Archive for the ‘Social Justice’ Category
Jesuit Father Fred Enman became a Jesuit because of a calling within his calling. When he realized during college that he wanted to be a priest and practice poverty law, he says, “It became clear to me that the obvious thing to do was to join the Society of Jesus.”
On April 21, Fr. Enman was honored for his work with the poor when he received the Madonna Della Strada Award from the Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVC) New England. As executive director and founder of Matthew 25, Fr. Enman and his volunteers rehabilitate abandoned houses in the Boston area to create affordable rental housing for low-income people. In addition, Fr. Enman serves as assistant dean and chaplain of Boston College Law School.
The idea for Matthew 25, which has rehabbed 11 houses since 1994, came to Fr. Enman while he was reading “The True Church and the Poor,” in which Jesuit Father Jon Sobrino wrote that Christians must make Gospel values real in the lives of the poor. The theologian singled out Matthew 25, which proclaims that people shall be judged on whether they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, visited the imprisoned and welcomed the stranger in their midst.
“I was in my room and I was so moved by what I was reading that I put the book down and prayed about it,” recalled Fr. Enman. “Jesuits are encouraged from time to time to make a resolution at the end of a prayer, so what I resolved was that if I had a chance someday to make Matthew 25 concrete, I would do so.”
In 1988, Fr. Enman had that chance when he created a pastoral project for a class and proposed Matthew 25, with a mission to provide food and housing relief. Through yard sales, Fr. Enman raised money that went to food relief efforts here and abroad — and a small amount was set aside to start up Matthew 25. He continued to raise money while teaching at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and by 1994, Matthew 25 was able to buy and rehabilitate its first abandoned home in Worcester.
Since then, Matthew 25 has restored nine more houses in Worcester and one in Boston, renting them to the poor at affordable prices. Fr. Enman said that most of the work has been done by volunteers, including students from Holy Cross and Boston College, parish and youth groups from local churches and the IVC.
Fr. Enman said his work with Matthew 25 has enabled him to see a “great connection between a Jesuit vocation and the ethical values that are developed in Scripture.” He added, “It’s very practical what we are called to in taking care of the basic needs of human beings in terms of food, shelter and clothing. Everyone in the community has a responsibility.”
At a Capitol Hill hearing yesterday, Jesuit Father Sean Carroll, executive director of the Kino Border Initiative (KBI), testified about a new report that’s shedding light on disturbing cases of family separation caused by current U.S. immigration policy.
The report, “Documented Failures: the Consequences of Immigration Policy on the U.S.-Mexico Border,” commissioned by the Jesuit Conference of the United States, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA and KBI examines the experiences of migrant women, men and children deported from the United States to cities along Mexico’s northern border.
As the executive director of KBI, a bi-national humanitarian ministry of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Carroll works to aid deported migrants who pass through the KBI’s Aid Center and through Nazareth House, KBI’s shelter for migrant women and children.
At an ad hoc hearing convened by Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, U.S. representative for Arizona’s 3rd congressional district, Fr. Carroll testified, “At the U.S./Mexico border, we are witnesses to what many don’t see or refuse to acknowledge: the physical, psychological and emotional destruction caused by current U.S. immigration policies in the lives of Mexican and Central American men, women and children looking to be reunited with their family members who live in the United States.
“This report, supported by our experience and service on the border, confirms the disastrous effects of current U.S. immigration policies on families, whether through the process of deportation or because of mixed immigration status. We can and must do better.”
Following the hearing, Fr. Carroll attended the Rally for Citizenship on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol with thousands of immigrants and activists seeking to urge Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Fr. Carroll said that he thinks this is an incredibly hopeful time for immigration reform as “we are doing our best to ensure that this reform is just and humane.”
For Jesuit Father Fred Kammer, the issue of race is what first sparked his interest in social justice. “Growing up in New Orleans in the late 1950s, the race issue was just beginning to open up,” Fr. Kammer recently told an audience at Cabrini College in Pennsylvania.
Fr. Kammer said he remembers, at age 9, the Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 when the court declared the segregation of schools unconstitutional.
“But it really didn’t hit,” Fr. Kammer said. “The glamour of that court decision was the court said, ‘You should desegregate schools with all deliberate speed.’
“The problem is, what is all-deliberate speed? For many states there wasn’t much speed at all,” Fr. Kammer said. “States held off and resisted.”
Fr. Kammer was under what he calls “extra special pressure” being a young man attending a Jesuit school in the wake of desegregation. He said all eyes were on him as a Jesuit student who was supposed to be representing his school.
“The buses were desegregated. I was 13 [when I sat] down next to a person of color for the first time,” Fr. Kammer said. “I had grown up in a segregated world, watching other people sit down or not sit down, or a black person sit down next to a white person who got up.”
The values that drew Fr. Kammer to social justice have stayed with him. As a Jesuit, Fr. Kammer went to law school and worked in legal services in Atlanta and Baton Rouge among the poor. Today Fr. Kammer is the director of the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University New Orleans.
Fr. Kammer says being active in social justice is not as daunting as people may think.
“If you can find one way to be engaged with people who are poor and needy – disadvantaged – and one issue that you get really interested in, even for the rest of your life, that’s a wonderful combination,” Fr. Kammer said.
To read more about Fr. Kammer’s talk, visit Cabrini College’s Loquitur website.
When Pope Francis was elected on March 13, Jesuit Father Richard Ryscavage was texting back and forth with some of his former seminarians who are now in Argentina. Fr. Ryscavage had gotten to know these friends about 25 years ago when they studied theology together in Cambridge, Mass., when the Jesuit School of Theology was part of Harvard Divinity School.
“Yes, I heard of him 25 years ago,” said Fr. Ryscavage of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the man who is now Pope Francis. “His reputation was unusual. He was close to the poor and concerned with them. He was a simple man and a prayerful man.
“Personally, he was a very skilled spiritual director, adept at helping people in their prayer life. Men would go to him just for that direction,” said Fr. Ryscavage, who is a professor of sociology and Director of the Center for Faith and Public Life at Fairfield University in Connecticut.
Fr. Ryscavage said the pope was humble. “He had a quality of trying to stay in the background. He loved to spend time with the poor and would regularly go to the barrios. He was especially concerned with AIDS patients and would visit them often.”
Fr. Ryscavage said his friends halfway around the globe were “very happy” about Cardinal Bergoglio becoming pope, although they — like many Jesuits — were surprised. “It was really shocking to all of us,” said Fr. Ryscavage.
As a Jesuit, the pope is extremely familiar with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, and Fr. Ryscavage said he wouldn’t be surprised if it’s reflected in the pope’s talks. Fr. Ryscavage notes that the exercises indicate that “we’re supposed to start by reforming ourselves.”
For more of Fr. Ryscavage’s thoughts on the first Jesuit pope, visit the Minuteman News Center.
One house, one family and one community at a time. That’s how Jesuit Brother Mike Wilmot approaches his goal to help alleviate poverty and stabilize neighborhoods in North Omaha, Neb., through his Gesu Housing, Inc. ministry.
Gesu Housing’s mission is to build and sell high-quality, affordable, energy-efficient homes to people who are hard-working and have a good credit rating, but who live below the area’s 80 percent median family income and are therefore considered low-income by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. “In the process, we believe we are also re-building a community in North Omaha,” Br. Wilmot says.
The origins of Gesu Housing can be traced to 1994, when Br. Wilmot returned from serving Sudanese refugees in Northern Uganda to help build Omaha’s Jesuit Middle School. There, he worked with Phil McKeon, a former student of his at Creighton Prep in Omaha, and the school’s concrete contractor. Recognizing the energy efficiency benefits that poured concrete walls could provide and feeling a calling to help the area’s working poor realize the dream of home ownership, Br. Wilmot began building concrete houses with McKeon, and Gesu Housing was born in 2002.
Since then, Gesu Housing has turned to building wood frame houses because they are less expensive, but its goal of building energy-efficient homes remains.
Br. Wilmot chose to start building in his own neighborhood, Clifton Hills, where he and several Jesuits have their residence. This sets Gesu Housing apart from other low-income homebuilders because it’s part of the community. The community has a significant need, with “plenty of vacant lots, a lack of home ownership and noticeable urban decay,” Br. Wilmot says.
The neighborhood also qualifies as a “low-to moderate-income” area, per government guidelines. After qualifying for federal grants through the Omaha Planning Department, hopeful families are then able to take out a mortgage. The goal is to have these families own a higher-quality, more attractive house than much of the lower-income housing that is available – for a monthly payment of approximately $600. Because the federal grant and homeowner loan do not cover the cost of each house, Gesu depends on fundraising for the rest.
Br. Wilmot says that with proper funding, the goal is to build six houses each year. “We will fight to continue this improvement one neighborhood at a time.”
Each home closing is a reminder of why Br. Wilmot does this work. “It’s incredibly rewarding to give the keys for a new house to a family or individual who has worked hard to reach this dream,” he says.
For more on Gesu Housing and Br. Wilmot, visit the Wisconsin Province website.