Tag Archives: social justice

A Shout-Out to Catholic Charities

Although I’m familiar with only one Catholic Charities, East Bay in Oakland, CA (CCEB), I’m guessing that their work is typical of many organizations, so this praise goes to all 139 offices nationally. In a dark time, when immigrants are terrorized, the poor are pushed even further into the margins, and the vulnerable are demonized, they offer hope in crisis, and shine like bright lights.

The price of housing in CA is so astronomical that even people with healthy salaries have a hard time buying or renting a home. Teachers can’t afford to live in the districts where they work, and those on minimum wage can’t begin to compete. Last year, CCEB received over 8,000 requests for housing assistance, and could help with less than 1% of those.

But they don’t get discouraged. They press on, and with generous supporters, branch into other areas too, like welcoming immigrant families and helping them with jobs, housing, schools and cultural adaptation. One of their films shows a Burmese family who’d spent years in refugee camps arriving at the airport, where parishioners, translators and a pastor waved flags in welcome. Those of us without refugee experience can only imagine what that sight must’ve meant—and it was just the beginning of ongoing care to ease difficult transitions.

I’ve written before about Claire’s House, one of the first shelters for young girls rescued from trafficking. CCEB has carefully pioneered in this complex arena, hopefully paving the way for other homes of refuge. A tangle of licensing and other state requirements has slowed the process, but the staff’s perseverance will make sure it won’t close, and can continue to offer healing to those who need it most.

Here’s where you come in. Studies from The Greater Good Science Center have found that giving to others makes us happier than spending time and money on ourselves. So if you know someone at your local Catholic Charities or similar organization, send their staff this column—with a bouquet, chocolate and a big donation. If you don’t know anyone, do the same—surreptitiously posting your praise in a break room or on a website. Even saintly humans need reinforcement and thanks. The research mentioned above proves that giving it increases oxytocin (the “feel good” hormone) in the bloodstream of the giver. Maybe we can’t all be on the front line. But we can support those who are. Let’s launch a campaign: Three Hundred Cheers for Catholic Charities!

Shame at the San Diego Border

The National Guard must be mortified. Excerpts from the recruitment pitch read as if they’ll be joining Doctors without Borders or some other humanitarian group that saves the world:

TAKE A PATH WITH PURPOSE. BE PART OF SOMETHING BIGGER THAN YOURSELF.

This is a message to anyone who ever believed they could be something great when they grew up. It’s an invitation to all who want to build a better world.  As a Guard Soldier you’ll respond when disaster strikes at home. You’ll also answer the call when your country needs you around the world. (www.nationalguard.com)

The $20,000 signing bonus must appeal too. As Helen Thorpe reveals in her splendid book Soldier Girls, it draws desperately poor young people, eager for education, who are then amazed when they wind up killing civilians in Afghanistan.

Or enmeshed in the current fiasco: saving the country from babies, and mothers who respect the U.S. so much they’ve walked long, treacherous distances to get here. Yet Jeff Sessions, Attorney General accuses them of “a deliberate attempt to undermine our laws and overwhelm our system.” What kind of system can’t absorb 200 unarmed civilians? An editorial by Eugene Robinson (Bay Area News Group, 5/2/18) adds, “President Trump has spoken of these people as if they were some kind of rampaging horde.”

So one-year olds, barely walking, can lug howitzers and machine guns all the way from Honduras? And their parents, facing death threats at home, want to undermine the only place they might find safety and hope for the future? Doesn’t the country face more of a threat from lax, NRA-friendly gun laws that have led to murders in our schools? Or a president who accepted $30 million in campaign contributions from said NRA, but doesn’t know asylum or international law?

Those laws were passed after World War II when the US disgracefully refused entry to German Jews, sentencing many to death in concentration camps. Does a Spanish-speaking Anne Frank wait agonizing today in Tijuana? And what’s happened to the ancient moral code that a society is judged by its treatment of the most vulnerable?

Kathy Coffey featured on local NPR Station

Human Trafficking on KQED Perspectives

Editor’s note: Kathy Coffey did a “Perspective” this morning on the local San Francisco NPR station, KQED, focused on human trafficking.

Imagine a child named Sheila. Aged 14 now, she was first trafficked at 9 by drug-dealing parents. She lives in constant fear. Not of taking algebra or getting a prom date, the usual worries of her peers. No, she is the possession of a human trafficker, who isolates, exploits, abuses her, makes big bucks off her. Her life expectancy is 7 years. It’s unlikely she’ll turn 21. She is convinced no one knows about her private hell; no one cares. No one has ever told her she’s bright or beautiful.

You can hear the full perspective on the KQED website: Children For Sale

Three Sisters Hold up Half the Sky: Sisters of Loretto in Pakistan

Editor’s note: A new article by Kathy Coffey about the Sisters of Loretto and their work in Pakistan running the St. Albert’s School in Pakistan.

….Yet the sisters, who visited the Loretto Spirituality Center outside of Denver recently, seem to accomplish the work of legions.

Since 2011 they have run St. Albert’s School in a slum in Pakistan’s third largest city, Faisalabad, where most people live on $1 a day and the size of houses is about 12-foot square. They ask the families of their 350 students, kindergarten through grade 10, to pay minimal tuition (about 50 cents a month) to encourage self-respect.

To read the rest of the article, click here: Three sisters hold up half the sky

Sharing the Power of Reading

Editor’s note:  Kathy Coffey’s latest article, “Sharing the Power of Reading” is now available on the Global Sisters Report website:

“On a frigid winter morning Doug hopped on a bus to a storefront help center, despairing that he’d lost his job with a cleaning service for not understanding printed signs and written warnings. And when Doug asked if the bus went where he wanted to go, the driver snapped: ‘Can’t you read the marquee?'”

