Peace & Justice Blog

Stay up to date on peace and justice issues, both locally and internationally, and learn how you can take action.


 

Opening Eyes, Opening Ears, Opening Hearts

“What you do to the least of these people, you do to me.”

(Matt. 25:40)

Blog by Sr. Mai Dung Nguyen

A conservative estimate is that LGBTQ people make up about 10% of the U.S. population. Hearing these numbers, I asked myself. “If at least one in ten people identifies as LGBT, how is it that I do not recognize them in my life?  Then a Bible quote came to me; “Have you had eyes but do not see and ears but do not hear?” (Matt.13:13-14) Looking back on my life, I have begun to realize that they were all around me but for some reason, I did not see them.

I began to remember that in my earlier life in Vietnam, I was introduced to the LGBTQ world at a very young age when my biology teacher told my class that her friend had transitioned from male to female. Then, during my high school years, I had two gay classmates. Years later, as a medical student, my friends and I met an intersex person in a hospital whose genital, chromosomal, or gonadal characteristics were not completely female or male. She identified as female and presented as female, but the doctors insisted she be assigned as male. When I came to the United States and attended a community college, I knew another transgender person who transitioned from female to male. To me these people were strange and weird, which is exactly how many of my friends saw them too. I did not try to understand them, or have compassion and sensitivity toward them.

The turning point came for me a few years ago when I came to know a transgender person.  I  listened to that person’s story and came to know the family.  I cried at the profound trauma and injustice this individual and their loved ones faced. I realized that they do not choose to be vulnerable, rejected, or alienated.  I needed to learn and understand more.

Recently I was blessed to meet another transgender person. After forty years of struggle to be the woman that was not inside of him, he is now a handsome man who is successful in his profession. He helped me to see transgender people from another perspective.  Each person is different, but all go through unbelievable pain, struggle and rejection. But yet, with courage and help, many of them get to the other side of that experience and live generous, productive lives with self-confidence.

As a Dominican trying to preach the Gospel through my living, I am questioning myself.  As a Dominican Sister of Peace, can I let LGBTQ people touch my heart and feel free to love and care for them as God loves and cares for them, without being afraid or judgmental?  Can I be a model of compassion to future generations in the Church as we live the Gospel in the midst of a violent world?

I thank God for giving me opportunities to meet such a diversity of people.  This community of marginalized people is educating me to appreciate the different parts of the Body of Christ.

For many years, I had eyes but did not see, and ears but did not hear.  How about you, my sisters and brothers in Christ?

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

Building Barriers of Love

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

Last week, Associate Theresa Kempker shared her reflections about “building a barrier of love” to protect Muslims being harassed by a hate group.  I was there also and it made a lasting impression on me.  I kept thinking, “why do they (the hate group) hate these people so much?”  Perhaps it’s ignorance because it certainly isn’t Jesus’ teaching to hate.  This experience made me curious about American Muslims and I share my findings.

According to Teaching Tolerance (Tolerance.org) America has one of the most diverse Muslim populations in the world. The breakdown looks like this: 1/3 are African-American, 1/3 are of South Asian descent, ¼ are of Arab descent, and the rest are from all over the world.  One half of the 3.5 million American Muslims were born in the U.S.

Some of the first Muslim immigrants were slaves brought to the U.S. from Africa in the 17th century. Scholars say that ¼ – 1/3 of the slaves were Muslims. The next wave came in the late 19th century when large numbers of Arabs, mostly from Lebanon and Syria came to the U.S.  Most were Arab Christians but there were many Muslims who settled in the Midwest.  The first mosque was built in Ross, North Dakota in 1929.

American Muslims are present in all walks of life, doctors, taxi drivers, lawyers, accountants, homemakers, academics, media personalities, athletes, entertainers.  Think Muhammad Ali, Fareed Zakaria, Shaquille O’Neal, Dr. Oz, Cat Stevens.

In an annual survey conducted by the Institute for Social Policy & Understanding whose mission is to conduct objective, solution-seeking research that empowers American Muslims to develop their community and fully contribute to democracy and pluralism in the United States, they discovered:

  • 80% of Muslims reject violence carried out by an individual or small group
  • 76% of Muslims say violence against civilians can never be justified, compared to 59% of the general public
  • Someone perceived to be Muslim accused of a terror plot received 7 times the media coverage as someone not perceived to be Muslim.
  • Attacks by Muslim perpetrators received, on average, 357% more coverage than other attacks.
  • 46% of Muslims agree that wearing a visible symbol such as a head cover or hijab, makes their faith identity known to others.

Interestingly, they also found that:

  • 86% of Americans say they “want to live in a country where no one is targeted for their religious identity.” There was agreement across faith communities ranged from 95% of Jews to 78% of white Evangelicals.
  • 66% of Americans agree that “the negative things politicians say regarding Muslims is harmful to our country.”
  • 55% of Americans say that most Muslims living in the United States are committed to the well-being of America.

Many of us believe that all religious contain a piece of the truth about our creator and compassionate God.  Without our Muslim brothers and sisters, we would be missing a piece.

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

I’ll Pray for Them Always

Blog by Associate Theresa Kempker, OPA

In June, Muslims around the world observed the end of Ramadan, their month of fasting, with the holy day of Eid al-Fitr.  In Columbus, a local hate group advertised that they were going to gather outside one of the mosques on this day and hassle the congregants as they went to worship.  Soon, a request went out for people to make a barrier of love around the mosque, to separate the Muslim congregants from those who would hinder their right to worship.

We gathered at noon on a very hot, sunny day.  I quickly found some Sisters and Associates.  We waved at the Muslims as they came in, the Muslims brought us water, and the other group stayed across the street with some nasty signs.  After a very hot hour, we went home.

A few days later, I was having lunch with a Muslim student of mine.  She was saddened by the vitriolic language that she kept hearing.  After talking about the news, I told her that there is hope, and I described the barrier of love.  She was so touched to hear that these people came out in the heat so that Muslims could go to worship.  She got tears in her eyes, and then she said, “Please tell them that I will pray for them always.”

May the prayers of this student combine with ours to make a world of peace.

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

Still Slavery

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

Every time I think about human trafficking, I have to shake my head.  How can it be possible that in 2018, there are men, women, and children who are treated like property?  The latest number I’ve seen is that almost 25 million people are sold for sex or labor. While most of us think of trafficking as sex trafficking, 81% of individuals are exploited for labor or state-imposed forced labor. Since this is a global problem, the U.N. has named July 30th as World Day Against Trafficking in Persons to “raise awareness of the situation of victims of human trafficking and for the promotion and protection of their rights.”

Consider the story of Emmanuel and Isaac in Ghana.  Emmanuel and Isaac’s mother struggled to care for them and keep them safe. When she could no longer afford to feed her boys, she sold them to a man who put them to work on a fishing boat. This man was abusive, often hitting Emmanuel and Isaac with the boat paddle. Emmanuel and Isaac would often split one meal a day between them. The brothers were able to escape when their trafficker heard authorities were arresting people who had kids working on the boats. Emmanuel and Isaac now live with a neighbor who sends them to school.

Or Raul…  When Raul was in high school in the Dominican Republic, he jumped at the opportunity to go to the United States to continue his education. A family friend offered to be his sponsor and hire Raul in his restaurant while Raul attended school. Shortly after Raul arrived in the United States and began attending the local high school, his sponsor pulled him out of classes and forced him to work in his restaurant full-time for less than $1 an hour. The sponsor withheld Raul’s passport, threatened him, and sexually abused him. Raul was forced to live in filthy conditions in the restaurant. After an anonymous call to the national hotline, law enforcement officials raided the restaurant and arrested Raul’s sponsor.

Not surprising, the majority of victims trafficked are women and girls -70% – and shockingly, the average cost of a slave globally is $90.00. According to a September 2017 report from the International Labor Organization (ILO) and Walk Free Foundation, human trafficking earns profits of roughly $150 billion a year for traffickers. So this is big money. It will need all our vigilance to overthrow it.  On Monday, July 30, join others around the world to pray and act for victims of trafficking.

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

Five Practices

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP

Have you ever attended a family dinner where you wondered if you and your siblings grew up in the same household – your view on the issues were so different from each other?

Or visited with friends and wondered if you both belonged to the same Catholic church because your understanding of living the gospel was so different?

If so, you might understand this comment by Jesus that “a prophet is not without honor expect in his native place and among his own kin.” (Mark 6:4)  Being a prophet is tough work.  Speaking on God’s behalf is not easy.

The nation – our world –  needs prophets more than ever today.  Each of us is called to speak on God’s behalf on the injustice that’s prevalent today.  So, how do we do it?    I would like to suggest five practices will help us with our prophecy work.

  1. Stay civil even when we are on opposite sides of an issue. Think of all the times Jesus was treated disrespectfully. He was asked to leave town… criticized for healing people…. called names.  During all these situations and others, he stayed civil.  He might have totally disagreed but he stayed respectful. We are called to be courageous but also civil in our prophetic work whether in person or on social media.
  2. Listen carefully. One of Stephen Covey’s habits for highly successful people is “Seek first to understand then to be understood.” It’s hard to have any dialogue when one person refuses to listen to another.  Jesus listened carefully and patiently to the couple traveling to Emmaus. Once they shared their experience, he was able to share his and open up their eyes and hearts.  I image our own Father Dominic with the innkeeper.  Surely, he listened to the inn keeper’s point of view before presenting his own.  He respected the innkeeper enough to listen to him which encouraged the innkeeper’s willingness to be open as well.  We may not agree with someone but we must listen to them if we ever want them to listen.
  3. Don’t buy into stereotypes. Stereotypes build walls and keep us from connecting with other. Look at how Jesus is stereotyped in Mark 6:3.   He’s not Jesus, the wonder worker, he’s the carpenter…. Mary’s son…..a normal Joe from the town.  He can’t possibly do all these miraculous things. And because they couldn’t see past their vision of what someone like Jesus is supposed to be,  he is not able to be truly what he was… a healer… a teacher… a prophet.
  4. Give up gossip. Gossip saps our energy and we prophets need energy to do our work.  Total waste of energy.  Jesus’ own experience with gossip in Mark 6:1-6 leads to his not being able to do much healing.  The crowd’s gossip sowed seeds of disbelief that drained his energy.
  5. Have mercy. One of Pope Francis’ famous lines is “Who am I to judge.”  It’s really hard not to judge people who seem to have such misguided opinions.  Of course, they think the same about us! But if we walk into a conversation judging the other, we will never be able to connect with them.  Being prophetic is speaking in God’s voice and our God is a merciful God.

So even though we may feel totally unprepared or, like Jesus, feel rejected in our own homes or with friends for preaching the truth of Jesus’ inclusion, openness and healing, we can’t give up.

God is sending us out as prophets to people who seem to be on the opposite side of justice issues than we are… who seem to see Jesus in a totally different way than we do. Come on… let’s support each other as prophets in a world desperate for God’s love.  God’s spirit will be with us.

 

(Adapted from a preaching on July 8, 2018)

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog