Racism: the original sin of our society

By Deacon Charles Rohrbacher

When I think of that racist white man who murdered nine black people at a Charleston, South Carolina church last week, all I can see is the face of my cousin Bob across from me in the visiting room at San Francisco City Prison back in 1974. He’d just been arraigned for murder and he was my cousin, after all, and so I found myself looking at him through the glass and talking over the phone. “What happened?” I asked him. “Is it true?” He replied that he didn’t want to talk about it and changed the subject.

Members of the Manna Life Center lead an ecumenical prayer service June 19 at the Neighborhood House in Charleston, S.C., which is part of Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach Center. They prayed for the victims of the shootings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the children who lost their parents. (CNS photo/Victoria Wain,The Catholic Miscellany) See TRAGEDY-SHOOTING (UPDATED) June 19, 2015, and story to come.

Members of the Manna Life Center lead an ecumenical prayer service June 19 at the Neighborhood House in Charleston, S.C., which is part of Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach Center. They prayed for the victims of the shootings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the children who lost their parents. (CNS photo/Victoria Wain,The Catholic Miscellany)

What happened was that my cousin was a regular at a bar on Ocean Ave. Bob was an electrician and most days he stopped by to have a few beers with the guys after work. It was a friendly place and he was on a first name basis with the waitresses. So it seems that some kind of argument broke out between a waitress and one of the patrons, a black woman named Vera. It got pretty heated and angry words were exchanged. Bob went out to his truck, pulled out his deer-rifle, and when she came out the door, he murdered her.

My cousin didn’t want to talk about it, but some of his family, my relatives certainly did. To listen to them it seemed that somehow it was Vera’s fault that she was murdered. She was loud; she was argumentative; she was rude. She’d insulted the waitress that she was arguing with. They didn’t say it in so many words, but as far as they were concerned, she had it coming.

But they knew, just as I did, that Vera was a target that evening because of her race. Her fatal ‘error’ was that she was a black woman who got in an argument with a white waitress at a bar in a white working class neighborhood. My cousin Bob decided to set things right by shooting her. Maybe he would have acted the same way if she’d been white, but I doubt it. As a black woman, her life mattered less to him than the hurt feelings of the white waitress who was an acquaintance of his.

Growing up, I know that my cousin Bob heard prejudiced and racist comments about black people in his family, because I heard them making those same comments myself. I’m fortunate that my parents went out of their way to counteract what I was hearing­—what we overheard on holidays and family get-togethers—but if they hadn’t, I could have just as easily seen the world the way Bob did.

Race certainly played a role in what happened next. Bob’s mother hired a top-notch defense lawyer who got the charge reduced to manslaughter. He was convicted of that crime, but only served four years in prison before being released on parole. Imagine for a moment what the charge would have been if my cousin Bob had been a black man and his victim had been a white woman. Imagine how long he would have been in prison. Certainly not four years.

When I think about what happened in Charleston, as a white person I want to distance myself from what that young man did to those nine black men and women at that bible study. But I can’t. It’s not enough to see his action as an aberration or as the singular act of a deranged individual, any more than my cousin Bob’s decision to murder Vera was because he’d been drinking. That young man in Charleston murdered them because they were black.

His crime was just one more awful incident in a long, ugly history of violence against black people by white people, beginning with slavery and continuing to the present day. Not only in overt acts such as what my cousin Bob did, but in the institutionalized prejudice and discrimination that advantages white Americans over black Americans and other people of color.

That day at City Prison talking to Bob, as much as I abhorred and repudiated his criminal violence and the racist ideas that rationalized murder, at least in his own mind and some of the relatives, I knew that he wasn’t a monster. He was my cousin, and I’d grown up with and loved his father — my Uncle Bob. Talking to Bob on the phone there in the visiting room, I wondered if things might have turned out differently for Vera and for her grieving family if I had spoken up at those family gatherings and contradicted the all-too-casual racist and prejudiced comments being made around the dining room table.
I wish I had.

Yes, we’ve made progress; no one denies that. But racism continues to be the original sin of our society. As a white person, I struggle to face and acknowledge my own part in the institutional and social structures of sin that inflict so much harm and suffering on black Americans and other people of color. As a Christian and as a disciple of Jesus, I believe in the possibility of redemption in every dimension of our lives, including race.

Deacon Charles Rohrbacher is the Office of Ministries Director for the Diocese of Juneau. Phone: 907-586-2227 ext. 23.
Email: charlesr@gci.net

Volunteer community at Shrine of St. Therese established

By Deirdre Darr, Executive Director of the Shrine of St. Therese

Kislia lr

Introducing our first volunteer: “I’m Kislia Miller! I am currently studying nursing at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, and I hope to graduate in December 2015. I’m excited to spend the summer at the Shrine of St. Therese! In high school I went to the National Catholic Youth Conference, which made me love and deepen my faith. Unfortunately, since college, my faith hasn’t been nourished. I hope to re-nourish and to grow in my faith while being here, as well as hike as many trails as I can!! I love exploring and being active! While at school, I work at Children’s National Medical Center. In my free time, I like to knit baby blankets (however bad I may be at knitting) for the various homeless shelters in the Washington, DC area. Last October, I ran the Marine Corps Marathon with the Archdiocese for the Military Services which was a great accomplishment for me!”

Since the building of the Shrine of St. Therese there was a hope that a community would live and work at the Shrine. Originally, it was hoped that a few of the Sisters of St. Ann would live in what is now the Caretaker House; that plan was never realized. Over the years there were attempts to establish a community, but for various reasons the plans never materialized into a community. Interestingly, I only discovered this history after I asked former Caretaker Jeanne Jordan if it might be feasible to have a community of live-in volunteers at the Shrine; she’d had the same idea. Clearly, the Holy Spirit was at work giving clues about the direction in which the Shrine should move. Last fall when Jeanne and Jack Jordan announced that they would be retiring in March 2015 after 8 years of service to the Shrine, it seemed like a good time to try to make a community happen.

The development of the program is owed directly to the Holy Spirit. There is a lot of work to be done at the Shrine and it is too much for one or two people to accomplish, so having extra help seems like a no-brainer, but what could the Shrine offer the volunteers? This is where the Holy Spirit broke into my prayers and thoughts about this idea: establishing a community for prayer and discernment was the answer to my question. This seemed like a good answer, but would it really work? Later that week I read a study from the Center of Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) which stated that young people are more likely to enter the priesthood or religious life if they have the time and space to discern God’s call. Okay, Holy Spirit, prayer and discernment it is.

I’m not suggesting that every person who enters the program will become a priest or religious, but hopefully, they will have the opportunity to converse with God about vocation. Where do my gifts intersect with the world’s great needs? If the Shrine can give the time and space for a young person to ponder that question, then the program is a success. That is how the Volunteers of St. Therese (VST) were founded and on June 7, 2015 the Shrine welcomed its first volunteer: Kislia Miller.

The mission statement of VST is: The Volunteers of St. Therese work together caring for the Shrine of St. Therese property and grounds while living a simple life in intentional community, discerning God’s path. Kislia and future VST will assist the Caretakers in the day to day running of the Shrine: preparing cabins for guests, gardening, snow removal, cleaning the grounds, and all the other jobs that must be completed. Currently, the Volunteers live with the Caretakers; the hope is that the program will expand and a new house will be built on the property to house the VST. Prayer and discernment are an important aspect of the program. Morning and Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours will bookend the day and the Volunteers are to spend time in prayer and reflection each day. Based on the spirituality and prayer practice of the Volunteers other devotions may be added, like the Rosary or Eucharistic Adoration.

The VST program would be a great option for someone who is finishing a “traditional” service year, like the Jesuit Volunteers, since it allows time for reflection and integration which isn’t always possible during a service year. It would also be a good option for someone who is considering a change in life such as a new career direction. And, it would be a great opportunity for someone who needs the time and space to discern a call to the priesthood or religious life. There isn’t an age limit to the program and it is open to Catholics or someone seriously discerning joining the Catholic Church.

Please keep the VST in your prayers. Since this is the first year of the program, we need all the prayers we can get. A few tangible ways to help the VST would be to introduce them to other people in the community, invite them for a hike or camping trip, or sponsor them to visit other parts of the Diocese.

If you or someone you know might be interested in the program, please contact the Shrine: juneaushrine@live.com .

Alaska Catholic Bishops respond to Supreme Court redefinition of marriage

ACCB logoJune 26, 2015 – Alaska’s Catholic bishops today released a joint statement through the Alaska Catholic Conference responding to the United States Supreme Court decision in the Obergefell v. Hodges case that redefines the institution of marriage in this country. Alaska Catholic Conference is the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in this state.

Statement from Alaska’s Catholic Bishops:

Today’s decision from the U.S. Supreme Court to redefine marriage represents a profound legal turning point in the contemporary and cultural understanding of spouses and family. The bishops of Alaska agree with the president of the United States Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, in his statement for the bishops of the U.S.:

“Today the Court is wrong again. It is profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage. The unique meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is inscribed in our bodies as male and female. The protection of this meaning is a critical dimension of the ‘integral ecology’ that Pope Francis has called us to promote. Mandating marriage redefinition across the country is a tragic error that harms the common good and most vulnerable among us, especially children. The law has a duty to support every child’s basic right to be raised, where possible, by his or her married mother and father in a stable home. Jesus Christ, with great love, taught unambiguously that from the beginning marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman. As Catholic bishops, we follow our Lord and will continue to teach and to act according to this truth.”

We continue to teach that every human person deserves respect and compassion. The experience of same-sex attraction is a reality that calls for attention, sensitivity and pastoral care. While every person is called to love and deserves to be loved, today’s momentous decision will not change the truth of the Church’s teaching on marriage.

Going forward, the Supreme Court’s decision to redefine marriage will have a significant ripple effect upon the first amendment right to religious liberty. It sets the Church’s teaching about marriage in opposition to the law and will create inestimable conflicts between the state and religious persons and institutions. As the impact of the decision plays out over the coming weeks and months the Catholic Church will continue to preach the truth about marriage and will promote, in the public square, this truth as what is good for society and our world.

Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz, OMI
Archdiocese of Anchorage

Bishop Chad W. Zielinski
Diocese of Fairbanks

Bishop Edward J. Burns
Diocese of Juneau

Alaska Bishops welcome ‘Laudato Si”

The Alaska Bishops welcome the Papal Encyclical, ‘Laudato Si,’ with a joint statement issued June 18, 2015.

“At the heart of Laudato Si, we find this question: “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” (160)

This is the cover of the English edition of Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment, "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home." The long-anticipated encyclical was released at the Vatican June 18. (CNS photo/courtesy U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) See stories slugged ENCYCLICAL- June 18, 2015.

This is the cover of the English edition of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home.” The long-anticipated encyclical was released at the Vatican June 18. (CNS photo/courtesy U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops).

“God, who is the Lord of all creation, has placed us in this world as His stewards. The care for creation is a pressing issue, especially in the light of the great harm being done to the natural world of which we are a part, and the threat to the poorest and most vulnerable people worldwide because of environmental destruction. This encyclical invites each of us to prayerfully examine our consciences, and review not only how we have lived in communion with God and with others, but also with all creatures and with nature.”

‘Laudato Si’ may be read online or downloaded at the following link: Papal Encyclicals

Climate encyclical expected to send strong moral message to the world

Adelie penguins gather at the base of a memorial at Mawson's Hut in Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica, Jan. 16. No word has emerged on what Pope Francis' climate change and environmental degradation encyclical might say or when it would appear in 2015, but references by officials at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace have pointed to a document that Catholics can apply in everyday life. (CNS photo/Dean Lewins, EPA) See YEAREND-CLIMATE Dec. 9, 2014.

Adelie penguins gather at the base of a memorial at Mawson’s Hut in Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica, Jan. 16. No word has emerged on what Pope Francis’ climate change and environmental degradation encyclical might say, but references by officials at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace have pointed to a document that Catholics can apply in everyday life. (CNS photo/Dean Lewins, EPA)

By Barbara Fraser, Catholic News Service

LIMA, Peru (CNS) — Pope Francis’ upcoming encyclical on ecology and climate is expected to send a strong moral message — one message that could make some readers uncomfortable, some observers say.

“The encyclical will address the issue of inequality in the distribution of resources and topics such as the wasting of food and the irresponsible exploitation of nature and the consequences for people’s life and health,” Archbishop Pedro Barreto Jimeno of Huancayo, Peru, told Catholic News Service.

“Pope Francis has repeatedly stated that the environment is not only an economic or political issue, but is an anthropological and ethical matter,” he said. “How can you have wealth if it comes at the expense of the suffering and death of other people and the deterioration of the environment?”

The encyclical, to be published June 18, is titled “Laudato Sii” (“Praised Be”), the first words of St. Francis’ “Canticle of the Creatures.”

Although Archbishop Barreto was not involved in the drafting of the encyclical, he worked closely with then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio in 2007 on a document by the Latin American bishops’ council that included an unprecedented section on the environment.

The encyclical is not expected to be a theological treatise or a technical document about environmental issues, but a pastoral call to change the way people use the planet’s resources so they are sufficient not only for current needs, but for future generations, observers said.

The document “will emphasize that the option for stewardship of the environment goes hand in hand with the option for the poor,” said Carmelite Father Eduardo Agosta Scarel, a climate scientist who teaches at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina and the National University of La Plata in Buenos Aires.

“I think the pope wants us to become aware of this,” said Father Scarel, who was involved in preparatory consultations about the encyclical. “He is aiming at a change of heart. What will save us is not technology or science. What will save us is the ethical transformation of our society.”

The pontiff probably foreshadowed the encyclical during his first public Mass as pope on March 19, 2013, Father Agosta said. In his homily, he said, “Let us be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”

Although the document will be published in the wake of a seminar on climate change in April at the Vatican, it will not be limited to that issue and will probably focus on the relationship between people and their environment, Archbishop Barreto said.

“What the pope brings to this debate is the moral dimension,” said Anthony Annett, climate change and sustainable development adviser to the Earth Institute at Columbia University and to the nonprofit Religions for Peace. “His unique way of looking at the problem, which is deeply rooted in Catholic social teaching, resonates with people all across the world.”
Annett called the timing of the encyclical “extremely significant.”

A month after it is published, global representatives will meet at a conference on financing for development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

In September, the pope will address the United Nations at a session that is likely to see the approval of a new set of global development objectives, the Sustainable Development Goals, which include environmental criteria.

And in December, negotiators and world leaders will converge on Paris to finish hammering out a treaty aimed at reducing the emission of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

Some politicians have already questioned the pope’s credentials for wading into the issue of climate change, but that is only one of several environmental problems the pope is likely to address, said David Kane, a Maryknoll lay missioner in Joao Pessoa, Brazil, who works with Maryknoll’s Faith-Economics-Ecology Program.

The pope has spoken out in the past on the “throwaway culture, both of material goods that we buy and use for a few months and then throw out, and also throwaway people,” he said.

Kane hopes the encyclical will help people understand that overusing resources, from forests to fish to water, results in scarcity that can both increase and be exacerbated by climate change. He expects Pope Francis will remind people of the responsibility of caring for God’s creation.

“Whether you think climate change is a problem or not, you cannot deny that running out of fish, oil, water and other resources is a really big problem. The solution is a radical change in our concept of what makes a person happy. We need to move away from the idea that the more things we have, the happier we’ll be,” Kane said.

Archbishop Barreto expects some controversy once people read the document, because resisting the “throwaway culture” by being satisfied with less means “putting money at the service of people, instead of people serving money.”

“(The encyclical) will have many critics, because they want to continue setting rules of the game in which money takes first place,” he said. “We have to be prepared for those kinds of attacks.”
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A video to accompany this story can be found at https://youtu.be/4LrIww-06_4.
Editor’s Note: Barbara Fraser will be traveling to Ecuador and Paraguay to help cover Pope Francis’ visit. You can follow her on Twitter: @Barbara_Fraser. More…

Alaska Catholic Youth Conference aims to ‘reinvigorate’ faith

ACYC-group-shot-1160x480By Alexandra Theis, June 2015
Catholic Anchor.org

“Read the Beatitudes. They will do you good!” This plea from Pope Francis to youth throughout the world in preparation for World Youth Day 2016 has inspired this year’s Alaska Catholic Youth Conference, which will be held at St. Benedict’s Church in Anchorage June 15-18. Alaska bishops and more than 250 youth from Anchorage, the Mat-Su Valley, Fairbanks, Juneau, Kenai Peninsula, Valdez, Galena and Glennallen are expected to participate in the annual event, which is themed “Blessed are the Pure in Heart, for They Shall See God!”

Youth will have opportunities to hear from nationally renowned speakers, Christian bands and religious order brothers and sisters. This year’s line-up includes the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecelia, the Community of St. John, Mike Sylvester and Claire Long of The 5Thousand ministry, and Eric Groth, who will be showing his recent production on the life of Mary. The folk-blues Full Armor Band will put on a free concert at East High School on June 15 at 7:30 p.m.

Attendees will participate in daily Mass, go to eucharistic adoration and confession, perform service projects in the community and raise money for Heifer International. On Tuesday evening, Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz, Fairbanks Bishop Chad Zielinski and Juneau Bishop Edward Burns will join young people for an ice cream social, after which the youth will be able to grill the bishops with questions about the faith. This is a popular and well attended yearly event at ACYC.

Theresa Austin, one of the ACYC coordinators, encourages youth to participate in the four-day gathering.