TORTURE: Pax Christi Metro New York observes Torture Awareness Month

Rosemarie Paceby Rosemarie Pace
Pax Christi Metro New York Coordinator

June was Torture Awareness Month. During June, many Pax Christi groups around the country engaged in a variety of activities to honor this somber time. Pax Christi Metro New York (PCMNY) was one of those groups.

As a proud member of the Metro New York Religious Campaign against Torture (MNYRCAT), we hosted one of two MNYRCAT events to address this inhumane issue. On June 11th, four professional actors, including the PCMNY Board President, Margaret Flanagan, presented the play, If the SHU Fits, at St. Joseph’s Greenwich Village Church. SHU refers to Special (also Security) Housing Units where prison inmates are kept in solitary confinement. If the SHU Fits gives voice to several incarcerated men and women being held in isolation. They poignantly share the horrific impact of solitary confinement on their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Isolated confinement is being recognized more and more as torture by both civil and religious society, including the Catholic Church. It is also being recognized more and more as misused, ineffective, and actually harmful in many, if not most, cases. After the performance, Five Mualimm-ak, a former inmate who spent five years in isolation, spoke eloquently about the experience and the work being done by groups like the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement. He encouraged us to visit www.nycaic.org for more information and action suggestions.

no-tortureThe other event hosted by MNYRCAT during Torture Awareness Month was “Broken on All Sides,” a film presentation that examined mass incarceration, “justice,” and the “New Jim Crow.”

In addition to these two informative, heart-wrenching, and motivating events, there was one more that was at least as important. While not hosted by MNYRCAT, three of us who are members of the Steering Committee were privileged to attend an interfaith breakfast sponsored by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights and the National Religious Campaign against Torture (NRCAT). At this breakfast, the newly appointed Commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction (DOC), Joseph Ponte, spoke. He came to NYC from the Maine Department of Correction where, as Commissioner, he significantly reduced the use of solitary confinement. Commissioner Ponte talked about his experience in Maine, his intimate knowledge and understanding of the prison system, and his hopes for the NYC DOC. He answered questions openly and honestly. Some of his key points follow.

Commissioner Ponte raised three fundamental questions for himself and all those involved in Correction: Why do we incarcerate? What do we do with the incarcerated? How do we keep them safe? He referred to safety as the main concern, along with care of juveniles.

He acknowledged that there was resistance to his reduction in the use of solitary confinement in Maine, but said that ultimately, due to its positive impact, resistance declined and support increased.

Commissioner Ponte went on to say that locking people up solves nothing. Blaming people is not constructive. Rehabilitation is critical. It is important to normalize life as much as possible. It is also important for outside support, like chaplains, to “show up.” And there must be sensitivity to diverse cultures and religions. Inmates need more programming to occupy their time and more positive reinforcement and incentives, rather than punishments for every little infraction.

Of course, there are some serious challenges. A primary one is the mentally ill. Some mentally ill inmates are dangerous, but not all. And, not all inmates are mentally ill. Distinguishing which is which and providing for their disparate needs is critical. A second major challenge is gangs. A third is women. Women are a challenge because they have different needs, but are generally treated the same as men. And most imprisoned women are not only criminals, but also victims. They are more likely to have mental illness, but less likely to be violent. Addressing all these variables requires tremendous skill and compassion.

Some of the attendees at this breakfast do prison ministry. To them, Commissioner Ponte advised: Communicate with the Correction Officers. Avoid being seen as an opponent or enemy.

Ultimately, Commissioner Ponte admitted that his approach to Correction in not cheap, easy, or quick. What it does seem to be is invaluable if incarcerated people are to be treated with dignity and hope for a better life outside the confines of jail or prison.

CLIMATE CHANGE: Pax Christi USA signs onto letter regarding climate change

Pax Christi USA has signed onto the following letter on climate change.

To President Obama and Members of Congress:

climate-changeAs people of faith, we are called to protect and serve God’s Creation and seek justice for all people and future generations. The gravity of climate change requires us to act with urgency.

From rising sea levels and severe weather events to shifting growing seasons and increased exposure to disease, the world is already feeling the impacts of climate change. Its worst consequences fall on vulnerable communities who have contributed the least to climate change but will suffer the most.

Yet, even as we faithfully commit to doing our part, we recognize that these actions alone are not sufficient—this crisis requires a global response.

To create a future with clean air, a healthy environment, good jobs, and resilience in the face of a changing climate for our children and God’s Earth, countries around the world must commit to an ambitious, equitable and binding global framework to address climate change.

As we approach the UN negotiations for 2015, we prayerfully ask that the US government lead, with a commitment to:

  • Legally binding solutions that reduce national greenhouse gas emissions to levels consistent with scientific recommendations that prevent the worst impacts of human induced climate change.
  • Provide poor and vulnerable communities here and abroad meaningful support to build low carbon and climate-resilient societies.

We pray for your leadership in securing a just and sustainable future for God’s creation.

Click here to add your name to the letter.

BORDER CRISIS: Pax Christi USA signs onto interfaith letter regarding unaccompanied minors at the border

The following letter was coordinated by the Interfaith Immigration Coalition. The letter is being sent to the President and Members of Congress today, July 18. Pax Christi USA is a signatory to the letter.

Dear Mr. President and Members of Congress,

Our faith traditions challenge us to welcome the immigrant through scriptures such as Leviticus 19:34, “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born.” Many of our organizations are living out this command by working tirelessly in bus stations and shelters to assist vulnerable children and families coming from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador and in ministries dedicated to human rights and sustainable development in the Northern Triangle.

While we appreciate the U.S. government’s attention to the humanitarian crisis faced by migrants from Central America, we strongly object to proposals to detain families with children and to any move to roll back the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) in order to effect expeditious deportations. Forcibly and hurriedly returning people in need of international protection back to the dangerous situations they fled without adequate due process would undermine our obligations under international law and our position as a global humanitarian leader and would be a moral disgrace.

BORDER3As we read through the Administration’s supplemental appropriations request, we are pleased to see an increase in funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), as increased funding is needed so that ORR can adequately serve both unaccompanied children and refugees. However, we urge Congress to provide more funds in the supplemental to increase legal services for unaccompanied children in the United States and enhance programs to reduce violence in sending countries so that individuals, particularly children and families, are not forced to undertake dangerous journeys in the first place. We are also deeply concerned about language in the supplemental request that would discourage persecuted individuals in Central America from seeking asylum and protection, and that would expand the detention of children and families without addressing the unacceptable conditions of these facilities. Additionally, we oppose any proposals that would restrict these children’s access to life-saving protection or return them to unsafe situations in which they could be further exploited.

This is a regional humanitarian crisis, not a U.S. immigration enforcement problem. Since 2009 asylum requests by Hondurans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans seeking refuge in Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize have increased sharply. In fact, compared to 2008, UNHCR registered a 712% increase in the number of asylum applications in the region in 2013. Many of the Central Americans arriving in the United States today are people primarily fleeing violence. The current crisis thus demands both a humanitarian response in the short-term and, in the long-term, policies to address complex root causes…

Click here to read the letter in its entirety.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE: Ask Congress to stop U.S. complicity in suffering, to support a just peace in Israel & Palestine

from the Faith Forum on Middle East Policy

NOTE: Pax Christi USA is a member of the Faith Forum. This is their “Third Thursday for Israel-Palestine” action for July. 

Commemorating the 10th Anniversary of the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory

July 9, 2014 marked the 10-year anniversary of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) advisory opinion on the legality of Israel’s construction of the separation barrier. In its opinion the ICJ declared that the barrier being built by Israel in occupied Palestinian territory is illegal, that it should be torn down, and that those who have suffered as a consequence of its construction should be compensated. Yet 10 years later, the barrier remains, cutting into Palestinian territory and separating Palestinians from schools, work, and neighbors. Given its projected route, it is estimated that, if completed, around 85% of the barrier will run inside the West Bank, de facto annexing West Bank land and water resources to Israel.

A Palestinian youth rides his bicycle next to Israel's apartheid wall on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

A Palestinian youth rides next to Israel’s apartheid wall on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

As violence escalates throughout Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank, it is abundantly clear that the underlying causes of this human tragedy must be addressed. All aspects of Israel’s illegal military occupation–including the barrier in the West Bank and the blockade on Gaza–will need to end, in order for a just and secure future to result.

Take action to end the violence – for today, and for the future.  Let your senators and representative know that as a person of faith, respecting the dignity of every human being you call on them to:

  • Demand an immediate ceasefire by all parties.
  • Condemn all violence against civilians, both by Palestinians and by Israeli forces. It is clear that rockets from Gaza target civilian areas in Israel. It also must be made clear that in Gaza, where 1.8 million people live in a 140-square-mile area, with borders controlled by Israel and Egypt, civilians are often in harm’s way from Israeli fire, regardless of the intended target.
  • Insist on an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, including full dismantlement of the barrier built on Palestinian land, and an end to the Gaza blockade.
  • Recognize that U.S. diplomatic and financial support enable the occupation. The U.S. provides over $3 billion per year in military aid to Israel.
  • Condition military aid to Israel on its compliance with U.S. law and policy. Questions must be raised about how U.S. military aid to Israel is being used in order to ensure that it is not enabling human rights violations including those arising from the construction of the separation barrier, and contributing, for example, to the support of settlements in contradiction of U.S. policy.

10 years after the ICJ ruling, 47 years into the occupation, now is the time to say:  Enough.  Call on Congress to stop U.S. complicity in suffering and to support U.S. policy for a just peace.

For more information:

Sample Letter

Dear Senator/Representative,

In its July 9, 2004 advisory opinion, the International Court of Justice declared that the barrier being built by Israel in occupied Palestinian territory is illegal, that it should be torn down, and that those who have suffered as a consequence of its construction should be compensated.  Yet 10 years later, the barrier remains, cutting into Palestinian territory and separating Palestinians from schools, work, and neighbors.  Given its projected route, it is estimated that, if completed, around 85% of the barrier will run inside the West Bank, de facto annexing West Bank land and water resources to Israel.

As violence escalates throughout Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank, it is abundantly clear that the underlying causes of this human tragedy must be addressed. All aspects of Israel’s illegal military occupation–including the barrier in the West Bank and the blockade on Gaza–will need to end, in order for a just and secure future to result.

As a person of faith, respecting the dignity of every human being, I call on you to:

  • Demand an immediate ceasefire by all parties.
  • Condemn all violence against civilians, both by Palestinians and by Israeli forces. 
  • Insist on an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, including full dismantlement of the barrier built on Palestinian land, and an end to the Gaza blockade.
  • Recognize that U.S. diplomatic and financial support enable the occupation. 
  • Condition military aid to Israel on its compliance with U.S. law and policy.  Call for an examination into how U.S. military aid to Israel is being used in order to ensure that it is not enabling human rights violations including those arising from the construction of the separation barrier, and contributing, for example, to the support of settlements in contradiction of U.S. policy.

I believe that such calls and actions by members of Congress will serve to support U.S. policy for a just peace.

Thank you for your consideration, and I remain grateful for your service,

YOUR SIGNATURE

REFLECTION: Unaccompanied minor children need our help

Tony Maglianoby Tony Magliano

Tens of thousands of children fleeing desperate conditions have entered the United States asking for help. And many more are coming. What kind of welcome is being offered to them? The answer to that question is still largely undetermined.

According to Human Rights Watch the U.S. government predicts that 90,000 unaccompanied migrant children will cross the U.S.-Mexico border in fiscal year 2014, more than 10 times the number who crossed in 2011. And thousands of other children have crossed with a parent, also an increase from previous years.

Reportedly, more than 90 percent of these children are from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, where pervasive drug/gang violence and poverty have made their lives dangerous and miserable.

bordercrisis

It is said that drugs go north and guns and money go south. Therefore, it is essential in the U.S. that adequate treatment for addiction replace jail time for non-violent drug users, that all loopholes in gun export laws be closed, that serious gun-control laws – such as a total ban on all assault weapons – be passed, and that greatly increased U.S. aid to these Central American nations for schools, job creation through clean industry and agricultural development, infrastructure and fair trade practices become realities.

Injustices resulting from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) are contributing factors towards the flow of unaccompanied migrant children.

According to Barbara Briggs, associate director of the Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights (http://www.globallabourrights.org/), these “free trade” agreements in many cases greatly boost American corporate profits, while undercutting poor workers, domestic industries, and agriculture south of the U.S. border.

Under NAFTA and CAFTA U.S. companies are often building factories where they are permitted to pay the cheapest wages and lowest benefits to poor workers. These U.S. corporate injustices are in many cases contributing factors driving Latin Americans – adults and children – to seek fairer working and living conditions in the U.S., said Briggs.

The “Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act” would greatly correct many American corporate injustices abroad. Please ask you congressional delegation to reintroduce this legislation.

While addressing the root-causes of unaccompanied migrant children is essential, we need to also kindly address the immediate needs of these young brothers and sisters.

Instead of viewing these children as criminals who are illegally entering the U.S., a totally humanitarian Christ-like response is needed.

A coalition of immigration and faith-based organizations – including the Catholic Legal Immigration Network and Catholic Charities – sponsored by Human Rights First recently sent President Barack Obama a letter opposing plans to expedite deportation of migrant children.

They wrote, “The administration’s recent statements have placed far greater emphasis on deterrence of migration than on the importance of protection of children seeking safety.”

Please urge President Obama and your congressional delegation to insure that these children get all the help they need.

And sign up to receive legislative alerts from the bishops’ campaign for immigrants by going to www.justiceforimmigrants.org.

Responding to unaccompanied migrant children seeking asylum in the U.S. Pope Francis recently wrote, “This humanitarian emergency requires … these children be welcomed and protected,” and that policies be adopted to “promote development in their countries of origin. …

“A change of attitude towards migrants and refugees is needed … moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization – all typical of a throwaway culture – towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world.”

Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. Please contact your diocesan newspaper and request that they carry Tony’s column. Tony is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings about Catholic social teaching. His keynote address, “Advancing the Kingdom of God in the 21st Century,” has been well received by diocesan gatherings from Salt Lake City to Baltimore. Tony can be reached at tmag@zoominternet.net.

REFLECTION: How do we transform our world? Return violence and hate with love

Bishop Thomas Gumbletonby Bishop Thomas Gumbleton
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

I think sometimes when we first hear the words of Jesus of today’s Gospel, we might wonder, “Well, is Jesus really expecting us to become like little children? Doesn’t he expect us to grow and become all that God wants us to be — fully mature people?” Well, the answer is yes, God does want us to become all that God has made us to be. But there is something about children, little children, that makes them good models for us in what Jesus is trying to teach us.

See, children at a young age are curious. They want to find out more. They want to listen and learn. They’re anxious to know, discover new things. And sometimes as we grow older, we begin to think we know it all. We can’t learn anything new; we’ve got the answers. Jesus says that he gives thanks to God because God has actually revealed to little ones — those who listen, those who are open to hearing a new word from God. They’re the ones that are blessed. In fact, Jesus, a little bit later on, says, “Unless you become like little children, you’ll never enter the reign of God.”

So we must become like children, ready to listen, to learn, to grow in what Jesus wants to teach us. There’s an important reason for this because if you look back in the book of the prophet Isaiah, you find the prophet saying, “My thoughts” — speaking for God — “my thoughts are not your thoughts. My ways are not your ways. As high as the heavens are above the Earth, so high are my thoughts above your thoughts, and my ways above your ways.” What Isaiah is telling us is that God’s ways are different, profoundly different, from what we’re used to, from what our human ways are….

To read this entire article, click here.

SPECIAL APPEAL: Please give! Pax Christi USA needs your help!

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Dear Companions on the Journey,

Greetings of Peace! We just recently concluded an amazing weekend that brought together five groups of Pax Christi USA members to discern and develop strategies on how to build our movement stronger, as well as to celebrate together and honor this year’s Teacher of Peace, Mary Meg McCarthy. Our new office in Washington, D.C. was buzzing with the meetings of our Pax Christi Regional Leaders, our Anti-Racism Team (PCART), our National Council and the National Staff — the first time all these groups gathered for focused discussion in the same room, as well as doing their respective committee work. The Momentum event brought in many more Pax Christi USA members and collaborators. (Click here to see photos & more from the event.)

It feels as if we’ve “been to the mountaintop” — able to see the potential of all that we can be and do to make a difference in building a more just and peace-filled world. Yet we simply cannot realize this potential without your financial support.

Can youarrow-red-small help us right now? Can you make a donation to deepen and grow our ability to create the change we all hunger for? Click here and give right now, securely, quickly through our website.

We all know that our Catholic movement for non-violence is urgently needed in this broken world, and we are uniquely poised to grow it stronger and broader. (Click here to see how our 2013 annual report demonstrates our readiness for the challenges ahead.) We also know that through the guidance of Pope Francis there are new openings to build the prophetic edge of the Church.

These statements below reflect how we’re on that prophetic edge, speaking truth to power on some of the issues our country is wrestling with right now:

  1. Statement on the Crisis in Iraq
  2. Statement on the U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding the Voting Rights Act
  3. Statement regarding the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut

At our meeting, we also became acutely aware of the need to shore up our financial resources in order to be able to secure our movement and address the stresses around being sustainable for the long run. The economy has taken a toll on all non-profits, and in addition, the grant we had applied for to cover the costs of our gathering did not come through. We went forward, because many who were able donated their own travel costs and more, and we knew we had to go forward to chart the work for this next period.

Our message to each of you reading this letter is: PCUSA needs YOU!

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Help put this movement in position to raise the voice of Gospel non-violence everywhere where people are suffering. Click here and help us raise the funds we need to lift this movement up.

This is, thus, a special appeal to ask for your financial support and collaboration. Often donations drop in the summer, but NOT the expenses it takes to do the work. We are feeling the stress of seeing the “mountaintop” view, yet we are unable to put the “wind in the sails” fully unless we can raise more funds. Let’s keep the beacon of non-violence guiding the church and society as we face military conflicts, nuclear weapons, fleeing refugees, and violence against God’s creation.

If Pax Christi doesn’t speak out, who will? Again, Pax Christi USA needs YOU.

Please darrow-red-smallig as deep as you can and make a significant contribution at this time. You can click here to donate right now and help build a foundation for today and for tomorrow.

Thanks for your donation to fuel the vision.

In peace,

Sr. Patricia Chappell, SNDdeN        Sr. Josie Chrosniak, HM
Executive Director                                             Chair, National Council