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Share the Journey

A prayer, a share on social media, a voice of support in a letter to the editor — supporting migrants can take many forms. Pope Francis hopes Catholics will act during the next two years to encounter people on the move.
 
Share the Journey is an initiative of Caritas Internationalis, the global network of Catholic charitable agencies.
 
It urges Catholics to grow in understanding of migrants who have fled poverty, hunger, violence, persecution and the effects of climate change in their homelands.
 
In the United States, the Church’s leading organizations have developed a series of activities that families, parishes, schools and individuals can undertake during the Share the Journey campaign the pope opened in September at the Vatican.
 
U.S. partners in the effort are the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and its Migration and Refugee Services, Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA.
The effort will give Catholics the opportunity to learn and explore Catholic social teaching, said Joan Rosenhauer, executive vice president of U.S. operations for CRS.
 
“Catholic social teaching has clear messages of caring for strangers, the importance of hearing their stories and understanding their needs,” she said. Much of the effort will be focused on sharing stories about migrants, said Kristin Witte, coordinator of domestic Catholic educational engagement at CRS.
 
“The hope is that through the stories that are presented, the images presented, that people will be moved from their place of comfort to a place of encounter.
That’s what the Church is calling us to. That’s what the pope is calling us to,” she said.
 
There also is an advocacy component to Share the Journey, Rosenhauer said, giving U.S. Catholics the opportunity to take what they learn about migrants and approach federal policymakers to better allocate international assistance to address the factors that cause people to flee.
 
On the Share the Journey launch day, Sept. 27, 2017, Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne participated in the #ShareJourney social media campaign, posting a picture with arms outstretched in front of the Bishop Brady Center in South Burlington. The caption read: “Reaching out is the first step in loving neighbors fleeing war, persecution and poverty.”
 
Later, Elias Bakhash, from Aleppo, Syria, spoke to students at Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington and to a group at the University of Vermont Catholic Center about his experience as a Syrian refugee.
 
Michael Hagan, coordinator of religious education and catechesis for the Diocese of Burlington, encourages persons of all ages to read the stories on the Share the Journey website. “Remembering that these are people created in the image of God, not just names and faces on television, will help convert our hearts and spur us to prayer and action,” he said.
 
For more information and resources, visit sharejourney.org.
 
Cori Fugere Urban contributed to this story.
Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine. 
 
  • Published in World

Share the Journey

A prayer here, a share on social media there, a voice of support in a letter to the editor, even a get-to-know-others potluck.
 
Supporting refugees and migrants can take many forms, and Pope Francis is hoping Catholics around the world will act over the next two years to encounter people on the move.
 
In the U.S., the Church's leading organizations have developed a series of activities, including prayers, that families, parishes, schools and individuals can undertake during the Share the Journey campaign the pope is set to open Sept. 27 at the Vatican.
 
Share the Journey is an initiative of Caritas Internationalis, the global network of Catholic charitable agencies. It is meant to urge Catholics to understand and get to know refugees and migrants who have fled poverty, hunger, violence, persecution and the effects of climate change in their homeland.
 
In addition to Pope Francis' formal announcement at his weekly general audience, key church representatives, including Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines, president of Caritas Internationalis, were to conduct a media conference the same day.
 
U.S. partners in the effort are the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and its Migration and Refugee Services, Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA.
 
The effort will give Catholics the opportunity to learn and explore Catholic social teaching on refugees and migrants, said Joan Rosenhauer, executive vice president of U.S. operations for CRS.
 
"Catholic social teaching has clear messages of caring for strangers, the importance of hearing their stories and understanding their needs," she said.
 
Much of the effort will be focused on sharing stories about migrants and refugees, the struggles they face and why they chose to seek a better life elsewhere, said Kristin Witte, coordinator of domestic Catholic educational engagement at CRS, which is the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency.
 
"The hope is that through the stories that are presented, the images presented, that people will be moved from their place of comfort to a place of encounter. That's what the church is calling us to. That's what the pope is calling us to," she said.
 
