against their community, a group of families in the southern state of Georgia have banded together to create a town called Freedom.

“We were watching the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and all of the other people we can name,” said Ashley Scott, one of the effort’s organizers, referring to Black victims of police violence killed last year.

“My friend and I were just depressed and feeling like we needed to be able to do something to protect our husbands and sons.”

They found a 96-acre (39-hectare) property for sale in central Georgia, and came up with a 10-year-plus timeline and a vision of using the land to build intergenerational wealth, something financial experts say is key to closing the racial wealth gap.

The families purchased the property in August 2020, and after some social media and news coverage, “we went viral,” Scott, 34, a realtor in Atlanta, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.

“We had thousands of people reach out saying they wanted to move to Freedom.”

Today, the group’s 19 founding Black families has amassed more than 500 acres in two parcels.

Aiming to be a model for equity, energy efficiency, local food production and more, the Freedom project has drawn political support as an opportunity to build a community from the ground up.

“It’s truly a situation where we’re taking our destiny in our own hands,” said Democratic State Representative Mandisha Thomas, whose district does not include Freedom but who sits on the project’s advisory board.

Even as they wade through the logistics of how to set up the complex systems an incorporated city would need, Scott and the others behind the initiative are planning to break ground by next year, starting with a visitor and conference center.

Speed is important, Scott said: “We don’t know when another George Floyd might happen. We want to move as quickly as possible to create this safe haven, so we can replicate it.”

‘IT FELT EMPOWERING’

Physically the project is still little more than the two parcels of land, mostly located on an old lumber farm, with rolling hills, a creek and wide views.

“When I first experienced the land, touched the land, it felt surreal – it felt empowering,” said Aqeela Reyad, one of Freedom’s founding members.

There are still fundamental obstacles to creating Freedom, the organizers said.

The families will need about 100 more acres of land in order to incorporate as a city, for instance, a process that will also need to go before a local ballot and a series of political entities.

They are also fundraising to be able to access a line of credit, hoping to raise the last of the $500,000 they need during a celebration next month for Juneteenth, the holiday marking the end of slavery in 1865.

Local officials on the county board of commissioners, in the nearby town of Toomsboro, and at the local Chamber of Commerce did not respond to requests for comment.

The state Department of Economic Development declined to comment.

PRIORITIZING THE POOR

As audacious as the project may seem, it fits into a long tradition of Black Americans seeking to create havens from white oppression, said Thomas Healy, who teaches at Seton Hall University’s School of Law in New Jersey.

Most of those communities were small agricultural centers, but some would thrive for a period, amassing several thousand residents.

One of the most ambitious was in North Carolina in the late 1960s, when a civil rights activist named Floyd McKissick sought to use a federal “new towns” program to create what he called Soul City, said Healy, who wrote a book on the subject.

McKissick viewed Soul City – which would be inclusive, but predominantly Black – as the last step in the emancipation of Black people in the United States, Healy said.

And the effort went much further than most anticipated, with 3,500 acres under development for a decade, complete with infrastructure, neighborhoods and public services, he said.

But McKissick was never able to convince factories and industry to relocate to Soul City to power the local economy, and the project eventually unraveled.

As the plan to create Freedom gets underway, the country is still dealing with many of the same issues that McKissick was seeking to address, Healy said.

“If Black people weren’t worried about driving down the street and being pulled over by police and being shot, and if they had an equal stake in the wealth of this country, there would be no need for a place like Freedom,” he said by phone.

“But that’s not the world we live in,” Healy continued, pointing to disproportionate levels of police violence toward African Americans and the massive wealth and employment gaps between Black and white communities.

Government data shows white families are 10 times wealthier than Black families, while the number of unemployed Black Americans has increased 40% since March 2020 compared to 34% for white Americans.

‘BEACON OF HOPE’

Tabitha Ball, a psychologist in Atlanta, had been noticing rising levels of anxiety among her patients amid the pandemic, driven by the stresses of the health emergency and the racial tensions that gripped the country following Floyd’s death.

“It was a heavy, heavy time,” Ball said. “There were very high levels of fear.”

One of those patients told her about the Freedom initiative, and now Ball is the project’s managing partner, with a pair of two-acre plots for her and her husband.

“It really did feel like a major beacon of hope to be part of a project where we could literally build something for ourselves, and something that would offer us the opportunity to grow and thrive however we saw fit,” she said.

Owning land had long been important in her family, but it was something she had not yet gotten around to prioritizing, said Ball, who has two nine-year-old sons.

“When they heard of the land and went out there one of the first times, they said, ‘This is all ours?’ And my husband said, ‘This is our land.’ And they had big smiles on their faces,” she said.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210525080816-ni4q7/

Stopping the last tar sands pipeline will take all of us

Protesters surround construction equipment used to drill a path for the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline near Haypoint, Minnesota, Jan. 9, 2021. (© Keri Pickett)
Protesters surround construction equipment used to drill a path for the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline near Haypoint, Minnesota, Jan. 9, 2021. (© Keri Pickett)

PALISADE, MINNESOTA — In normal times, about 100 souls live in this small Northern Minnesota town on the banks of the Mississippi River where we are making our stand against one of the largest tar sands pipeline projects in North America. Known as Line 3, it has the potential to carry 915,000 barrels a day of dirty oil over 1,000 miles, from Alberta in Canada to Superior, Wisconsin. Palisade is the kind of place where most people know one another a couple of generations back, a town with a tiny main street and just one café. Now there are about 400 workers here — most from out of state — rolling heavy trucks and equipment down icy, windy unfamiliar roads every day.

This small town is nestled in the deep woods and muskegs of Aitkin County, the lands of the Chippewa of the Mississippi, as my people are known. Akiing, the Anishinaabe word for “the land to which the people belong,” is half land and half water. Waters deep and shallow filled with wild rice, sturgeon and muskies, and all the mysteries of the deep waters. This is the only place in the world where wild rice grows. Each year in succession the manoomin returns, the only grain native to North America. This is the homeland of the Anishinaabe.

And here Enbridge, the largest pipeline company in the world, is hell-bent on jamming through their Line 3 Pipeline, the company’s most massive project, under the cover of this COVID-19 winter as fast as they can—before we can stop them and before the world takes notice.

From the Water Protector Center at the edge of the pipeline route, Water Protectors gather. We hear the pounding all day long. The constant roar of heavy machinery as it rips through the forest and the wetlands. It’s brutal work, and dangerous as hell. Last month, Jorge Lopez Villafuerte was killed in the Enbridge Pipeyard, run over by a forklift. He came here from Utah for work. Instead, he found death. Enbridge halted work in the area for less than four hours — and then the pounding began again.

Then there’s the armed forces, the sheriff’s office, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) who have deployed here. Their wages are paid by Enbridge. That’s because Minnesota noted the $38 million bill for Standing Rock, and decided just to pay in advance. A Canadian corporation paying for the police in Minnesota.

It looks like an occupation. It feels like an occupation. With all the violence that entails.

First the big dozers came, then the excavators, backhoes and feller bunchers. That last one just sort of walks through the forest, beheads a tree, drops the top to one side, and then comes back for the rest of the tree. This is how Enbridge rolls through a forest. They are gunning for the rivers now, heading straight for them: the Mississippi, the Willow, the Shell, the Little Shell, the Crow Wing: 22 river crossings in all. They are coming with something called a High Directional Drill. So they can drill under the river, just like they did at Standing Rock, at the Cannonball River. It feels a lot like a rape.

They don’t want us to see what they are doing. Last week, they put up a fence around the drill site. They plan to shove in that 36-inch pipe, so it can move 915,000 barrels a day of the dirtiest oil in the world across 330 miles of Northern Minnesota to Lake Superior.

We have been fighting this pipeline for seven years. And so far we’ve held it off in the courts and through the permitting process. The carbon output would be equivalent to opening 50 new coal plants—more carbon emissions than the entire current Minnesota economy. And all this for a dying industry. Energy companies and investors are fleeing the tar sands. Keystone XL is doomed, Dakota Access is in a legal mess (federal courts have ruled that its Environmental Impact Statement is inadequate). Enbridge itself is putting 400,000 barrels a day less through its main lines than they did a year ago. But the company still wants to sell this last pipeline. The Last Tar Sands Pipeline. Our governor, Tim Walz, took the bait. Minnesota needs real infrastructure: water, sewer and bridges. But we’re getting a climate bomb pipeline instead.

Enbridge would like to start flooding the north country with oil, as quick as it can. The Red Lake and White Earth tribes and even the Minnesota Department of Commerce have filed suit in state courts to overturn all the permits on this pipeline. On Christmas Eve, we filed in federal court to overturn the Army Corps of Engineers’ permits to cross the rivers. There has been no federal Environmental Impact Statement. We have a pretty good chance of prevailing in court. So Enbridge wants to finish this dirty work before the law comes.

On the bank of the Mississippi in the pathway of the pipeline, there is a prayer lodge, a waaginoogan, a ceremonial teaching lodge, and we have been praying there. We’ve built lodges like this on the shores of the river for generations. We built the lodge before Enbridge.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Tania Aubid and I returned to our lodge and found a stake in it, an Enbridge pipeline right-of-way stake. That was a surprise. One of the conditions of Enbridge’s permits is that they are supposed to have cultural monitors out ahead of the pipeline. But of course they didn’t. They just put a stake in the middle of the lodge. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources issued an “exclusion order” on Dec. 5, excluding Minnesotans from public lands they had given to Enbridge. That’s public lands, handed over to a Canadian corporation. I was cited by Aitkin County for trespassing, as I left my lodge. We contend that our spiritual practice, guaranteed by the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, supersedes the ordinance. The Creator gave us a right to pray, not Minnesota. We put up a “No Trespassing” sign with the American Indian Religious Freedom Act cited on it — USC 42. The lodge is still there. And so are we.

And not just in Palisade. Indigenous people and our allies are resisting across the whole pathway of this pipeline, from near the Red Lake Reservation in the Northwest, where a new camp just opened, to the Fond du Lac reservation on the eastern end, where Water Protectors have been disrupting the destruction everyday. This past month we’ve been praying by the river, and asking others to come. And they have answered the call: legislators, friends from the cities, people of all religious faiths, relatives from South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, water protectors from all four directions to sing those Water Songs, as Enbridge drills.

When the pipeline project was one month in, 44 people already had been arrested. Forty-four good people who put their bodies on the line because they believe in water more than oil. And more are coming every day.

We are digging in for the winter. After all, we’ve got good genes and warm clothes, and being outside during the pandemic is a good idea. But, really, we are looking to Washington now. This is the Pandemic Pipeline Project, and it shouldn’t happen. It’s the end of the tar sands era, and it’s time for a just transition. A new president says he will take action on climate change; the Army Corps of Engineers needs to do an environmental impact statement; and we want the court to stay the project, so we can have our day in court. In the meantime, the movement grows, to stand for the water.

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/stopping-last-tar-sands-pipeline-will-take-all-us

Crowdfunding donations surge for homeless Texans in winter storm

A person sleeps on a chair while taking a shelter at Gallery Furniture store which opened its door and transformed into a warming station after winter weather caused electricity blackouts in Houston, Texas, U.S. February 17, 2021. REUTERS/Go Nakamura

Crowdfunding has led to a surge in donations to accommodate and feed homeless people in Austin, Texas, in the midst of a deadly storm that has left millions without power.

Within less than a week, more than $235,000 has poured in from across the United States and abroad on the fundraising platform GoFundMe, helping nonprofit Austin Mutual Aid.

The storm has engulfed much of the United States, leaving millions in Texas, the nation’s second most populous state, without power for three days, and killing at least 21 people across four states.

The homeless population in Texas is particularly vulnerable, with cities across the state scrambling to provide shelter in hotels, churches, and other buildings, and state capital Austin estimated to be home to about 2,500 homeless people.

“The funding coming in from around the world really is a huge weight off our backs,” said Bobby Cooper, who founded the volunteer-run Austin Mutual Aid in March 2020 in response to COVID-19.

He said they have received reports of people dying in the streets and local authorities should have done more to prepare shelters when they knew a storm was coming.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler blamed the power failures on a lack of preparedness and also called for reforms.

“We could have done this work before the storm hit,” Cooper said. “These were preventable deaths.”

The nonprofit is spending thousands on hotel rooms and food, often by cash and credit from local volunteers, many of whom are low income and need to be reimbursed quickly, Cooper said, adding so far they had helped more than 400 people into hotels.

Supporters in the United States are also donating thousands more through the payment app Venmo.

About 27,000 people are homeless on any day in Texas as of January 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Cooper said dozens of volunteers have been driving around the city to find and help homeless people.

But it is getting increasingly harder to find vacant hotel rooms and other spaces for people to shelter, said Eric Samuels, president and chief executive of the Texas Homeless Network, which supports homeless agencies across the state.

He said communities need to find whatever space they can, from convention centers to city-owned buildings with power.

Samuels said COVID-19 has made their efforts especially difficult due to social distancing and a lack of volunteers.

“During these times, we need more facility space than we ever would because we have to keep people separated,” he said.

The issue hasn’t affected all Texans equally.

About 37% of the homeless population in Texas is Black, according to HUD, despite making up only 13% of the total state population of about 29 million.

“The unhoused, the poorest populations, people of color – they’re at the end of the priority list with any disaster,” said Cooper.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210217220921-zdqv3/

What do we owe immigrants? Love, says Archbishop Gomez

Archbishop José H. Gómez of Los Angeles. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA
Archbishop José H. Gómez of Los Angeles. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

CNA Staff, – During a webinar on human dignity this week, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles reflected on immigration and the Christian’s obligation to love.

Gomez, who is president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, spoke on Jan. 12 at the 21st annual Winter Conference for the Notre Dame de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture. He highlighted the dangers a secular society poses to a culture’s understanding of human dignity, especially toward immigrants. 

“As we know, the condition of migrants and refugees has been one of the key moral concerns of [Pope Francis’] pontificate. And it is true: forced migration, mass movements of populations, is one of the signs of our times. Not since World War II has the world faced this kind of refugee crisis,” he said. 

“We are all brothers and sisters, and we need to treat others as we want to be treated. As faithful citizens, we need to work to ensure that our nation is welcoming and generous, that we never close our hearts or turn our backs on people in need.”

The theme of the conference is “We Belong to Each Other,” which is taken from a quote by Saint Mother Teresa: “Today, if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” 

Taking place Jan. 12-14, the webinar includes speakers such as noted moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, Notre Dame law school dean Marcus Cole, and California State Poet Laureate Dana Gioia.

In his talk, Gomez reflected on the Christian obligation to welcome the stranger.

“As Christians, we worship a God who has revealed himself as Love. And as Christians, we know that human beings are made in the image of this God, in the image of Love,” he said.

“We are created out of love. And we are made to love. To love as Jesus loved, and as Mother Teresa and the saints love. Whenever I hear this story, I am reminded of that beautiful saying from St. Augustine, ‘If you see love, you see the Trinity.’ This is the truth about God, the truth about the human person.”

Gomez has advocated for immigrant and refugee rights for over 20 years. He noted that the United Nations estimates that 80 million people in the world have been forcibly displaced by war, persecution, social unrest, and economic distress – including about 40 million children. 

“They are living on the run; they are exploited by human smugglers and some of them are being sold into slavery,” he said. 

“Their living conditions have been made even more desperate now, because of the pandemic and the closing of borders,” he added. “But the global refugee crisis – like so many of the troubles in the world – is more than a failure of politics or diplomacy. It’s a failure of human fraternity and solidarity. It’s a failure of love.”

The archbishop pointed to Pope Francis’s latest encyclical, Fratelli tutti. He said the pope has issued this encyclical as a missionary appeal to share God’s love in a heavily secular culture. 

Catholics must respond to this calling by sharing the truth about God’s love and the Christian family, he said.

“Unless we know these truths, we cannot understand our Christian commitments – for immigrants and refugees, for the poor, the unborn, the imprisoned, the sick, the environment. Unless we know these truths, we cannot understand how to create a society that will be good for human beings. “

“To put our challenge in its simplest terms: unless we believe that we have a Father in heaven, there’s no necessary reason for us [to] treat one another as brothers and sisters on earth,” he said. 

During his many years advocating for immigration reform, the archbishop said he has repeatedly encountered the question – “What do we owe to the migrant?” Simply put, he said, Christians are obliged to show love, recognizing that an immigrant’s dignity is not qualified by his legal or social status. 

“Love means remembering that they are souls, not statistics. They are men and women and children with dreams and hopes, no different than you,” he explained.

“Every immigrant and refugee is a child of God, made in his image. Every one of them has rights and dignity that can never be denied,” he said. “And that’s true whether they are in this country legally or not; and that’s true whether they’re eligible for asylum under our laws or not.”

Amid an atmosphere of political tension and division, Gomez challenged Catholics to remember that God is the Father of all people and to bear witness to God’s love. 

“We need to tell our neighbors about the God who is love. We need to tell them the good news that we are all children of God, that there is a greatness to human life,” he said. “That every one of us is created in God’s image, endowed with God-given rights and responsibilities, and called to a transcendent destiny.”

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/what-do-we-owe-immigrants-love-says-archbishop-gomez

Sisters adapt food ministries to cope with pandemic, surge of those in need

Hour Children food pantry participant and Queens resident Jackie Terrasi, left, receives a food package from pantry coordinator Kellie Phelan. The pantry, based in New York City, is an initiative of Hour Children, a ministry headed by St. Joseph Sr. Tesa
Hour Children food pantry participant and Queens resident Jackie Terrasi, left, receives a food package from pantry coordinator Kellie Phelan. The pantry, based in New York City, is an initiative of Hour Children, a ministry headed by St. Joseph Sr. Tesa Fitzgerald. (GSR photo/Chris Herlinger)

In a time of uncertainty, one thing U.S. women religious and others who have been providing food during the COVID-19 pandemic know for sure is that the number of those who need food assistance has risen dramatically and continues to rise.

Officials from Feeding America, a national network of more than 200 food banks, told The Washington Post they have distributed 5 billion meals this year, and 40% of their food bank clients are people who have never relied on them before.

And food insecurity is projected to get worse: There could be 50 million food-insecure Americans by the end of 2020, up from 35 million at the start of 2020, the Post reported. But unless Congress can break its deadlock on what assistance to provide, the federal food programs supplying about half of the food that food banks distribute will end.

At a New York City food pantry that is an initiative of Hour Children, a ministry headed by St. Joseph Sr. Tesa Fitzgerald, the number of families using the pantry’s service is roughly double what it was over the summer.

Kellie Phelan, the food pantry’s coordinator, is struck by the number of new faces she sees in the lines every week. Many are young people, and many are coming from different boroughs in New York City.

“People are coming from everywhere,” she said.

Phelan told Global Sisters Report that while the number of families using the pantry’s services declined in the summer months from an early peak during the initial months of the pandemic, the numbers now are as high as they’ve been all year — about 700 a week.

The pantry, located in the Long Island City area of the borough of Queens, is open three times a week, and each day is averaging more than 200 clients, Phelan said. And she expects the numbers to stay that high or even increase in the coming months.

“There’s a lot of panic thinking right now,” she said. “Nobody knows what tomorrow is going to bring.”

Local community groups in Queens are helping restock pantry shelves through food drives in which volunteers ask shoppers at nearby grocery stores to buy canned foods and other nonperishables and donate them as they leave the stores.

Those efforts have been a huge success, Phelan said, helping to “completely restock” the Hour Children pantry shelves. “We’re beyond grateful.”

Because of social distancing concerns, the pantry earlier this year changed procedures, and clients now come to a table where they receive a prepackaged bag of food items rather than entering the pantry premises and picking items “supermarket style.” Those procedures remain in place, Phelan said, as do social distancing guidelines of people standing 6 feet apart.

But even with those guidelines in place, Phelan said, many clients are uncomfortable, particularly elderly people who are guarded about standing in line.

“It can be a scary situation for them,” she said. “They are scared, sad, but still grateful.”

The House of Bread, a 40-year-old soup kitchen in the poorest neighborhood of Hartford, Connecticut, has also seen a change in its regular patrons.

St. Joseph Sr. Maureen Faenza, one of the kitchen’s directors, said people addicted to drugs and those experiencing chronic homelessness are no longer the usual faces who come through for one hot breakfast and one hot lunch a day.

Though some still visit the kitchen, now, the House of Bread is largely seeing “neighborhood people, poor people, families who are struggling because they have lost their jobs and income,” she said.

