Activism in Retrospect

During the last two weeks of February, the Quixote Center was involved in actions of solidarity for Dreamers and the people of Honduras. I attended the Honduras Awareness Tour (Feb. 22) and the Catholic Day of Action for Dreamers (Feb. 27) and was equally moved by both events that called us to be a catalyst for change. Below are my reflections on these experiences.

Honduras Awareness Tour

On February 22, I attended the Honduras Awareness Tour in its final stop in Washington, D.C. The three-city tour was an opportunity for Honduran journalists and human rights activists, Joaquin Mejia and Claudia Mendoza, to update the public on the current conditions of Honduras. It was only befitting that the tour ended in our nation’s capital since both speakers emphasized the destabilizing role the U.S. has played in its foreign policy towards Latin America, in particular, Honduras, starting with the Obama administration’s legitimization of the 2009 coup in which democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya was ousted from power by the Honduran military (NCR). For a country that claims to promote democracy and is even considering punishing other countries for not upholding democracy (as seen, for example, in the NICA Act), the U.S. position to dismiss democracy in Honduras by engaging with the Honduran military speaks volumes about the continuation of foreign policies that disregard the plight of the people of Honduras.

The event began with disturbing news reported by the event host, Oscar Chacon (Executive Director of Alianza Americas). He told the audience that Mejia’s family was still receiving death threats for his role of using Radio Progreso to discuss the conditions of Honduras. We also heard that one of Mendoza’s loved one’s passed away from an illness the night before. There before us stood two fearless people, determined to bring a message despite personal loss. The message, simply put, is that Honduras is suffering. Their democracy is being choked and as U.S. citizens we need to hold our government accountable for these actions and demand change. Why is our government still sending military aid to Honduras, a country where activists are met with death (#BertaVive)?.   

Overall the event provided a much-needed update on the conditions in Honduras. This is a U.S. concern as well since the people of Honduras need us to stand with them. They need us to raise our voices to a level that demands change in U.S. foreign policy. We need to support avenues of authentic journalism like Radio Progreso and the many other organizations in Honduras being harassed in an effort made to silence them. Now more than ever it is important to stand with the people of Honduras.

Catholic Day of Action for Dreamers

The final Tuesday in February was a day of both hope and sorrow. On February 27, Quixote Center staff took part in the Catholic Day of Action for Dreamers, a peaceful protest in Washington, D.C. that encouraged Catholics and non-Catholics to elevate voices in support Dreamers and demand their right to stay in the U.S. The first year of the Trump administration has been a disaster for immigrant families. The administration’s dehumanizing rhetoric and willingness to use families to create a deal for a misconceived border wall is, frankly, disgusting. 

QC staff: (left to right) Mfon Edet, Jessica DeCou, Jocelyn Trainer

The protest was an opportunity to stand with our neighbors, families, and friends who are Dreamers, during this stressful time in their life. Have you ever been in a situation when you didn’t know where you were going to live or have to face the possibility that your family could be split apart? The amount of stress those types of concerns come with is too heavy to bear alone. We need to support immigration reform that leads to paths to citizenship for not only Dreamers but all immigrants who have built lives here.

The number of people that showed up in support of Dreamers was beautiful to witness. There was mass in the morning at St. Peters on Capitol Hill and a rally in front of the Senate building in which different activists spoke about the much-needed change in our immigration policies. The protest eventually moved inside of the Senate building where protesters met in the rotunda to pray. Soon after the prayer, the protest ended with the arrest of approximately 40 nuns.

After the arrest, I saw protest participants walking directly into their state representatives’ offices to discuss the need for a path to citizenship with better immigration reform legislation. I also saw families around the rotunda crying and it dawned on me even more that this is their reality. They are in limbo and it’s SCARY. With our members of Congress failing to support positive immigration reform, and with the current injustices of ICE raids, the voices of immigrants are being ignored.

Overall I’m glad to have been a part of this protest. As a Catholic, a person of color, a first-generation American, and an activist, seeing the nuns being arrested coupled with the families crying made me take a step back to look at the conditions of this country. In the words of Daniel Neri, one of the speakers at the rally, “We are not criminals, we are not rapists, we are good people” (NCR). 

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Racism As a Social Sin: Excerpts from “Brothers and Sisters to Us”

“Brothers and Sisters to Us” is a pastoral letter on the topic of racism issued by the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops in 1979. Some sections of the document may now feel dated, rooted as they were in the language and the context in which they were prepared. But many passages bear the same prophetic weight today as they did in the year they were composed. Below are a few passages that seem timely, relevant, and continue to challenge the Catholic Church even today. Think of all the work these words suggest and how much of that work remains to be done.

– We do not deny that changes have been made, that laws have been passed, that policies have been implemented. We do not deny that the ugly external features of racism which marred our society have in part been eliminated. But neither can it be denied that too often what has happened has only been a covering over, not a fundamental change.

– Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father.

– The sin is social in nature in that each of us, in varying degrees, is responsible. All of us in some measure are accomplices. As our recent pastoral letter on moral values states: “The absence of personal fault for an evil does not absolve one of all responsibility. We must seek to resist and undo injustices we have not ceased, least we become bystanders who tacitly endorse evil and so share in guilt in it.”

– At times, protestations claiming that all persons should be treated equally reflect the desire to maintain a status quo that favors one race and social group at the expense of the poor and the nonwhite.

– How great, therefore, is that sin of racism which weakens the Church’s witness as the universal sign of unity among all peoples! How great the scandal given by racist Catholics who make the Body of Christ, the Church, a sign of racial oppression! Yet all too often the Church in our country has been for many a “white Church,” a racist institution.

– Each of us as Catholics must acknowledge a share in the mistakes and sins of the past. Many of us have been prisoners of fear and prejudice. We have preached the Gospel while closing our eyes to the racism it condemns. We have allowed conformity to social pressures to replace compliance with social justice.

– Racism is not merely one sin among many; it is a radical evil that divides the human family and denies the new creation of a redeemed world. To struggle against it demands an equally radical transformation, in our own minds and hearts as well as in the structure of our society.

If you would like to read the whole document, you can find it here.

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Soil and New Life

“All of creation has been groaning”…

There is a lot of talk about soil in the bible. If you open up the lectionary for this week, you will see a passage in Isaiah on the rain and snow that fall from the heavens to water the earth, making it fertile and providing bread for food. In Matthew 13, we read about the sower who casts seed on good soil and rocky or thorny areas alike. These readings remind us that the relationship of humans to the soil is a simple fact of life on earth. We depend on soil for human life to thrive.

But the type of soil that is present in a place is not simply a brute fact, a fortunate coincidence or a cruel fate to which people are subject. Turning to Haiti, we know that its once lush countryside has undergone a long process resulting in poor soil and even desertification, largely as a consequence of human action. Plantation monoculture over centuries, coupled with the use of trees to serve as fuel has led to the impoverishment of that nation’s soil, rapid erosion, and consequently very limited access to adequate local food.

In his encyclical Laudato Si [On Care for Our Common Home], Pope Francis describes a planet that “groans in travail” (Romans 8:2) because “the earth herself, burdened and laid waste” is “among the most abandoned and maltreated of the poor.” He finds the cause for this situation not in the random situation of human beings scattered around the planet but in humanity itself. “The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life” (LS 2).

If human activity is often a cause of unfavorable growing conditions, it can also present solutions. Again, we hear Francis reminding us of the way that human free will may be turned to responsible practices and positive results. “Agriculture in poorer regions can be improved through investment in rural infrastructures, a better organization of local or national markets, systems of irrigation, and the development of techniques of sustainable agriculture” (LS 180)

At the Quixote Center, we support peasant leadership in the Northwest region of Haiti as they develop innovative local solutions to bring new life to its depleted agricultural landscape. Haiti Reborn continues to support the planting of 100,000 trees per year as part of a reforestation initiative that will create richer soil for its people. The agronomists and workers with the Peasant Movement of Gros-Morne and the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center are also breeding worms for compost, promoting greater individual planting of trees, and establishing a seed bank, all to make their own land more fruitful. In this way, we see our work as participating in what Pope Francis calls sustainable and integral development.

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A Wake-up Call in the Vatican

The sexual abuse charges that have been filed against Cardinal George Pell, a high-ranking Vatican official in the Curia, raise many questions and have set off alarms about the effectiveness of Pope Francis’s response to allegations of clergy abuse of minors.

George Pell was ordained a priest in 1966 in the diocese of Ballarat in Australia and became a bishop in 1987. In 1993,  he accompanied his former housemate and fellow priest, Gerard Ridsdale, into court as he faced trial for serial sexual abuse in a show of support. Pell later stated that he regretted this decision because it seemed to show greater concern for the abuser than the survivor of abuse. But it was part of a clear pattern of support for the priests accused of assault and a defensive posture on the part of the Australian Church in responding to such accusations.

Pell has also been accused on several occasions of sexual abuse although he has never stood trial. The  Cardinal did testify on several occasions before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse.

But his 2014 appointment to the position of Cardinal-Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy in the Vatican struck some in Australia as an attempt to get him off the local scene where he was broadly criticized in media coverage related to claims of a cover-up by the Church.

In August of that year and again in 2016, Cardinal Pell provided testimony before the Commission via video link, citing ill health in the second case.

The 2016 song “Come Home (Cardinal Pell),” written and performed by Australian performer Tim Minchin, criticized Pell for failing to return home to testify. The proceeds of this irreverent tune allowed 15 survivors of abuse to travel to Rome and watch Pell’s testimony in person.

Last July, when asked about the investigation into allegations naming Pell, Pope Francis reserved judgment until the Australian justice system had made a decision regarding the matter. True to his word, Francis is not obstructing this investigation and has granted leave to Cardinal Pell in order to respond to the criminal charges by appearing in court.

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, an institution created by Pope Francis in 2014 to address the issue of clergy sexual abuse of minors, was seen as a major step forward in responding more openly to addressing claims of abuse. Yet the two survivors of sexual abuse who served on the commission have departed. When Marie Collins resigned her commission on March 1, she published a letter in the National Catholic Reporter explaining that the Commission had neither adequate independent resources nor the authority to implement even simple changes.

There is some cause for optimism about a shift in the culture of obstructionism and secrecy that has long attended abuse claims against Church officials.  It is not surprising that someone who is a trusted adviser of Pope Francis and part of his inner circle would continue to receive support in the face of as yet unnamed and unproven accusations.

But there remains cause for concern, a lingering fear that our warm and pastoral Pope is still part of a closed system in which patriarchy and privilege have long protected their closed ranks.

Pope Francis must put the full force of his role as pontiff behind the efforts to bring the buried secrets of sexual abuse into the light of day for a just reckoning.

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Our Common Home

pope&ban ki moonThis week, the pope’s encyclical on the challenge of climate change was leaked by the media. While the final version will be formally shared on June 18, the content of the draft is certainly indicative of the Pope’s tone in addressing this global issue. He acknowledges that most of climate change is caused by man’s actions, and calls on all people, regardless of religion, to share the responsibility of caring for the earth, “our common home“.

What is especially encouraging from this plea is the links Pope Francis draws between the economic culture of over-consumption and its impact on the poor. By framing this in both an economic and social justice context, the need to resolve this issue takes on greater significance. The document even specifically discourages the carbon credit model of offsetting greenhouse gas emissions, as it unfairly advantages wealthier nations and does not lead to an overall reduction in emissions.

The Vatican has said that the release of the encyclical was timed to have maximum impact on upcoming visits by the Pope to address the US Congress and the UN. Since the document clearly scolds climate change deniers, it will be interesting to see how American representatives who are both Catholic and vocal climate change deniers, respond to this position. When the Pope addresses congress later this year, we can certainly expect him to raise these issues. Your move, John Boehner.

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The Hobby Lobby Verdict

Perhaps I am an incurable optimist, but it never occurred to me that the Supreme Court might side with Hobby Lobby. I didn’t believe that their argument stood a chance, but the Court has taken the side of those who would deny a woman her agency and control of her own body. Now we have been given a ruling which will have far-reaching implications and a host of unpredictable consequences. As we try to make sense of it all, the path forward is not entirely clear. There are calls for boycotts, but for those of us who have never shopped at Hobby Lobby before, this feels like an empty action. Have you heard of or been involved with any campaigns in response to the ruling? If so, I would be interested to hear about them. In the meantime, check out this blog post from Maureen Fiedler, long-time Quixote Center ally and the host of the NPR radio show Interfaith Voices. This post originally appeared on the National Catholic Reporter website.

Hobby Lobby: Political Hypocrisy

The Catholic bishops and right-wing Catholics might be cheering the ruling in the Hobby Lobby case on June 30 … but they should temper their rejoicing — fast. (In this case, the Supreme Court — in a 5-4 decision — said that for-profit companies do not have to provide contraceptive coverage to which they object on religious grounds.) There are game-changing, under-reported facts about Hobby Lobby. According to Petula Dvorak in The Washington Post, and Mother Jones (April 1, 2014), “Documents filed with the Department of Labor and dated December 2012—three months after the company’s owners filed their lawsuit—show that the Hobby Lobby 401(k) employee retirement plan held more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions. Hobby Lobby makes large matching contributions to this company-sponsored 401(k).” These are some of the very contraceptives to which Hobby Lobby objected in this Supreme Court case. Talk about hypocrisy! There are plenty of investment firms that screen out such holdings, but apparently, Hobby Lobby did not choose to use them. Interestingly, the Vatican (which officially opposes all birth control) also did not screen investments to meet their own moral pronouncements, and it was found to have invested in contraceptive manufacturers in 2009. So, we are left with the question: what’s the real reason for the Hobby Lobby suit? Was it financial? Did they not want to pay for contraceptives? Was it political? Did they want to “score one” against Obamacare? Was it patriarchal? Did they want to put up obstacles to women making their own reproductive decisions? (Incidentally, Hobby Lobby’s health plans will continue to cover vasectomies and Viagra!) When you think about it, this was a ridiculous Supreme Court decision. Since when can profit-making companies claim a religion? Or religious beliefs? Whatever the Supreme Court says, corporations are NOT persons! For the record, polling done on this question weeks before the decision shows that all segments of the U.S. population (except white Evangelicals) opposed the substance of this decision. That includes Catholics, especially Catholic women (who, as anyone who reads polls knows) use artificial contraceptives at the same level as women of other religious traditions. And although Justice Alito (who wrote the majority opinion) tried to limit its scope, it raises questions about other medical procedures to which some people have religious objections: vaccines, blood transfusions, etc. This decision may have opened Pandora’s box for other lawsuits.
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The Catholic Tipping Point: Helmut Schüller Calls for Reform

Helmut Schüller opened a 15 city tour in New York City on Tuesday night, calling for a range of reforms in the Catholic Church and for priests to join in reform efforts side-by-side with concerned laity. Some background: Fr. Helmut Schuller is the founder of the Austrian Priests’ Initiative, (Pfarrer-Initiative) organized in 2006 to address a deepening shortage of priests forcing many Austrian parishes to close. His work inspired the establishment of similar priest groups in Germany, Ireland, France, the United States and Australia. Schüller’s U.S. Tour comes in the midst of a steadily worsening priest shortage. A 2009 study from the National Federation of Priests’ Councils found that for every 100 U.S. priests who retire, only 30 are available to replace them. In June 2011, the Pfarrer-Initiative issued a “Call to Disobedience” calling for lay leadership and preaching in parishes without a priest, permitting divorced and remarried Catholics to receive sacraments and support for the ordination of women and married men. Schüller’s tour is sponsored by 10 organizations, including the Quixote Center. His schedule can be viewed here.
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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    7307 Baltimore Ave.
    Ste 214
    College Park, MD 20740
  • Office: 301-699-0042

Direction to office:

For driving: From Baltimore Ave (Route 1) towards University of Maryland, turn right onto Hartwick Rd. Turn immediate right in the office complex.

Look for building 7307. We are located on the 2nd floor.

For public transportation: We are located near the College Park metro station (green line)