The coalition of Catholic organizations has developed a toolkit in English and Spanish that includes prayers, suggestions for activities for families, prayer groups, classrooms and clergy, and utilizing social media with references to #sharejourney.
 
"We're giving people clear direct ideas, not just in their neighborhood but to mobilize communities. To create an environment or an opportunity for action is critical especially at this time," Witte said.
 
Mark Priceman, communications for the bishops' Migration and Refugee Services, said the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that about 22 million people are on the move around the world, making the Christian community's awareness and response to their situation critical.
 
The number of refugees to be admitted to the U.S. was capped at 50,000 by President Donald Trump for fiscal year 2017, which was to end Sept. 30. It is less than half of the ceiling of 110,000 set by President Barack Obama. A presidential determination on the number of refugees to be accepted for fiscal year 2018 was due by Sept. 30.
 
Since 1996, the number of refugees admitted has fluctuated between 70,000 and 90,000 annually. The number of refugees to be accepted each year is determined by the president under the Refugee Act, which was signed into law in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter. The act amended earlier law, created a permanent and systematic procedure to admit refugees, and established a process for reviewing and adjusting the refugee ceiling to meet emergencies.
 
Share the Journey looks to mobilize people quickly. Soon after the opening, the campaign is calling for a week of prayer and action for migrants and refugees Oct. 7-13.
 
Special prayers at Masses, prayer vigils, simulation exercises, school announcements, lesson plans and speaking events are among the activities suggested as ways to learn about people on the move.
 
Similar activities will be taking place worldwide throughout the campaign, Rosenhauer said.
 
"It is a reflection of the Holy Father's leadership, but it's also a reflection of the commitment of leaders around the church around the world," she explained.
Nearly three dozen cardinals, archbishops and bishops as of Sept. 25 have pledged to participate in the campaign, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
 
Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami addressed the concepts of the Share the Journey campaign in an op-ed column Aug. 28 in the Sun Sentinel in Broward County, Fla.
 
"'Share the Journey' invites us to see through the eyes of others rather than turning a blind eye," he wrote. "As Pope Francis says, 'Not just to see but to look. Not just to hear but to listen. Not just to meet and pass by but to stop. And don't just say, 'What a shame, poor people,' but to allow ourselves to be moved by pity.'"
 
The campaign will take advantage of specially designated days throughout the year to raise awareness, including the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe Dec. 12; Lent; the church's observance of National Migration Week in January; World Refugee Day June 20 and the September 2018 United Nations meeting to consider two global compacts on refugees and migration.
 
There also is an advocacy component to Share the Journey, Rosenhauer said, giving U.S. Catholics the opportunity to take what they learn about migrants and refugees and approach federal policymakers to better allocate international assistance to address the factors that cause people to flee.
 
Together with Catholics worldwide, the U.S. organizers said they hope the campaign will begin to ease the burdens under which migrants and refugees live.
 
"We're mobilizing the worldwide Catholic Church to serve," Witte said. "There are so many networks that the Catholic Church already has that we can infuse an opportunity allow them to live their baptismal call and to stand up for the most vulnerable."
 
  • Published in World

Hurricane Harvey

Catholic dioceses and charities are quickly organizing to help in the aftermath of a Category 4 hurricane that made landfall with winds of 130 miles per hour late on Aug. 25 into the Rockport, Texas area, northeast of Corpus Christi.
 
The hurricane, named Harvey, is said to be the strongest one to hit the United States in more than a decade and perhaps the strongest one to make landfall in Texas.
 
Catholic Charities USA, as well as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Disaster Services, announced early on Aug. 26 that they're mobilizing to help an as-yet-unknown number of persons affected by the hurricane. The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops has a list of charities helping with the disaster listed on its website at txcatholic.org/harvey.
 
Because of safety issues, not many emergency teams have been yet able to respond to the aftermath. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared the state a disaster area, which will allow federal money to help in reconstruction. Catholic groups said they want to help with the immediate needs of the communities affected.
 
