October 17, 2017: A Day to Heed the United Nation’s Call

Post by Loretta Sullivan, OP

October 17, 2017: A Day to Heed the United Nation’s Call…

  • To eradicate poverty everywhere
  • To become an inclusive society

What will it take to meet this prophetic call?

A Commemoration of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty: October 17, 2017

Thirty years ago the United Nations set October 17 as a day to raise awareness of and direct our energies towards the eradication of poverty throughout the globe. Carved in a commemorative stone is the conviction,

“Wherever men and women are condemned to live in extreme poverty, human rights are violated. To come together to ensure that these rights are respected is our solemn duty.”

These are the words of Fr. Joseph Wresinski. His life experience of poverty, hope and transformation may be an inspiration to all. Joseph was born in 1917 to immigrant parents in an internment camp outside Paris. His sister died in that camp of malnutrition, and his mother suffered humiliation from her dependence on donations. The intensity of this family’s experience of chronic poverty and social exclusion became a driving force in his life as a priest for all people. His chosen priestly residence was with the poor in a camp for the homeless. His efforts to build relationships with all people finally led him to gather together 100,000 people of all social backgrounds at the Human Rights and Liberty Trocadero Plaza in Paris, where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948, to honor the victims of extreme poverty, violence and hunger.

Out of this ability to bring people together, Fr. Wresinski started the movement “ATD Fourth World “(All Together in Dignity). As an international movement that is active in 34 countries it remains a force in the determined effort to defeat poverty. In solidarity and collaboration with the most excluded families around the world, ATD designs and plans its projects with the participation of people living in persistent poverty. It has been demonstrated that the most disadvantaged people can be empowered to free themselves from the dependence and indignity of poverty when their courage and capacity for action are recognized, and when everyone takes responsibility for overcoming the prejudice and discrimination that continue to exclude people living in poverty.

The United Nations set the theme for this year’s commemoration appropriately as, “Answering the Call of October 17 to end poverty: A Path Toward Peaceful and Inclusive Societies.” It has been demonstrated that the poverty of some affects whole communities and leads to the destabilizing of civic structures. We are witnesses to the instability of our age, to a depersonalized world overrun with war, terrorism, human exploitation, and a self-centered will to power.

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal to end all poverty everywhere by 2030 seems too ambitious to many, but according to the Director-General of UNESCO it is achievable. Irina Bokova claims that success rests on political determination driven by solid knowledge about the causes, mechanisms, and consequences of poverty.

If we look at the magnitude of world and local poverty from a merely statistical reference we learn that 2.4 billion people survive on less than $2.00 a day; 1.6 billion people live in poverty; one half of the refugee population are children.

The poor have a voice. What do we hear them say about the situations that make poverty a systemic trap for them:

“I am not able to find work with my limited skills.

How will I feed my children?

I cannot support my children on low wages I make in 2 jobs

I am forced to choose between food and medicine in my senior years.

I am undocumented and am exploited by my employer.

I am opiad addicted and feel trapped.

My parents may be deported. Who will care for me?

I may be deported. Where do I belong?

The soup kitchen lost its grant. How will I eat?

We have lost everything in hurricanes, floods, etc.

I am hungry and no one feeds me, I want to learn and no one teaches me.

I don’t want bombs; I need bread.”

On the international level, children are the innocent victims of war and violence, famine and displacement. The hostilities in Syria, Yemen and Palestine lead us to wonder how children can live normal loving lives when fear is their emotional response to life. It is heart wrenching to know that children are dying each day of starvation, as I dump food in the garbage.

It is heartening to know that movements of solidarity and care are finding ways to change things. One movement close to my heart is Bread For The World. Its primary purpose is to end hunger everywhere. Although not political in intent, BFW is currently pushing Congress to respond to the spreading famine in Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. The famine and displacements are reaching proportions that haven’t been seen since World War II. BFW Churches mobilize people to write letters to Congress and to visit their legislators to effect changes in policy.

