Tuesday, June 30, 2015

2015 Franciscan Federation Conference

Each year I usually write an article about the Franciscan Federation conference, using as my guide the schedule posted on the federation's website. This year, however, I had the privilege of being present for the entire conference in Indianapolis. We arrived at the hotel Friday afternoon and after checking in, looked for a place to get some lunch. What started out with a small group gradually grew to a bit of a reunion as more of our sisters found their way into the hotel restaurant.

Monday evening we gathered for the opening ritual--a reflective prayer and a beautiful interpretive dance performed by a group of children and teens. This prayer paved the way for the very beautiful and reflective prayer time we would experience throughout the week. Most of the hymns and prayers were projected on two large screens in an effort to be environmentally conscious.

Over the next three days, our speakers developed--both in individual presentations and in discussion--the conference theme, "Responding to God's Love: A Franciscan Moral Vision." On Saturday, Sister Mary Beth Ingham, CSJ, addressed the issue of "An Aesthetic Moral Vision" and was later joined by Fr. Thomas Nairn, OFM, and Fr. Joseph Chinnici, OFM, to discuss the issue. Similarly, the participants discussed the topic at their respective tables and shared their ideas and questions with the speakers.
(L-R) Fr. Tom Nairn, Fr. Joe Chinnici, Sr. Mary Beth Ingham

Saturday afternoon we heard a report from the "Dare to Dream" ad hoc committee on looking at the future of the Franciscan Federation and on ways to "widen the tent." This issue became a topic for a table discussion and an opportunity to share the outcome of those discussions with the committee.
A symbolic representation of "widening the tent"--expanding the membership and thrust of the Franciscan Federation.

Sunday morning the key speaker was Fr. Tom Nairn who addressed the topic, "The Human Spirit: Searching for Truth, Desiring the Good." His presentation developed the idea of the Franciscan moral vision from the stance of St. Bonaventure. Again we had time for both table discussion and for addressing questions and comments to the presenters.

Sunday afternoon was dedicated to meetings. We all gathered for the business meeting, an important part of which was the acceptance of the 2015 Statement of Resolution:
"Be it resolved that we, as persons of faith in relationship with all of Creation, and in a privileged position of faith leadership within our society as members of the Franciscan Federation, are called to personal and communal reflection that leads to action to sustain our one planet Earth, so that all creation may share in the generous gifts of Earth provided by our Creator and Sustainer God. Climate change, especially those changes caused by human ignorance, indifference, and greed, calls us to be prophets of change--to act in prophetic ways to halt human-induced abuse of Earth's resources that are given to be shared by all. As followers of St. Francis of Assisi, we are called to right relationship with our Sister Mother Earth, our home."

We also chose individually which of the three commission meetings we would attend: Commission of Elected Leadership, Commission of Regions, or Commission of Charism. I opted for the latter and found the discussions very enjoyable. There was a general discussion on the planned revision of the federation website and about the use of social media. I felt right at home! At our individual table, we discussed the ways in which we are or might be sharing our charism with our lay associates--our Companions in Mission.

Sunday evening we gathered in the ballroom for the annual banquet. Our congregation had two full tables of participants. During the prayer service, the various congregational honorees were acknowledged. As our names were called, our photos were flashed on the screen. We stood and the entire group prayed for us. Then everyone else stood, the honorees sat, and everyone sang the Blessing of St. Clare. "May you always be with God wherever you may be. And may God be with you always." It was truly a blessed, deeply touching moment for me--one that I'll never forget!
Srs. Sara Marks, Colette Gerry, and Kathy Dougherty blessing me.
Our whole group gathered for a photo after dinner. (Standing l-r) Srs. Anne Amati, Marie Lucey, Kathy Dougherty, Kathleen Moffatt, Colette Gerry, Jean Nisley, Ann Marie Slavin, Esther Anderson, Mary Farrell, Dominica LoBianco, Patricia Kane, Lynn Patrice Lavin; (Kneeling l-r) Srs. Betty Kane, Sara Marks, Patricia, Diane Tomkinson, Patricia Hutchison, Maria Orlandini 
When we left the banquet, our sisters gathered in the hotel lobby and continued the celebration.

