Friday, December 20, 2013

Jesuit Volunteers and Pope Francis

Serving the Poor, Pope Francis-Style

 For young, progressive Catholics in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, the new pope is inaugurating a new era: one where the issues that matter to them are back in the spotlight.
On his 77th birthday, Pope Francis welcomed homeless men to the Vatican. (L'Osservatore Romano/Associated Press handout)
Like a lot of millennial progressive Catholics, Katie Dorner feels like the days of having to defend her faith from the negative perceptions of her peers are coming to an end.
“When the Pope won [Time Magazine’s] Person of the Year I thought to myself, it’s like advent,” the time preceding Christmas when Christians prepare for celebrating the birth of Christ, “but for the church. He’s bringing hope to the church and to the world,” said Dorner, currently serving as a Jesuit Volunteer in Los Angeles.
Catholic Millennials in the United States have come of age in a dark era for the Church, largely defined by child sexual abuse scandals and the associated sordid newspaper trial coverage. The challenge of keeping the faith has been arguably harder for young progressive Catholics, given the increasing gap between the Church and the general population on social issues such as contraception and homosexuality.
During the worst years of scandal, as progressive Catholic youths came of age they did what many Catholics have always done: they quietly served the poor. And in many cases, they did so through a program run by the very order Pope Francis came from: the Jesuits. Now, with Pope Francis in the Vatican strengthening the church’s anti-poverty message, they feel welcomed back into the fold.
Andrew McIree was raised in Osh Kosh, Wisconsin and graduated in 2006 from St. Nortbert College, which he jokingly describes as “your typical ‘Airborne Toxic Event’-type small liberal arts school,” referring to Don DeLillo’s famous depiction in White Noise. Having gotten a taste of direct service poverty work on a week-long college social justice trip to a Philadelphia homeless shelter, he was looking forward to returning for the more intensive, year-long service that the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) promised. In 2006, as whopping cash settlements in clergy sex abuse lawsuits rained down nationwide, Andrew McIlree, now 30, joined the JVC and left his 94% white and only 4% impoverished hometown for North Philly, where the population is 80% black and Latino and 50% of families live in poverty.
The Jesuit Volunteer Corps was founded in 1956 for the purpose of putting Catholic college kids into service for poor native Alaskans. In the past half-century it has grown to a multinational, though largely domestically focused, network known for sinking its volunteers neck-deep in communities many Americans fear and deliberately avoid. Like the Jesuit Pope Francis who envisions his ideal church as one that is “bruised, hurting and dirty” from being in the streets serving the poor, the JVC holds to the same belief that true service takes risks and works directly with the impoverished.
The Jesuit tradition has had a strong emphasis on social justice and at times a close relationship to “liberation theology,” which puts a theological primacy on advocacy for the poor and oppressed. While by no means exclusively a progressive organization, and open to all faiths and creeds willing to advance efforts rooted in this tradition, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps tends to self-select from young idealists who typically identify as progressive.
The year McIlree spent in Philly was the most violent of the decade. Nearly 400 people were murdered during his time there.
He and a small group of other JVs were assigned to live in a brownstone in a section of North Philadelphia known for gun violence and drug markets. “The first time I heard gunshots outside the house I figured it must be a nail gun or something,” McIlree remembers of those first days.  “I was seriously lying awake wondering, ‘Who does construction work at night?’” That winter, an abandoned squatter house up the block went up in flames after the family’s sole space heater exploded, leaving all of them dead.
McIlree worked in a day center for the homeless known on the streets as “802” for its address on North Broad Street. The day center offered the most basic services; showers for men who didn’t like bathing at the cavernous, filthy and notoriously dangerous nearby Ridge Avenue shelter, a vast stock of donated clothes, and a warm (or cool) space to spend time, depending on the season. A homeless person could use 802’s mailing address for receiving welfare or disability benefits, or to fill in the home address space on that first job application after getting out of prison. With no requirements for entry, the place attracted the city’s chronically homeless—individuals who often reject more structured social services due to their sobriety or medication compliance requirements. This is the hardest homeless population to serve.
McIree learned that directly serving some of the poorest people in America had challenges you don’t encounter unless you’re physically in this space. There were men and women barely recognizable as human underneath piles of ragged clothing. There was the smell of men and women, some unwashed for months, who arrived wearing jeans stiff with dried urine that day-center staff would help peel off and replace. Many in the day-center crowd were severely mentally ill and unmedicated, their behavior unpredictable, and others had assault histories. A homeless former Army Ranger once, without warning, grabbed McIlree around the neck and placed him in a choke hold before releasing him a moment later.
“One day a fight broke out between two of the guys at the day center and one stabbed the other with a screwdriver before running off. The guy who got stabbed rather than wait for EMTs stumbled off towards the hospital near my house.” After getting off work, and while walking home, ”I followed a trail of this man’s dried blood on the sidewalk for blocks.” It made for the kind of reflection on the violence of poverty you’re not likely to experience unless you’re involved directly in a poor community.

