Category Archives: Human Rights

CHILDREN AT OUR BORDER: PCUSA signs onto letter calling for provisions to adjust root causes of forced migration

childrenattheborderbutton-smallPax Christi USA has signed onto a letter drafted by a number of human rights, faith-based and humanitarian groups addressed to Conferees on the State Foreign Ops portion of the Omnibus appropriations bill which will be negotiated for passage next month.  The letter seeks to encourage Conferees to include provisions that would address the root causes of forced migration from Central America of children and families, specifically endorsing certain funding lines.

The letter begins:

As faith-based, humanitarian, labor, and human rights organizations, we are greatly troubled by the humanitarian crisis in the Northern Triangle of Central America that has compelled the migration of families and children, often unaccompanied, to the United States.  This crisis deserves a response that is both compassionate and sustainable.  As you finalize your conference negotiations of the omnibus legislation, we urge you to retain provisions of the FY15 State and Foreign Operations bills that seek to address some of the factors driving children, families, women, and men to abandon their homes in the Central American region…

The letter will be delivered this week.

REFLECTION: Ferguson – Reflections on race and racism in America

Scott WrightBy Scott Wright, Former PCUSA National Council member & member of Pax Christi Metro D.C.-Baltimore

On August 9, Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by six bullets fired at close range by a white Ferguson, Missouri police officer.

His death sparked outrage in this black suburb of St. Louis, and led to weeks of nightly protests in the streets where black residents faced off with a militarized white police force ready to turn on U.S. citizens as though they were enemy combatants.

handsup

It was a familiar story, but something seemed different this time. The police response to the protests looked like they were prepared to invade a village in Iraq or Afghanistan. Black protesters, hands in the air, carried signs with the message: “Hands up, don’t shoot!” What happened?

I remembered last summer, when thousands of people – black and white – returned to the site of the 1963 March of Washington on the 50th anniversary to remember and recommit themselves to work for racial justice in our nation. Then, the mood was festive, though Martin Luther King III reminded the crowd: “Our task is still not done, the journey is not over,” and Congressman John Lewis issued a challenge: “We cannot go back. We cannot wait. We want jobs and freedom.”

This summer, on the eve of the anniversary of the March on Washington, we were reminded by the events in Ferguson of all that has not changed in our country these past fifty years.

Some Are Guilty, All Are Responsible

A few weeks ago, I participated in “A National Service of Mourning in remembrance of those who have died in Palestine and Israel.” Again, a familiar story, but something – the overwhelming use of violence and the media coverage of it – seemed different this time. The BBC reported that 2,104 Palestinians, of whom 1,451 were civilians, were killed in the Israeli airstrikes over Gaza; by contrast, 66 Israeli soldiers and 7 Israeli citizens were killed in the conflict.

The interfaith service began on a note of lamentation and confession, and included voices of Palestinians who had lost family members in Gaza, and an Israeli conscientious objector who refused to fight. I was intensely aware that it mattered whether we came to the service as Christians, Jews or Muslims, because in real life it matters, and we must acknowledge the violence for which each of us is responsible. It mattered and it didn’t matter, because we were joined by our common humanity and mourning for the loss of innocent life, as well as by a common dream for peace. In the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: “Some are guilty, all are responsible.”

Prior to and after the service, my thoughts returned to the events in Ferguson, Missouri. I thought, too, that it matters whether we approach Ferguson as whites or as blacks, because, in Dr. Martin Luther King’s words, “Racial injustice is still the black man’s burden and the white man’s shame.” It mattered and it didn’t matter, because, again in Dr. King’s words: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

Two Societies: One Black, One White – Separate and Unequal

I came of age in the 1960s, and still remember the vivid media images of riots in the streets of major cities across the United States. I remember the night in 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King was killed, and joined my first protest with blacks and whites on a southern university campus. My roommate was African American, from a poor family in Richmond, Virginia. We watched with horror the scenes on TV of U.S. soldiers with machine-guns on the steps of the U. S. Capitol, and then joined hundreds of fellow protesters, locking arms and singing together, “We Shall Overcome.” I was 18 years old, and became aware for the first time that I had a new identity. I was “white,” and I had just received notice to register for the draft.

These were turbulent times. Even “official” voices declared we were living in “a system of apartheid” in our major cities, and “Our nation was moving toward two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal.” That was the conclusion of the Kerner Report, which was commissioned by President Johnson in 1967 after three years and 24 racial riots in 23 cities between 1964 and 1967.

The commission asked: “What happened? Why did it happen? What can be done to prevent it from happening again?” And it put the blame squarely on white racism: “What white Americans have never fully understood – but what blacks can never forget – is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.”

Why did it happen? The report concluded: “Race prejudice has shaped our history decisively; it now threatens to affect our future. White racism is essentially responsible for the explosive mixture which has been accumulating in our cities since the end of World War II.” Specifically, “pervasive discrimination and segregation in employment, education and housing have resulted in the continuing exclusion of great numbers of blacks from the benefits of economic progress.” And for many blacks, the police “have come to symbolize white power, white racism and white repression.”

Powerful words, and a powerful indictment from fifty years ago. How much has changed? The roots of white racism are deep, and go beyond laws that discriminate. White racism is still institutionalized in employment, education and health care, housing and criminal justice practices that exclude great numbers of blacks from the benefits and opportunities of a dignified life with hope for the future.

What Happened in Ferguson?

Two recent articles from The Washington Post, one optimistic and one pessimistic, both by African American professors, are instructive.

The first article (by Fredrick Harris, August 24) asks, “Will Michael Brown Become Emmett Till?” Emmett Till was the black teenager from Chicago who was viciously lynched in Mississippi in 1955 and whose family spoke at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, standing next to the parents of Trayvon Martin, the black youth killed in 2012 by a white man “standing his ground” in Florida. The article’s optimistic conclusion is “no,” things are different now: The cumulative effect of police misconduct against black people has exposed the reality of police brutality; there has been a backlash against rhetoric that blames poor black youth; innovative protest tactics like the ones used in Ferguson have been effective in attracting media attention; and the support of allies demanding justice and reforms in policing is important.

The second article (by Carol Anderson, August 31) says: “Ferguson Isn’t about Black Rage,” it’s about white rage and fear, particularly in light of the changing demographics and predictions that whites will be a minority by the year 2050. Today, the picture is not as hopeful as that painted by the previous article: There is a rash of voter-suppression legislation, a rise in stand-your-ground laws and continuing police brutality, a foreclosure crisis that stripped blacks of half of their wealth, and the mass incarceration of black youth that is depriving an entire generation of hope.

The Problem Not Talked About

Recently, a friend of mine shared an observation she learned as a social worker: “The only problems that can’t be solved are those that aren’t talked about.” That’s seems to fit the current situation of white racism in America.

Why is it so difficult to engage with one another in a national conversation about racism, or to strategize together – black and white – about how to combat institutional racism? Especially when our friends and our children’s friends, our co-workers and fellow parishioners, are often of another race?

Rev. Bryan Massingale, a priest of the Milwaukee diocese, moral theologian at Marquette University and convener of the Black Catholic Theological Symposium, has addressed many of these concerns in his book, Racial Justice and the Catholic Church. His words, I believe, speak to the reality we face, as Americans, as people of faith, and as Catholics:

“Today the continuing resistance to racial equality, despite undeniable progress, can be largely explained by a fundamental ambivalence on the part of the majority of white Americans: their desire to denounce blatant racial injustices, and yet preserve a situation of white social dominance and privilege. To say it plainly, most Americans are committed to both interpersonal decency and systemic inequality.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said something similar in 1967, in words which still ring true: “White America is not even psychologically organized to close the gap [of inequality] – essentially it seeks only to make it less painful and less obvious but in most respects to retain it. . . . The great majority of Americans are suspended between . . . opposing attitudes. They are uneasy with [racial] injustice but unwilling yet to pay a significant price to eradicate it.”

Only One Third of the Dream?

What would Dr. King say today to his white brothers and sisters regarding our response to the events in Ferguson, and beyond Ferguson to the plight of our African American sisters and brothers in America today? What the Kerner Commission characterized as “a system of apartheid” is still true if we look at the levels of poverty, unemployment, incarceration, access to education and health care along racial lines today.

Perhaps Dr. King would say what he did in his letter fifty years ago from Birmingham Jail:

“I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. . . I  came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause, and with deep moral concern, serve as the channel through which our just grievances would get to the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.”

Yet he would, perhaps, also express his disappointment with love and with hope: “In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. . . . Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon be lifted from our fear-drenched communities and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all of their scintillating beauty.”

The recent events in Ferguson challenge us – black and white – to a conversation about race and effective action to end the violence of institutionalized racism. Dr. Martin Luther King’s challenge to eliminate the “giant triplets” of poverty, racism and war inspires us to work for such a magnificent dream. With a little imagination and re-engagement we – and here I express a hope for all of us, black and white – can see the wisdom of Dr. King’s vision to include all three: “A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth and with righteous indignation say: ‘This is not just.’” . . . A true revolution of values will strive “to eradicate the last vestiges of racial injustice from our nation. . . Racial injustice is still the black man’s burden and the white man’s shame.” . . . A true revolution of values “will lay hands on the world order and say of war: ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’”

It was the struggle of African Americans for racial justice and Dr. King’s Vietnam address at Riverside Church in 1967 that helped turn the tide against the war in Vietnam; and it was the Poor People’s March in 1968 that brought the national disgrace of poverty in the U.S. to the gates of the White House and demanded a reordering of our national priorities to promote justice at home, not war in some distant land. It will take all of us – black and white, immigrant and native-born, Muslim, Christian and Jew – to build an effective movement for justice and peace that can challenge the violence of racism, poverty, and war.

Today we are, in Dr. King’s words, “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. . . .” “Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.”

A Word of Caution from the Past

A few months ago – before Ferguson – I visited the American History museum in Washington D.C. and the exhibit on the March on Washington. In its film recollection, you can hear the voices of A. Philip Randolph, John Lewis, and many others, as well as the dramatic address of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Fifty years later, the words are inspiring – and challenging. The one speech that challenged me the most, however, was given by Rabbi Joachim Prinz, who offered a word of caution to the nation on that day in 1963. He said:

“When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.”

All life is precious, and the destruction of any life – black or white, Muslim, Christian, or Jew – is a grave violation of the common humanity and Abrahamic heritage we share. May we not be silent in the face of any violence – be that the institutional violence of poverty, racism or war – but instead work for that day when Dr. King’s Gospel dream of a beloved community may become a reality.

PRAYER: Lamentation for Ferguson, MO

Sr. Anne Louise headshotby Sr. Anne-Louise Nadeau, SNDdeN
Program Director, Pax Christi USA

Laments are cries of anguish and outrage, groans of deep pain and grief, utterances of profound protest and righteous indignation over injustice, wails of mourning and sorrow in the face of unbearable suffering. Laments name the present pain, and forthrightly acknowledge that life and relationships have gone terribly wrong. Lamentations transcend the logic of reason, rational analysis, study and planning. They pierce the crusty calluses of numbness, cynicism, indifference and denial.  (Racial Justice and the Catholic Church, Bryan N. Massingale, 2010, Orbis Press)

LAMENTATION FOR FERGUSON, MO
(and all other communities living with mistrust and fear)

Our response to each lament is “HOW MUCH LONGER, O HOLY ONE, HOW MUCH LONGER?”

How much longer will terror grip families, neighborhoods and cities … terror caused by unjust systems that prey on the vulnerability of people, especially communities of color?

How much longer will the expectation of heartbreak, suffering and death be a way of life for too many?

How much longer will it take for war zones to become zones of safety and well being?

How much longer will the stench of death, misery, tear gas and bullets eclipse the beauty of creation in neighborhoods?

How much longer will the collective memory of a people no longer remember a quiet night during which to sleep?

How much longer do parents have to wail primal cries of anguish at the inhuman conditions heaped upon their families?

How much longer do parents have to live under bone-crushing suspicion that their children will be accused of wrong-doing when out on the street?

How much longer do parents have to continue burying their children while being unable to fully grieve since there are more deaths and more children to lay to rest?

How much longer will neighborhoods who have a basic human right for safety have to confront the growing militarization of their police forces who were once committed to serving its people?

How much longer do children have to endure the ravages of terror, trauma and confusion wondering what they did to deserve such fear, dread and insecurity?

How much longer will neighborhoods all over this country, who are at the tipping point from continuing racial oppression and systemic misuse of power, hold on?