Saturday--our last day! Our key presenter was Fr. Joe Chinnici who addressed the topic from the stance of "Political Economy from Within the Evangelical Life." His thoughts focused on the world in which we life today and the moral implications of the decisions we are called upon to make. As in the previous two days, the presentation was followed by table conversation and interaction with the three speakers. The conference closed with a commissioning prayer service--again beautifully planned and carried out.
The conference was, for me, a deeply moving experience. I feel that the presentations touch├ęd me deeply, putting into words a way of looking at situations, people, and life that has actually been part of  me as long as I can remember. And the support and love that I've experienced from my sisters has touched me deeply!


Monday, June 8, 2015

Celebrating 60 Years of Religious Life!

Sr. Thomasann Quinn has worked at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, for many years. Recently the school community surprised her with a special assembly acknowledging her 60 years as a Sister of St. Francis of Philadelphia. The second graders served as escorts to lead her into the auditorium. There she was surprise to see not only students, faculty, and staff, but also former teachers, a group of her friends, and Pennsylvania State Representative Marguerite Quinn. 

No party is complete without entertainment and this one was no exception. The program included presentations of homemade love songs performed by each class of OLC students--pre-k to 8th grade. “By this time I was totally engulfed in a blanket of God’s love flowing over me and the whole school community,” she wrote in a thank-you letter. “Truly it was one of the most love-filled moments of my life.”
Pre-k children
Grade 2
Grade 3
Grade 4
Current students, however, were not the only ones sharing their love for and appreciation of Sr. Thomasann for her long years of teaching and caring about the OLMC community. She received a basket of letters as well as a binder filled with emails from former students and their parents dating back to the 1980s—all expressing appreciation and sharing fond memories. Sr. Thomasann had planned a weekend retreat in one of our hermitages and she took the letters and emails with her. “It took me eight to  nine hours during my hermitage experience over this past weekend to read, pray, laugh, and cry over the memory writings of students and parents,” she explained.  

Sr. Thomasann, Queen for a Day and the Star of the Show, holds one of the many bouquets of flowers that she received. She later had them moved to the chapel "to honor Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and Francis."
Before the celebration ended, Sr. Thomasann learned of one more surprise. A statue of the Blessed Mother stands outside the entrance of OLMC School. Over the years Sr. Thomasann had often commented that she would have preferred a different statue of Mary. Before the 60th anniversary celebration ended, members of the Home and School Association announced that they would being replacing the current statue. “This was a dream come true for me,” said Sr. Thomasann as she thanked the group. “Over the past years, I have voiced the need for her [Mary] to be ‘reconditioned’ to a gentler mother.” 

Sr. Thomasann is greeted by State Representative Marguerite Quinn and one of the many friends who attended the celebration.

Looking back over this wonderful celebration, Sr. Thomasann concluded that “I don’t believe that any event that I meet along the journey in life can top the love and joy of last Wednesday! Thanks to each of you in our school community for letting me journey with you.”
Sr. Thomasann searched for words to thank all who were responsible and who contributed in any way to this wonderful celebration honoring her years in religious life--especially the portion of it spent at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School.



Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Meet Sr. Connie Davis!

I always enjoy introducing you to our sisters so that you can get some idea of the great work that each sister does now and what she has done over her years in the congregation as well as a little bit of her vocation story.

Monday morning—and Sr. Connie Davis is heading to Holy Cross School in Springfield, Pennsylvania, where for the past year she has volunteered two days a week. Her work there includes assisting the kindergarten teacher. For example, she helps students with letter recognition and assists them as needed with workbook assignments. At other times Sr. Connie is busy assisting students with art projects or helping out in the school office.    
Tuesday afternoons and evenings find Sr. Connie in the religious education program at St. John Fisher Parish in Boothwyn, Pennsylvania—a service she has rendered for the last three years. She assists the director with some of her ministry work, answers phones, and helps to get materials and memos out to the catechists. At the other end of the parish age spectrum, Sr.Connie tires to provide a presence to the more senior members, attending the bimonthly senior meeting as often of possible.  

Sr. Connie offers a suggestion to help this little boy with his work.
Sr. Connie is also a member of the religious education Fundraising Committee. Whether the committee is selling Yankee Candles or pretzels after Sunday Masses or tapping into percentage-based efforts at restaurants like Applebees or Wendys, the resultant profits are welcomed and put to good use. She also takes part in planning and preparing for the annual flea market. One of the main thrusts of this committee is to raise funds to support the parish’s summer Bible Camp. “It costs quite a bit to run the camp but as many as 80 children attend as well as volunteers ranging from grandparents to Confirmation candidates,” Sr. Connie explained. “By and large this is a great evangelization effort.”  