At the same time, the service had its rewards. “On my days off I would go to Dunkin’ Donuts and my homeless friends would be there hanging out, and not realizing it was my day off they would run up wanting to talk about whatever issues they were having. It went beyond a typical job.” McIlree found it impossible to walk around Center City Philadelphia in his free time without running into people living on the streets who he knew.
This was the crucial experience, for McIlree: Somewhere along the way, those that he served stopped being “the homeless,” the conceptual, faceless mass that most Americans see when looking at society’s most disadvantaged. The homeless had become people, individuals whose names he knew and life stories he had learned.
It’s this message of direct contact with the needy that many are seeing emphasized by the new pope—in his inviting homeless men to his birthday party, in washing the feet of prisoners at a youth detention center, or lovingly cradling the head of a severely disfigured man he saw on the street.  His idea of poverty fighting involves sneaking out of the Vatican at night to serve homeless people in person.
Katie Dorner graduated from Gonzaga University, a Jesuit college in Spokane, Washington, last May, and set out for her JVC placement at the Dolores Mission Parish in East Los Angeles in August. She says she knew she wanted to be a JV from her freshman year in college. She now serves as a youth minister at the Catholic elementary school where she says her daily duties involve creating safe spaces for youth in an often violent community where families can be torn apart by deportation. “It’s hard to be around a child whose father was sent away because of immigration policy,” she says.
Dorner feels invigorated by the recent messages out of the Vatican, and says her fellow progressive JVs feel it as well. “I live with five other young women JVs and as feminists and allies of the LGBT community we feel there’s more growth that needs to happen in the church, but we love Pope Francis, we talk about him a lot,” she says. “He really stresses the role of the lay community, so we’re really affirmed by who he is. It’s just a special time to be here.”
Other current Jesuit Volunteers and leaders in the organization that have been organizing new recruits for the poverty fight for years have all expressed to The Atlantic in emails that the inauguration of a Jesuit Pope has wired fresh voltage into their efforts. The JVC Facebook page timeline is filled with Francis associated postings, and discussion of the Pope's movements have lit up social networks of young Catholic progressives around the country.
Anthea Butler, a religious-studies professor at the University of Pennsylvania, sees the shift from sexual morality to poverty and social justice in the Vatican’s messaging as less a break with the past than a return to it.
“What Francis is saying is not new, this is the Catholic Church’s teaching. He’s doing what Jesuits always do. Jesuits get gritty with it. They get down in the dirt and do things. They know how to speak to lay people. This is the core of who Francis is as a Jesuit, that he is out working in the streets.”
In fact, in Butler’s estimation the radical change was the shift towards extreme social conservatism in American Catholicism. “Francis is pointing them back to Jesus,” she says.
McIree considers himself just another Jesuit Volunteer in a long line of men and women who joined the organization and gave a piece of their life to serve the poor. Regardless of whether their stories were told, whether they were individually recognized or even whether Catholicism was increasingly demonized in the eyes of the world, the church's progressive members have always sought to embody the message Francis is making a particular priority.  But, McIree admits that it’s nice to have the pope electrifying the world and winning broad support with this message. McIlree feels vindicated after years of having to justify his beliefs to peers that only saw the church's misdeeds.
"Of course it's great to have a Pope who's not from the old order, especially after so many years of bad news in the church," he says, adding: "It has definitely energized my spirituality, I'm going to Mass every Sunday again and it feels great."
The Jesuit Volunteer Corp doesn't know yet if they'll see a big surge of applicants looking to live Pope Francis's dream for the church as a group of street hardened poverty fighters; it's too soon to gauge the size of this year's applicant pool. But Andrew McIlree isn't convinced the enthusiasm surrounding Pope Francis will directly translate into more Jesuit Volunteers in American inner cities—the program's demanding reputation precedes it.
"Everyone loves the idea of what the JVC about, but not many people are willing to really live it. Just like so many people love the idea of being a Christian: truly living as one is different matter."

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Cold are the People / Silent Night

Beautiful Music of Advent.  Cold are the people and warmed by song.

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The Jesuit Post Highlights McCutcheon's Christmas in the Trenches

This is a most moving Christmas Song.  The Jesuit Post kind enough to add it to their list.  Look for Dec 13th entry on this list.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Pope Calls for Prayer to End World Hunger

Pray with the Pope today.  He is calling us to end World Hunger.  St Ignatius says, "Love is best expressed in deeds."

Every year, authors, journalists, teachers, researchers, schoolchildren and students ask us for statistics about hunger and malnutrition. To help answer these questions, we've compiled a list of useful facts and figures on world hunger.

842 million people in the world do not have enough to eat. This number has fallen by 156 million since 1990.
The vast majority of hungry people (827 million) live in developing countries, where 14.3 percent of the population is undernourished.
 Asia has the largest share of the world's hungry people (some 552 million) but the trend is downward.

 If women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million.

Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five - 3.1 million children each year.

One out of six children -- roughly 100 million -- in developing countries is underweight.

 One in four of the world's children are stunted. In developing countries the proportion can rise to one in three.

 80 percent of the world's stunted children live in just 20 countries.

66 million primary school-age children attend classes hungry across the developing world, with 23 million in Africa alone.

WFP calculates that US$3.2 billion is needed per year to reach all 66 million hungry school-age children. 

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Thursday, December 05, 2013

About Pope Francis, NYimes Charles Blow much smarter than Rush Limbaugh (but everyone is smarter than Rush...)

December 4, 2013

The President, the Pope and the People

On Wednesday, while delivering a speech largely about income inequality and economic mobility, a populist president invoked a populist pope. After rattling off a laundry list of dire statistics, President Obama cited Pope Francis:
“Since 1979, when I graduated from high school, our productivity is up by more than 90 percent, but the income of the typical family has increased by less than 8 percent. Since 1979, our economy has more than doubled in size, but most of that growth has flowed to a fortunate few. The top 10 percent no longer takes in one-third of our income -- it now takes half. Whereas in the past, the average C.E.O. made about 20 to 30 times the income of the average worker, today’s C.E.O. now makes 273 times more. And meanwhile, a family in the top 1 percent has a net worth 288 times higher than the typical family, which is a record for this country. So the basic bargain at the heart of our economy has frayed. In fact, this trend towards growing inequality is not unique to America’s market economy. Across the developed world, inequality has increased. Some of you may have seen just last week, the pope himself spoke about this at eloquent length. ‘How can it be,’ he wrote, ‘that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?'”
This is a worldwide problem, as the pope made clear, but in this country it’s particularly pernicious.
A study released last month by the World Economic Forum surveyed nearly 1,600 world leaders from academia, business, government and the nonprofit sector and found that of the top 10 trends facing the world in 2014, income inequality was second on the list. (According to the report, the top concern was “rising societal tensions in the Middle East and North Africa.”)
And although in America 51 percent of all income earned went to the wealthiest fifth of the population while only 3 percent went to the poorest fifth of the population, Americans were among the least likely to view inequality as a serious problem in the spring 2013 Pew Global Attitudes Project Survey.
And yet, it looms as a central problem in this country, but one that is often invisible from ground level. We remain ensconced in our enclaves of sameness: subdivisions planned by price point and urban oases of affluence set amid vast deserts of urban poverty.
We are not likely to recognize the ravages of inequity because of our isolation from one another, but they are there.
In addition, there is less economic mobility in America than in many other wealthy countries.
As the president pointed out:
“The problem is, that alongside increased inequality, we’ve seen diminished levels of upward mobility in recent years. A child born in the top 20 percent has about a two in three chance of staying at or near the top. A child born into the bottom 20 percent has a less than one in 20 shot at making it to the top. He’s 10 times likelier to stay where he is.”
The Economic Policy Institute’s “State of Working American, 12th Edition,” released last year, echoed that sentiment, finding that “U.S. mobility is among the lowest of major industrialized economies.”
And that mobility gap is compounded by a gender gap. According to a 2008 Brookings Institution report, “Close to half (47 percent) of low-income girls compared to 35 percent of low-income boys end up in the bottom fifth upon adulthood.”
And NPR reported last month that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women’s share of minimum wage workers is nearly twice that of men.
That is why it was important for the president to use his speech to support raising the minimum wage, saying, “It’s well past the time to raise a minimum wage that, in real terms right now, is below where it was when Harry Truman was in office.”
Arguments against addressing income inequality often focus on the possibility of undermining incentives for those at the top. But what happens if and when inequality begins to undermine incentives for those in the middle and at the bottom? Honest work should pay an honest wage. That idea is part of the American social contract and one in danger of disintegrating.
We must ensure that our society rewards innovation, ideas and initiative while also ensuring equal access to opportunity and more equitable pay for workers. The American identity depends on it.
This is not an us-versus-them argument, but an all-of-us one. 