Albert Nolan in his book “Hope in An Age of Despair,” 2010, reframes our option for the poor as an option for the cause of the poor. He writes, “Beyond  our ability to be moved by the pain of the poor, as good as that is, we are to take sides against the cause of the rich; to choose to eliminate unjust economic structures that discriminate against the poor, but the poor themselves have to take up their own cause.”

Taking on the call to be in solidarity with the poor is a task and grace given to us by Jesus. “For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sakes He became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor. 8: 9).

As our own legislators are consumed with measures that will remove health care and  safety nets for many, while Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have caused loss of life, destruction of homes, citizens in the entertainment and media industries hosted the telethon Hand-in-Hand, and raised millions of relief funds. The Global Citizens Festival, held in September in New York, was a gathering of 60,000 people of all ages, races and creeds calling for political and social change, with special efforts to defeat AIDS and poverty. As I watched these events on TV and saw faces radiating the joy of life, I wondered if we are witnessing a renaissance of goodness, a new age of spirit and unity!

Our prophetic Pope Francis tells us in his Encyclical “Laudato Si” “that the human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together…affecting the most vulnerable people on the planet…the gravest effects are suffered by the poorest.”

As we commemorate this International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, you may wish to Google some websites for the many heartening stories of solidarity. One story that touched me was that of the Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC). It began 15 years ago when parents and families walked in the rain to the juvenile courthouse, stood and gave voice to over 2,000 voiceless families to abolish the school to prison pipeline, thus reforming the juvenile justice system.

Finally, as we join with other alliances to fight poverty, secure inclusion and dignity for all, what would we write on our commemorative stone?  Have we already done so in our Chapter mandates?

Posted in Just Reflecting, News

What would you bring?

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP

As I write this blog, I’m watching the rain turning our backyard into a swamp.  The rain is soft but steady and the water quickly gathers into a small pond.  I know that a rainfall like Harvey would flood our basement and house very quickly requiring us to evacuate.  After watching so much coverage of Harvey victims with their garbage bags holding their possessions, I got to wondering what I would pack if I had to evacuate quickly.  What precious items would be in my black bag?

The first thing that came to mind was the copy of my vows that I signed at my first and final professions. They define so much who I am today.  Then I thought of the small collection of pictures I culled out for use at my funeral- reminders of family, my Dominican Collaborative Novitiate crowd,  my good friends.  (I just stuck them in the envelope with my vows.)  I’d take two crosses hanging on my wall – one a resurrection cross given to me by a dear friend and the other that I received at my profession.  Another much loved mentor gave me a wooden statue of Dominic that she received at her profession in 1952. I couldn’t let anything happen to a Dominic who is as old as me.  I’d add a watercolor painted by another close friend.  Finally I’d stick some earrings that were my mother’s and my dad’s wedding ring into my stash.

As I reflected on why I’d take these items first I realized that they all remind me of relationships and events that have shaped in some way who I am… sisters, family, and friends. They are very valuable to me and would be lost forever if destroyed.  That would you take with you?  What memories and relationships do you hold dear?  My heart aches for all those who lost precious keepsakes in this recent flood and I pray that when the disaster is over, they can begin to gather some new mementoes.

Posted in Just Reflecting, News

Changing the World One Word at a Time

Blog by Sr. Margaret Mary Kennedy

September 8th we celebrate International Literacy Day. It is a day to remember the giftedness of all those who give their time and talents in order to teach others. It is also a day to honor the courage and dedication of those men and women who step out of their own comfort zone to learn a new language and way of communication in a new and foreign country.

Literacy by definition is:” the capacity to read and write in a language that can be understood”. This is an educational definition.

This past year the Springs Learning Center celebrated 15 years of Literacy training for men and women in the New Haven area. During this end of the year celebration, many of the students got up to speak and voiced what their new learning meant to them.

“I am now not afraid to go shopping”. “People listen to me know and I can voice my needs.” “I am learning English and it is hard, but I am doing it!” “I can now get a better job because I speak English better. “ “This program is changing my life.”

I am sure that these quotes are voiced by many students in other Learning Centers we sponsor across the country. Reflecting on the comments, my definition of Literacy has changed. The capacity to read, write, and speak seem to be only the basics of teaching literacy. It is more than an educational gift. It is a life giving gift of empowering others to communicate and become the new voices in our changing world.

Yes, our world IS changing. It is growing larger and all men and women are called to embrace these changes and welcome others into full participation for a better world. As St. Catherine is quoted, “Preach the Truth as if you had a thousand voices. It is silence that kills the world.” We are called to enable the truth to be heard in those thousand voices of the students that we meet weekly.

As Peacemakers, we are also justice seekers and Justice can only be achieved when all voices and ideas are heard. Illiteracy breads powerlessness. When people are unable to communicate they become victims of the society they are trying to join I have heard people who are immigrants tell me that “people think I am stupid, ignorant because they do not understand me, but I am not.” How sad to hear this statement from those whose only goal in life is to provide a better life for their families and themselves. When we teach even one person, we are adding to the thousand voices that need to be heard in order to break down the walls of fear and division.

As Americans, sadly, many have not felt the need to learn to become fluent in another language. I admire anyone who is bilingual and most of all I am in awe of my 5 ESL students who have learned so much English this year and are eager to continue. I must confess that I never did learn another language fluently, and the older one gets it IS harder! BUT one of my “fun” practices throughout the years has been to learn to say: “Hello and Thank you” in as many foreign languages as possible. After all these are the best words to know!! So far I am up to 7 and counting. This month and during International Literacy Day, this might be a good practice, and it’s fun!

To all of you tutors – know you are amazing!! To all learners – keep it up! You are also amazing. Together, we can change the world one word at a time!! PEACE.

Posted in Just Reflecting

Names of Guyanese Women

Andrea Haller

Hello, let me introduce myself. My name is Andrea. I am more commonly known as “White Gyal” by the men on the streets of Guyana where I serve as a teacher to boys living at an orphanage. The boys know me as “Miss Andrea.” Everyday I commute to work using my own two feet and the bus. The hardest part is walking, not because it is a long distance or uphill both ways, but because men address me with terribly degrading comments, each one more insulting, sexual, and aggressive than the last. As I walk, I think about the women who experience this their whole lives. Young girls see their fathers call out to women as they are walking through the market. Maturing teenagers are expected to be flattered as they walk home from school and hear whistles as they walk past the bar. Women are carrying their small children with them as men ask if they could make more together. It is absolutely disturbing for women to be treated in such a way. It is as if they are a piece of meat or a prize to be won. How can this not wear on women? Surely, many of them learn to believe these false names and lies they are told.

As I sit with the boys along the fence at the orphanage, I consider how they perceive women. Do they view women as a commodity? The most consistent male role models they have are the older boys and the men who they pass on the street. These sweet and loving boys are growing up in a culture where men are taught to catcall women and women are taught to take it. Unfortunately, many of them accept these roles and do not realize the negative effects. I have sat with them while they call out and whistle to young women walking by. My immediate reaction is to try to talk about their motivation for saying something, how it might make the woman feel, and better ways of getting the attention of people they find attractive. I have learned that this doesn’t work so well. The boys feel very strongly about showing their dominance and are quick to defend their methods. It scares me for the boys, their future partners, and children. I know that in their beautiful, pure hearts they do not desire to have unhealthy relationships where the women are objects. Nor do they want their future daughters to be treated, or their sons to treat women, in the same way they do.

I found hope for them and the women of Guyana in an upsetting event. I sat with the boys along the fence in our usual spots talking about school and football. Suddenly, one of the big boys said, “Miss, you need to leave.” I tried to ask why and he just franticly shook his head. Just then a man walked up to me and said, “Aye white gyal. Good Afternoon.” I simply responded with, “Good Afternoon,” and began to walk away. Normally, this method ends the conversation. Unfortunately, this man continued saying, “I need a nice sexy white gyal an it look like you duh one.” I went behind a building in hopes that he would walk away. He didn’t. The man decided to tell the boys about all of my physical features that he lusted for. I was devastated, but not for me, for the boys. This is how they are learning to treat women. What do I do? I can’t change a culture.

These amazing boys gave me hope in their response to the man. One of the younger boys, Nate, came and sat with me behind the building. He was comforting me and telling me it would be okay. He did this in between peeking out from behind the building to tell the man, “She gone away.” After the man finally left, an older boy, Levi, sat with me and we had a meaningful conversation about the way men treat women. He asked me about the sexual harassment I have experienced and how it has affected me. We talked about how hurtful it is to feel objectified. He said to me, “Miss, I will never let anyone treat you that way again, and I won’t ever treat anyone like that. I promise.”

Nate and Levi showed compassion that day. Their compassion gave me hope. I have hope that they will recall this day when they consider calling out to women in the future. I have hope that they will spread their compassion for women to their peers. This is how change happens. It is not about trying to tell, or even reason with, them what is right. They have to have experiences that change their heart and open their minds. In the future, I hope that each woman of Guyana learns her true name. This is what will keep them strong as they are called these insults. Eventually, they will only be the true name given to them. This name is Beautiful Daughter of God.

Andrea Haller is a 2016 graduate of Ohio Dominican University where she studied Early Childhood Education and Intervention Specialist. She recently completed a year of service with Mercy Volunteer Corps in Georgetown, Guyana where she worked at Sr. John Bosco Boys’ Orphanage and Bosco Academy. She will be returning to Columbus, OH as an Intervention Specialist at Goshen Lane Elementary School in the Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools.

Posted in Just Reflecting

I climbed a pyramid…

Sr. Anna and June at the top of the pyramid
Blog by Sr. June Fitzgerald, OP

I climbed a pyramid . . .

and other adventures in the life of a Dominican Sister of Peace.

It’s all about perspective you know.  Photographers and theologians alike know that one’s perspective directly influences what one sees and how it is interpreted.  Yet, how often are we consciously aware of our own perspective?

For a moment, I invite you to think about your perspective.  Where do you live?  What cultural lens, physical condition, gender, values and religious beliefs make up your “view” of the world around you?

Ponder that for a moment, look around you.  How often do you/we really look around ourselves fully conscious of our perspective on the world?  I’d like to share a recent adventure where my perspective of the world required seeing from a different lens.

Last month, when visiting Mexico City for a cultural and language immersion program, I had the opportunity to climb the Pyramid of Cuicuilco which is the oldest pyramid in Mesoamerica.  The pyramid was built around 6,000 BC and it was used for religious ceremonies and cultural gatherings.  The legends tell that it was a place, “where they make songs and dances”.  It was buried under volcanic rock and ash after the eruption of the volcano Xitli around 60 BC.

The site has been excavated and some of the pyramid has been repaired to represent its original shape and size.  It is one of the few pyramids that were built in the shape of a circle or a cone.  Actually, the people of this area believed that at the center of the pyramid was the place where all civilization had emerged.  That point was believed to be the “belly-button” of the earth and that they were the first people.  That was their perspective, as coming from and being in the center of all creation.

Fast forward to a hot day in June 2017, standing at the apex of the pyramid we were able to see for many miles in each direction.  We could see the ancient volcanoes, open fields, and a dense city-scape circling out around us.  From our perspective we could imagine being in the center of all creation.  Yet . . . we know that we are not – we are a part of the whole of creation.  God is at the center.

If I live out of that reality – that God is at the center – then, my perspective changes.  My life changes focus, as do all of my choices.  Today, as I stand where my feet are, I turn to my center – take God’s hand and step out in faith.

What is your perspective?  Where is your center?

Discerning a call from God can sometimes feel like being called out onto a new vista – a new perspective.  If you find yourself being called to this something new, this something more why not explore this call with one of our vocation ministers?  Be bold in your response to God.

Posted in Just Reflecting, News