Sr. Connie spends time helping out in the parish office.
As part of the Fundraising Committee, Sr. Connie helps to provide resources for the parish religious education program.
Prior to high school, Sr. Connie had been taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph and had leaned toward entering their congregation. When it came time for high school, she was scheduled to attend Little Flower but lack of space found some of Connie’s class being assigned to Hallahan—Connie among them. It was there that she met the Sisters of St. Francis for the first time. “I admired their sense of humility and the fact that they worked so hard in the school,” she said, explaining her attraction to the congregation. “They had charge of the discipline at Hallahan but I didn’t find them very strict. In fact they were kind and caring of the students.” 

Such changes in plans and the resultant call to look at new possibilities have been part of Sr. Connie’s ministry experience as well—not all of which have been easy, especially changes necessitated by school and parish closures and/or mergers. “In this day of change, I have found closures challenging,” she explained. “In fact, in my short time here, we have experienced closures of both school and parish.” At the same time, Sr. Connie’s experience over the years in education, religious education, and social work—as well as the changes in community living necessitated by ministry changes have created what Connie refers to as part of her tapestry.  “I bring many experiences from all of this,” she explained, “and I try to share it with others.

Sr. Connie helps a student sound out a difficult word.

Sr. Connie is at hand if the children have a question about their workbook assignments.


Friday, May 29, 2015

The Wonder of Synchronicity!

One of the sisters I use to work with here at the motherhouse always talked about synchronicity--a word that was until then unknown to me. However, over the intervening years I've really come to be amazed and awed at the numerous instances of synchronicity. Some would simply brush it off as coincidence but it's something much broader, much deeper than mere coincidence. It's a coming together of idea, occurrences, ideas in such a way that, to me, it almost staggers the soul.

When I first came into work this morning, I check my email and took time to read the daily reflection I received from Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM. The reflections are always based on Franciscan spirituality and for the last few days have been focused on the fact that St. Francis called everything in creation his brother and sister. In talking about this "oneness" of all creation and about prayer, Fr. Rohr said, "I must know that I am, at least in part, the very thing I am seeking. In fact, that is what makes me seek it. But most do not know this good news yet. God cannot be found 'out there' until God is first found 'in here,' within ourselves."

This, in turn, reminded me of one of my favorite poems, Francis Thompson's "The Kingdom of God." I've always loved the way he explains that nature knows how to find what is important to it, what it is to do. We, on the other hand, are not always aware that the God we seek is already with us! So...I went hunting for Thompson's poem to share with you.

The Kingdom of God
O WORLD invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!

Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air--
That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumor of thee there?

Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars!--
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.

The angels keep their ancient places--
Turn but a stone and start a wing!
'Tis ye, 'tis your estrang├Ęd faces,
That miss the many-splendored thing.

But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry--and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob's ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.

Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry--clinging to Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water,
Not of Genesareth, but Thames!

And the final piece of this morning of synchronicity? I usually like to share a movie video from YouTube when I do a reflection. I had never heard this hymn before but when I found it, it pretty much took my breath away! The lyrics are not printed on the video and I wasn't able to find one that had them. However, they are very simple and I think fairly understandable. Enjoy it and be at peace!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

News from Nyumbani Children's Home

These are some of the most recent updates from Sr. Julie Mulvihill in Nyumbani Children's Home in Kenya. Sr. Julie works there with children whose parents have died from AIDS. During her years there some of the children have also died. The part about the termites pretty much freaked me out!This particular segment was just published the newsletter we send to our sisters. Then last night at dinner, I saw Sr. Julie who had just arrived from Kenya to celebrate her jubilee--50 years as a Sister of St. Francis.

 April 24, 2015
Everything at Nyumbani is beautifully green, our flowers are blooming and our avocados are growing bigger every day.  Most evenings this week we had heavy showers which sometimes bring out the flying termites that are attracted to any light they can find. I knew not to turn the lights on in my room until I had closed the curtains and stuffed something under the door.  This kept the termites outside which is usually good—unless  you are eating in an open air dining hall.  In that case, you turn off the overhead lights, place lamps near by where you are sitting but not too close to you so that the termites are drawn to the lights and not to you and your food. Keep all lids on your food except when you are putting food on your plate. Only use your flashlight to see what food you are putting on your plate and then turn it off so the termites are not drawn to your plate while you are eating!  