"We will be sending in rapid-response teams to help our impacted St. Vincent de Paul councils and we are coordinating nationally with the Knights of Columbus, Knights of Malta and (Catholic Charities USA)," said Elizabeth Disco-Shearer, CEO of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul USA.
 
In the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, Bishop Daniel E. Flores authorized a second collection to be taken up at the Diocese's local churches on the weekend of Aug. 26-27 to send to Catholic Charities in nearby Corpus Christi and "other places hardest hit by loss of power, storm damage, flooding."
 
It's been hard to communicate with other areas, said Bishop Flores in an Aug. 26 interview with Catholic News Service, so it's hard to gauge the extent of the damage. But he said his Diocese wanted to get a head start to quickly divert help where it is needed and as fast as possible.
 
If the Rio Grande Valley, where Bishop Flores' Diocese is located, was spared the major impact of Hurricane Harvey, then the Diocese had a duty to help their neighbors to the north, in the coastal areas of Corpus Christi and Galveston-Houston, which seemed to be hit hardest, he said. Hurricane Harvey seemed to enter near Corpus Christi and affected seven coastal counties in Texas and one Louisiana parish.
 
"We continue to pray for every for everyone affected by the hurricane and those who are at risk as the storms continue," said Bishop Flores in a statement.
 
Though the brunt of the hurricane's winds has passed and Harvey was downgraded to a tropical storm hours after landfall, heavy rains and "catastrophic flooding" are expected for days, said the National Hurricane Center.
 
"We have to remember … the families affected by flood damage in the next few days in other parts of the state will be in need of relief," said Bishop Flores. "We will assess better how we can help as we get further information about the needs from the (Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops) and Catholic Charities."
 
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is the head of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, an area declared in a state of disaster.
 
In an Aug. 26 statement published by the Archdiocese, he asked for prayers "for all of those affected by the storm and in need of assistance during this natural disaster."
 
Powerful winds and heavy rainfall have impacted many lives and homes throughout Galveston-Houston, said the cardinal, and many in the southern counties of his archdiocese have already suffered substantial property damage and losses.
 
Many homes in these communities are currently without power. “Several forecasts anticipate additional storm damage and flooding in the coming days, along with high winds and tornado activity," Cardinal DiNardo said.
 
Up to 250,000 have been reported without power in Texas, a number that's expected to rise.
 
San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller said in a statement that the Archdiocese pledged its support to recovery efforts that will start after the rain and wind subside.
 
"My thoughts and prayers are with the people of the dioceses of Corpus Christi and Victoria, as well as the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, as they cope with the damaging effects of Hurricane Harvey," he said. "The people of San Antonio have opened their arms to welcome evacuees of this historic hurricane, and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese has been assisting and will continue to assist in a variety of ways those impacted by this natural disaster."
 
Bishop W. Michael Mulvey, of the Diocese of Corpus Christi, said he was grateful to the bishops who reached out to him and to his Diocese. He said the true damage throughout the Diocese still is not known, and officials are waiting for conditions that will allow a better assessment of the damage.

In his statement, Cardinal DiNardo asked for prayers for emergency personnel and volunteers who are out and about in dangerous conditions and also "for those residing in our Archdiocese, in Texas and along the Gulf Coast, be safe, and may God have mercy on those affected by Hurricane Harvey."
 
 
 
  • Published in Nation

Catholic Charities' priorities on "Hill Day"

Four years ago, Ted Bergh was asking members of Congress to support food programs and comprehensive immigration reform, issues of deep concern to Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio, which he serves as CEO.

Bergh was back on Capitol Hill March 29 for Catholic Charities USA's Hill Day with the same concerns and a few more in a time of uncertainty under a new White House administration.

Catholic Charities leaders spent the second day of their two-day meeting pressing support for federally funded social services -- in many cases their lifeblood -- that touch the lives of the millions of people they serve. Their concerns encompassed affordable housing, protections for immigrants and refugees, services for senior citizens, and food programs in schools and rural communities -- all in response to the deep cuts in social services proposed in President Donald Trump's "skinny" budget.