Faenza, co-founder and co-director of the House of Bread alongside St. Joseph Sr. Theresa Fonti, said since the start of the pandemic, the city has placed their homeless clients in hotels or other housing while their daytime shelter attached to the kitchen has had to shut down because of the pandemic.

Fortunately, the House of Bread was able to maintain operations throughout the pandemic, though they have had to manage with fewer volunteers, as some were elderly and couldn’t take on the risk of exposing themselves to the virus, Faenza said.

With glass partitions protecting patrons who dine in, the kitchen is able to continue serving about 200 meals a day, with half of the visitors choosing to take their meals to go. And while the House of Bread usually delivers an additional 600 meals to children throughout the city, local schools have managed to provide those meals for the time being, though Faenza said they’ll restart that program in January.

In terms of stock, Faenza said they haven’t had a problem: This year’s annual fundraiser was done as a drive-thru Nov. 18 and was “extremely successful,” Faenza said. “We’ve been fortunate as far as donations and food.”

But just a few miles over in West Hartford, Mercy Sr. Beth Fischer’s ministry has had to make some adjustments that — while understandable and necessary — have been tough to swallow; namely, the lack of human connection between the volunteering students and the patrons at local food pantries.

Fischer oversees the community engagement office at the University of St. Joseph, where she works with students who are volunteers and those who do community clinicals and internships.

“For the 15 years I’ve been doing this work through the university, I’ve seen the transformation on the part of the students who get to meet people that they might not necessarily meet, but in a class, they might hear about it. And these experiences really touch them,” she said.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/coronavirus/news/sisters-adapt-food-ministries-cope-pandemic-surge-those-need

Spend Labor Day in solidarity with the poor, US bishops say

Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City. Courtesy photo.

The U.S. bishops’ conference is encouraging solidarity, charity and compassion for low-income and essential workers during the upcoming Labor Day festivities in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

“This Labor Day is a somber one. The COVID-19 pandemic goes on,” said Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City in a statement released by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on Wednesday, Sept. 2.  

Archbishop Coakley is the chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

“The dignity of the human person, made in the image and likeness of God, is not at the center of our society in the way it should be,” said Coakley. “In some workplaces, this has meant an emphasis on profits over safety. That is unjust. Consumerism and individualism fuel pressures on employers and policy makers that lead to these outcomes.”

The archbishop said that the coronavirus’ impact on the economy has brought damage to the country’s financial, mental, and physical health.  

“Economic circumstances for so many families are stressful or even dire,” he said.  “Anxiety is high. Millions are out of work and wondering how they will pay the bills. And for workers deemed ‘essential’ who continue to work outside the home, there is the heightened danger of exposure to the virus.” 

While the situation is dire, said Coakley, Pope Francis’ reflections that the devastation wrought by the pandemic could result in a regeneration of beauty and hope. 

“God never abandons his people, he is always close to them, especially when pain becomes more present,” said Coakley. 

“God knows the challenges we face and the loss and grief we feel. The question to us is this: will we pray and willingly participate in God’s work healing the hurt, loss, and injustice that this pandemic has caused and exposed? Will we offer all we can to the Lord to ‘make all things new?’” 

Coakley lamented that essential workers, including “meat packers, agricultural workers, healthcare providers, janitors, transit workers, emergency responders, and others” have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. 

“As a result, low wage workers, migrant workers, and workers of color, have borne a disproportionate share of the costs of the pandemic,” he said. Even prior to the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, “a significant number of Americans were trapped in low wage jobs, with insecurity around food, housing, and health care, and with little opportunity for savings or advancing in their career,” a situation that has not been made any better.

“It is devastating to say, many have paid with their life,” said Coakley.

Coakley also touched on the growing civil unrest throughout the country, saying that things that “may have been hidden to some” are now being revealed.

“Against this backdrop, the murder of George Floyd was like lighting a match in a gas-filled room,” he said. 

There is, however, cause for optimism even amidst these times, said Coakley.

“Injustice does not need to have the last word,” he said. “The Lord came to free us from sin, including the sins by which we diminish workers and ourselves.” 

Coakley advised Catholics to be conscious consumers of the goods they purchase, and to consider the origins of the items and how companies treat their employees. 

He also encouraged Congress and the White House to “reach a deal that prioritizes protecting the poor and vulnerable” as the government has played an “indispensable role” in addressing the various crises. 

The archbishop further noted that the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which turns 50 this year, has done much to alleviate the effects of the pandemic. 

“The CCHD-supported Rural Community Workers Alliance has helped organize workers in rural Missouri, pressuring employers to take these concerns seriously and advancing the dignity of workers,” he said. “These groups, as well as labor unions and other worker associations, make an invaluable contribution to the safety and wellbeing of workers.”

Catholics, said Coakley, “are each called to practice solidarity with those in harm’s way” in order to preserve worker’s rights and their dignity. He encouraged people to donate to local food banks and Catholic Charities agencies. 

“Pope Francis is fond of citing the 1964 dogmatic constitution, Lumen Gentium, which reminded us that ‘no one can save themselves alone,’” said Coakley.  

“This is true in this life and the next. The fruits of individualism are clear in the disparities brought to light by this crisis. Through our work of solidarity, let us be a counter-witness to individualism.”

