October 20, 2018 The Day God Smiled and Cried

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

Sunday was an especially amazing and yet difficult day –  a day when God smiled and cried at the same time.  Sunday was the dedication of the first Social Justice Park in the United States.  The Washington Gladden Social Justice Park, a brainchild of associate Rev. Tim Aherns, had its grand opening. Although it was a damp, dreary, cold day, hundreds came out including Dominican Sisters of Peace and their Associates.

At one point, the rain began and colorful umbrellas covered the crowd like so many mushrooms.  It occurred to me that God was crying about all the injustice happening in our world– the shootings in Pittsburgh and the Kroger outside Louisville, KY, the pipe bombs, the caravan from Honduras and the fear mongering bent on stopping them at our border, the laws and rules determined to keep refugees and asylum seekers from being welcomed, the bombing in Syria and Yemen, and many, many more actions that don’t seem to represent the values of our country.

Then, in the midst of the rain came the sun.  Just a glimmer at first but later bright,
warm, loving sun embraced our cold, damp bodies.  It seemed miraculous to me – almost as if God
was smiling down on the park and all the folks supporting it.  There was reason for us to be happy at that
moment as we heard from various speakers of the promise of the park.  We need a park full of beauty to keep us
thinking about and acting for the cause of justice. 

I was particularly moved by the poem written and read by Sara Abou Rached, a 19 year old raised in Syria whose family came here because of the war, who described America “as one reliant woman who is loud, proud, strong. Whose shoulders shelter continents. Who arms extend and reach beyond oceans.”  Yes…. America who is welcoming and sheltering and peaceful.

She reminded me of the greatness of America in a time when
it’s easy to feel the stinginess of our government’s actions and overwhelming
amount of injustice.

In his daily email on that same day, Fr. Richard Rohr wrote
that that we are each love. “When [we] don’t live according to love, [we] are
outside of being. [We] are not real or true to ourselves. When [we] love, [we]
are acting according to our deepest being, our deepest truth.  [We] are operating according to our
dignity…This kind of love is… outflowing.” 
That same day, God cried and smiled on us at the same time, an outflowing
of God’s presence to remind us that we must also promote an outflowing of
justice.

You can listen to Sara’s entire poem here:  https://www.pbs.org/video/i-am-america-sara-abou-rashed-awtcyo/

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

How Will You Vote?

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

One of the freedoms that I am most grateful for is
freedom of speech. As citizens, we are able to disagree publically with our
elected officials and each other without worrying about the police arresting us
when we walk out the door. And most importantly, we can make our voice heard
through our vote. 

When we vote, we look for the person who will best
represent our values. This can be especially difficult in today’s climate and we
might be tempted to vote only for our party, or for women…or Latinos…or
liberals… or…..   You get my point.  

Some might vote only for a candidate who professes
to be pro-life. Voting for a person who is anti-abortion is not necessarily the
same as voting pro-life.  Life does not
stop when a child is born.  There are so
many other important life issues to be considered.  I would suggest that all the issues that the
Dominican Sisters of Peace have included in our voting guide are pro-life
including protection from violence in our own communities and welcoming people
escaping from it in their countries…ensuring that our creation is protected and
its resources are available for all…protecting adults and children from sex or
labor trafficking. They address the sanctity of life from conception to natural
death.

So what do you do when a candidate professes to be
pro-life but addresses none of the life issues after birth? That’s where our
consciences come into play.

A recent article in America called Catholic Teaching on Conscience is (Again)
Topic of Discussion at Synod
, states “Catholics believe that following
one’s conscience is paramount—and that believers should do their best to form
their consciences in the light of reason, experience, Scripture and spiritual
formation, always with the help of church teaching.”  The Church’s Social Teaching is one source of
formation and includes the rights to life, dignity, work, care for the poor and
vulnerable, and care for creation. Perhaps we need to work together to end
abortions by helping women to avoid them or supporting mothers when their children
are born.

So, in the end, each
person must make his or her decision on how to vote. That decision must be done
with prayer, information, discussion. 
Voting is an important action that cannot be taken lightly. It affects
each of us personally and communally. 
May you find peace in this important action. 

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

Justice is Rest

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

The best law in the church’s canon is number 663 which states that religious are “to observe faithfully an annual period of sacred retreat.”  What a blessing that it is a required to take time out to rest the mind, body, and spirit. I just got back from my retreat and it was an amazing experience. Once again, I experienced God in the beauty of the retreat grounds, in the daily liturgy and scripture readings, and in the reflections suggested by my director.  Add to that great food and a comfortable bed and it was just what I needed to refuel for my ministry.

It got me thinking, however, about the idea of rest and relaxation and how so many people do not have that luxury. Even with the job market as robust as it is, low wage earners – around one-third of the work force-  earn less than $12 an hour and would have to work full time over 50 weeks per year to reach the poverty line for a family of three.   The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines a ‘working poor’ person as someone below the poverty line who spent at least half the year either working or looking for work.  There are around 7.6 million working poor primarily adults over 35.  If they cannot get full time work or if their income is not enough to make ends meet, they must work several jobs. The Labor Department also reported that around 7.6 million workers held multiple jobs just to make ends meet.

Many of these working poor are single parents, mostly women, who also have children or elderly parents to care for. Sadly, caregiving is not often thought of as work and not factored into the work equation.  Even if the children are in school, there is not enough time for mothers to work full time and care for their children. If they are earning only the national minimum wage which is $7.25, it is impossible to make enough income to support their families. The stress of living in this environment must be tremendous. And there is likely not much opportunity for rest or relaxation.

Time off for relaxation and vacation like retreats is important to our wellbeing. This has been known for ages. Leonardo da Vinci said, “Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer.” Lack of relaxation can cause anxiety, depression, digestive issues, headaches, or chest pain.  The ability to have some time for relaxation improves health and mood.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to have time each year to do a retreat. I’m even more grateful that I have time each week for the Sabbath and do not have the stress of supporting myself and my family. Do I really make the most of these opportunities?

For an interesting perspective on this issue, check out Americans Want to Believe Jobs Are the Solution to Poverty.  They’re Not.  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/11/magazine/americans-jobs-poverty-homeless.html

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

How Can you Stop Hunger?

What do you do when you feel pangs of hunger? The majority of those reading this article walk over the kitchen, open the refrigerator or cupboard and take out something delicious and nutritious to eat.  815 million – one out of nine – people do not have that luxury and are considered undernourished.  Unsurprisingly, the second Sustainable Goal is to end hunger by 2025.

Ending hunger includes achieving food security, improving nutrition, and promoting sustainable agriculture.  The good news is that over the past 20 years, the number of hungry people was reduced by half.  The bad news is because of conflict, drought and climate disasters the number of hungry people has increased.  In 2017, 151 million children under the age of five were under height for their age. 51 million suffered from wasting or low weight for their height. Will this continue to deteriorate due to climate change?

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

In 2017, USAID’s Office of Food for Peace helped approximately 69.4 million people in 53 countries.  The United States is often the largest provider of food aid and in 2017, gave $3.6 billion for food. This seems like a lot of money; but, let’s put it in perspective. The United States Government has budgeted $590 billion for defense this year. Americans spent $60.59 billion on their pets in 2015.  The 2016 presidential campaign cost at least $5 billion.

As a percent of GDP, however, U.S. aid spending ranks near the bottom of all developed countries. It accounts for 0.17 percent of GDP, twentieth out of twenty-eight countries measured by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom all spend more than 0.7 percent of GDP on foreign aid, which is the target set by the United Nations.

It may be hard to believe but there are hungry people in the U.S. also. In fact, 41 million Americans struggle with hunger.  Unemployment, household assets, and demographics can make it difficult to get the nutritious food people need to thrive.  Government programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) the National School Lunch Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provide help.  These programs are under siege with this administration and in danger of being reduced.

So, next time you walk to the frig and grab a bite, remember those who are hungry, offer a quick prayer, and then call your senator and representative and urge them not to decrease food aid here or abroad.

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

Justice for Those who Provide our Food

Blog by Sr. Barbara Catalano

The wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud.  (James 5: 4) 

These words cried out to me from the second Mass reading last Sunday. Saint James is very strong in condemning the labor injustice on the farms of his day. The workers’ wages were being withheld by cruel masters and their misery cried out to Heaven for justice.

Actually, James could use the same words today about what happens in many of the fields of the U.S. One example is North Carolina where agriculture is the leading industry. Over 150,000 farm workers with their dependents work there during harvest season. The work is very labor-intensive especially the ‘stoop labor’ under a hot sun. Yet only 6 cents or less of every dollar the consumer will spend for that food goes to the farm worker.

A number of years ago I spent a ministry summer in North Carolina. One evening I helped teach English to the workers in the farm camps. I saw how hard they had to work for a pittance and how eager they were to learn. In one camp the men were from Haiti, and when they received their meager wages, they would walk to the nearest town to wire the money to their families back home.

The average annual income of the American farmworker is $11,000, making them the second lowest paid workforce in the nation. Farmworkers living in East Coast states such as North Carolina, earn about 35% less than that. The percentage of farmworker families living in poverty is nearly double that of other working families in the US.  In fact according to a 2006 study, nearly five out of 10 farmworker households in North Carolina reported not being able to afford enough food to feed their families.

Besides the low wages, there are many occupational hazards the workers must endure as well such as: poisoning due to pesticides, muscular and skeletal damage, eye damage, heat illness, and injuries resulting from operating dangerous equipment. Taken together these frequent health issues make agriculture one of the three most dangerous occupations in the United States. To make matters worse, most growers are exempt from laws requiring Workers’ Compensation for farmworkers; safety laws are absent; and, there is no protection from employer retaliation under North Carolina and federal law for farmworkers. They may not unionize, or receive extra compensation for working overtime, or take sick leave. Add to this, the labor laws for farm workers allow children as young as 10 to work under certain conditions and with their parents’ consent.

The impact of Hurricane Florence is ongoing and will affect these farmworkers even more. If you want more information or feel God is calling you to help, contact the North Carolina Justice Center (http://www.ncjustice.org). They conduct regular visits with volunteers to the camps where migrant farmworkers live in order to advise them of their rights, and provide legal representation to those whose rights have been violated. In addition, they advocate for laws that improve the working and living conditions of migrant workers.

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog