What we have here is a failure of Imagination

You would have to be deaf, dumb and blind to not have noticed the current darkness in America: more black folks in our jails than were enslaved before the Civil War; Climate Catastrophe has become the norm; 30 million people still without health care; about 130 people die, every day, from opioid overdoses; there is still no clean drinking water in Flint; and for me, the darkest situation of all: migrant children are being crammed into cages on our southern border. And I could go on, but I hope you get the picture — it’s dark out here.

I want to look at just two aspects of this darkness — the opioid crisis and the crisis on our southern border — and see if rubbing the two of them together, like two sticks, can spark some imaginative fire.

Our Founders imagined an enlightened way to live that they enshrined in The Declaration of Independence and The United States Constitution. True, “All men are created equal” applied only to white male landowners in 1776. And also true, it would take almost 200 years for women, people of color and Native Americans to even be considered a part of that vision. But still, it was an amazing, imaginative beginning.

The imagined ideals in our founding documents have operated like a “horizon” for almost three hundred years. A horizon is something you walk towards, but never actually reach — yet, the “American Horizon” has given a direction and meaning to millions of people all over the world. It’s why my grandparents left their home in Italy and emigrated here. And it’s why families are walking 3,000 miles from Central America — they are walking towards the horizon, towards the imaginative idea that is “America.”

Last week, on Independence Day, a few of us went to celebrate with the Dominican Sisters of Peace at St. Catharine, Kentucky. A dear friend, Sr. Elaine DesRosiers, was born on the Fourth of July — so it was a doubly-joyous celebration! After a festive meal, we toured the Motherhouse and the beautiful grounds that surround it.

Along the way, we encountered seven women walking along the road, and we stopped to talk to them. They were six young women who are trying to recover from opioid addiction, and the woman who is guiding them towards that horizon — Bev Lee. Bev and the Dominican Sisters put their hearts together and imagined a way to help women make a transition from opioid addiction, jail and death — to freedom and a new life. Thus, One Bridge to Hope, a recovery facility for women, was created in St. Catharine’s Bertrand Hall.

“Miss Bev” (as the women called her) offered to let us tour the facility and hear the stories of the six women. It was a powerful experience that none of us will ever forget! But my main takeaway from it was this — out of the darkness, a great light was born.

There’s the challenging darkness of addiction, but also the Dominican sisters had to navigate some darkness of their own. They had to witness the closing down of St. Catharine College a few years ago. That was a great loss to the whole community. Add to that, the fact that the sisters are aging, and wondering what will become of their community in a decade or two. In the face of all that, the Dominicans are bravely imagining new ways to “preach peace” and bring light into the world.

I think we have to approach the challenge of the refugees coming to our southern border with a similar bravery — by imagining a way to turn the darkness they are fleeing into light. Closing the border and telling them to go back to where they came from, is as insane as walking barefoot on a summer day, stepping on a thorn, and having your hand say to your foot – “Hey, that’s your problem!”

We often sing hymns in church like “We Are All One Body,” and “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace.” Those hymns, like the foundational documents of our country, give us a horizon that we can walk towards. A horizon that makes life more humane and meaningful.

Like the Dominicans Sisters of Peace and Bev Lee, we can marry our hearts and our ideals – and imagine a way to turn the current challenge at our southern border into a blessing. “How?” you might ask. Well, as the great poet John Keats once said, “I am certain of nothing but the heart’s affection and the truth of Imagination.

Joe Zarantonello

Posted in News

Split-Second Surprises

Blog by Sr. Anne Lythgoe, OP

Well, here’s another adventure in the back yard —one of my favorite places.  A mother bird built a nest on the upper curve of a downspout outside the back door. An ingenious spot that provides shelter overhead from the roof eaves and added protection because it is up high.

We’ve been watching her movements and trying to sort out what’s going on in the nest. We concluded she was incubating some eggs because for the longest time she would sit there for hours and hours without leaving. It’s almost impossible for us to see into the nest because of its location.  There was just no way for us to get up there and look inside. It was killing me.