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/spend-labor-day-in-solidarity-with-the-poor-us-bishops-say-40957

Archbishop says nation is at ‘pivotal juncture’ in racial justice struggle

Washington Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory preaches his homily during an Aug. 28, 2020, Mass of Peace and Justice at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, marking the 57th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. (CNS photo/Andrew Biraj, Catholic Standard)

WASHINGTON — Celebrating Mass to mark the 57th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s historic March on Washington, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory urged Catholics to continue the dream of the late civil rights leader and to work for reconciliation and unity building.

“Ours is the task and the privilege of advancing the goals that were so eloquently expressed 57 years ago by such distinguished voices on that day,” Archbishop Gregory said. “Men and women, young and old, people of every racial and ethnic background are needed in this effort.”

The Mass of Peace and Justice was celebrated at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington in honor of the 1963 March on Washington. It was organized by the Archdiocese of Washington’s Office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach and the archdiocesan Secretariat for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns.

Washington Auxiliary Bishops Mario E. Dorsonville, Roy E. Campbell Jr., and Michael W. Fisher concelebrated the Mass, which was livestreamed on various social media platforms. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, seating was limited at the cathedral, but Archbishop Gregory said, “the intensity of our prayer is not diminished in the least.”

“We are at a pivotal juncture in our country’s struggle for racial justice and national harmony,” he said. “Believers and nonbelievers, sports stars and corporate giants, small town residents and urban dwellers must all engage in the work of reconciliation and unity building so that our common future will be better and more secure than the past.”

To that end, Archbishop Gregory announced during the Mass an archdiocesan initiative to “fight against racial injustice everywhere.” The initiative was outlined on a scroll presented to the archbishop by archdiocesan Catholics. including Betty Wright, a parishioner at St. Martin of Tours Parish in Washington, who participated in the 1963 March on Washington.

The initiative will include a wide range of pastoral activities and outreach, including prayer, listening sessions, faith formation opportunities and social justice work.

Archbishop Gregory called the historic March on Washington “a moral and religious event.” He also noted that he was celebrating the Mass in the cathedral where then-Archbishop Patrick O’Boyle had invited people to pray before the march. Archbishop O’Boyle also delivered an opening prayer on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that day.

Calling that march “a deeply faith-inspired event,” Archbishop Gregory said, “it was less about achieving something than about becoming something — becoming a single family of justice, unity and harmony.”

“Surely those goals are noble and more than desirable even today — perhaps especially today,” the archbishop said. “Death has silenced most of the great voices of Aug. 28, 1963 — Dr. King, John Lewis, A. Philip Randolph, Mahalia Jackson and Marian Anderson to mention only a few — nevertheless the intensity, determination and the energy of their spoken and sung words echo still today.”

“The vast majority of the oratory of the day highlighted social and civil concerns but always with an undeniable touch of religious faith,” Archbishop Gregory said. “People from a wide variety of religious traditions were united in a prayerful moment for our nation. The existing social order was clearly challenged by people of faith. That is exactly what we need today.”

Many local Catholics were among the estimated 250,000 to 300,000 participants at the 1963 march.

“The spirit that they shared on that remarkable day was unmistakably sacred,” Archbishop Gregory said. “With that spirit they were ready to change the world. It gave them a clear vision of what our nation was called to be — what we must become, as it was described so eloquently in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

Noting that the Gospel reading for the Mass was taken from St. Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, Archbishop Gregory said the beatitudes “fit the commemorative observance perfectly as they highlight the virtues and the spiritual vision that are necessary for society’s renewal.”

The beatitudes, he said, “all point to a society of harmony and justice which were the desired end of that march 57 years ago.”

“Dr. King spoke movingly about what our nation was destined to and must become — he no doubt must have reflected often on the beatitudes,” Archbishop Gregory said.

The archbishop has had a long association with the late civil rights leader.

He previously served as archbishop of Atlanta, Rev. King’s birthplace. He has preached in Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where both Rev. King and his father preached and, in 2006, he was inducted into the Martin Luther King Board of Preachers at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

He noted that the Mass was being celebrated during the COVID-19 pandemic and at a time of nationwide protests for racial justice following highly publicized police shootings of unarmed Black men and women.

He urged the faithful not to become discouraged in their fight to end racism. “We must take heart and not be dissuaded or intimidated by the voices that seek division and hatred because ‘We shall overcome,’” the archbishop said as he concluded his homily, quoting a gospel song that became an anthem for the civil rights movement.

After the Mass, he spoke with and blessed some young adults who had participated in the march earlier that day.

https://www.catholicnews.com/archbishop-says-nation-is-at-povotal-juncture-in-racial-justice-struggle/

Sr. Patricia Chappell has long been a leader. Now she’s being honored for it

Following the December 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, in which 20 children were killed in Newtown, Connecticut, Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Patricia Chappell was asked to speak on behalf of the Catholic community at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. She is at the podium. (Provided photo)

Decades in nonviolence and anti-racism work has prepared Sr. Patricia Chappell for this tense moment in United States history, as her lifelong passions have become part of mainstream conversation in the country.

Chappell, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, was the executive director of Pax Christi USA for eight years and president of the National Black Sisters’ Conference for five years. Now the co-coordinator of her community’s anti-racism team, she has long been involved in anti-racism work, helping religious communities confront the systemic racism within their congregations.