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Monday, December 02, 2013

Rush Limbaugh is an idiot. Pope Francis is just preaching the Gospel and the Catechism.

Rush Limbaugh once again demonstrates his stupidity ( ).  The Pope isn't preaching Marxism, as Limbaugh charges.  Pope Francis is just saying what the Gospels, the Catechism and Catholic Social Teaching have been saying for centuries.  Read Mary's Magnificat, especially Luke 1:51-53, the  Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-12) or the Parable of the Judgement of the Nations (Matt 25:31-46).

Is this the Capitalism Rush loves so much? 

Here's the Catholic teaching.

"The human person... is and ought to be the principal, the subject and the end of all social institutions" (GS 25 #1 quoted in The Catechism of the Catholic Church #1882).
By the Common Good is to be understood "the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily" (GS 26 #1; cf. 74 #1).  The common good concerns the life of all.  ...  It consists of three essential elements.  First, the common good presupposes respect for the person as such.  ...  Second the common good requires the social well being and development of the group itself.   ...  Finally, the common good requires peace, that is, the stability and security of a just order (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1906-1909).
The duty of making oneself a neighbor to others and actively serving them becomes even more urgent when it involves the disadvantaged, in whatever area this may be.  "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25:40 quoted in Catechism of the Catholic Church #1932).
There also exist sinful inequalities that affect millions of men and women.  These are in open contradiction of the Gospel (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1938).
The principle of solidarity, also articulated in terms of “friendship” or “social charity” is a direct demand of human and Christian brotherhood. (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1939).
Solidarity is manifested in the first place by distribution of goods and remuneration for work.  It also presupposes the effort for a more just social order where tensions are better able to be reduced and conflicts more readily settled by negotiation (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1940).
Socioeconomic problems can be resolved only with the help of all the forms of solidarity: solidarity of the poor among themselves, between rich and poor, of workers among themselves, between employers and employees in business, solidarity among nations and peoples.  International solidarity is a requirement of the moral order; world peace in part depends upon this (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1941).
The equal dignity of human persons requires the effort to reduce excessive social and economic inequalities (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1947).

Catholic Social Teaching ( ):  Welcome to our pages on Catholic social teaching. Here you will find most of the official social teaching documents of the Catholic Church and also a variety of resources to help you explore this rich body of moral teaching.  If you are an educator, you will also find tools to assist you in teaching others to know and appreciate the wisdom and the challenge that is embodied in this teaching.  Catholic social teaching has been called "our best kept secret," "our buried treasure," and "an essential part of Catholic faith."  We invite you to discover for yourself this "best kept secret" of the Catholic Church. You can use the navigation bar on the left to find the actual texts of the social teaching documents and also a variety of resources to assist you in finding specific teaching on individual topics and issues. Don't miss the annotated reading list which will help you find additional reading, ranging from introductory works to more scholarly essays and books
 “The Father sent the Son into the world to defend the poor.” - St. Augustine

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