Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Heart-less in Camden?

Editor's Note: In today's entry, Fr. Mike McCue, OSFS, director of De Sales Service Works in Camden, NJ, reflects on his experience of living in close contact with homeless people. The fact that some people do not have basic necessities such as housing is a challenge to all Christians, and Mike wrestles with some of the questions this issue raises and different options for how we can respond in love.

Recently, some 300 people with connections to the Oblates in the D.C. area gathered at Bishop Ireton High School for “Live Jesus Day” a morning of reflection, prayer and community in the Salesian tradition. As one of the presenters, I used the occasion to share experiences and insights from life in Camden.

I talked about the experience of having Ken and Barbie live on the front porch of the Oblate residence for the fall and much of the winter of this year. I frequently talk about this particularly poignant experience since they are such nice people, and we have gotten to know them pretty well. They have been our most sociable homeless neighbors since we arrived in August 2008.

When cold weather came, they set up camp on the front porch. Our front door with its floor-to-ceiling stained glass panel became a thin wall separating our two worlds. Because of the glass panel, we could never forget they were out there in the cold and insecurity of homelessness, while we lived and worked warm and secure in our middleclass world inside.

If I have any insight to share from this, it is that it is important to be unsettled as Christians as long as anyone, anywhere, lives without the necessities of life. Beyond that is the insight that there are no quick and easy solutions to poverty, homelessness, mental illness, and addiction that plague our neighbors—near or distant.

I think I may have come across in my “Live Jesus” presentation as heart-less because I lived for months face to face with these neighbors exposed in the cold.

What could we do? We talked about inviting Ken and Barbie in out of the cold: we have three guest rooms. But then would we invite the next people who pick our porch as a home? How about the others in our parking lot or across Market Street in that lot? We have three guest rooms, but I also have a double bed---couldn’t I share? People could sleep on our couches. Our floors are carpeted---even the tiled kitchen floor would be better than sleeping outside. Even our basement would be better.

It sounds like we need a homeless shelter set up to help people in this situation. But even with a shelter, there would be a limit, finite amount of beds, rules for order. Speaking for our area, Camden has far too few shelters for the numbers of homeless in our region. And our entire nation has insanely inadequate mental health and addiction services.

We did not invite our neighbors to live in our house. But we did offer food, kindness, patience, respect, and encouragement to connect with city services. We continued to work with other area Churches and groups to develop some kind of shelter before next fall. But still nothing about the situation can let us rest satisfied. The fact that we live on top of the problem in Camden as literal neighbors to these “least brothers and sisters” keeps the unfinished nature of the situation before us. But really, wherever you or I live and work, our needy neighbors are here, even if they are out of sight or at a distance.

I always replay homilies and talks in my mind after I give them. Replaying this one after “Live Jesus 2010,” there is much I would do differently. Two specific things I would add are these questions for the assembly: “What would you do if two homeless people lived outside your door?” Second, because there is need, whether we see it daily or not, I would ask, “What do you do?”

The answer to “What do you do?” would likely include donations and great support for efforts in inner cities and in poor nations, prayer and study, and direct service. It would likely include support for public policy in our nation to make social structures more fair and just, to offer support for those who find themselves deep in holes, improvement to the U.S. health system, improvement for our education system. There are not quick fixes; justice has a complexity.

Whatever efforts we participate in, the point remains, that as long as anyone anywhere is without what is needed for a decent living, Christians cannot rest satisfied. We will be in that state until the Lord himself comes to establish the fullness of God’s kingdom. Until that “kingdom come,” we do our best to respond to the challenge.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A New Way to Do Business: Profits for the Common Good

Editor's Note: In today's entry, Michael Castrilli, OSFS, continues his series on faith and social justice in the marketplace. Michael directs our attention to a particular business model highlighted by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI that seeks to bring Catholic social teaching into business and recognizes that any economy should ultimately be judged by how it promotes human dignity. The entry offers sage advice from the Salesian heritage on how we can live these values in our own work lives today.

In Part I of this series on Faith and Justice in the Marketplace, we considered how we define a personal business ethic for our daily lives. The overall point was that if we live our daily lives with the Gospel at the core, we live as women and men of integrity and truly change the world around us. In today’s post, I want to look at how we can do this in a more global way, especially as it pertains to the marketplace.

How did Francis de Sales convert so many people in the dangerous Chablais region? He won hearts by talking to people one-on-one, listening to them, and dialoguing in love. He brought the image of God as a loving father and not a harsh critic to so many who desperately needed to hear it. This was an innovative approach to the 16th and 17th Century church. It has been 400 years and we are still talking about Francis de Sales; who out there reading this blog will we be talking about in 400 years? I think the potential number is unlimited. The key is to think in new ways about old ways of doing business. This happens in the marketplace: we get stuck thinking the only way to profit is through productivity, but what happens when we focus on the common good AND productivity?

Have you ever heard of the Economy of Communion? Pope Benedict XVI referred to the “economy of communion” (no. 46) in his encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth, 2009), while discussing business ethics today. I was not familiar with the “economy of communion” but after looking into this project, I found an extraordinary example of the way in which an individual and then a group of people have actively participated in creating dynamic and sustaining efforts to love neighbor and act for the common good in the marketplace. They are truly changing the world around them, one by one, business to business, community by community.

The project all began with Focolare, a lay ecclesial movement, founded in 1943, amidst World War II in Trent, Italy. In May 1991, Chiara Lubich, one of the founders of Focolare, witnessed extreme poverty near Sao Paolo, Brazil. Motivated by Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Centesimus Annus, (On the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum, 1991) Lubich launched the Economy of Communion project. The project’s values and principles are extraordinary and one can see why the Pope highlighted this special community. The model is formed around for-profit businesses. First, as an immediate action, the businesses participate by providing jobs and direct assistance to those in need. Second, the businesses promote a “culture of giving” and invest profits freely back into the community. Finally, the participating organizations continue to educate others on the movement and enhance the business for sustained growth (see: www.edc-online.org). The bottom line is that these for-profit businesses are investing in their community by giving jobs and resources to their poorest neighbors. Think of the sustainable improvements for people’s lives by providing them jobs and investing in their future. According to statistics obtained through the organizations’ website, over 750 businesses are participating worldwide. Although the number may seem small, in Brazil and Latin America, as well as Europe, it is spreading fast and having a great financial and communal impact.

Francis changed the world one-by-one by not confining himself to contemporary paradigms, but by creating innovative means to help people – all people, find God. The Economy of Communion project has taken for-profit companies and transformed them to wealth and dignity for-people, especially those that need it most. So, this is our mission, all of us, to use the Gospel as our guide and our Salesian heart that leads with love, to make the world a better place and at the same time to change the way we do business! Business is always better when the common good is the principal profit.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Earth Day 2010

Editor's Note: In preparation for Earth Day 2010, which will be celebrated next Thursday, April 22, Fr. Mike McCue, OSFS, director of De Sales Servie Works in Camden, NJ, offers the following reflection. Francis de Sales had a particular appreciation for the beauty of the earth as a reflection of the love God has for all of creation. This appreciation lead to one of his most famous statements on how God reveals Godself in creation, "We pray best before beauty." Fr. Mike notes that human behavior can have a negative impact on the beauty of creation. For more information on De Sales Service Works and the work it is doing in Camden, or to learn about how you can volunteer, please visit www.oblates.org/dsw.

“God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.” Gen 1:31

“The brutal consumption of Creation begins where God is not, where matter is henceforth only material for us, where we ourselves are the ultimate demand, where the whole is merely our property and we consume it for ourselves alone…I think, therefore, that true and effective initiatives to prevent the waste and destruction of Creation can be implemented and developed, understood and lived, only where Creation is considered as beginning with God.”-Pope Benedict XVI, August 2008

This year marks the 40th Earth Day. I can remember the first one, as a 4th grader at Featherstone Elementary School, cleaning out the woods around our school. Cleaning up trash, and not littering in the first place, are important things. But on this 40th Earth Day, we can be very aware that much more is at stake in concern for the environment than bagging up litter and hauling away old tires. There is a consensus among scientific observers that human production of greenhouse gasses will cause significant and disruptive climate changes.

Catholic social teaching looks at the moral implications of the ways that societies structure themselves, paying particular attention to how structures affect people. One of the basic principles of Catholic social teaching deals with the area of how we use and care for the earth that God has given us as our home. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops summarize this principle of Catholic social teaching:

Care for God’s Creation:We show our respect for the Creator by our stewardship of creation. Care for the earth is not just an Earth Day slogan, it is a requirement of our faith. We are called to protect people and the planet, living our faith in relationship with all of God’s creation. This environmental challenge has fundamental moral and ethical dimensions that cannot be ignored.
The moral and ethical dimensions include the reality that people are affected by decisions about how to care for the earth. In addition, these decisions affect the poor, the unborn, and the aged: vulnerable people who are often without resources in a disproportionate way.

This is a commonsense principle that comes from a realization that we can damage the systems of the earth and compromise the health and safety of people. I assert that this is a common sense thing, but in our country, it is one that gets politicized and therefore over-simplified and caricatured. It is often seen as the concern of hippies in sandals and “love beads” and is therefore able to be dismissed as utopian and silly. Additionally, environmental concerns are often placed at odds with economic concerns, offering false dichotomies.

Living in Camden, NJ, I have come to a strong awareness of the effects of careless
use of the earth on communities. This type of thing can be experienced in any
industrial city, any place inhabited by many generations of people. Much of this city
can be described as “brownfield” damaged by decades of industrial use that did
not consider the long-term consequences of contamination, sloppy disposal, and use
of toxic substances. (A brownfield is defined under NJ state law
(N.J.S.A. 58:10B-23.d) as "any former or current commercial or industrial site that is
currently vacant or underutilized and on which there has been, or there is suspected to
have been, a discharge of a contaminant.")

There is a selfishness and laziness in a focus on profit that blocks consideration of
people and of consequences for future generations of the community. These
companies have left our city for other sites, leaving behind a dangerous legacy.
Again, as is the case with so many poor urban areas, parts of Camden are also known for poor air quality. Pollution in Camden comes from various industries in the south part of the city. These include a trash-to-steam power plant, and sewage treatment and scrap metal disposal facilities. These are not located in suburbs with affluent and politically connected residents, but in a poor, often politically disorganized town.

Below I quote from a group called the Catholic Coalition Climate Change
www.catholicsandclimatechange.org. This organization gathers Catholic moral teaching and resources on the topic. What follows is their very clear application of Catholic social teaching to this issue, under three topics: prudence, concern for the poor, and attention to the common good.
“Prudence is intelligence applied to our actions … a thoughtful, deliberate, and reasoned basis for taking or avoiding action to achieve a moral good.” U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, U.S.C.C.B.

The Coalition accepts overwhelming scientific consensus about climate change. There is nearly unanimous agreement that human actions are creating a warming planet. As stewards of all creation, we must identify wise, careful actions that will reverse this climate change and avoid its potentially dangerous impact on all life—especially human life.

State and local Catholic leaders can play a central role in bringing together scientists, theologians, business and labor leaders, government officials, human service providers and other stakeholders to shape a wise and careful approach consistent with our principles. With such leadership, the Catholic community will answer God’s call to be faithful stewards.

“Prudence does not mean failing to accept responsibilities and postponing decisions; it means being committed to making joint decisions after pondering responsibly the road to be taken, decisions aimed at strengthening that covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God, from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying."


“… any successful strategy must also reflect the genuine participation and concerns of those most affected and least able to bear the burdens … [this] is a moral and political necessity …” —U.S.C.C.B.

Natural disasters take the greatest toll on poor people. Inadequate transportation, lack of insurance, poor housing and little if any cash reserves put them on the edge of the precipice. To survive severe storms, prolonged droughts, extended heat waves and other climate-related events, these vulnerable sisters and brothers must receive assistance—both public and private.
The Coalition seeks to find constructive ways to approach climate change from the bottom up. We strive to bring the voice of the poor to the public debate about climate change and ensure that resources are available to the most vulnerable.

The Common Good

“Responses to global climate change should reflect our interdependence and common responsibility for the future of our planet. Individual nations must measure their own self-interest against the greater common good and contribute equitably to global solutions.” —U.S.C.C.B.

Climate change provides an opportunity to act with courage and creativity as individuals, as people of faith, as a nation. As a wealthy nation and as the top contributor to greenhouse gases, we in the United States must help to shape responses that serve not only our own interests but those the of the entire human family. The Coalition assists the Catholic community in linking personal stewardship and care for creation with our moral responsibilities to practice solidarity.

A Final Quote from Pope Benedict

“…make the responsibilities visible so that we may respond to this great challenge: to rediscover the Face of the Creator in creation, to rediscover in the Creator’s presence our responsibilities for his creation, which he has entrusted to us, to form the ethical capacity for a lifestyle that we must adopt if we wish to tackle the problems of this situation [of climate change] and if we really want to reach positive solutions.
Do not be fooled by those who see you as just another consumer in a market of undifferentiated possibilities, where choice itself becomes the good, novelty usurps beauty, and subjective experience displaces truth…
My dear friends, God’s creation is one and it is good. The concerns for non-violence, sustainable development, justice and peace, and care for our environment are of vital importance for humanity.” -Pope Benedict XVI at World Youth Day, June 2008