And right now, she’s especially hopeful that communities of women religious can move toward “being in right relationship with those who think and look differently than the majority of us,” she said.

As she’s attempted to right the injustices she saw around her, Chappell said she never thought the Leadership Conference of Women Religious noticed her ministries until they called to tell her she would be the recipient of this year’s Outstanding Leadership Award, though the award ceremony has been postponed until next year because this year’s assembly will be virtual.

Though the honor came as a surprise to Chappell, her friends who spoke with Global Sisters Report said her tenacity, open-mindedness and dogged pursuit of justice make her a natural and effective leader.

Victoria Virgo-Christie*, an old family friend of Chappell’s, said the fact that she’s been “a consistent advocate for the underserved is what allows her to stand out.”

“She’s not willing to just stay comfortable,” she said.

By diving into those awkward conversations, Chappell, 67, “brings other members of the religious congregation into situations that they wouldn’t necessarily” choose to be in.

Chappell’s spirituality, as Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Anne-Louise Nadeau said, is grounded in a God of liberation: “She wants all people to have the fullness of life as Jesus promised.”

Indeed, Chappell said she takes issue with how Catholic theology often responds to sorrow and adversity in this life by pointing to the salvation that awaits.

“You can’t tell me that I should be willing to suffer in this world and to anticipate that in the next world, I’m going to put on my long white robe and experience freedom,” she said. “Why can I not experience freedom and empowerment while I’m on this side of the world and not have to wait till I’m dead to experience that?”

Chappell has dedicated decades of her life’s work to embodying that desire to empower others while also advocating nonviolence and racial justice — work aimed to reform unjust institutions one painful conversation at a time.

Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Patricia Chappell, center, holds a Black Lives Matter sign at a rally with Religious Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C. (Provided photo)

A lifelong interest in social justice

Born Sept. 19, 1952, Chappell grew up in a tight-knit Black community in New Haven, Connecticut, where “it takes a village to raise a child” was a lived concept, she said.

“That greatly influenced who I am today, this sense of, you don’t live in a vacuum, but you live in relationship to others, being available to serve one another.”

The oldest of seven children, Chappell said her family’s home parish, St. Martin de Porres, was the center where social justice and community issues were raised, the source of her “cultural and spiritual development.”

It was also where she learned leadership, as her school and church regularly called upon youth to lead activities and encouraged “a sense of speaking up and speaking out,” which came naturally to her given her interest in local justice issues, she said.

While at St. Joseph’s College in West Hartford, Connecticut, she had the opportunity in the early 1970s to engage in youth ministry, particularly with Black Catholic youth.

The idea was to lift them up spiritually while emphasizing mission and service to others, Chappell said. For many, the youth group was their introduction to Catholic social teaching, connecting moral responsibility with their Catholicism.

“These youth were on fire,” she said. They became a voice that challenged the church: “These hymns are nice, but times are changing, and we’re starting to wear our Afros, and we’re now speaking about the contributions that we bring as Black youth. So, what about gospel choir?”

They also started to ask why nobody depicted in the church — Jesus, Mary, saints — looked like them, then asked adults to teach them more about the long history of Black Catholics.

Growing up, Chappell said she experienced discrimination whenever she left the “safety net” that was her neighborhood, Dixwell Avenue. Not being served in restaurants, being followed around in stores — “all that is certainly part of my history.”

In high school and college, Chappell was drawn to the Black Power movement, wearing her Afro and dashikis and joining student movements that, for example, called for more Black faculty members. The more she was educated, she said, the more she began to “understand how systems were set up to keep some people marginalized and oppressed” to the benefit of others.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/justice/religious-life/news/sr-patricia-chappell-has-long-been-leader-now-shes-being-honored-it

Coronavirus comes to a migrant tent city at US border

A child hugs a volunteer teacher at a camp for asylum seekers on Dec. 8, 2019 in the Mexican border town of Matamoros. Credit: John Moore/Getty

More than 1,500 people live in a tent city without running water or adequate sanitation at the border of Texas and Mexico, while they apply for asylum in the U.S. Coronavirus has arrived in the camp, a religious sister has said, which should call attention to the condition in which asylum seekers are living.

“These families are living in donated tents at the mercy of extreme weather. Here, the temperatures can rise above 100 degrees, and when it rains, the downpours knock down their only refuge and leave them in mud pits,”Sr. Norma Pimentel wrote in a July 5 op-ed for the Washington Post.

“Imagine living in such uncertainty, where even such basics as running water and a place to shower are nonexistent; where you have to depend on outside organizations for food, which you have to cook over a campfire. Like the prisons and nursing homes that have been breeding grounds for the virus in the United States, the camp is crowded with people who for now are not going anywhere.”

Pimentel, a sister of the Missionaries of Jesus, is director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, in Texas.

“Do not ignore the suffering occurring here,” she urged, explaining that the migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico, has more than 1,500 men, women, and children, in a make-shift tent city, as they wait for their applications for admittance to the United States to be processed.

The camp has been in existence since last summer, after the federal government initiated the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), which allow U.S. officials to return undocumented migrants to Mexico pending adjudication of their claims for asylum.