How much longer will we stand by shaking our heads at the sadness of it all … before we join in solidarity with one another and work towards “liberty and justice for all?”

Our faith tradition tells us that we are to “love the enemies and pray for those who persecute.” (Mat. 5:43)

Where do we find it within us to pray for those who inflict such acts of atrocity upon the community of nations, the beloved community of the Holy One?

As a simple beginning, we match our Litany of Lamentation with a Litany of Hope, praying from the core of our beings that violence and hatred cease, especially in Israel and Palestine…

Side One:                                                                Side Two:

When hatred dominates…                                          …may we announce by our lives                                                                                           the primacy of love.

When we are seriously offended…                            …may we offer forgiveness.

When conflict is rampant…                                        …may we offer to build peace.

When error is entrenched…                                       …may we proclaim truth

When doubt paralyzes…                                              …may we awaken faith.

When distress weighs heavily…                                  …may we re-vitalize hope.

When heaviness and despair overwhelm…              …may we bring an air of                                                                                                        healing.

When sadness reigns…                                                …may we liberate the joy                                                                                                       within us.

When betrayed by love…                                            …may we be open to healing.

When confronted by evil…                                          …may we proclaim that                                                                                                         ‘goodness’ is stronger.

When our hearts are wrenched by injustice…         …may we be steadfast in                                                                                                        working to promote and                                                                                                        proclaim ‘peace with justice.’

Amen.

IRAQ-SYRIA: The U.S. and ISIS

by Stephen Zunes
in The Huffington Post

n-US-AIRSTRIKE-large570

At the start of classes one year ago, I was having to explain to my students why the United States appeared to be on the verge of going to war against the Syrian government. At the beginning of this semester, exactly one year later, I’m having to explain to my students why the United States may be on the verge of going to war against Syrian rebels.

It is not surprising, therefore, that while the horrors unleashed by forces of the so-called Islamic State are all-too-real, there is skepticism regarding the use of military force.

Already U.S. planes and missiles have been attacking ISIS forces in northern Iraq. Given the real threat of a heightened genocidal campaign against Yazidis and other minorities and the risks of ISIS control expanding into the Kurdish region, even some of those normally averse to unilateral U.S. military intervention abroad were willing to acknowledge it may have been the least bad option.

Within days, however, there were already indications of “mission creep,” as what had been officially declared an exclusively defensive mission turned offensive when the United States provided air support for Kurdish and Iraqi forces, which seized the Mosul Dam from ISIS forces.

Even if one can make a convincing strategic case for such a military operation, the failure of President Obama to go before Congress for authorization of this renewed military intervention in Iraq is extremely disturbing…

Read the rest of this article by clicking here.

CIVIL RIGHTS: U.S. Bishops to mark 50 years since the Civil Rights Movement

from Zenit

Flier - A Catholic Conversation on Race-Religion-and The March on Washington - 08-25-13 - 1To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Subcommittee on African American Affairs will release a series of resources to highlight the achievements of the Civil Rights era and its connections to the Catholic Church.

Over the next 12 months, resources will highlight the Mississippi Freedom Summer (June to August 1964); the Civil Rights Act (July 1964); the March from Selma to Montgomery (March 1965); and the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act in August 2015.

“The Civil Rights era was an important time in the history of our country. In constructive ways, many priests, religious sisters, religious brothers and lay Catholic faithful were involved in the struggle for Civil Rights,” said Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, chairman of the Subcommittee. “Recalling the Catholic Church’s past participation in these important historic moments serves to challenge the faithful to work constructively today to enhance the common good for people of all races and ethnicities.”

The resources will help promote dialogue among parishes, schools, Catholic groups and others by examining how these events helped pave the way to the current multicultural relations. The project also aims to promote dialogue among generations on the meaning of the historic legacy with a look towards the future and to highlight the participation of the Catholic Church and Catholic leaders during such historic and challenging times.

The commemoration will also provide an opportunity to discuss the social teachings of the Roman Catholic Church…

Click here for more information and a link to the resources.

