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Catholic Social Teaching

Child labor is still a reality in many countries

posted Jan 27, 2016, 8:34 PM by Vidal Martinez

The earth is brown, sometimes

Greyish-brown, brown, black, ochre, mud… No, the earth is not always blue like an orange.

We see the child or the adolescent – it is hard to tell his age – as he moves forward carrying his burden. His gaze, at once concentrated and empty, is infinitely sad. 

Where is the light in this region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, famous for the extraction of cobalt, a mineral indispensable for the production of electronic objects, now the faithful companions of our daily lives?

According to a report by Amnesty International, 150,000 child “diggers” work in the cobalt mines, exposed to danger and illness, deprived of schooling, etc.

Child labor is still a reality in many countries and in many sectors of the economy. It is difficult to eradicate, partly due to lack of determination on the part of the authorities, and partly because the survival of whole families and the children themselves often depends on it.

Some countries like Bolivia have decided to supervise it so that the children can go to school part time. Others, like the DRC, passed laws prohibiting child labor but are incapable of enforcing them. When poverty is combined with poor governance and repeated violence, the exploitation of these cheap workers thrives.

To such an extent that the wealth of a country – the DRC is the world’s leading producer of cobalt – never reaches the Congolese themselves but goes directly to others: in this case, a Chinese company.

This is reminiscent of a recent report on the France 2 television program “Grand Format.” It followed the absurd circuit of blue jean production: at each step of the manufacturing process, the pants travel thousands of miles. In particular, it showed a factory, once again in China, where fabrics are soaked in an indigo bath to dye them the right color, which will in any event have to be bleached afterwards! No environmental precautions are taken: the workers inhale the vapors from the vats without taking any precautions and the surrounding waterways have taken on a blue shade due, not to nature, but entirely to pollution.

“Everything is connected,” Pope Francis has warned in his encyclical. The exploitation of these children with their weary eyes; the incompetence of the DRC government; the cynicism of the Chinese mining company; the indifference of the buyers – electronic and automotive industries – seeking to negotiate the cheapest price for the precious component.

But also, at the end of the chain, we the consumers, with our enthusiasm for cell phones and computers and our fondness for jeans. The system can be improved, however. Campaigns to mobilize consumers at this end are putting pressure on industries here to require better working conditions over there. Even if it means paying a fair price. The gaze of the digger child demands it.

Short Answers to Hard Questions About Climate Change

posted Nov 30, 2015, 2:04 PM by Vidal Martinez

1. How much is the planet heating up?

1.7 degrees is actually a significant amount.

As of this October, the Earth had warmed by about 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, when tracking began at a global scale. That figure includes the surface of the ocean. The warming is greater over land, and greater still in the Arctic and parts of Antarctica.

The number may sound low, but as an average over the surface of an entire planet, it is actually high, which explains why much of the land ice on the planet is starting to melt and the oceans are rising at an accelerating pace. The heat accumulating in the Earth because of human emissions is roughly equal to the heat that would be released by 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs exploding across the planet every day.

Scientists believe most and probably all of the warming since 1950 was caused by the human release of greenhouse gases. If emissions continue unchecked, they say the global warming could ultimately exceed 8 degrees Fahrenheit, which would transform the planet and undermine its capacity to support a large human population.

2. How much trouble are we in?

For future generations, big trouble.

The risks are much greater over the long run than over the next few decades, but the emissions that create those risks are happening now. Over the coming 25 or 30 years, scientists say, the climate is likely to resemble that of today, although gradually getting warmer. Rainfall will be heavier in many parts of the world, but the periods between rains will most likely grow hotter and therefore drier. The number of hurricanes and typhoons may actually fall, but the ones that do occur will draw energy from a hotter ocean surface, and therefore may be more intense, on average, than those of the past. Coastal flooding will grow more frequent and damaging.

Longer term, if emissions continue to rise unchecked, the risks are profound. Scientists fear climate effects so severe that they might destabilize governments, produce waves of refugees, precipitate the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals in Earth’s history, and melt the polar ice caps, causing the seas to rise high enough to flood most of the world’s coastal cities.

All of this could take hundreds or even thousands of years to play out, conceivably providing a cushion of time for civilization to adjust, but experts cannot rule out abrupt changes, such as a collapse of agriculture, that would throw society into chaos much sooner. Bolder efforts to limit emissions would reduce these risks, or at least slow the effects, but it is already too late to eliminate the risks entirely.

3. Is there anything I can do?

Fly less, drive less, waste less.

There are lots of simple ways to reduce your own carbon footprint, and most of them will save you money. You can plug leaks in your home insulation to save power, install a smart thermostat, switch to more efficient light bulbs, turn off the lights in any room where you are not using them, drive fewer miles by consolidating trips or taking public transit, waste less food, and eat less meat.

Perhaps the biggest single thing individuals can do on their own is to take fewer airplane trips; just one or two fewer plane rides per year can save as much in emissions as all the other actions combined. If you want to be at the cutting edge, you can look at buying an electric or hybrid car, putting solar panels on your roof, or both.

If you want to offset your emissions, you can buy certificates, with the money going to projects that protect forests, capture greenhouse gases and so forth. Some airlines sell these to offset emissions from their flights, and after some scandals in the early days, they started to scrutinize the projects closely, so the offsets can now be bought in good conscience. You can also buy offset certificates in a private marketplace, from companies such as TerraPass in San Francisco that follow strict rules set up by the state of California; some people even give these as holiday gifts. Yet another way: In states that allow you to choose your own electricity supplier, you can often elect to buy green electricity; you pay slightly more, with the money going into a fund that helps finance projects like wind farms.