Addressing the situation is more, not less urgent because of the coronavirus pandemic, she said, noting that the camp recorded its first positive case last week.

That the camp has remained free of coronavirus for so long was, she said, was “remarkable” and a testament to the dedication of volunteers working to serve the people enduring emotional and practical hardship.

While the one patient in the camp, a woman from the interior of Mexico, was quickly isolated and removed to a nearby medical center run by Doctors Without Borders, Pimentel said that the conditions make the camp a potential outbreak waiting to happen, and that because of the pandemic, the camp has become less safe.

Because of the pandemic, volunteer activity in the camp is limited to a small number, who are able to provide assistance with nourishment and some health care needs, Pimentel wrote.

“All this makes it even harder to keep the camps safe from the cartels and gangsters who continue to prey on these largely defenseless asylum seekers.”

The camp’s existence, said Pimentel, was the unnecessary consequence of the government’s asylum protocols, which itself fail to “address people with dignity.”

“We should not have people forced to wait for asylum — trying to find safety for themselves and their families — while camped outside in the elements for months at a time. It is contrary to our laws and the dictates of humanity.”
 
Pimentel said that “the story of these asylum seekers has faded from the front pages of U.S. newspapers and from television screens but the cruel and unfair situation continues.”

“It is time that we put an end to it, and to end the MPP policy. Until that happens, we will continue to help those who are defenseless, whose only real ‘crime’ is trying to seek protection for themselves and their families.”

The Trump administration has made several changes to asylum and immigration policy over the past 18 months, all of which have come under sustained criticism from the bishops of the United States.

In September 2019, after the Trump administration announced a rule limiting asylum eligibility to those who had already applied and been rejected for asylum in those countries passed through on their way to the U.S, Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, head of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, issued a strong critique of the change.

Vásquez said the rule “jeopardizes the safety of vulnerable individuals and families fleeing persecution and threatens family unity” and “undermines our nation’s tradition of being a global leader providing and being a catalyst for others to provide humanitarian protection to those in need.”

In November 2019, Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville of Washington, who serves as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, and Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the bishops’ international relief agency signed a joint statement on the Trump administration’s changes to asylum policy.

Administration policy “undermines U.S. moral leadership in protecting vulnerable populations and risks further destabilizing the region,” they said.

“To preserve and uphold the sacredness and dignity of all human life, we cannot turn our back on families and individuals in desperate need of help.”

“In light of the Gospel, let us always remember we are invited to embrace the foreigner and to take care of this human person.”

https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/snddenjpic.org/17086

DC parish fills pews with food for parishioners in need

Pew
Parish of the Sacred Heart, Washington, DC. Courtesy image.

– Public masses remain suspended in the Archdiocese of Washington amid the coronavirus pandemic, but the pews at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart are not empty.

Priests, parishioners, and staff at Sacred Heart Parish recently assembled 500 boxes of food and other resources to be delivered to families facing hardships like job loss or illness during the pandemic. Fr. Emilio Biosca Agüero, the parish’s pastor, told CNA in an interview that the needs he sees are immediate.

Agüero said Sacred Heart, which serves the Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights neighborhoods of Washington D.C., is a primarily Spanish-speaking community, and has many immigrant members.

“When many immigrants arrive to DC, Sacred Heart is one of the first places they visit,” he said.

Agüero said the pandemic hit the parish community hard.

“When the pandemic started, people began losing their jobs, some of them are undocumented so that presents a challenge in finding other work as well, others have been affected by COVID-19,” he said.

Agüero called the boxes “a gesture from the Church,” and added that in addition to food, they include spiritual resources like rosaries and prayer cards, as well as information about local food banks and coronavirus testing sites.

Sacred Heart parishioner Carola Cerezo-Allen said in an interview that she wants her fellow parishioners to know that “the temple doors are closed, but we are with them even though we cannot be together.”

“Sacred Heart is a big church, and so we came together as a community to walk with people in our community facing disease and unemployment,” she said. “It’s what we need in this time of so much anxiety.”

Cerezo-Allen said she hopes a time many Catholics are unable to receive communion will prompt them to think about what it means to be part of the body of Christ.

She stressed that those who assembled the boxes maintained social distancing guidelines and they will also deliver boxes to parishioners rather than having people come to the church.

“I’m a nurse, so I’m very aware of what’s needed,” Cerezo-Allen said.

Monica Zevallos is Sacred Heart’s RCIA coordinator and a member of the parish staff. She helped assemble the boxes and told CNA she is proud of the “teamwork” the parish showed by working to support members of their community in need.

“This is a very strong community, this is not a parish where people come and go,” Zevallos said.

Zevallos said she was moved to see parishioners bringing in small donations for the project because it was what they could offer.

“It’s beautiful seeing people do what they can, that’s how we are building these baskets,” she said.

Agüero, Cerezo-Allen, and Zevallos all stressed that many members of the parish contributed to the project, and mentioned parishioners Juan Melendez and Javier Alvarez as additional leaders of the project.

Being Catholic, Zevallos said, isn’t “just praying, it’s putting our faith in action.”

“This is a way to let them know Christ loves us, is walking with us, and this little thing–these boxes–are a way to say He’s going to take care of us,” Zevallos said.

 

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/dc-parish-fills-pews-with-food-for-parishioners-in-need-62813