To read the rest of “Sharing the Power of Reading” about a literacy program in Dayton, Ohio, staffed mostly by volunteer teachers from the Sisters of the Precious Blood Convent, click here:  “Sharing the Power of Reading

Dorothy Stang, Part 2

Editor’s note: This is part 2 of a 2 part series.  Read part 1 here.

Enter the villains. The ranchers hire gunmen who shoot her to death on February 12, 2005. Seeing the gun, Dorothy doesn’t run or plead for her life, as most folks would. Fear would’ve been natural and understandable. Instead she pulls out her Bible and reads the Beatitudes aloud. The divine power transcends human limitations; in those final moments, she imitated Christ. She must’ve spent a lifetime preparing for that climax; now she teaches me how to live.

Breathing a deep lungful of piney mountain air, scented with sage, at home in the Rocky Mountains, I recall Dorothy’s joy outdoors. Without much institutional church, she finds God in the green canopy of trees, the cathedral of forest. Dorothy reminds me that when we lose our sacred connection to the earth, we’re stuck with small selves and petty concerns. In film footage, she proudly shows off a tree farm, exulting, “we CAN reforest the Amazon!”

Dorothy has encouraged me to stop eating beef, since intensive grazing requires destruction of the rainforest. I’m learning “green” alternatives to wasteful habits. Like most North Americans, I have enough stuff and now lean towards a simpler life. David explains, “she was so in love with what she was doing, she didn’t notice her dirt floor, primitive plumbing, no electricity.”

“Holy” once meant pious and passive. But Dorothy models how to raise Cain and act for justice. As we baby boomers age, Dorothy is patron saint for slow butterflies and reluctant caterpillars. She didn’t remain captive to her traditional upbringing. She probably could’ve hunkered down into the retirement center, counted her wrinkles and kept careful tabs on her ailments—as some older folk do. Instead, vivaciously, she tried new things, journeyed to new places. Her face is so youthful, it’s hard to think of her as 73. If I want to look that luminous at that age, I too must shed fears and take risks.

I want to love as gladly and fully as she did. It’s easy to get caught up in trivia: social commitments, work deadlines, domestic chores. But is this how we want to spend the precious coinage of brief lives? At Dorothy’s funeral, her friend Sister Jo Anne announced, “we’re not going to bury Dorothy; we’re going to plant her. Dorothy Vive!” If I want that immortality, I should examine what seeds I’m planting now, how I’ll live on in memory.

Dorothy has ruined my easy cop-out: how can one small person offset complex and apparently hopeless wrongs? Dorothy and I are the same height, 5’2”. Yet look what this giant accomplished: her killers’ trials, televised to every Brazilian classroom, have given children hope.

Her family and community won’t pursue canonization, preferring to give the poor the money that cause would require. Many already consider Dorothy a saint and martyr—in the early church, that’s all that mattered. As one biographer said about St. Catherine of Siena, “someone must’ve told her women were inferior. She clearly didn’t believe it.”

Environmental Warrior: Dorothy Stang

In a slightly belated tribute to Sister Dorothy Stang, who died 2/12/05, this essay is reprinted in two parts, from THE BEST OF BEING CATHOLIC.

Dorothy’s brother David is always eager to talk about his martyred sister. “She whacked me around as a kid,” he admits. “A tomboy, she played the best football in the family.” That tenacity carried her through the Amazon, where she became a feisty defender of the poor and the rainforest. After her death, she’s still a role model in the arenas of the environment, aging and women’s roles.

Her story has the attributes of heroic legend, so let’s tell it that way. First, the setting(s). In Brazil, less than 3% of the population owns 2/3 of arable land. When the government gives land to displaced farm workers, loggers and ranchers burn poor settlements, sell valuable timber, then graze cattle (to supply our McDonald’s!) The consequent loss of the rain forest is tragic because it contains 30% of the world’s biodiversity. Some call it “the lungs of the planet.” As it shrinks, global warming increases.

It’s hard to imagine a place more distant from Brazil than Dayton, Ohio. Young Dorothy lives here, her backyard a model of organic gardening, where she learns composting and the dangers of pesticides. In 1948, she becomes a Sister of Notre Dame and teacher. You expect her to become a benevolent nun who dies of old age in a quiet convent, right? That’s where her story gets interesting.

Our heroine volunteers for Brazil when her order calls for missionaries. She accompanies families to Para, bordering the rain forest, to defend their land. She asked the right questions there: not minor matters of narrow denominational or territorial concerns, but “How do we preserve the earth’s treasures? How do we empower God’s beloved people who live upon this land?” Dorothy had the expansive spirit of Roman philosopher Seneca, who declared in 42 A.D., “the whole world is my own native land.”

She organizes people into co-ops: they learn crop rotation, read the Bible and worship with music and dance. (Because priests are scarce, she becomes their “shepherd.” In a contemporary version of Galatians 3:28 (“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”), it didn’t much matter if she was male or female, ordained or not. What DID matter, burningly, was “no greater love than to give one’s life for one’s friends.”

When her people are attacked, she tells them brusquely, “quit crying; start rebuilding!” Her old VW Beetle wobbles over bridges with rotting planks—while her passenger David makes a nervous sign of the cross. Dorothy takes the peoples’ case to the government. When officials deny receiving her letters, she burrows through their files ‘til she finds them. Persistently, she asks for protection of poor farmers, but nothing is done. Amazingly, she keeps this up for 38 YEARS. Dorothy starts fruit orchards with women and projects for sustainable development with 1200 people. The Brazilian Bar Association names her “Humanitarian of the Year” in 2004.

To be continued…