The budget -- a preliminary plan with specifics due in May -- calls for $54 billion in cuts in discretionary spending in nonmilitary programs including many social services. The budget calls for a corresponding boost in military spending.

The proposed reapportioning of the federal budget did not sit well with Robert McCann, president and CEO of Catholic Charities Spokane in Washington state. He said he wanted to stress to Congress that a budget is a values-based document that answers the question, "What is most important to us?"

"In my mind, being able to solve homelessness in our country is more important than spending $582 billion on defense." McCann said. "I'm a patriot and I want to defend America, but I also want to take care of the dignity of every human being. That they deserve a bed and a shower and a place to eat and place to have a normal life. We can solve homelessness in the country, but it's going to take an intentional effort."

Bergh and colleagues made similar pitches.

"Food pantries cannot do it all. We run some food pantries. We have some mobile food pantries in rural areas. There's a lot of hunger. There's a lot of despair there," Bergh told Catholic News Service on the way to a meeting with an aide to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

"If SNAP benefits decline, the pressure on the charitable organizations that are doing all this feeding work is just going to increase. I don't think you can expect the charitable organizations to do it all," Bergh added.

In the meeting, Bergh turned to the lack of affordable housing in Cincinnati and beyond. He and others pressed for affordable housing projects to be included in Trump's call for $1 trillion in infrastructure improvements. It was an idea they said was mentioned during a private meeting with Ben Carson, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the day before.

Bergh was backed by Laura Jordan Roesch, CEO of Catholic Charities Social Services of the Miami Valley in Dayton, Ohio, who said housing support for low-income families and immigrant communities in particular can help grow the economy.

Dayton, Roesch told CNS afterward, has undertaken a policy of welcoming immigrants in the wake of the loss of tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs. The newcomers have refurbished houses, opened business and created a burgeoning economy in the city's Old North Dayton neighborhood, she said.

Across Capitol Hill, agency leaders repeated calls to protect the social safety net, fearing programs that benefit poor people were being targeted by the president's budget proposal. The officials also made sure to point out that any change in the Affordable Care Act must ensure that people do not lose the health coverage they now have.

They cited examples from their communities of how low-income families are faced with spending an ever-growing percentage of their limited incomes for rent. Families especially have turned to Catholic Charities for rental assistance to avoid eviction and the resulting upheaval of family life.

Their point: Keeping people in a stable setting saves money in the long run because they are not having to turn to more costly emergency services. Stable housing reduces crime, drug abuse and school dropout rates, they said.

Terry Walsh, president and chief executive office of Catholic Charities Hawaii, said he wanted to respond to the "senior tsunami" affecting the state in which the senior population is rising at five times the rate of the rest of the country, stressing the affordable housing market on the islands.

"Per capita, Hawaii has the highest homeless rate in the country," Walsh said. HUD in 2016 counted 7,921 people as homeless in Hawaii, whose population totals 1.4 million. "It's going beyond the chronically homeless. It affects children. It affects seniors. It affects families," he said.

In meetings with staff of the House and Senate committees on agriculture, Kim Brabits, vice president, program operations for Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, cited the need for strengthening food programs because of growing "food deserts" in rural areas of the 21 counties her agency serves. She said locally owned grocery stores in small towns and at crossroads have been forced to close as mega-supermarkets that are up to an hour away from some residents have opened.

"Our mission is to increase the summer meal programs," Brabits said. "Cutting the program would be detrimental to the kids we serve."

Brabits said meal programs are effective, despite what some government officials have said publicly. "We're feeding people," she said. "That's the main goal: how many people are being fed."

Funding for disaster response was on the mind of Sister Marjorie Hebert, a member of Marianites of the Holy Cross and president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Making her visit for Hill Day, she said the area had experienced weather-related disasters in the last year that forced people from their homes.

"We need to find a faster way to get the money to the recipients. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) is there quickly enough. We sometimes have to front money for almost nine to 12 months before we (the region) get the federal assistance," she said.

Most importantly, she said, her visit to Congress was to serve as a reminder of the value of the front line services her agency provides and "the number of people we serve."
  • Published in Nation
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