REFLECTION: On the anniversary of 9/11, The Things That Make for Peace

Below is the statement Pax Christi USA released on the tenth anniversary of 9-11. For other items and resources we compiled for that anniversary, click here.
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As Jesus came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying,
“If this day you only knew the things that make for peace!” (Luke 19:41-42)

sept_11_webTen years ago, just scant hours after our nation witnessed the tragic events of September 11th, Pax Christi USA released a statement which said, in part:

We recognize that as the reality of the magnitude of loss becomes clear, our nation’s grief will soon move toward rage. As people of faith and disciples of the nonviolent Jesus, we must be willing, even now in this darkest moment, to commit ourselves and urge our sisters and brothers, to resist the impulse to vengeance. We must resist the urge to demonize and dehumanize any ethnic group as ‘enemy.’ We must find the courage to break the spiral of violence that so many in our nation, we fear, will be quick to embrace. (Pax Christi USA’s Official Statement on 9-11, published on September 12, 2001)

On Sunday, September 11, 2011, the tenth anniversary of 9-11, as we gather to celebrate the Eucharist together, a question will be put to us:

Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord?
Can anyone refuse mercy to another, yet expect pardon for one’s own sins? (Sirach 28:3-4)

These past ten years, we have witnessed the failure of policies built on vengeance. Our elected leaders manipulated our grief and fear to justify foreign policy decisions which had little to nothing to do with the tragedy of 9-11. Our nation was ensconced in a culture of fear, where the scapegoating of peoples, the fanning of religious intolerance, and the curtailing of civil rights served the needs of political expedience.

We have been witnesses to the dark places where our government’s response to 9-11 led our nation—the justification of torture, the moral bankruptcy of pre-emptive war, the daily reports of innocent civilians killed as collateral damage, the deaths of thousands of U.S. service personnel, and the stealing of our national wealth to pay for wars abroad as our children, our elderly, and the most vulnerable are left to suffer at home.

Today, as we acknowledge the ten year anniversary of 9-11, there can be no doubt that responding with war and violence can neither console us in our grief nor achieve the security for which we long.

In the weeks following 9-11, Pax Christi USA proclaimed that very message, and challenged our political leaders to seize this moment for peace by establishing justice for all peoples throughout the world. Until we commit our own nation to the pursuit of peace and justice for the entire human family, we should not be surprised when the violence suffered by those living on the other side of the world—as well as those living on the wrong side of town—eventually engulfs us all.

Ten years have passed, but we believe that the opportunity is still with us. Let us start, now, today, in Washington, D.C. and in every city and town across this land, in our schools and our places of worship and within our own homes. Let us write a new chapter and create a new legacy for all those whose lives were shattered on 9-11. Let each one of us decide what it is that we can do to create a legacy which heals instead of harms. Let us begin with the assurance that such healing will come if we make economic, political and social justice for all our top priority.

On Sunday, September 11, 2011, at the responsorial, Catholics will sing in churches throughout our nation:

Our God is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.
God pardons all our iniquities, heals all our ills, redeems our lives from destruction, and crowns us with kindness and compassion. (Psalm 103)

This anniversary offers us an opportunity to reflect the values of the God to whom we have given our allegiance. Let us remember those who were lost and memorialize this day by committing our lives to “the things that make for peace”—drawing closer to those who suffer, cultivating understanding in the midst of suspicion, finding truth in the arguments of those with whom we disagree, embracing some measure of personal sacrifice today to make a better world for our children and grandchildren tomorrow.

Let us gather one decade from now—not amidst the ruins of all that has been torn down—but in the midst of that new world of peace and security for all which we have built up together.

STATEMENT: Pax Christi USA official statement on the delay on an immigration plan

Pax Christi USA joins its voice with the many that had great hopes that President Obama, in September, would use his executive authority to address the broken U.S. immigration system as he had promised. Those hopes have been seriously dashed over the weekend by the President’s announcement that he will delay his decision until after the November elections, lest the decision have an impact on those seeking re-election. In essence, the President has yielded to political pressure and has bartered with the lives of immigrant children and families.  PCUSA finds this not only profoundly disappointing, but also unacceptable for a country that boasts such high ideals.

This delay simply means more hardship and suffering for those who have endured more than their share of trauma: threats of deportation for those who have lived here for years, returning children to countries of origin amidst death threats, the continuation of 1,000+ daily deportations and the inhumane conditions and screening at detention facilities.

We ask President Obama to have a change of mind and heart, to put an immediate end to splitting apart immigrant families, and to provide safety and care for the children who are alone.