In the end, though, experts do not believe the needed transformation in the energy system can happen without strong state and national policies. So speaking up and exercising your rights as a citizen matters as much as anything else you can do.

4. What’s the optimistic scenario?

Several things have to break our way.

In the best case that scientists can imagine, several things happen: Earth turns out to be less sensitive to greenhouse gases than currently believed; plants and animals manage to adapt to the changes that have already become inevitable; human society develops much greater political will to bring emissions under control; and major technological breakthroughs occur that help society both to limit emissions and to adjust to climate change.

The two human-influenced variables are not entirely independent, of course: Technological breakthroughs that make clean energy cheaper than fossil fuels would also make it easier to develop the political will for rapid action.

Scientists say the odds of all these things breaking our way are not very high, unfortunately. The Earth could just as easily turn out to be more sensitive to greenhouse gases than less. Global warming seems to be causing chaos in parts of the natural world already, and that seems likely to get worse, not better. So in the view of the experts, simply banking on a rosy scenario without any real plan would be dangerous. They believe the only way to limit the risks is to limit emissions.

5. What’s the worst-case scenario?

There are many.

That is actually hard to say, which is one reason scientists are urging that emissions be cut; they want to limit the possibility of any worst-case scenario coming to pass. Perhaps the greatest fear is a collapse of food production, accompanied by escalating prices and mass starvation. Even with runaway emissions growth, it is unclear how likely this would be, as farmers are able to adjust their crops and farming techniques, to a degree, to adapt to climatic changes. Another possibility would be a disintegration of the polar ice sheets, leading to fast-rising seas that would force people to abandon many of the world’s great cities and would lead to the loss of trillions of dollars worth of property and other assets. Scientists also worry about other wild-card scenarios like the predictable cycles of Asian monsoons’ becoming less reliable. Billions of people depend on monsoons to provide water for crops, so any disruptions would be catastrophic.

6. Will a tech breakthrough help us?

Even Bill Gates says don’t count on it, unless we commit the cash.

As more companies, governments and researchers devote themselves to the problem, the chances of big technological advances are improving. But even many experts who are optimistic about technological solutions warn that current efforts are not enough. For instance, spending on basic energy research is only a quarter to a third of the level that several in-depth reports have recommended. And public spending on agricultural research has stagnated even though climate change poses growing risks to the food supply. People like Bill Gates have argued that crossing our fingers and hoping for technological miracles is not a strategy — we have to spend the money that would make these things more likely to happen.

7. How much will the seas rise?

The real question is not how high, but how fast.

The ocean is rising at a rate of about a foot per century. That causes severe effects on coastlines, forcing governments and property owners to spend tens of billions of dollars fighting erosion. But if that rate continued, it would probably be manageable, experts say.

The risk is that the rate will accelerate markedly. If emissions continue unchecked, then the temperature at the earth’s surface could soon resemble a past epoch called the Pliocene, when a great deal of ice melted and the ocean rose something like 80 feet compared to today. A recent study found that burning all the fossil fuels in the ground would fully melt the polar ice sheets, raising the sea level by more than 160 feet over an unknown period.

With all of that said, the crucial issue is probably not how much the oceans are going to rise, but how fast. And on that point, scientists are pretty much flying blind. Their best information comes from studying Earth’s history, and it suggests that the rate can on occasion hit a foot per decade, which can probably be thought of as the worst-case scenario. A rate even half that would force rapid retreat from the coasts and, some experts think, throw human society into crisis. Even if the rise is much slower, many of the world’s great cities will flood eventually. Studies suggest that big cuts in emissions could slow the rise, buying crucial time for society to adapt to an altered coastline.

8. Are the predictions reliable?

They’re not perfect, but they’re grounded in solid science.

The idea that Earth is sensitive to greenhouse gases is confirmed by many lines of scientific evidence. For instance, the basic physics suggesting that an increase of carbon dioxide traps more heat was discovered in the 19th century, and has been verified in thousands of laboratory experiments.

Climate science does contain uncertainties, of course. The biggest is the degree to which global warming sets off feedback loops, such as a melting of sea ice that will darken the surface and cause more heat to be absorbed, melting more ice, and so forth. It is not clear exactly how much the feedbacks will intensify the warming; some of them could even partially offset it. This uncertainty means that computer forecasts can give only a range of future climate possibilities, not absolute predictions.

But even if those computer forecasts did not exist, a huge amount of evidence suggests that scientists have the basic story right. The most important evidence comes from the study of past climate conditions, a field known as paleoclimate research. The amount of carbon dioxide in the air has fluctuated naturally in the past, and every time it rises, the Earth warms up, ice melts, and the ocean rises. A hundred miles inland from today’s East Coast, seashells can be dug from ancient beaches that are three million years old. These past conditions are not a perfect guide to the future, either, because humans are pumping carbon dioxide into the air far faster than nature has ever done.

9. Why do people question climate change?

Hint: ideology.

Most of the attacks on climate science are coming from libertarians and other political conservatives who do not like the policies that have been proposed to fight global warming. Instead of negotiating over those policies and trying to make them more subject to free-market principles, they have taken the approach of blocking them by trying to undermine the science.

This ideological position has been propped up by money from fossil-fuel interests, which have paid to create organizations, fund conferences and the like. The scientific arguments made by these groups usually involve cherry-picking data, such as focusing on short-term blips in the temperature record or in sea ice, while ignoring the long-term trends.

The most extreme version of climate denialism is to claim that scientists are engaged in a worldwide hoax to fool the public so that the government can gain greater control over people’s lives. As the arguments have become more strained, many oil and coal companies have begun to distance themselves publicly from climate denialism, but some are still helping to finance the campaigns of politicians who espouse such views.

10. Is crazy weather tied to climate change?

In some cases, yes.

Scientists have published strong evidence that the warming climate is making heat waves more frequent and intense. It is also causing heavier rainstorms, and coastal flooding is getting worse as the oceans rise because of human emissions. Global warming has intensified droughts in regions like the Middle East, and it may have strengthened the drought in California.

In many other cases, though, the linkage to global warming for particular trends is uncertain or disputed. That is partly from a lack of good historical weather data, but it is also scientifically unclear how certain types of events may be influenced by the changing climate.

Another factor: While the climate is changing, people’s perceptions may be changing faster. The Internet has made us all more aware of weather disasters in distant places. On social media, people have a tendency to attribute virtually any disaster to climate change, but in many cases there is no scientific support for doing so.

12. Will anyone benefit from global warming?

In certain ways, yes.

Countries with huge, frozen hinterlands, including Canada and Russia, could see some economic benefits as global warming makes agriculture, mining and the like more possible in those places. It is perhaps no accident that the Russians have always been reluctant to make ambitious climate commitments, and President Vladimir V. Putin has publicly questioned the science of climate change.

However, both of those countries could suffer enormous damage to their natural resources; escalating fires in Russia are already killing millions of acres of forests per year. Moreover, some experts believe countries that view themselves as likely winners from global warming will come to see the matter differently once they are swamped by millions of refugees from less fortunate lands.

13. Is there any reason for hope?

If you share this with 50 friends, maybe.

Scientists have been warning since the 1980s that strong policies were needed to limit emissions. Those warnings were ignored, and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have since built up to potentially dangerous levels. So the hour is late.

But after 20 years of largely fruitless diplomacy, the governments of the world are finally starting to take the problem seriously. A deal that is likely to be reached in Paris in December will commit nearly every country to some kind of action. Religious leaders like Pope Francis are speaking out. Low-emission technologies, such as electric cars, are improving. Leading corporations are making bold promises to switch to renewable power and stop forest destruction. Around the world, many states and cities are pledging to go far beyond the goals set by their national governments.

What is still largely missing in all this are the voices of ordinary citizens. Because politicians have a hard time thinking beyond the next election, they tend to tackle hard problems only when the public rises up and demands it.

Bringing God to a detention center

posted Nov 21, 2015, 7:29 AM by Vidal Martinez

For Esmeralda Saltos, a typical Sunday includes four worship services: morning Mass with her family at Holy Disciples Parish in Puyallup, Wash., and then three back-to-back afternoon services that she organizes and leads at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.

Saltos arrives at least 30 minutes before the first afternoon service is set to begin, carrying a Bible, holy water and Communion -- the few items that the GEO Group, the global for-profit prison company that runs the detention center, allows her to bring into the facility.

Making her way through throngs of mostly Latino families who have lined up to visit with loved ones (meetings are face-to-face but separated by Plexiglas and the use of a telephone), she requests a key to a locker at the check-in desk to stow her other belongings. She exchanges her driver's license for a badge displaying her name, photograph and the GEO Group logo.

Saltos isn't an employee, but, as an approved volunteer coordinator with the facility's chaplaincy program, she does work closely with GEO employees and in accordance with GEO policies and procedures in order to be consistently present to those she serves. Hundreds of Catholic men and women -- as well as non-Catholic detainees who choose to attend Catholic services -- are currently held at the Northwest Detention Center while awaiting administrative proceedings that will, at some point in the near or distant future, result in either deportation or release.

Saltos' ministry has also been shaped by guidelines established by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency that contracts with GEO Group and is tasked with ensuring, among other things, that immigrants retain their constitutional rights while in detention, including freedom of religion.

On a recent Sunday, this NCR reporter joined Saltos and her small team of pre-verified, trained volunteers. When they receive final permission, they cross through the first of up to seven secured doors that will lead them to an unoccupied pod that they will convert into a sacred worship space before the first grouping of 86 attendees arrive.

The number of attendees range from 70 to 100 people at each of the five Catholic services that are held for male detainees every week, in addition to a smaller service for female detainees on Tuesday evenings.

Accompanied by security personnel and Chaplain Keith Henderson, who is employed by the GEO Group, volunteers work quickly to unload the rolling altar cart, hang posters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Our Lady of Guadalupe with Velcro tape onto a message board, and stack boxes of donated Catholic Bibles and prayer books. A table is soon set with an altar cloth and a small standing crucifix.

Access to Catholic Bibles and other articles of faith, such as rosaries and prayer books, remain an impassioned priority for Saltos. Such donations occur only once every few months, she estimated, so this service will end with an excited, Christmas-like buzz as the mostly young men line up to receive their own Bible, sometimes for the first time.

"We suggest that they hand in their Bible rather than take it with them when they leave, but they almost always take it with them," Saltos said. "There's a constant need."

She has seen the profound impact these materials can have on individuals as well as on the community, not only helping detainees learn more about their faith but even inspiring some to hold daily Bible studies and sing hymns together.

"When I'm here, I see more need for God," one male detainee said. "Since I came here, I've felt empty. I needed something, but I didn't know what it was. Then my roommate gave me a Bible, and this got my attention. I used a rosary for the first time as well. I began to feel that I could fill this emptiness with Jesus in my heart. ... We all have a gift from God; we just need to build on it. Whatever I know, you know it, too. It's as easy as knowing how to express yourself."

Saltos is the designated pastoral minister to the Catholic population at the Northwest Detention Center, a position funded by Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain in 2014. According to the director for pastoral care, Erica Cohen Moore, the archdiocese will continue to "be creative in finding funding resources to make sure the ministry continues."

On this particular Sunday, Saltos wears a simple white sweater and jeans, and a rustic wooden cross hangs from a piece of white yarn knotted around her neck. As detainees begin to file in, some pause to kneel on the concrete floor before the image of Jesus crucified, their heads bowed and shoulders bent, faces turned away in a private moment of silent prayer. Others greet the volunteers with a brief nod and smile or handshake before choosing a seat among rows of plastic chairs.

After singing together and listening intently to the Scripture readings (read by two detainee volunteers), Saltos begins her message.

"Brothers, in the first reading of the Prophet Isaiah, we learn of what our Savior will have to go through for love of us when Jesus offered his back and his cheek to those who were beating him and did not turn his face from those who were insulting and spitting on him, [yet still had] the assurance that the Lord will not abandon him and will help him to not be confused or ashamed. If Jesus had to go through this without deserving it and only for love, it shows us that we need to reflect on his passion so that we can face our tribulations with confidence, knowing that our Lord does not abandon us."

Later, in a gently buoyant voice, Saltos describes her time with detainees as joyful and full of grace, despite the fact that interactions, by their nature, occur within a decidedly prisonlike environment. Yet Saltos returns week after week, eager to share God's word.

"What makes Esmeralda a real treasure is that she has such a strong faith in God and her church and a huge heart for the work that she does," former chaplain Lonnie Scott explained from his home near Spokane, where he now serves as a pastor at a local church. "That faith, coupled with a huge heart, makes her what she is."

He continued, "You can have detainees who have gone through horrible experiences. Through faith, they experience a spiritual healing and the rest of the healing follows. I saw this over and over again ... how fellowshipping could overcome the mental stresses of incarceration and so many other obstacles."

For Saltos, outreach to those experiencing present trials and future unknowns is also rooted in past experiences and challenges, including a fondly remembered childhood in central Mexico forever altered by her father's murder and, later, her family's decision to move to the United States.

She spent part of her teenage years growing up in the homes of kindly relatives (she remembers her mother and her aunt cooking meals for 19 children at a time) and, during young adulthood, made choices out of "stubbornness and pride" that led to two unplanned pregnancies and single parenthood.

Now married to Pedro and with five children, Saltos has come to feel that her outreach to immigrants also brings a mother's presence into an environment lacking direct ties to the institution of the family. Careful to maintain proper boundaries that respect her own and others' privacy, she nonetheless possesses a distinct warmth and confidence that "throws off sparks," as one volunteer described her energy and bright, engaging presence.

Her mother's prayers and the seed of faith planted in her heart at a young age have served as a compass of sorts, guiding her toward the knowledge that "I had to do the right thing" and follow "that call in my heart."

Indeed, such aspects of her own story have both stretched and deepened her ability to feel others' inmost struggles and reflect back to them their sometimes unrealized potential. She knows, she said, "what it's like to fail and then get up and let God use us in a way that's fruitful."

Her ongoing ministry to detainees, paired with the joys and support found within marriage, her family, and her larger community of faith, have become their own answers to this long-ago call to be productive, faithful and a bearer of mercy. Even at home, whether harvesting vegetables in her beloved garden or responding to her family's needs, she remains mindful of her responsibilities at the Northwest Detention Center, and her ongoing work among people who are largely forgotten.

"I always wanted to visit detainees as a work of mercy, which is something that my mother often talked to me about when I was a young girl, but I didn't know where to start," she said, her voice touched with gratitude and humility. "This desire was granted in a much bigger way than I'd hoped for."

[Julie Gunter is a frequent contributor to NCR.]

Tales from the garden: Sisters share stories of going vegetarian

posted Feb 25, 2015, 7:57 AM by Vidal Martinez

Last month, I looked at the documentary "Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret." Among its many disheartening statistics on the agriculture industry, the film also proposed a possible way out of the mess: eating lower on the food chain, for the sake of the animals, the planet and our health.

In other words, going vegan, or at least vegetarian.

According to a 2012 Gallup poll, 5 percent of American adults view themselves as vegetarian; 2 percent are vegan, eating no animal products at all. Making such a switch, or even limiting your meat consumption, can be a dramatic and difficult life adjustment.

Sr. Terry Mackenzie can attest to the struggle.

Now a seasoned vegetarian veteran, she gave up beef during the mid-1970s after learning about farms in other countries having to grow grain to feed U.S. cattle.

"It was very hard but I did it over three years," said Mackenzie, who oversees the Ecospirituality Resources blog. The most difficult part, she told NCR, "was not eating beef in community without others feeling judged." Making things a bit easier, her Society of Holy Child Jesus community in Chicago offers vegetarian options at its provincial meetings, and the eco-spirituality group never includes meat in their meals.

Mackenzie isn't alone in her pursuit of a less meat-centric diet. So are other members of Sisters of Earth, an informal network of religious and lay women who are responding to ecological issues through healing and restoration work: from digging gardens and offsetting their carbon footprints, to revising their dietary choices.

At the Our Lady of the Prairie Retreat center, in Davenport, Iowa, guests often expect vegetarian meals, said its director Notre Dame School Sr. Kathleen Storms.

"On weekends when we have retreats from Friday until Sunday we may have one meal with meat," she said.

Since her 2011 arrival at the center -- a ministry of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary -- Storms has made it a goal for the sisters to eat and buy local and to grow much of their own food. They also raise all of their own organic vegetables from heirloom seeds, operate a greenhouse, and are in the process of setting up solar panels. Two years ago, the sisters published their own cookbook, Spirit of the Prairie; Catering to the Soul.

Storms became dedicated to espousing healthy food choices after her cancer diagnosis in 2001. In a January 2014 reflection at the center's "A Nun's Pocket" blog, Storms said that "[Food] tells a lot about your values. It's a spiritual act because it connects you back to your soul."

At another Midwestern congregation, the Carondelet St. Joseph Sisters Motherhouse in St. Louis, they serve meatless meals once a week and offer a daily vegetarian option. In addition, they have switched to cloth napkins, taken up composting and even grow their own fresh herbs, said Diana Oleskevich, justice coordinator.

What motivates Notre Dame School Sr. Paulette Zimmerman, also of St. Louis, to remain vegetarian after more than a decade is a desire to avoid complicity with the harm to animals that often occurs in factory farms. While she appreciates those who buy from small farmers who raise animals in a humane way, "at this point," she said, "I'm trying to just not eat meat."

For St. Joseph Sr. Susan Wilcox, director of the campus ministry office at St. Joseph College in New York, what kick-started her 15-year journey from "aspiring" to "active" vegetarian was the 2011 documentary "Vegucated."

"I think the interesting thing in a non-supportive environment is the moral element of seeing the horrific factory farming images and the impacts (of raising beef) has on the climate that keeps me resolved," she said.

Darvesha MacDonald, a supporter of the Sisters of Earth, empathizes with Wilcox and others with similar stories. The long-time Buddhist -- a vegetarian for 30 years and a vegan for the past decade -- recalls her own discomfort in seeing what occurs in factory farms, particularly films on dairy farming.

"I had to tie myself to a chair to force myself to watch some of the footage that is available, but that is what really stopped me from eating dairy," said the Silver City, N.M., environmental activist and Dances of Universal Peace retreat leader.

While she doesn't believe people must continuously watch such films, she advised that they "make the 'unflinching gaze,' as the Buddhists call it, at least long enough to know the terrible suffering they are supporting by purchasing dairy products."

To help her stay true to her vegetarian ways, MacDonald has adopted an east-Indian cooking style -- with vegetables sautéed in spicy oil -- "so the smell of cooking fat does not tempt me at all. My meals are as satisfying as they can be."

Zimmerman has found "there is no shortage of great recipes out there" for eating vegetarian. Since her initial plunge, MacKenzie, the Chicago-area sister, has gone another step by substituting vegetarian chicken for the real thing.

Occasionally, she will purchase organic beef from local farms, "but after so many years of not eating meat, even knowing it's organic isn't enough to make me eager to eat it."

"Fortunately, I am happy eating simply," she said

Sharon Abercrombie

February Hill Connections

posted Feb 10, 2015, 8:02 PM by theresa orozco, ossm   [ updated Feb 10, 2015, 8:02 PM ]

Greetings OSMers,
February 2015 Additions on Hill Connections

We encourage you to check out our newest additions:

A Holistic Message Is Needed— A Faith Reflection with a call to preach and live a Holistic Gospel
Building Respect for Self and Others—A Spirituality and Art piece featuring an author and poet, who referred to herself as a “child of God," voicing care for all children
Perspectives on Social Issues for February 2015 — 
  • Pope’s Plea to End Modern-day Slavery
  • Chicago Kids Restore Justice, Create Safety - in their Own Ways
  • On Death Row: Finding Support, Forgiveness, and Ways to Help Others
  • Theologians Speak to Moral Need to Address Racism
  • “This Is the Time for Diplomacy” with Iran
All of these and more are available via links in the attached file, on the web, and in the "New" section on our home page: <http://hillconnections.org>.

We contemplate the gift and meaning of Love in our lives as we celebrate St. Valentine and enter into the Season of Lent,

Maggie and Mary Pat

Racial Tensions Rooted in History

posted Jan 14, 2015, 10:38 AM by Vidal Martinez

By Sister Denise S.


This article was written in response to a grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson, a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, who fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, on August 9, 2014.

I am a white person, born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. I have understood myself as white, and been treated as white. This article is mainly about white.

It was 1972. Two white teens were apprehended by police officer after robbing the cashier’s box at a golf range in Olivette, Missouri. One of the young men bolted and was shot in the back by one of the police officers. He died from the bullet wound. The young man was 18 years old, and the son of a well-known physician and former university professor. I knew the family. The case went all the way to the State Supreme Court. The police officer never did jail time.

I am writing this not so much to say whether the policeman in this case was right or wrong, or if Darren Wilson, the shooter in the Michael Brown case, is right or wrong. Rather, I want to ask, “Why didn’t the white community rise up in protest over the tragic death of this young white man at the hands of the police?” Of course, the media sensationalized the story, but the fact remains, there was no outcry on the streets. Only the parents continued to pursue this case. Why didn’t the white community rise up?

I believe that white people didn’t protest in this case because of history. For white people, history is, and has been, on our side. Whether we are conscious or unconscious of the fact, we are inheritors of something that is called “white privilege.” We may not know that things are weighted in our favor, because we operate inside of white privilege. We assume that we have certain rights, and we take them for granted. We are blind to the institutional racism that permeates many of our systems, and the often-unfound prejudices that are embedded in our mindsets. Evidence of this might lead us to ask: Why is there white flight into the west county of St. Louis? Why is there no rail system down Highway 40, leaving many primarily black low-wage workers to absorb the costs of maintaining cars in order to service mainly white communities? Why do solidly white neighborhoods feel terrorized when they see a black male walking down their streets and byways? Could it be that he is there to take care of someone’s lawn or house repairs? What percentage of the nation’s wealth is in the hands of black people? Surely the percentage does not equal that of the white community. Why? It’s no wonder that during the time of the Vietnam War, Stevie Wonder sang, “They have me on the front line, but, I’m in the back of the line when it comes to getting ahead.”

I would go on to say that history would tell us that institutional racism permeates not only our economic system locally and nationally, but also our criminal justice system. Our jails are filled with a disproportionate number of black young men incarcerated on drug violations. They are disenfranchised because of their crimes, and will never again be allowed to exercise their citizenship by voting. Yet, what police officer in Ladue or Frontenac (both wealthy suburbs of St. Louis) is going to invade a party of underage young people who are sniffing, snorting or imbibing? Equal crimes, but unequal justice. Is it any wonder that the black community feels targeted? Is it any wonder that a history of repression over treatment of this sort would erupt in a black community where one of their own was killed by a representative of “the system?” In the case of Ferguson, as in the case of the white teen who was shot and killed by a policeman in 1972, I believe that a community rises up, or doesn’t rise up, based on their historical experience. White people may think that the oppression of black people is imagined. Black people may think that the oppression they suffer from systems in this society is real, primarily based on their experience, or their history. As white people, we need not wait to figure things out before some unspecified date in the future, when we, ourselves, are the minority. If our desire is for a more just society now, we need to examine history and begin working toward reshaping it as a whole community.

Hill Connections - Happy New Year!

posted Jan 13, 2015, 9:34 AM by theresa orozco, ossm   [ updated Jan 13, 2015, 9:34 AM ]

Dear OSMers,Happy New Year!
January 2015 Additions on Hill Connections!
We invite you to check out our latest:
Hope in Wintertime— a Spirituality and Art piece featuring a poet and photographer bringing us a song of hope
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Perspectives on Social Issues for January 2015
Death Penalty Dying Around the World
Children Exploited Worldwide, including in U.S.
Gundersen Health System Reaches Goal: Energy Independence
Militarism and Aggressive Policing in U.S.
Steps toward Sustainable Happiness
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Church heightens profile in its work on environment, climate change

posted Dec 31, 2014, 6:45 PM by Vidal Martinez

When a Vatican official suggested that Pope Francis was contemplating an encyclical on the environment a year ago, he signaled that climate change and environmental degradation were such pressing concerns that the pope wanted to address them in a teaching document.

No word has emerged on what the encyclical might say or when it would appear in 2015, but references by officials at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace have pointed to a document that Catholics can apply in everyday life.

Catholics working on environmental issues and climate change in the U.S. are eagerly awaiting the encyclical and have spent much of the last year preparing for it.

“There’s never been an encyclical just on the environment. It's clear something like this is needed to move, especially policymakers, but even the church," said Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant.

"I've always said we need to recover ancient traditions that we've always had but we just forgot. About how we're supposed to care for creation. About how St. Francis said it's all kin, we're all connected together somehow. 'Brother Sun, Sister Moon,'" he said.

As anticipation builds for the encyclical, Catholic voices have become more prevalent on environmental topics in parallel with President Barack Obama's ambitious plans to tackle climate change during his final two years in office. From raising awareness about hydraulic fracturing practices to a daylong seminar on the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan for reducing carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, the work of Catholic clergy and laity have focused on the sacredness of creation and the importance of protecting human life and dignity.

Lonnie Ellis, associate director of the Catholic Climate Covenant, said the encyclical will help extend the discussions beyond the science of climate change and the need for alternative energy sources to include the moral questions about how climate change affects the world's poorest people.

"There's not really been the assertion that we have a moral obligation to make something of this, whether it's right or wrong," Ellis said. "Whether we're doing wrong by our brothers and sisters around the world is not even part of the conversation."

Alice Laffey, associate professor of religious studies at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., is hopeful that the attention church leaders place on the environment will create greater awareness of how personal consumption habits in the developed world affect the most vulnerable people.

"It's essential within the (Catholic) tradition that we respect creation," she said.

"It's the poorest and the animals and the plants that suffer," she continued. "Whether it's plants and animals that can't defend themselves or the weakest people who can't defend themselves, it's still a problem."

Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, highlighted such moral concerns during a daylong workshop Oct. 20 in Washington.

The archbishop told the gathering that the church is concerned about pollution and climate change because they adversely affect human life. Humans, he said, have been designated as co-creators by God to be good stewards of the earth's resources.

"The Catholic conception of stewardship of the environment is also rooted in the dignity of the human person and his relationship with God. This relationship finds its origin for us, 'in the beginning,'" the archbishop said, referencing Genesis.

The focus on environmental stewardship comes as the worldwide climate warms. The first 11 months of 2014 were the warmest since record keeping began in 1880, according to data compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the World Meteorological Organization.

The year also saw the fossil fuel divestment movement gain momentum as major organizations committed to withdrawing funds from oil, coal and natural gas companies and partially reinvest in alternative and renewable energy firms.

Among those acting were the Marianist-run University of Dayton in Ohio. The school's board of trustees unanimously approved in June a plan to shift funds first from fossil fuel firms. The university is believed to be the first Catholic higher education institution to undertake such action.

"This really is a huge priority because of our religious convictions that this earth is a gift. We are meant to protect it and sustain it," Marianist Fr. Martin Solma, provincial superior of the order's U.S. province and vice chairman of the university's board of trustees, told Catholic News Service in June.

Later in the summer, the Diocese of Stockton, California, joined a partnership with the solar energy firm Sungevity to help members of three parishes reduce their electric bills while raising funds for their church and local Catholic Charities programs.

Introducing the program Aug. 16 at the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Stockton, Bishop Stephen E. Blaire said the effort gives parishioners the opportunity to add a solar energy system to their homes with little or no upfront cost while reducing their dependence on fossil fuels.

In September, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in New York City for the People's Climate March, including numerous Catholic groups and women religious orders. The march, considered the largest climate change protest in history, sought to bring to bring awareness to the climate issue and push international leaders to produce a binding plan to address it.

The year ended with the U.N. climate summit, Dec. 1-12 in Lima, Peru. Nearly 200 governments gathered to produce the first draft of a global deal to cut emissions greenhouse gas, a major cause of climate change. The draft is important because world leaders will meet in Paris next December where it is hoped that the first agreement to cut global emissions that includes developed and developing countries will be finalized.

In the middle of the summit, faith leaders gathered Dec. 7 in #LightForLima prayer vigils in Canada, United Kingdom, Bangladesh, Russia, South Africa and U.S. locales. Patrick Carolan, executive director of the Franciscan Action Network, was among those who prayed near Washington's Lafayette Square.

"The fact that these events were happening all around the world, knowing we're all connected, the spirit of one all around the world, was very inspiring," Carolan told CNS.

He credited Pope Francis for awakening the Catholic voice on climate change. "He's really gotten people out of this mindset there's nothing we can do or climate change is God's will," he said. "It's an understanding this is the important issue

With Lima Accord reached, climate attention turns toward 2015

posted Dec 16, 2014, 7:55 PM by Vidal Martinez

Negotiators from nearly 200 countries struck a deal early Sunday morning in Lima, Peru, marking the first time that nations, large and small, developed and developing, agreed that each will make pledges aimed at cutting global greenhouse gas emissions. 

The agreement, known as the Lima Accord, concluded two days after the scheduled end of the two-week (Dec. 1-12) negotiations, held among delegates representing 196 countries at the United Nations’ annual climate change conference, formally known as the 20th Conference of the Parties.

The Lima Accord does not provide emissions-cutting benchmarks for each country, but rather states that all nations will submit their own plans -- “intended nationally determined contributions” -- by the end of March 2015, or by June for those missing the first deadline. By November, the U.N. will prepare a synthesis report on the aggregate effect of those commitments on global warming. Commitments will be posted on a U.N. website.

The accord will also serve as an outline text next December in Paris, where world leaders are expected to finalize and sign an international climate deal. The U.N. has targeted 2015 for such a deal, which would then go into effect in 2020.

The overall goal of the U.N. climate negotiations, first held in 1992, has been to stunt global temperature rise by no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, a point viewed by scientists as when the most extreme effects of climate change would begin to occur.

According to media reports out of Peru, the Lima Accord came together through a series of compromises -- along the traditional divisions between rich and poor countries -- during a 30-hour overtime period of the negotiations.

“The negotiations here [in Lima] reached a new level of realism and understanding about what needs to be done now, over the next 12 months and into the years and decades to come if climate change is to be truly and decisively addressed,” said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework on Climate Change, in a statement.

The agreement was a sign of the global community “inching forward” on addressing climate change, said Dan Misleh, executive director of the U.S.-based Catholic Climate Covenant.

“It sounds like they’re trying to get countries to move in the direction of everybody pitching in and doing something, whatever that’s going to be, but it’s certainly not where it needs to be,” he toldNCR.

As to where it needs to be, Misleh pointed to the statement from nine Catholic bishops released during the Lima conference, in which they discussed the global economic system and individual complicity in it that has led to the current state of massive emissions.

“Unless you can identify how we got here, it’s going to be hard to fix where we are. And I think that’s what the bishops were trying to say, is in the economy, the market system is a human creation and so understanding that, as humans, means that we can also undo the worst aspects of a market system, which include this rapid consumerism and this gobbling up of fossil fuels that are warming the planet,” he said.

Secular environmental groups also saw the Lima Accord lacking, though for other reasons. The World Wildlife Fund called it “half-baked,” criticizing the few specifics on emission-cutting plans or financing for the Green Climate Fund, currently at $10 billion by expected to provide by 2020 $100 billion annually to developing nations for mitigation and adaptation efforts.

Like WWF, 350.org, a grassroots climate group, said that the lack of details in the draft text wasted the wave of optimism -- largely generated by emission-reduction pledges from the U.S., China and European Union -- heading into the Lima talks.

While one wave might have ebbed at Lima’s end, another may rise in 2015 from within the religious community.

Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment is expected at some point during the first part of the year, what Misleh described as “a big, big moment.”

“To have the first every papal encyclical focusing just on the environment is one thing, and then having it come from Pope Francis just makes it all the more special,” he said.

In the Lima summit’s final days, Francis sent a message to delegates -- as Pope Benedict XVI (aka, the “green” pope) had done in 2011 in Durban, South Africa, and in 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark-- emphasizing the “ethical and moral responsibility” they have to work collectively toward a deal that protects both the planet and the human family.

The statement placed the human person at the center of the climate change conversation, said Erin Lothes, an assistant theology professor at the College of St. Elizabeth in Morristown, N.J.

“When he wrote that we need to be free of political and economic pressures to choose what’s best for the human family, that indicates the way the church is looking at this. And in one sense, it’s new in the context of climate change, but it reflects how Catholics have always acted on behalf of their brothers and sisters around the world,” she told NCR.

Lothes, who convened in 2013 a three-year task force within the Catholic Theological Society of America to study a 1981 statement from U.S. bishops on energy, said the statements from Francis and nine global bishops were powerful in their own right; a papal encyclical, though, could have an even larger impact.

“It will summon attention to the issue as only the pope can do,” she said.

For the church, that attention will likely shift climate change discussions beyond its scientific, technical, political or economic aspects, and toward its human dimension.

“For the church it is primarily a human issue, and I think that an encyclical from Pope Francis would galvanize attention and help people see this in a very relevant and direct and personal way, as a way for them to act for the well-being of the whole human family and for the common and individual good in our economies and communities,” Lothes said.

Misleh expects the encyclical will boost the Catholic Climate Covenant’s and other groups’ ongoing efforts, and hopes it will create new thinking and ideas toward reducing not only nations’ carbon footprints, but also those of parishes, schools, hospitals and even individuals.

“We each need to do our part, as people of faith, as Catholics, as people who are beginning to understand that the world is at serious threat from rising [carbon] emissions. So I think each of us needs to take Pope Francis’ words to heart and examine our own lifestyles and our own contributions to this,” he said.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. His email address is broewe@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

Pope, religious leaders pledge to work together to end slavery by 2020

posted Dec 2, 2014, 11:54 AM by Vidal Martinez

As Pope Francis and leaders of other churches and religions signed a declaration pledging to work together to help end modern slavery in the world by 2020, he urged governments, businesses and all people of good will to join forces against this "crime against humanity."

Tens of millions of people are "in chains" because of human trafficking and forced labor, and it is leading to their "dehumanization and humiliation," the pope said at the ceremony Dec. 2, the U.N. Day for the Abolition of Slavery.

Every human person is born with the same dignity and freedom, and any form of discrimination that does not respect this truth "is a crime and very often an abhorrent crime," the pope said.

Inspired by their religious beliefs and a desire "to take practical action," the pope and 11 leaders representing the Muslim, Jewish, Orthodox, Anglican, Buddhist and Hindu faiths made a united commitment to help eradicate slavery worldwide.

The leaders signed the joint declaration at the headquarters of Pontifical Academy of Sciences in the Vatican Gardens. The signatories included: Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury; Rabbi David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee; Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi al-Modarresi, an influential Shiite scholar; and representatives signing on behalf of Ahmad el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar University -- a leading Sunni Muslim institution in Cairo -- and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople.

The declaration recognized that any action that fails to respect every person's freedom and dignity "is a crime against humanity."

"We pledge ourselves here today to do all in our power, within our faith communities and beyond, to work together for the freedom of all those who are enslaved and trafficked so that their future may be restored," it said.

"Today we have the opportunity, awareness, wisdom, innovation and technology to achieve this human and moral imperative," said the joint declaration, which was read aloud in English by a man from Ghana and in Spanish a woman from Mexico, both of whom had been victims of human trafficking and forced labor.

The initiative was organized by the faith-based Global Freedom Network, which was launched in March after a joint agreement by the Vatican, Al-Azhar University and the Anglican Communion.

Francis thanked the men and women religious leaders for this "act of fraternity" on behalf of the countless numbers of women, men and children who are exploited for personal or commercial gain.

Despite global efforts, the scale of this "atrocious scourge" is on the rise and it often "disguises itself behind apparently acceptable practices" like in tourism and different forms of labor, he said.

"It hides behind closed doors, in homes, on the streets, in cars, in factories, in the fields, on fishing boats," in the biggest cities or smallest villages and in the richest and poorest countries of the world, he said.

The pope asked that people of faith join together in the fight to end slavery and he called for the "steadfast support" of the world's governments, businesses and people of good will to "join this movement."

"We cannot tolerate that the image of the living God" present in every human being "is subjected to this most abominable form of trafficking."

Each of the religious leaders present was asked by the moderator -- CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour -- to give "an appeal" to the world to support an end to human exploitation.

Hindu leader Mata Amritanandamayi said she has heard the stories of hundreds of victims and "if we fail to do something, it will be a travesty against future generations," she said through an interpreter.

Values are skewed, she said, when a man can sell his sperm or a woman her eggs for a huge amount of money, but yet a child can be sold "for as little as 20 dollars."

"We need laws without loopholes" to stop traffickers and their activities, she said.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Buddhist leader, said in a message read by his representative that activists also must have compassion for the traffickers, to see that they, too, have suffered in some way and to "help them wake up" from the wrong they are committing.

Contemplation must be accompanied by action, he said, and a greater detachment from material things will let people "have a lot more time" to work to bring freedom to the world.

Welby said people can avoid the exploitation of others with their "own actions and choices as consumers and users of financial services whose managers can put great pressure on companies in which they invest."

Communities can welcome and support those who are freed from traffickers, and businesses worldwide can "ensure robust systems for slave-free supply chains," he said.

According to the 2014 Global Slavery Index, almost 36 million people are currently caught in some form of modern slavery; the International Labor Organization estimates that organized crime networks reap about 150 billion dollars a year from trafficking in persons, about 80 percent of that from prostitution.

Also attending the signing ceremony at the Vatican were: Luis CdeBaca, ambassador-at-large in the U.S. State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons; and actress Mira Sorvino, who starred in a miniseries on human trafficking in 2005, and in the 2012 film "Trade of Innocents" about the sex tourism trade.

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