Our Holiday Program went well this week.  The high school students are enjoying their tutoring with the students from Kenyatta University.  Standards 7 and 8 are traveling down to Don Bosco for their program.   All seems to be going well with the computer, art and library classes. The wall painting is progressing well.  Our only problem is that the painting is going so well that Sr. Emily wants us to paint the wall in front of Paul Miki and Motinda is requesting that we paint the walls in front of each cottage.   Next week our Form 4 students will attend the 2nd part of their Self- Reliance Training.  They will be working on employment preparation, covering topics like career guidance, vocational discernment, preparing resumes, completing job applications, and sitting up job interviews.  

All the children are doing well.  We had a little boy admitted to respite care this week.  He is very frail looking but I got a beautiful smile from him when I gave him a couple of trucks to play with as well as a stuffed animal. Please pray that he responds well to the TLC he is receiving in respite. 

At our Holiday Program at Nyumbani this week we worked hard to get the paintings completed on the wall.  The kids did a pretty good job but did not get completely finished so John and Sam will put on the final touches next week.   I am so grateful to Donna, Deb, and Ben for getting us funding for this art project.  The children also enjoyed their times in the library and computer room.  We finished our program on Wednesday and then had a Dental Clinic on Thursday.  The doctors were able to see all of the children and any staff who wished to be examined.  I was down at Don Bosco on Thursday but I made sure that all the Form 4s got back for their dental checkups and then back to Don Bosco for the afternoon.   

Friday was Labor Day so the staff was off and the children at Nyumbani had a free morning to play while Form 4s and Standards 7 and 8 went down to Don Bosco for a Prayer Day.  In the afternoon the group from Don Bosco—about 80—came up to Nyumbani for community service.  They were mixed in with our children for an hour of cleaning and then they all played together. Fr. Benn from Don Bosco has tried hard to integrate our children with the neighborhood children who come in for his program each day.  I think it is good for ours to mingle with and get to know the children who live in the surrounding  area.  Hopefully, it will help to break down some of the stigma that our children face when they leave Nyumbani. 

Please pray for the college students who tutored our high school kids throughout the Holiday Program.  They really worked hard with the kids.  Also, pray that our high school students see some results from all their hard work.  Hopefully, some of those examination scores will go up.   

This week we got a new admission.  Her name is Tanya and she looks about six years old.  She is in Cottage H.  It was so nice to see the little ones in the cottage taking such good care of her.  They were leading her around the playground and showing her all the things she could play with.  When I went into Cottage H, they were so happy to introduce her to me.  They are trying to make her feel right at home.  This adjustment to a new home must be so hard for her. 

Next week all of our children will begin their second semester of school.  We will have a special blessing for all them at Mass on Sunday.  Please pray that each child will stay healthy and do their best in school this semester.   

May 8, 2015 
Last Friday I tried to cook about 280 hot dogs for the children, mums, and uncles for supper.  I had trouble with my little stove heating up such a big pot of hot dogs so Eric in the kitchen finished them for me and then I distributed them to everyone.   They were loved by all.  Thanks Donna for making this treat possible.  

On Saturday I was up early to get ready for the Nyumbani  Kenyan Olympics.  I gathered everything I needed—jump ropes, balloons, hats, balls, scooters, candy, Kenya airways medals, and Canadian pins for prizes.  I marked the basketball court for the Over/Under Ball Passing Game so each cottage could line up and for the Foul Shooting Contest. Uncle John and the high school kids helped with these  events.  I also marked the spot to kick the soccer ball and the soccer net.  Reagan was the goalie for this event.  I marked the starting and finish line for all of our track and field events.  We used the driveway behind the Noel House because the field in front of Paul Miki was recently seeded.  We has an over/under ball passing game, kick the soccer ball, track events where the kids just ran, jump rope races, a hat relay, and scooter races.  . With the encouragement of the kids, we also got the mums into a foot race. To be sure that everyone got something, there were times when I told Laura to give everyone balloons or candy.  I had to be a little stingy with the medals and pins because I did not have enough for all to get one. I'll have to go to the Dollar Store and purchase some when I'm home.  

At 10:30 AM the whistle blew and all of us, including Sister Mary, lined up around the Olympic Basketball Court to begin the Nyumbani Kenyan Olympics.  I introduced what the Olympics were all about, Sister Mary said a few words, and then we sang the Kenyan National Anthem. Next time we will have to get some type of Olympic Torch to light.  We just kept racing until the prizes ran out. An added contest for the teenagers was a Basketball Game and I refereed it.  All the kids stood and cheered.  During the game I got hit in the nose with the ball.  It cut my nose and caused a little nose bleed but it was okay. Sunday the kids all came to church in their school uniforms so Father can bless them and their new school semester.  On Monday morning I was out front  at 6:15 AM to wave goodbye as they left for school and by Thursday all the high school kids had returned to school.  At 8:30 AM the little ones were happy to go to Paul Miki for class because Teacher Margaret had returned from her leave and they were very happy to welcome her back. Please pray our kids work hard in school and keep improving in their studies. 

The first week of school has gone well.   I'll be heading down to Don Bosco for the Self-Reliance Training for our young adults.  The topic is Spiritual Care.  We want to encourage our young adults to get involved in churches after they leave Nyumbani.  This will not only help them to take care of their spirituality, but will also help them to reintegrate back into the community by getting involved in the young adult groups. It should help them to build relationships with people outside of Nyumbani and hopefully find friends who will not stigmatize them because of their status. Please pray all goes well. 

Love and prayers to all, Julie





Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Ecumenical Advocacy Days: A time for renewal, of learning, of prayer, of hope, and of advocacy!

Recently I experienced another first in my life--attending the Ecumenical Advocacy Days. This yearly event is a weekend of programs and presentations for people of various religious denominations culminating in a day of lobbying at senate and congressional offices in Washington, DC. This year's theme was "Breaking the Chains: Mass Incarceration and Systems of Exploitation." I have to admit that while I looked forward to the various presentations, the idea of lobbying was a totally new experience for me--one that engendered a bit of hesitation and nerves! However, I went with three of our sisters (Srs. Marie Lucey, Maria Orlandini, and Hope Bauerlin) and one of our lay associates (Melissa Hickey)--all of whom were pretty used to the entire experience. What I'd like to do here is simply to give an overview of the various topics and presentations I was graced to attend.

We arrived at the hotel  about 3:30 Friday afternoon. The others had meetings scheduled so I simply took the time to settle into our room and to look over the rather extensive program booklet. Had I used my head, I would have checked out the orientation session that was being held--both on reviewing the schedule, the theme of mass incarceration, and a bit of background on what to expect on Capitol Hill. However, hindsight always provides ideas for "next time"!

When the others returned from their meetings, we took time to grab a sandwich and headed off to the Opening Celebration: Breaking the Chains. Music played a part in the entire weekend and this opening session was no exception. As happened throughout the weekend, all of us were frequently invited to participate in song. We were welcomed by Jim Winkler, president and general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.; Sr. Patricia Chapel, SNDdeN, executive director of Pax Christi USA; and Douglas G. Grace, director of Ecumenical Advocacy Days. The main speaker for the evening was Rev. Traci Blackmon, pastor of Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant, Missouri. Her powerful presentation, based on the Acts of the Apostles, set the tone for the remainder of the weekend and addressed the issues that would become the focus of our lobbying efforts. You can capture a bit of her presentation at http://advocacydays.org/2015-breaking-the-chains/speakers/opening-celebration/.

A glimpse at the fabulous musicians whose gifts enhanced the various presentations.
Saturday morning's program began early--7 A.M. I quickly learned that meal times were also presentation times. We headed up to the 14th floor for breakfast and the LGBT Briefing,  "Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Incarceration" hosted by the UCC HIV & AIDS Network. Following breakfast we headed to the morning plenary session: "Mass Incarceration and Systems of Exploitation" with presentations by Dr. Iva Carruthers, general secretary of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference and Dr. Bill Mefford, director for civil and human rights for the United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society. A video of their presentations can be found at http://advocacydays.org/2015-breaking-the-chains/speakers/saturday-morning-policy-plenary/.
After a coffee break and time to visit exhibits, we had our first state breakout session. Sr. Hope, Melissa, and I headed to the Pennsylvania group where we learned more in detail about how the lobbying day would work. Pennsylvania had a rather large group--roughly 25-30 people. We learned that we would not be meeting with the senators and representatives themselves but with one of their aides. We reviewed the information about the "Ask"--precisely what we are asking of our senators and representatives. The "Ask" actually had two major components:
1. End Mandatory Minimum Sentencing
We urge Congress to support federal criminal justice reform legislation that would:
  • allow judges the discretion to fully consider the circumstances of individual cases to arrive at the most appropriate sentencing decision.
  • strike or reduce mandatory minimum sentences.
  • shrink the size of the federal prison system, particularly among people convicted of nonviolent and low-level offenses.
  • eliminate racial disparity and racial bias in sentencing.
  • prioritize alternatives to incarceration for individuals who pose little threat to public safety and ensure accountability without the use of excessive punishment.
2. Eliminate the Detention Bed Quota for Immigrants and Implement Alternatives to Detention
In the House, Representatives Ted Deutch and Bill Foster will introduce an amendment to strike the quote language in the appropriations bill. We ask you to:
  • vote in favor of the Deutch-Foster amendment
  • contact other offices to gain support for the elimination of the quota
  • express your opposition to the bed quota in public statements.
Our group leader explained that for each of the visits to the two senators, Senator Casey and Senator Toomy, we needed to designate individuals for specific roles:
  • introduce the group and explain our general purpose
  • speakers to address each of the two components of the "Ask"
  • speakers to tell personal stories related to each component of the "Ask"
  • a time keeper
  • a note taker
  • someone to write a formal thank you after we return home
We managed to get individuals to assume each of these two roles for Senator Casey's office and set about getting a second list of volunteers to perform the same tasks at Senator Toomey's office. That proved more difficult. When no one seemed to be volunteering to speak to the first part of the "Ask," I hesitantly raised my hand. Our moderator said "Great!--and just remember, you will have already been through it once." I can't say that was a great comfort but I just smiled and nodded. We finally finished getting a sufficient number of volunteers for that visit and realized it was time for lunch and another plenary session. Our director explained that in our training session the following day, we would discuss our visits to the various members of the House of Representatives.
We stopped to pick up a box lunch and headed for the lunch plenary, "The Rose of the Church in the 'War on Drugs'" Douglas Walker, M.Div., the national director for criminal justice reform for the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, moderated a four-person panel comprised of
  • Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director, Drug Policy Alliance
  • Rev. Edwin C. Sanders, II, senior servant, Metropolitan Interdenominational Church, Nashvile, Tennessee
  • Jasmine Tyler, senior policy analyst for Global Health and Drug Policy, Open Society Foundations 
A video of the panel is available at
The afternoon focused on a series of "issue workshops." We had a number of workshops from which to choose. For the first I chose "The Face of Modern Day Slavery: Identifying and Responding to Trafficking in America" because of our congregation's corporate stand against trafficking. The presenters were three young women who worked with victims of trafficking and with law enforcement agencies. Each of the presenters worked with organizations associated with various religious denominations.
My second workshop, "Returning Home after Incarceration: Breaking Down Obstacles for Successful Reintegration," was one that I particularly enjoyed. The presenters all worked with people who had been recently paroled and in two cases, had themselves been incarcerated. Deborah, who was from the Washington, DC area, spoke about her own experience of "returning home." She felt called to work with others parolees and helps them to find jobs, etc. She laughingly told us that her own parole officer, with whom she continues to keep in touch, nominated her as "Parolee of the Year." Hector, a former gang member, now works at Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles. He spoke about the work of Fr. Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, who worked to build relationships with gang members and who simply asked the question, "How can I help you?" Based on their responses, he got them both education and jobs. Visit their website and learn about the wonderful programs that have grown out of that simple question! http://www.homeboyindustries.org/ Terry is a member of the Creek Nation and spoke about the program her people started for members released from prison. These individuals can apply to the Creek Nation for help with clothing, housing, referrals for treatment needs, classes, etc. Visit their website to learn about all their program offers. http://www.mcnrip.com/
Following the afternoon's workshops, we gathered in denominational groups for services. The Catholic contingent joined for the Eucharistic liturgy and then gathered for pizza and a panel on restorative justice.
Sunday was another busy day beginning with an Israel/Palestine Briefing breakfast hosted by the Presbyterian Church, the UMC General Board of Church and Society and the General Board of Global Missions, American Friends Service Committee. The presentation, "Nonviolent Economic Resistance: From Consumer to the Corporation" forced me to admit that the presentations gave me a totally different view of the Israeli/Palestine situation and led me to realize that I'm very much lacking in knowledge of the history and the reality of the current situation. One of the presentations was by a member of the American Friends Service Committee. You might find it interesting to read their handout, "Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions.
We went from breakfast to the interdenominational worship session--an experience I thoroughly enjoyed--singing; a beautiful interpretative dance; the presentation by Bishop Jose Garcia, director of church relations for Bread for the World; and the symbolic "breaking of the chains."
This is not a particularly good photo but these gentlemen--with their beautiful voices and excellent harmony--enriched several of our sessions
This beautiful interpretive dance opened the way for our symbolic breaking of the chains.
The morning plenary session, "The Churches' Response to Systems of Exploitation" was another of my favorite presentations--one that truly touched my heart. The panel, moderated by David Schilling from the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, featured individuals who ministered in four different parts of the world and who shared their stories of exploitative systems and what was being done to eradicate and improve the systems.
  • Emira Woods: Global Client Principal for Social Impact Programs at Thought Works--South Africa
  • Fr. Shay Cullen: Founder of People Recovery Empowerment and Development Assistance Foundation -- Philippines
  • Joanne Blaney: Maryknoll lay missioner and Fr. Valdir Joao Silveira, Ntional Coordinator of the Prison Ministry Pastoral -- Brazil
  • Raed Jarrar: Policy Impact Coordinator for American Friends Service Committee -- Middle East
I was especially touched--and horrified--by some of the photos that Fr. Cullen and Joanne Blaney showed.
Children imprisoned in the Philippines
Example of overcrowded prisons in Brazil
During lunch we met again with our state groups. After a quick review of who was doing what in our meetings with the senators, we gathered with our various congressional districts. Sr. Hope and I quickly learned that there were only four of us going to Rep. Patrick Meehan's office. We talked about it briefly, determined what we needed, and planned to finalize it over lunch on Monday. However, since we were only four, I was fairly certain that I would be doing something!
Sunday afternoon we went to the third of our self-selected workshops. I chose to go to one on restorative justice because the topic is one in which I was particularly interested and had hoped to see how the method could be applied to capital cases. However, while interesting, the three speakers addressed the issue more from the perspective of reintegration than from that of what I knew of restorative justice. I did pick up some material on the topic both at the workshop and from the exhibits.
And then it was Monday! We woke to a day that was gray and rainy. At 7:30 we boarded buses that took us to the Lutheran Church of the Reformation, located a few LONG blocks from Capitol Hill. Our Pennsylvania group gathered for a prayer, a brief meeting, and then headed down to Senator Casey's office. Surprisingly the rain had stopped and the sun was shining. We were met by the senator's legislative aide, Sam Koshgarian, a young woman who seemed to have a good grasp of what Senator Casey did or did not support. We followed through our prescribed program while Sam took notes and listened attentively to our explanations, our issues, and our stories.
Our Pennsylvania group joined in prayer outside Sen. Casey's office before our meeting. You can see Sr. Hope against the wall (wearing a brightly colored scarf)
After our first meeting, we headed--by way of tunnels--across to another senate office building where we met with Senator Toomey's legislative correspondent, Devorah Goldman. We were a bit early but after a short wait, the office was able to work us in a little earlier than scheduled. Again we presented the main components of our "Ask" and shared both our personal stories and our concerns. I did my piece--apparently in a satisfactory way!
Our Pennsylvania contingent outside Senator Toomey's office. The young women in the dark blue dress is his legislative correspondent.
Following this meeting, a group of us walked past the front of the U.S. Capitol heading to buildings where members of the House of Representatives have their offices. We at lunch in one of the congressional cafeterias and headed to the office of Representative Patrick Meehan. We were met by his legislative assistant Jim Gray. We went through our procedure once again, this time the four of us sharing all of the various tasks. Jim took notes on our major points and our questions and explained what he knew of Representative Meehan's leanings. As we did in each of our other meetings, we left a copy of our "Ask" with its detailed explanations and list of statistics supporting our arguments.
Three of the four of us who met with Representative Meehan's aide.
As I indicated initially, this experience was a new one for me--and one I sincerely hope I can repeat. It's hard to even find words to express my admiration for the people I met--women and men from faith traditions different from my own yet filled with the dreams and hopes for justice and peace that have been part of my own journey. To each of them I can only offer a heartfelt prayer of thanks!



Friday, April 24, 2015

Learn More About Our Volunteer Program!

Don't forget to visit new page on our website to learn about our new ministry: Franciscan Volunteers: No Risk, No Gain! There you can learn about the core values that our volunteers will be learning about, find info on the four ministry sites, and listen to any of our three podcasts that you might have missed!

You'll find all of this at http://www.osfphila.org/franciscanvolunteers.


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