Catholic Social Teaching Stories Project
Catholic Social Teaching Stories Project at OLL Encourages Drawings, Paintings and Poems in addition to Written Personal Stories
The Our Lady of the Lake Justice & Peace Committee affirms its commitment to respect the dignity of every human being, strive for justice and peace among all people, and seek and serve God in all persons and in creation.
In addition, OLL's Justice and Peace Committee has asked members of our greater parish community to submit personal stories reflecting on how they feel called to live out one element of the OLL Justice and Peace Committee Statement of Commitment and Action to Living Catholic Social Teaching. We are presenting them here below each element.
1. We will go deeper in faith.
Our faith permeates everything that we do, but sometimes we do not recognize the work of the Spirit guiding us through our vocations. In 2003, I was hired for a one-year position as an assistant professor of biology. Jumping into this faculty position intimidated me because I wasn’t sure how my lifelong Catholic faith would fit within the culture of this evangelical university. However, working in a faith-filled community forced me to rethink aspects of my own spiritual life. At our weekly departmental meetings, we begin with prayer. At first, I was not comfortable leading the group because I was used to praying in a more formal way, using structured Catholic prayers. Over time, I learned to feel the Spirit working within me as I prayed for the intentions of members of my department. Being stretched through unfamiliar faith practices also has helped me to reflect on the aspects of Catholicism that are central to my personal faith practice. As a Catholic, sacramental participation is a fundamental part of my faith experience. Serving as a Eucharistic minister at Mass lets me witness the transformative power of God’s sacrifice.
For the first time in my life, in this faculty position, I also was asked to explicitly connect my faith with my work. As I reflected on connections between faith and science, I realized that I had partitioned my faith life from my academic life without examining the intersections between the two. Although I believed then and still believe that the idea of God as creator is compatible with evolution, I had not thought deeply about how faith might be challenged by a modern understanding of biology. In graduate school, I had learned that humans were not unique or better than other animals because of our shared evolutionary history. Although it was not stated overtly, the subtext was that we are not created in the image of God. However, I began to recognize that humans are unique in the ability to develop covenant relationships with God. The physiological mechanisms that underlie our behavior may be shared, but we possess the unique capability of developing and growing in faith.
As I read books and articles in attempt to understand why many of my evangelical students struggled with evolution, I also sought to better understand the Catholic position by taking an online course about “Faith and Science: The Catholic Approach” through the University of Notre Dame. In this class, we focused on the unique characteristics of faith and science, this history behind perceived conflicts between faith and science, and reconciling scriptural accounts of creation with a scientific understanding of evolution. One of my favorite quotes from the materials for this course was: “There can never be a real conflict between faith and reason, since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, and God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth” (Vatican I Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith).
--Janet (Apr 14, 2020)
2. We will listen and respect all voices.
the Catholic Social Teaching principle that we as human beings are all part of one human family. It is not the “vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortune of so many people, both near and far.” (St. John Paul II) but to actively love and strive for their dignity. However, there are nearly 7 billion people and to practice solidarity, I must first see their brothers and sisters in Christ as they are and not who I want them to be. To do so, I must listen and respect all voices.
So I read memoirs to know other’s stories. Stories provide insight, nuance, complexity; and connection. It is a wonderful way to acknowledge other’s stories, fears, hopes, dreams, and beliefs across divides of time, language, place, culture, and any other difference. There are hundreds of stories of the human experience waiting to be read and understood.
Variation is key. The author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warned of the “danger of a single story”; that without diversity in stories not only is much about the human experience lost and limited, but stories become only about “the other” and limit solidarity.
Through these stories, I hear the stories of those I will never meet and lives I will never live. In Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive, Stephanie Land told me about the isolation, shame, and difficulty of poverty. Dr. Kay Redfield Jemison spoke eloquently of her bipolar disorder in An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness. In Dream of Trespass, I learned about life in a Moroccan harem in the 20th century, destroying all preconceived notions I had about family life in a harem.
The most valuable and most difficult is faithfully reading stories of those I disagree with on a fundamental level with an open heart and mind. There are stories of conversion away from Christianity, like The Butterfly Mosque, a writer’s story of conversion to Islam. There are stories of those who are vilified, like This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor by Dr. Susan Wicklund, who opened my eyes to the complexity of abortion in America.
My responsibility to understand to practice solidarity does not end when I close the book. Reading is merely the tool to be a better citizen and neighbor through greater understanding of the world and its people. Additionally, Christianity dictates to speak the truth at all time, but before speaking, I must know the truth.
I will never stop reading and sharing what I learn, for it is a little way I can listen and respect all voices, a way to honor the dignity of the human person.
--Jena (February 23, 2020)
I find myself in a position where telling my story requires the emotion of speaking from the heart while reliving the moment. I would prefer the objectivity of “detached attachment”, either for the safety of protecting privacy or the convenience of being an observer. My story is a reflection of my culture, “me” as an individual with a “learned” set of expectations, and a belief in the beauty of cultural diversity. That I have an understanding of cultural diversity or multiculturalism is in contrast to the reality of a society in need of cultural competency. A lack of knowledge is a deficiency of experience. And yes, the word racism can be used, some would not like to hear how they could be tainted as a racist, and discussion is hesitant, or guarded. We automatically assume or expect to be accused and we become defensive. I am reluctant to share feelings or ideas, not because I’m shy but rather because this discussion has occurred so many times before in other settings and the question is whether or not personal feelings or experiences are communicated and heard by the other (listener). Unfortunately, I have an attitude best characterized as “been there, done that, so what’s changed?”
I tend to be impatient, and I find it difficult to accept an ignorance of “cultural knowledge”. I do believe we need to talk, to share, and to be willing to tackle the discussion of diversity and pluralism with honesty and bravery, patience and empathy, courage and tenacity. I may disclose things difficult to hear and uncomfortable to say, I may question your intentions and be disappointed with a lack of progress.
I am aware efforts are being made by participation in Just Faith groups, Building Cultural Competency Workshops or other programs sponsored by trainers for intercultural communications. More needs to be done, should be done. A willingness to experience the challenges of cultural sensitivity is the beginning. How do we sustain the effort? Finding and supporting opportunities for dialogue needs to be identified and encouraged.
3. We will lift up truth.
When I was young I read the book by Leon Uris, Exodus: a Novel of Israel. I was taken with the dramatic migrant story of the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people after WWII. As with all stories, for many years I didn’t know there was another story behind the Exodus and the newly formed State of Israel, a story of 750,000 resistant Palestinians who were killed or displaced from their homes by Jewish Zionist groups and forced into refugee camps.
I was raised to believe that persons from other religions don’t have the same rights and dignity before God as Christians. With Muslims in particular, I found them exotic at best and not to be trusted at worst. Along with this belief system inevitably comes the conscious or unconscious belief that ‘they’ are not as good or worthy as I am. The notion of America First has been around since the founding of our country – for white Christian Americans.
Our Lady of the Lake is a member of Kairos Puget Sound Coalition, a network of Christian congregations and organizations in the Puget Sound region working for justice, peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land. As a member of the Board for this organization, I have come a long way from the young person awe-struck by the Exodus.
In the news Palestinians, as a whole, are portrayed as a terrorist group with the sole intent of destroying the State of Israel. I’ve come to learn another side of the story concerning the Palestinian people. Muslim and Christian Palestinians seek the same rights and privileges afforded to the Jewish population in Israel. On the news I hear that Israel is a democratic nation – but for whom? Sometimes the truth is hard to swallow. With a certain amount of disbelief and grieving, I have had to come to terms with a different ‘truth’ regarding Israel and the Palestinians that is not simple and one-sided. I didn’t want to believe Israel, the people of the Holocaust, were just as capable of exclusivity and racism as I was.
In Catholic social teaching all are made in the image of God and have dignity worthy of my respect. This year for Lent, I feel a strong tug to pray and fast (beyond giving up chocolate) and to experience how the sacrifice of fasting strengthens my relationship with God, clarifies what God wants of me, brings me in solidarity with the poor and hungry, and calls me to find the truth underneath my relationship with those who are not part of my world view. May God continue to give me a change of heart to see all life in the light of the Gospel message of love, reconciliation, and peace.
--Linda (Mar 10, 2019)
When I sat down to write this piece, I felt uncomfortable. I am very aware that there is only so much I can say as a white woman and during this time it is extremely important to listen to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous & People of Color) voices. I feel embarrassed by my lack of knowledge and effort before this call to action that has so horrifically both inspired and shaken many in our community. However this is exactly why I wanted to express my thoughts, as someone who is working to listen, learn and act. My Instagram and Facebook feeds are currently flooded with information about Black Lives Matter and demonstrations happening across America. I have created this artificial environment because the algorithms that social media platforms use help reinforce my bubble of like-mindedness. There is also a small set of posts touting the opposite opinions. The frustration of seeing people I know spout ideas I cannot rationalize makes me want to shut them out of my online circle. But in doing so, I will push myself further into an echo chamber of my own opinions. Unfriending or unfollowing someone with different views is not the answer. For a while I wasn’t sure if posting on social media was performative allyship/activism. I dipped my toe in by resharing a post with a link to a petition demanding justice for Breonna Taylor. An old friend reached out and thanked me for sharing and said she too would reshare it on her own platform. With that small action, someone else may see the petition who would not have beforehand. Now if I see a piece of information that educates me I share it with my followers, too. Even if
just one person reads it and it makes them stop and think, this is a small step in their own anti-racism journey. Circulating knowledge, understanding and fact checking opposing opinions are important steps in educating ourselves.
Racism was not a topic regularly discussed with my close friends. Both of my roommates are white and racism is rarely an acknowledged part of our everyday lives. The systemic racism in our society has led us to believe that we are not racist, but this is not the same as being anti-racist. The three of us have committed to reading Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi. Kendi divides people up into three categories: segregationists, anti-racists and assimilationists. The majority of people fall into the third category. “You can be someone who has no intention to be racist, [who believes in and fights for equality,] but because you’re conditioned in a world that is racist and a country that is structured in anti-black racism, you yourself can perpetuate those ideas” (Kendi). Every week we read three chapters and have set aside time on Tuesday nights to discuss our thoughts and realizations from the week. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves. There are so many articles, documentaries, podcasts to consume that there is no excuse to be ignorant.
I have a lot of privilege as a white woman. I have never had to worry about the police mistreating me. I have a good job. I am young and healthy. I believe that these privileges should be used to help the Black Lives Matter movement and sentiment. When I first considered attending marches, I was concerned. As a white woman, was it my place to protest? Could I be hurt in the process? But as a petite white woman, I am also less likely to be hurt by police. Since I am a part of the problem, I should be actively working to become a part of the solution. Rallying behind members of the Black community, adding a voice to the demands for justice and equality is crucial to making change. We still live in a world where white voices
often make more of an impact and so I need to use mine to change that.
I am not perfect. I am still learning. There are many things I do every day that are influenced by the systemic racism that I have been complicit in for far too long. But now is time for change. We are called as Christians and as children of God to act. We cannot let our privilege allow us to be bystanders. This is a lifelong journey and we must get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
4. We will live our belief that all people are made in God's image.
5. We will welcome the stranger.
During the month of May, 2021, I travelled with another Holy Names Sister to San Antonio and then Laredo, Texas, to become a Catholic Charities volunteer, helping to welcome and support asylum seekers, mostly from Central American countries, who had travelled through Mexico to the U.S., seeking a way out of desperate poverty and constant violence.
By being available to interact with the 1,800 young men, ages 12-17, at San Antonio’s Freeman Coliseum, and relieve “pod leaders” for a break, we – along with many other volunteers – were able to help make the two cavernous rooms, containing 900 cots each where the boys spent their days, be a joyful “beehive” of activity rather than a strict “detention” atmosphere.
In Laredo at the La Frontera family shelter the border patrol daily dropped off from 20 to 120 families deemed “vulnerable”, most often a mother with a toddler, after they had received papers allowing them to stay in the US until their appointment for their asylum appeal would come up. Here again, we, with other Sisters and persons from other faith communities, could “fill in the cracks” – providing food, diapers, a change of clothes, a travel snack pack, a shower pack, a freshly made-up mattress, so that the very stretched staff could focus on screening for Covid and then helping these families arrange for transportation to get to with whomever or wherever they had connections. So as volunteers there, we helped make families’ 24-hour stay an “oasis” and place to “take a breath” rather than a “processing center.”
I learned many things. One was about what makes a situation “welcoming” and personal. I certainly became more aware of the overwhelming challenges of the migration to the U.S. caused by the equally overwhelming issues related to global wealth inequality and climate change. What I participated in during May did not really address the big challenges. All it could do was - for these asylum seekers and the staff working with them – provide an experience of personal welcome, rather than institutional management.
At the Freeman Coliseum, upbeat music played in loudspeakers, boys wove bracelets, did origami, played Uno with volunteers. Volunteers were available to escort kids to their case worker appointments, practice a few English words (or learn a few Spanish ones!), just smile and comment on something. We could look for a lost laundry bag or join them in prayer at a Marian shrine with the picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe filled with paper flowers. We could relieve the “pod supervisor” for a break. Yes, each child had a number badge and none was allowed to leave until the case workers had thoroughly vetted the family member, relative, friend or stranger who would sponsor them (to avoid trafficking or abuse). But the time of waiting became a time of welcome, even of some happiness and friendship-building, a time when they encountered kindness and compassion. I hope this atmosphere of welcome will be remembered by each boy, and make a difference in his future.
The family center was different in that each family’s time there was so short. But again, there was “welcome” because of enough people (and generous donations) to receive more than efficient help with phone calls and travel arrangements. It was a “welcome center” rather than a “service counter.”
I believe that my experience in Texas was in an “island of sanity,” and I realize that this is what Jesus did in his time on earth as well.
6. We will exercise the preferential option for the poor, vulnerable, and marginalized.
7. We will value and honor women.
I talked with the director of the family center about what we could do to help. We thought that we could offer the family center as a safe place to meet for these women to gain support from us and each other. We called a few of the women who were more acculturated to US society and seemed to be natural leaders. It was decided to put out a flyer for an initial meeting to see what their needs were.
From this small beginning the Muslim Sisters group was formed. I was not a part of the group but I did heavily promote it in the area. They elected leaders, had monthly meetings and set a list of priorities. One of the first was to learn to use makeup. One of the members was a Cosmetologist so that went well. Another priority was swimming. They found a time at the Meadowbrook pool when they could have female lifeguards and put up paper to screen the windows. This was good exercise for them and got their children familiar with the water and hopefully led to swim lessons. This was reported in the Times at least once.
This effort spread throughout the county with groups forming at other family centers particularly in the Sea-Tac area. To the best of my knowledge this group is still happening in some form in the area. I am very happy to have had some part in starting it.
- Rose Marie Berger: Advancing Nonviolence and Just Peace in the Church and the World, Berger, Rose Marie (Ed.); Butigan, Ken (Ed.); Coode, Judy (Ed.); Dennis, Marie (Ed.); Bending the Arch: Poems.
- Dr. Beatrice Bruteau: The Grand Option: Personal Transformation and a New Creation; Radical Optimism: Practical Spirituality in an Uncertain World; God’s Ecstasy: The Creation of a Self-Creating World
- Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS: Hunger for Hope: Prophetic Communities, Contemplation, and the Common Good
- Joan D. Chittister, OSB: Heart of Flesh; A Passion for Life: Fragments of the Face of God; About Joan Chittister: Joan Chittister: Her Journey from Certainty to Faith, Tom Roberts.
- Dorothy Day: The Long Loneliness; Loves and Fishes: The Inspiring Story of the Catholic Worker Movement; The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day, edited by Robert Ellsberg; About Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty: An Intimate Portrait of My Grandmother, Kate Hennessy
- Maureen K. Day, Ph.D.: Catholic Activism Today, Individual Transformation and the Struggle for Social Justice
- Ilia Delio, OSF: Making All Things New: Catholicity, Cosmology and Consciousness; Catholicity in an Evolving Universe
- Kathleen R. Fischer: Autumn Gospel: Women in the Second Half of Life; Christian Foundations: An Introduction to Faith in Our Time; Winter Grace: Spirituality and Aging; Inner Rainbow: The Imagination in Christian Life; Promises to Keep: Developing the Skills of Marriage
- Elizabeth A. Johnson, CSJ: She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse; Quest for the Living God; Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love
- Jeanne L. Porter, Ph.D.: Leading Ladies: Transformative Biblical Images for Women’s Leadership
- Dr. Cecelia A. Ranger, SNJM: Everyday God: Reflections on Liturgy and Life; Pilgrimage to a Soul Place
- Joyce Rupp, OSM: The Cup of Life: A Guide for Spiritual Growth; The Star in my Heart: Experiencing Sophia, Inner Wisdom; Dear Heart Come Home: The Path of Midlife spirituality; May I Have This Dance?
- Olga M. Segura: Birth of A Movement, Black Lives Matter and the Catholic Church
- Mother Teresa: Do Something Beautiful for God: The Essential Teachings of Mother Teresa 365 Daily Reflections, by Mother Teresa and Matthew Kelly; No Greater Love, by Mother Teresa and Thomas Moore
- Sr. Miriam Therese Winter, Medical Mission Sister: The Singer and the Song: An Autobiography of the Spirit; The Chronicles of Noah and Her Sisters: Genesis and Exodus According to Women; Defecting in Place: Women Claiming Responsibility for Their Own Spiritual Lives; Out of the Depths: The Story of Ludmila Javorova, Ordained Roman Catholic Priest
8. We will nurture family.
9. We will support workers.
“I acknowledge the land on which we stand today as the traditional home of the Coast Salish people, the traditional home of all tribes and bands within the Duwamish, Suquamish, Tulalip and Muckleshoot nations. Without them, we would not have access to this gathering and to this dialogue. I ask that we take this opportunity to thank the original caretakers of this land who are still here.”
This kind of land acknowledgement statement is now relatively commonplace in our Puget Sound region (though has been lacking in our parish gatherings!).
But recently, at a division meeting of faculty, staff, and administrators, the additional statement was also read by our dean:
“We also pause to recognize and acknowledge the labor upon which our country, state, and institutions are built. We remember that our country is built on the labor of enslaved people who were kidnapped and brought to the U.S. from the African Continent and recognize the continued contributions of their survivors. We also acknowledge all immigrant labor, including voluntary, involuntary, trafficked, forced, and undocumented peoples who contributed to the building of the country and continue to serve within our labor force. We acknowledge all unpaid caregiving labor. Finally, we acknowledge that our institution relies on hourly student contingent and unpaid labor, and we recognize those contributions as well.”
This “labor acknowledgement” statement was created by a member of our student leadership for an event recognizing Black History Month. I find this is a very powerful and moving statement, given the recent unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Yet I have heard comments from colleagues that Seattle is far removed both physically and historically from the cruelty of American slavery and that Puget Sound has never been a major focal point for immigrant labor.
However, when we take a look at some of the work done in our own backyard, we might form a different opinion of Seattle’s role in racial and labor inequality. The Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project, at the University of Washington, has a website http://depts/washington.edu/civilr/index dedicated to informing the public and exposing the truth behind our sordid Northwest history.
For example, did you know that:
- Parcels in Wedgwood and Laurelhurst neighborhoods still have land covenant language that restricts Blacks, Jews, and other non-white people from owning property unless they were “hired” labor?
- The Knights of Labor organization conspired with a coal mining company to target and remove first Chinese and then Black coal mine workers southeast of Seattle?
- Accused of taking jobs from whites, all the South Asian lumber workers from Bellingham and the Northwest were removed in a one night riot?
- Waves of Chinese, Japanese, and then Filipinos worked and built up the cannery industry which brought tremendous wealth to the Seattle region, only to be paid back with expulsion, racism, and even murder?
- Farm workers in Eastern Washington have been organizing long before the United Farm Workers Movement in California?
Now that I have hopefully convinced you the words of the “labor acknowledgement” above DO apply to us, how are we, as people of faith, called to act? The OLL Statement of Commitment and Action to Living Catholic Social Teaching gives us a response: We will support workers.
We must support the right of productive work for all people. We must strive to create and sustain a fair, safe, environmentally sound, and inclusive workplace. All workers should be able to earn a living wage and be able to support their families and their communities. And if this has become difficult, workers have a right to organize, state their grievances safely, be heard and treated respectfully, and strike if they must. We must learn from our labor history to not repeat the same mistakes. We must respect diversity of ideas and expectations in the labor arena. And we must value the gifts that each individual brings to our world, God’s creation.
David was a shepherd. Joseph was a carpenter. Jesus was both. Would you not support these workers?
10. We will protect our environment.
Even before I came to OLL, I had an interest in practices and common efforts aimed at caring for Earth Our Common Home. My first memory of recognizing how important environmental action is happened in college when I learned that all the fish in Lake Michigan were dying. I recalled seeing this lake as a child, amazed that this lake was so big I couldn’t even see the other side. How could this much water possibly be polluted to kill all marine life? (The lake since has been cleaned up.)
11. We will work to realize God's peace in the world.
Each year there was a particular peace and justice theme. One year the theme was nuclear disarmament. We would have a full week to teach on this theme. At the conclusion of the week there was an assembly. One of the guest speakers at this event was George Zabelka, the Chaplain for the Enola Gay. He had said Mass for the crew before they dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Afterwards he and two other priests traveled to Hiroshima and Nagasaki and were horrified by the destruction. George then became deeply involved in the anti-nuclear movement.
Other themes that were addressed at Immaculate included World Hunger, Multicultural Awareness and Racism. Teaching at this amazing school was enlightening for me. I began to become more involved in the issues. Unfortunately, Immaculate High School closed in 1981 due to lack of funding. The graduation that year was a sad event because all the students had to say good-bye to their beloved school.
Therefore, I had to seek employment. I got a call from a friend who was familiar with the principal of Eastside Catholic High School. He said that he knew that Dick would be open to bringing peace and justice ideas to ECHS. I decided to pursue this option. I interviewed for a position in the theology department and was hired.
Though peace and justice concepts did not permeate the curriculum, each year one of the concepts was addressed. Together with my partner Pat we established a theme for the year and created Peace and Justice days. During the week preceding the day, teachers would prepare the students according to their subject matter. The themes we addressed were World Hunger, Disabilities Awareness, Elderly Awareness, Multicultural Awareness and Nuclear Disarmament.
12. We make these commitments to you and with you, oh God, as a sign of our faith, hope and love. We ask you to give us strength, wisdom and the means to fulfill our commitments.