Sure enough, after a few weeks of keeping vigil, she had some babies. We think two.  We figured that’s because she was fussing in the nest, going back-and-forth and poking at whatever was in there. Her behavior definitely changed and there was a lot of activity going on. One day, by some little miracle I was looking out the kitchen window, trying to get a better glimpse of the nest.  At just the right angle, in a split second, mother bird shows up with a worm in her mouth and up pops the big mouth of a tiny baby bird. Without hesitation, the mother dropped the worm into the baby’s mouth.  I was startled by it and could hardly believe that I happened to be in the right place at the right time for a half a second to witness this amazing thing.

I still feel the shock of it, the startled jolt that went through me is still so real, even as I wonder if I could have imagined it. But it happened. A split-second surprise, when nature astonishes. How does she know how to do this? Nature instinctively and with intelligence finds what is needed for life. No one told her how to build a nest or why she needed to sit and warm the eggs. No one told her to find food and feed her young. She just knows. A mere sparrow.

 And He said to His disciples, “For this reason, I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! And which of you by worrying can add a single [hour to her life’s span? (Luke 12: 22-25)

So what’s the message for today?  Don’t worry and stay ready – be alert for surprises.  At a moment’s notice, God can break into an ordinary day and surprise you. Be on the lookout for it. Through nature, the smile of a stranger, the words of a child. Any minute, in a split second, you might get a visit from the divine.

It takes paying attention. Be ready for anything. I think God is just behind the door, around the corner, poised in a hidden place, waiting for us to notice something wonderful.

Stay alert. Try not to miss it.

Posted in Weekly Word

Justice Updates – July 16, 2019

Thank you to all of the Sisters and Associates who took part in Friday’s “Lights for Liberty” vigil. Please click here to see photos.

Sisters Barbara Kane and Manuela Crisologo Gonzalez are in El Paso, serving the refugees at Annunciation House and other local shelters. Sr. Barb was delighted to report that the socks and underwear that we sent to the border have been distributed to other refugee shelters as well, including Casa Oscar Romero, a hospitality Center for around 70 people.

Sr. Barb also shared this story about one refugee’s experience from National Public Radio; she says she is fairly sure that she met this family.

Please pray for the men, women, and children held in the concentration camps along our southern border, and for those children and families who have undergone immense physical and psychological trauma on their journey.

The Jeffrey Epstein human trafficking case has sharply illustrated the ways that men in power take advantage of vulnerable persons, in this case, young girls. This article from Refinery 29 looks at the process of “grooming,” behaviors that abusers use to trick and deceive someone into trusting them.

July 18, 2019, is the Catholic Day of Action for Immigrant Children in Washinton, DC. Participants will include immigrant community leaders, Catholic clergy, religious brothers and women religious, Catholic lay leaders and a wide range of supporters. The event will include prayer and singing and will culminate with a number of Catholic leaders participating in nonviolent civil disobedience.

Please pray for the hearts and minds of our government officials to be opened to mercy, and for the safety of those involved in this demonstration.

Sister Nadine Buchanan would appreciate any donations of new, unopened travel-size toiletries for her ministries. Please feel free to call her at 1768 to make a donation.

Posted in Peace & Justice Weekly Updates

Popular Misconceptions about Human Trafficking

Blog by Sr. Joel Campbell of the Trafficking Committee.

About ten years ago, Polaris conducted a “person on the street”, experiment to find out what the general public knew about human trafficking. In New York City, people were stopped and asked, “Do you believe human trafficking is going on?” and “Where is this happening?” A good number had heard of it, but when asked, ‘Where?”, their answers were: “In China or India or someplace like that.” If pushed to name a place in the U.S. they said, “Probably Las Vegas, or maybe Los Angeles.” None thought it happened in New York City.

Unfortunately, ten years later, we are not much further along in recognizing how widespread this crime is. People are still in disbelief that trafficking is happening in their home towns. When I spoke to groups about trafficking in Pittsburgh, I gave them the address of a couple arrested and convicted for trafficking two teenagers. When people heard the actual address, a ripple of shock went through the audience. Typically, people form their opinions about the whereabouts of crime from crime shows on TV, and the cities shown in these episodes. But, not in my home town.

Another common misconception picked up from TV shows, is the belief that trafficking involves only adult women, and these are all foreign nationals. It is true that foreign women have been tricked into coming to the states, and once here, they are caught in the web of the traffickers and used in sex trafficking, but there are different forms of trafficking and men as well as children are also part of the picture.

Men brought from Central and South America are used as field laborers in the breadbasket states in the U.S., and women can find themselves as unpaid housekeepers or workers for a laundry, restaurant or cleaning company.

About five years ago there was a large influx of unaccompanied minors at our southern border. The social service agencies in that area were overwhelmed by the numbers and not prepared to care for them. Children were released into the care of couples who promised to raise the youngsters. Later we found that traffickers, posing as interested couples, took children to use in sex trafficking.

One well-used source of victims today is runaway teenagers, who have been couch-surfing at friend’s homes for weeks or months, and who are picked up and offered a place to stay with an “older friend”. They are first given spending money, later drugs, and groomed to service a segment of the public that is increasingly looking at younger and younger sex partners. A trafficker typically has four girls (sometimes boys also), and the age range is 13 to 17 years old.

These teens call what they do as being, “in the life”, and they do not consider themselves victims. They strongly resist attempts to change their lifestyle. They come from homes where parents have stopped parenting years ago, and say that life with their “new friend” is better than what they had.

Traffickers have said that this new source of workers is easier than using foreign girls. There is no language problem, and while foreign girls resent being tricked, these youngsters have chosen the life for themselves. Often they live at home and attend high school, where other teens envy their clothes and technology gadgets (all given by their “friend” who can make $1,000 a night on them.) When a youngster does choose to leave this life, traffickers shrug and say they are easy to replace.

Another misconception has to do with traffickers themselves. Movies and TV have given us an image of the “pimp” as a man, often African American. But pimps are also women of all ages and races, and sometimes couples. Not uncommonly parents have trafficked their own children for drug money, and young women who have learned the trade as teens, branch out on their own. It is a lucrative business.

Human trafficking is real, present in all of our cities, and increasingly targeting younger and younger children. A good resource book to keep yourself updated is: Walking Prey by Holly Austin Smith.

Sr. Joel Campbell, OP member of the Trafficking Committee.

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

Shoutout to our Heroes in Blue who are Doing the Right Thing

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

I have a tendency to follow stories in my hometown newspaper.

For nearly a month, one of the top stories has been about the fatal shooting of a man by a South Bend (Ind.) police officer, who did not turn on his body camera prior to the shooting.

The incident has raised the issue — once again — of the impact, benefits, and consequences of body worn cameras.

One of the things that troubles me is that the body camera sometimes gets a bad rap – I think because, in general, we tend to view cameras as a tool “to catch” police officers doing something wrong (a reasonable conclusion, considering that the big push for cameras nationwide was in response to the number of high profile shootings of unarmed black men by police officers).

I think that body (and dash) cameras do offer the potential to increase police transparency and accountability.  But guess what? The cameras can also “catch” officers in the act of doing something right (or doing something good).

I saw concrete evidence of that a few days ago when the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office in South Carolina released body camera footage of Deputy W. Kimbro taking life-saving measures  that kept a 12-day-old baby alive and breathing until emergency personnel arrived on the scene.

Last year, dashcam video caught Kingston Crowell and Marion County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremie Nix saving the life of a three-month old baby who was choking.

Then there was the footage released in 2017 by the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department in Georgia that shows Officer William Eng taking a one-month old baby who was not breathing into his arms and administering chest compressions, until she let out a cry and started breathing.

Since 2015, when President Obama pledged funding for a nationwide program to equip police departments with body cameras, research has shown some interesting facts, Including:

  • Police leadership organizations have publicly supported the use of body worn cameras
  • Resident advocacy and human rights groups embrace the use of cameras
  • Cameras can lead to reductions in police use of force and resident complaints
  • Cameras generate valuable evidence
  • Limitations affect the likelihood that cameras will capture a complete visual and audio record of what has transpired.

 

That said, we need to be realistic about what body and dash cameras can and cannot do.

And we need to change the narrative to include the fact that body and dash cameras can also capture the heroic efforts of our law enforcement officers. I am sure that officers Eng, Nix, and Kimbro are just a few of our dedicated law enforcement officers who have been caught in the act of doing heroic deeds.

I wonder what we would find, if we reviewed all of the police video footage ever collected – more officers doing the wrong thing or more officers doing the right thing?

 

Posted in Associate Blog, News