Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Working Catholic: Gaps, Part One by Bill Droel and John Erb

For some time now, we have thought about the meaning of income levels in our society. Our main point in this essay is not so much the preciseness of the numbers, although we consulted several sources. This multi-part essay is one attempt to put lots of discussion into one format. In our professional settings (a financial advisor’s office and a community college) and in informal conversations, we sense that most of us have only a vague notion of economic realities in our country. Despite comprehensive books about inequality, despite newspaper articles about factory closings or about new business ventures, despite national political campaigns, most of us are fuzzy about how our situation compares with others and about our own prospects for economic stability and about the reliability of our economy’s promise: “Hard work will be rewarded.”

In normal conversations people do not speak too specifically about their income. Even in those situations where personal income is revealed, many people lack an up to date perspective on how their family compares to others. For example, $85,000 per year was once considered a good income, but for most Americans today this amount is often not enough to dispel economic stress.

Does our $85,000 income example include a pension or a retirement account? Probably not, because as each year goes by many more families have no guaranteed pension. That means families who deserve a secure retirement have to dedicate about 15% of earnings toward retirement savings. Social security benefits, under both Democrats and Republicans, have been reduced, and continue to trend in that direction. Thus, an individual’s own savings becomes more important for security in retirement.

In addition to concern about retirement, our $85,000 family is likely stressed these days because of health care insurance. There has been a 25% increase in insurance cost over the last five years for the middle class, even though the insurance mechanisms have supposedly been reformed.

And finally, there is college education for this family. Its cost was not proportionately a big part of a family’s budget even 20 years ago.

So, if a seemingly secure family is budgeting for retirement in a responsible way, has adequate health care insurance and is saving for college, there is not much left over on an $85,000 income.

The Gaps

It is true that the overall U.S. economy has doubled within the past 35 years. It is true that the average income has increased. The income gap, however, is growing. When it comes to income increase, 70% of it now goes to those in the top 10% of income. More dramatically, the top 1/10% is gaining income far ahead of all others, including the next top 4.9%.

For half of all U.S. families, their share of the growing economy has shrunk significantly. This bottom 50% of families earns 12.5% of the country’s total income. The top 1% in income actually gets 20% of the total income in our country.

In addition to an income gap there are parallel social gaps. We stress that there is not an easy cause-effect relationship between these other gaps and the income gaps. That is, it is wrong to say that if every family changed their behavior on this-or-that, those families would increase their income. Or that if somehow a family would simply move from here to there, that family would increase its income. It is wrong to say that if only government had this social policy instead of that social policy, families would get with it and they would improve their income.

Nonetheless, some social and cultural gaps strongly parallel income gaps. Specifically, there is general correspondence (though not hard cause-and-effect) between income and one’s geography, one’s cultural setting, one’s educational level and one’s family stability. 

To be continued…

Monday, December 19, 2016


For a tree there is hope, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again and that its tender shoots will not cease.  Even though its root grows old in the earth, and its stump die in the dust, yet at the first whiff of water it may flourish again and put forth branches like a young plant.  (Job 14: 7-10)

From the beginning 'till now the entire creation as we know it, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth and not only all creation but all of us ... for we must be content to hope that we shall be saved.  Our salvation is not in sight. we should not be hoping for it as if it were - but we must hope to be saved since we are not saved yet ...  (Paul, Romans: 8: 18-35)

And remember Job when he cried to his Lord, "Truly distress has seized me, but You are the Most Merciful of those that are merciful."  (Qur'an 21:83

From the bloggers - Bill & Joanne Lange & Bill Droel 

Monday, December 5, 2016


    In his farewell address President Ronald Reagan saw the U.S. as a New Jerusalem, the shining city upon a hill.  The reference for the president’s patriotic speech was biblical.  (See Mt. 5:14, Rev. 21:21) Reagan’s carefully crafted, sanctimonious American image still remains, but Reagan and U.S. responsibility for massive killings of indigenous people in the Central American civil wars have been quickly forgotten.  (200,000 civilians killed in Guatemala - never publicized)

   The Reagan legacy continues with Trump; only the bigotry, nationalism and militarism are out in the open with a deluge of threats and unapologetic vile rhetoric.  With the ground of U.S. Democracy flooded with hate, where do we establish our roots?

   Let us consider some thoughts of three courageous women during the time of the Second World War.  A summary of their work can be found in the book, Three Women in Dark Times, Cornell University Press, 2000, Ithaca, NY by Sylvie Courtine-Denamy.  All references in this article are to Courtine-Denamy’s book.

   The three women, Simon Weil (1909 – 1943) Edith Stein (1891 – 1942) and Hannah Arendt (1906 – 1975), were recognized as outstanding philosophers in their own time. Simone Weil finished first   in a Sorbonne general examination on philosophy ahead of notables Merleau–Ponty and Simone de Bouvoir. 

   The Three Women of Dark Times addresses the horrible events and politics of their era with courage and wisdom.  Weil and Stein had an idealistic approach and Arendt a pragmatic and existential vision. The women were from Jewish families. 

SIMON WEIL 1909 - 1943

   Weil addressed the problem of “up-rootedness” by trying to establish a “universal” identity.  She worked in factories and did farm labor to experience the alienation of the worker.  She became mal-nourished because others did not have a sufficient diet.  Simone Weil was hostile to Judaism in her attempt to be above race.  Jewish scholars, Martin Buber and Levinas “underscore not only Weil’s profound misunderstanding of the Jewish religion but also her unfair treatment of it.” (143)

   Weil warned that the rootlessness of our time tempts people to “belong unconditionally to a totalitarian system which gives them a solid illusion of inward unity.” (p. 142) She explained:

God’s children should love no fatherland short of the universe as a whole…one must uproot one’s self and have no native land… One can only be rooted in the absence of a definite place. (pp. 43-44)   

Simone Weil tended toward pacifism, but opposed Hitler and fascism to the extent that she volunteered for the Spanish Republican Army to fight Franco in Spain’s Civil War.  She died in England in 1943 of tuberculosis refusing to take nourishment.  Weil, although close to Roman Catholicism, never requested baptism and maintained her “universal” identity.

EDITH STIEN 1891 - 1942

   Edith Stein was a student and assistant to the founder of the philosophical method of Phenomenology, Edmund Husserl.  She broke with Husserl over her Ph.D. dissertation on Empathy – Einfuhlung translated by a German professor as, “to feel into the feeling of another.”

   Was Stein’s “Empathy” opposed to Weil’s “Universalism”?

    In 1922 Edith Stein converted to the Roman Catholicism.  She saw faith and Thomistic Theology as the necessary confirmation for her philosophy.  She never renounced her Jewish heritage but joined the Carmelite order of nuns in 1933.  She took the name Benedicta of the Cross.  In 1938 Edith Stein as Sister Benedicta of the Cross wrote a letter to Pope Pius XI asking for an Encyclical to defend the Jews.  She never received an answer and the Encyclical was never written. 

   Her roots were in the Great Commandment of the Jewish Law, ‘Love God and love your neighbor as yourself including the stranger,’ (Dt. 6:3, Lv. 19:18, 33) however she expressed it as a Christian.  She wrote, “For the Christian there is no such thing as a ‘stranger.’  There is only the neighbor, the person next to us, the person most in need of our help.” (p. 205)

   Because she was Jewish she was executed by the Nazis at Auschwitz in 1942.  Edith Stein was declared a Saint in 1998 by Pope John Paul II.

HANNAH ARENDT 1906 - 1975 
   Hannah Arendt was an associate of Martin Heidegger, one of the first and most renowned of the Existentialists.  However, she could not give him a pass on his association with the Nazis.

    Arendt agreed with Husserl that philosophy begins with the consciousness of the person, but this did not lead her into the idealism of Stein and or even that of Husserl and Heidegger.  Action was crucial for her. She recounts a story of her childhood.  She told her Rabbi that she feared that she had lost her faith.  “Who is asking for it?” he replied.  Jewish scholar Emmanuel Levinas commented, “What the Rabbi meant was - doing good is the act of faith in itself.” (p. 205) Arendt saw that action springs from humane loving friendship in an in-human world.  Friends board an Ark like Noah and collaborate in action with those floating in companion Arks. (pp. 209-210)  Hannah Arendt escaped to the United States in 1933.  She believed strongly in the U.S. Constitution.

     The three women, Simone Weil, Edith Stein, and Hannah Arendt did not curse their fate for having to live in the “Dark Times” of the 20th century.  They not only accepted their fate, they loved it.  A subtitle of the book, Three Women in Dark Times is ‘Amor fati – amor mundi’   they loved their fate – they loved the world. (pp. 41- 52, 219-221)

A challenge of the prophet Micah is brought to mind. 

 Yahweh asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly, and walk   humbly with your God.  (Mi, 6:8)

   The three women responded with classical philosophical writing to help in understanding a time which defies understanding.  The universalism of Weil, the empathy of Stein, and the dedication to action of Arendt are only a tiny piece of their philosophical work, but an important aid to understanding and acting in our own dark times.      

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Working Catholic: Division within the Church by Bill Droel

The internal battles are the hardest. The particulars of an internal dispute quickly seem inconsequential but the long term stakes can be significant. For example, during the four years prior to its 1972 convention, the credentials committee of the Democratic National Committee wrangled over delegate seating. The eventual decisions shifted the focus of electoral politics in this country.

The recent Catholic bishops’ Synod on the Family provides a second example. For nearly three years the Synod process was given to debate on relatively obscure rules regarding divorced Catholics and the Eucharist—as if no other issues were of crucial importance to family life. And yet, the eventual outcome of this internal battle might have significance beyond its particulars.

Which brings us to a second observation about internal battles. They are often not about what they are about. This is always the case in polarized battle. “Polarization is not the same thing” as conflict, writes Holly Taylor Coolman of Providence College. Conflict, if conducted fairly, can be resolved satisfactorily. Polarization, by contrast, means two poles with no third or fourth option; no middle ground. Each pole increasingly turns inward, “demanding even purer and more total commitment,” explains Coolman in her contribution to Polarization in the U.S. Catholic Church (Liturgical Press, 2016).

So for example, those who wage a polarized culture war over the serious matter of abortion are not really talking about abortion. For the culture warriors an entire worldview is at stake: the value of individualism, the autonomy of science, indeed the foundations of modernity.  Not everyone who engages the topic of abortion is an ideologue. Some thoughtful people, including those who use an objective moral method, are open to a middle position for the time being. However, someone who proposes the repeal of the Hyde Amendment is on a polarized crusade; no compromise is acceptable.

Which brings us to a third observation about internal battles—one with a twist. Even though a topic is serious, the majority is not invested in either pole on that topic.

The people who are leading the internal battles within U.S. Catholicism are older, Christian Smith of Notre Dame tells us in Polarization in the U.S. Catholic Church. By contrast, “the vast majority” of those in their 20s or 30s “do not care that much.” Based on research, Smith says these young people “are not generally hostile to the church, not antagonistic or fundamentally dissenting. It is more a matter of general indifference.” This is something for Catholic leaders to ponder.

Mary Ellen Konieczny, one of three editors of Polarization in the U.S. Catholic Church, says the same. “Only between 10 and 20% of the American public hold polar positions around most culture wars issues.” Further, “the culture wars debates are waged largely by elites.” And, to repeat Smith’s point, when it comes to Catholic topics, young adults are not among the 10% to 20% who battle the internal issues.

This twist presents a dilemma for U.S. Catholicism. The polar positions of those who battle over the status of divorced Catholics might represent something bigger. Those Catholic leaders who battle over gender requirements for legal marriages might be upholding valuable worldviews. But are these and other internal polar battles a distraction from the crucial project of attracting and retaining young adults in the faith? Is a both/and approach a fallacy—both attention to culture wars and attention to the young adult topics of work and relationships? Does Catholic polarization itself (on the left and right) cause thoughtful young adults (rightly or wrongly) to further disaffect from the faith?

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a free newsletter 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Working Catholic: Yankee, Go Home by Bill Droel

Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, OP of Peru is rightly receiving awards these days for his role in developing liberation theology. His 1973 book, A Theology of Liberation, signaled the end within Catholicism of the Western European theological monopoly. It is also now worthwhile to recall Ivan Illich (1926-2002). In early 1964 he gathered several Latin American theologians and church leaders in Brazil. It was there that the methodology and major themes of what would become libration theology took shape. Thus, Illich “played a major role in fostering liberation theology” and subsequently in its propagation, writes Todd Hartch in The Prophet of Cuernavaca (Oxford University Press, 2015).

Illich was born in Austria and was ordained to the priesthood in 1951. Later that year he was sent to Princeton University to do research. He served among Puerto Ricans in a Manhattan parish. Cardinal Francis Spellman (1889-1967) was impressed with Illich and so appointed him a rector to a university in Puerto Rico. Illich, at age 31, was made a monsignor—the youngest ever in the United States.

Today, the required reading list for a college class might include one or another book by Illich. The class will be in education, philosophy or social science. Hartch’s contribution is to put Illich squarely inside Catholicism and inside the priesthood. “He is best understood as a Catholic priest of conscious orthodoxy grappling with the crisis of Western modernity,” says Hartch. Thus, Illich’s later critiques of education, medicine and other institutions are but further examples of his prime example, the church.

The church loses its mission, said Illich, when it adopts a modern business model with its preoccupation with status, obsession with money, a fondness for measurable outcomes, a disposition to bureaucratic processes, an overuse of vacuous language and more. Illich devised an unusual way of reforming the church. He started, Hartch details, “an anti-missionary training center designed to discourage would-be missionaries” at the very moment that the Vatican and the U.S. bishops made a significant commitment to sending missionaries to Latin and South America.

Illich believed that the church’s mission effort had lost its original aspiration. Like many modern institutions, the unintended bad side effects outweighed the good intentions. Programs directed from North America to South America under the banner of development amounted to more colonialism, he said. Illich, to be clear, was not against the church and its essential missionary endeavors. Nor subsequently was he opposed to medicine, education, transportation and the like. He felt, however, that once a threshold of modern bureaucracy had taken hold, the church impedes faith, the schools hamper learning and hospitals discourage wellness.

Hundreds of missionaries attended Illich’s center in Cuernavaca because it offered the best language class, the best cultural analysis and on-and-off again the latest theological insights—all the while telling the missionaries, in effect “to go home.”

Illich, like all prophets, was contradictory. For example, here was a missionary of sorts who came from Europe to New York, then went to Puerto Rico and onto Mexico saying that imported religious education and devotions are types of disabling help. No surprise then that his anti-missionary effort had contradictory results. The number of Western European and North American missionaries to Latin America indeed dropped well below the goals set by bishops. At the same time, members of religious orders and other missionary types went back into their North American and European settings with a passion for opening the whole church to its global mission, particularly its solidarity with the poor.

As for Illich, his influence on many Catholic leaders was significant but his footing within Catholic structures was unfixed. He was for a time in regular conflict with one or another bishop and with the Vatican bureaucracy. “Many have assumed that [Illich] was forced out of the priesthood or even that he renounced Catholicism,” writes Hartch. Not true. Illich knew and believed “that priestly identity was permanent.” During 1967 to 1968 Illich gradually withdrew from active priesthood so that he would not be a source of embarrassment. His precise status defied the usual categories—not exactly a leave of absence, not at all a suspension. Illich was a radical thinker; a person willing to experiment. He was churchman, always “trying to understand the nature of the church and its relationship to his age,” Hartch concludes. 

Droel edits a free newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)

Thursday, November 10, 2016


   A Latino mom, the wife of a board member of the Milwaukee Immigrant Worker’s Center, Voces de la Frontera, reported that kids were crying at school in anticipation of being deported.

   Our seven year-old granddaughter Monique was upset election night.  She was convinced Donald Trump was going to bomb San Francisco.  Dori and John, her parents, assuaged her fears and by bed time she was OK.

   Sunday, December 71941 as a six year old I had similar fears.  We were at my grandparents' for Sunday dinner when we became aware of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Everybody gathered around the radio and I knew the news wasn’t good.  My uncle Ed had already been drafted; all were concerned.

   On the drive home I asked my parents if the war would come to our country.  They said no – not to worry, but I could tell they weren’t sure.  

   As for the age of anxiety in the 50’s, my fears of nuclear warfare were suppressed with little conscious awareness. During serving time in the Army I accepted the threat of war as just part of everyday life.

   I don’t remember ever going to bed as a child with a fear like Monique’s of being bombed; I was willing to accept that it just wouldn’t happen.  But what about the kids in Aleppo – it happened – it’s happening – will we welcome them as refugees or have we been so desensitized by constant war that we will say no?

   Monique’s eight year old cousin Sean in London was empathetic. When he overheard the story of Monique’s worries he said, “She can come to London and sleep in my room if she wants.”

   But Monique is doing fine.  Wednesday at supper she offered a toast: “to Hillary, she will run again – she never gives up.”

Tuesday, November 8, 2016


   Our seven year old granddaughter Monique is as precious to us as life itself, but she’s a handful.  Dori and John trust us to care for her at times and it can be exciting.  She’s quick, she’s a climber, she runs, she zips around on her bike.  Last summer a neighbor cautioned me:  “You should watch her more closely, did you know she is way up in that tree?”  I looked up and was startled. 

   Last winter we spent some time visiting the family in San Francisco.  I was watching a Wolf Blitzer interview with Donald Trump. Monique was dashing around here there and everywhere, but I tried to concentrate on what was being said.  Suddenly Monique was cuddling right next to me.  I tried to focus but Monique had some questions:

“Boppo, does Donald Trump say bad words?”                                       
“Yes! Let’s watch and listen.”                                                   
“Boppo, is he saying bad words now?”                                               
“Why not?”                                                                                                    
“Ahhh – he’s trying to be nice for television?”
"But he’s not nice; he keeps interrupting; does Donald Trump know what nice means?”

   Joanne reports a conversation this summer.  “Grandma if Donald Trump wins we will have to move to another country, but we should all move to the same place.”

   Monique is now playing soccer.  Last week she scored a goal and celebrated running in circles screaming, “I’m Hilary Clinton – I’m Hilary Clinton and I never give up, I never give up.”

   I’m expecting some interesting comments tomorrow.

Friday, November 4, 2016


  The Cubs won the World Series; it’s only a game but let’s get serious.  The structure of being itself has been altered: nothing is sure anymore, we must live life simply making good guesses.
   And now some guesses:  Two games lost in Chicago; could we see this as a reminder that Chicago-land is historically Native American?  After all, the name Chicago comes from the Potawatomi language.  (Field of garlic) 

   As kids we played baseball and football in pasture land just west of Chicago’s Harlem Avenue.  It was formerly a Native American burial ground, but is now ‘developed.’ Thanks to the Great Spirit, the forest preserve across Thatcher Avenue remains.

   Let’s not forget, in 1917 Fred Toney of the Cincinnati Reds and Hippo Vaughn of the Chicago Cubs pitched a double no-hitter.  In the tenth inning Jim Thorpe, the great Native American athlete, squeezed in the winning run for the Reds. 

    The game took place at Weeghman Field renamed Wrigley Field in 1925.  William Wrigley, the gum baron, bought the team in 1921.  Before transferring to Weeghman Field (nothing to do with garlic) the Cubs had won two World Series Championships while playing at West Side Park as their home field.  In contrast, the Cubs have gone 2 for 10 in World Series match-ups at the “friendly confines” of Wrigley Field.  The 1918, Cubs vs. Boston Series, featuring the pitching of Babe Ruth and Hippo Vaughn, was held at the home of the White Sox - Comiskey Park - because it had a larger seating capacity than Weeghman.  The Red Sox and Babe Ruth won the war time Series.  Had Jim Thorpe already fostered the tradition of Cub tragedy in 1917?

   Perhaps the Cubs would do better in Chicago World Series games if the owners, the very wealthy Ricketts family, built a new stadium and then sent some money to the protesters in North Dakota.

   But Cub fans are definitely among the most admirable.  They mirror the Divine in that they have faced stark nothingness for over one-hundred years - with love, created and maintained the Cub entity of frustration - with hope.  And it happened – well deserved congratulations to the fans and the indomitable Cub ball players.  

Note: For full and complete disclosure – Bill Lang played for the Cubs at West Side Park from 1893 – 1899. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


Image result for cubs world seriesRelated image

   I really can’t root for the Cubs.  I was born and raised in Chicago to a family devoted to the White Sox.  Well, most folks in my mother’s family were Cubs fans, but we forgave them for that and for the most part simply ignored their Cubi-ness.  The year I was born (1935) the Cubs won the National League Pennant and, of course, lost in the World Series to the Detroit Tigers.

   In a vain attempt to convert me, my uncle Bud took me to a Cubs game in ’45.  He was not happy when I laughed at Bill – Swish – Nicholson when he struck out.  The Cubs lost in the World Series that year to Hank Greenberg and the Detroit Tigers.

  A neighbor, Steve Austin, was a long time associate of the Cubs.  He knew the players from way back and also was a friend of gum mogul Phil Wrigley the Cubs owner.  Steve took my brother and me to Cubs games.  We went as a duty. Mom said we should be nice to Steve, but my brother John once told Steve that the Cubs were “all gummed up.”  It wasn’t his fault – our Aunt Helen told him to say it.

Johnny Evers 1910 FINAL2sh.jpg

 My claim to fame is that Steve introduced me to Johnny Evers who played in the last World Series won by the Cubs.  Even my Dad was envious.  The double play phrase ‘Tinker to Evers to Chance’ is still used.  I remember also – ‘Miksis to Smalley to Addison’ a border street of Wrigley Field which codified Cub’s shortstop Roy Smalley’s wild throws to first base.  The first black players for the Cubs were hall-of- famer Ernie Banks, shortstop, and Gene Baker, second base.  Double plays were described by Cubs’ announcer Bert Wilson as “Bingo to Bango to first.”  It may be that Bert Wilson is the cause for extending the Cubs’ curse to the present and perhaps the beyond.  
   After the war, (WW II) our aunt Carlotta and uncle Ed lived briefly  with relatives close to Wrigley Field.  Aunt Carlotta took John and me to a game on Ladies’ Day.  A foul ball into the screen behind the plate seemed to be the most exciting event in the ball game.   The crowd sung, and John with them, “whoop boom” as the ball went up and down the screen then to the ground.  I was embarrassed – this is baseball?

   I made friends with the kids in the neighborhood.  We would charge a dollar to watch a parked car during a game to assure it wouldn’t be damaged.  There was more money in this than delivering newspapers or caddying, but then, Carlotta & Ed moved to the far South Side. 

   The Cubs’ opponent in the World Series is the Cleveland Indians.  I think of Lou Boudreau, the manager and star shortstop of the 1948 world champion Indians. Cleveland won the series but lost the first game on a controversial run scored in the eighth inning.  Phil Masi, Boston Braves catcher, was picked off second base by pitcher Bob Feller but was called safe by the umpire.  Photos show shortstop Boudreau tagging Masi out.  A base hit followed and Masi scored the only run of the game.  


   A baseball card show in Milwaukee was attended by Johnny Sain of the old Boston Braves – wining pitcher of the controversial game and Bob Feller of the Indians who, despite pitching a two hitter was the losing pitcher.  Our son Joel asked Sain about the game and to write his comments on an 8 x 12 Johnny Sain photo.  He wrote:

Bill Stewart made a great call when he called Phil Masi safe   John Sain

The next day I accompanied Joel to ask Bob Feller what he thought.  We caught Feller as he entered the hall and he started to apologize for being late.  We showed him the Sain photo and asked for a comment.  Bob Feller was angry and wrote on his photo:

Phil Masi was out by 2 feet in the 1948 WS in Boston World Series we won    Bob Feller

That was the last World Series that Cleveland won.

   Lou Boudreau went on to be a broadcaster for the Cubs then manager – then broadcaster.  Boudreau was from Harvey, a Chicago area town, a University of Illinois basketball player, a great baseball player but not as good as Luke Appling of the White Sox.

   I remember Boudreau being picked off third base by Tony Cuccinello of the White Sox using the ‘hidden ball trick.’  I reminded Boudreau of the incident at a card show, and he said that jogging back to the visitor’s dugout behind first base from third base was very embarrassing.  After all he was the manager, and he considered Chicago as his home town.   
       Will the curse continue?  It is Halloween time, and I wonder what influence the long-gone-but-present-in-spirit Lou Boudreau will have?  Then there’s of course my Aunt Helen and I suspect she may have the most influence in heaven among all the baseball saints. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

School of the Americas Protest 2016

Joanne and I had seen the effects of U.S. imperialism first hand for years in Bolivia so when we returned we naturally took to protesting the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, GA.  The S.O.A. has trained troops for Latin America since 1946.  It was established in Panama then moved to Fort Benning in 1984.  Protests began in 1980’s by Maryknoll priest Roy Bourgeois and continue to this day.  The purpose of the protests was to close the “School” but without success.  This year the protest was in the split border city of Nogales:  Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico.

   We were more than willing to go this year; the protest at the border directly related to our work at the Milwaukee Immigrant Worker Center Voces de la Frontera and The New Sanctuary Movement.  I will relate our personal experience of this year’s protest which, of course, does not capture the totality of the event.  It’s not a story you will find in the corporate media.  (oops –see N.Y. Times Sunday Review 10-17-16)    
   We flew to Phoenix to meet with family living there, then drove to Tucson to meet with Milwaukee friends who would accompany us.  The many Milwaukee\ans who went on the trip were related to “Voces” and/or St. Benedict the Moor parish.

   We drove with two companions both long time S.O.A. activists.  In Tucson we went to the beautiful campus of the University of Arizona to attend an exhibition of border crossing quilts made from clothing of those who risked death in a desert crossing to escape poverty and violence.  The courtesy and kindness of the students in directing us to our destination on campus was moving.  We talked of bringing the exhibition to Milwaukee.

   We headed north of Tucson to the Eloy Immigrant Detention Center run by Corrections Corporation of America.  It is a “for profit” detention center, isolated in the desert, where prisoners receive minimal medical attention and many die as a result.  We were joined by two Capuchin brothers one from Milwaukee and one from Chicago to witness and challenge – evil without shame.

   The first event in Nogales was a Veterans March.  The veterans were protesting against war and the militarization of the border.  The veterans informed us that many undocumented Mexicans who had served in the U.S. military were deported to Mexico after discharge.

  We joined the march where it split; half going to Mexican side of the border.  We went to the Mexican side with our Voces – Sanctuary banner without a problem at the check point.  For some of us it was our first visual encounter with the wall.  It was intimidating and humiliating; we were out in the open in a desert town, but I had a sense of claustrophobia.     

   After a brief rally Joanne and I attended three of the workshops on the Mexican side of the border: “Migration Crisis; From Europe to the United States and Beyond,” presented by CODEPINK; “Borderland Identity: Expectations and Realities” presented by: Colectivo de Dialogo Transfronerizo; and “The Climate Crisis: Refugees and Martyrs in the Americas,” presented by George Martin and Julie Enslow of Milwaukee.  The presentations were excellent – hope was expressed and tears were shed.  The image of Don Quixote jousting with Maquiladores dominated my consciousness.  Workshops were also available on the U.S. side.


 We went to an evening interfaith prayer session at the border that featured offerings by various faith groups.  It was affirming and an inspiration to action.  I became more aware that Faith is a matter of trust and not simply an ascent to particular doctrinized myths.  A Sufi Muslim leader made the connection between Justice and Mercy.

          AL KORAN- Chapter I  IN THE NAME OF THE MOST MERCIFUL ALLAH – Praise be to Allah, the Lord of all creatures; the most merciful, the king of the day of judgment.

 It reminded me of a passage in Zechariah referenced by our New Sanctuary Coordinator, Nayeli Rondin-Valle:

          This is what the LORD Almighty said: Administer true justice – show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner  or the poor.  Zech. 7: 9-10

   On Sunday there was a demonstration at a Check Point north of Nogales.  We were not able to participate because of our various old-age infirmities.  The action lasted several hours and no one was arrested.

   The S.O.A. Watch rally in Nogales was a valuable experience.  We learned a lot and it was a joy to reunite with old friends and to connect in solidarity with the oppressed all over the world.

  It is a frustrating struggle but there is still Hope.  It looks like Humpty Trumpty will get some help in falling off the wall from Latinos as well as other minorities and allies.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Working Catholic: Broken Ladders by Bill Droel

Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, New Mexico, grew up in a small Texas town. There were six Mexican-American families on his block and others nearby. One large family “was unique,” writes Ramirez, a member of the Basilian Fathers, in Power from the Margins: the Emergence of the Latino in the Church and in Society (Orbis Books, 2016). How was this family unique? “They gave high priority to school.”

All parents want the best education for their children. But all families are simultaneously nurtured by and restrained by their environment. An environment that has responsive institutions and thick supportive networks makes it easier for a family to be successful, whole and holy. By contrast, an environment with unaccountable institutions in a relational desert requires extraordinary effort to gain success, wholeness and holiness. There has been deterioration in the “family environments” for Puerto Ricans, Dominican-Americans and Mexican-Americans over the past 40-years, says Ramirez.  A glaring symptom of this deterioration is a high dropout rate.

Latinos have the highest high school dropout rate; double the black rate. As Ramirez implies, this rate has grown by about 50% during his 40-year timeline. Of those in college, the majority do not attain a bachelor’s degree within six years of enrolling. Of those Latinos who begin at a community college over 75% do not earn a bachelor’s degree even within eight years. These attrition rates come at a time when a degree is the primary economic ladder.

Ramirez profiles a handful of small though suggestive experiments designed to improve the education completion rate for Latinos.  Cristo Rey High School Network is sponsored by the Jesuits. There are about 30 of these schools with perhaps 300 students in each. Each student is matched with an employer—someone identified through Jesuit contacts among the order’s alumni and friends. The student is employed at least five days per month at the company or firm. Often a mentor relationship emerges through the employment. There is, as befitting any Jesuit school, rigorous classroom study and homework.

Nativity Miguel Network drew inspiration from the Jesuit experiment. It gained momentum from the De LaSalle Christian Brothers. It has 64 middle schools that require extended hours in the classroom during the week. These schools also have a longer academic schedule. The graduates are monitored/mentored into high school.

Ramirez mentions the Alliance for Catholic Education at University of Notre Dame. As part of their degree program, some Notre Dame students teach in Catholic schools. A typical placement is in a Latino neighborhood for two years. In addition to their competence, the college students bring the social capital of their friends to the project—not only during the two years, but ideally for the near future.  

The notion of social capital is critical. One student alone will not likely move up the ladder. It is only by joining lots of otherwise disparate pieces that Latinos will succeed. Cristo Rey and other promising programs know the importance of getting the entire family into the school picture. After that, success parallels the interest taken by small businesses, community organizations, parishes and more.

Social capital is not automatically accumulated; it cannot be assumed. Deliberate face-to-face encounter is necessary. Thus any intervention or program on behalf of students cannot be only about tutoring for information content. It is about the fourth R: reading, [w]riting, [a]rithmetic and relationships.
Ramirez puts the secret in faith language: Effective school programs must allow people to personally and collectively interpret their own story as “a real occasion of grace” and understand it as a contribution to “the entire church,” the whole people of God.

Footnote: The terms Hispanic and Latino are, in my opinion, political contrivances meant to put several distinct cultures into a single voting block or a concise demographic. I prefer to use a hyphenated-American style. However, in keeping with Ramirez this article uses Latino.

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a newsletter about faith and work.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Working Catholic: 501-C-3 By Bill Droel

According to an IRS rule, churches (and other non-profits) “are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in or intervening in any political campaign.” The current Republican Party platform, reports Kevin Baker (N.Y. Times, 8/28/16), wants the rule overturned. The platform plank is a response to some evangelical organizations that desire more direct electoral influence. Catholic institutions wisely know that the current “no politicking” rule is better politically and better theologically.
The current tax-exemption rule is better politically because it saves face for Catholic institutions. They simply cannot deliver the vote. Catholic voters no longer take their cues from Church employees. In fact, when a pastor or bishop wades too deeply into a partisan area, his parishioners drift to the other side.
Likewise, a change in the tax-exemption rule would be bad for Catholic institutions because neither electoral party clearly reflects the moral positions of Catholicism.
A change in the no-politicking rule is also bad theology, or to use jargon, bad ecclesiology.
If a Catholic is prompted to reflect on models of the church, she or he might reply: “My parish uses a collaborative model” or “Our pastor has an authoritarian model.” There is, however, a less parochial way to think about models of the church.  That is, to think about how the church is situated within society and culture.

Back in the Middle Ages the church was nearly synonymous with society. Its bishops were the primary influence agents and—for better or worse—acted directly in the palaces and courts of the elites.

With modernity Catholicism (now differentiated from Protestantism) experimented with different models in different locales. For example, in what could be called the lay auxiliary model, Catholicism developed parallel organizations (unions, professional guilds, Christian Democratic parties) designed to extend “the apostolate of the hierarchy.” The goal was to offset some secular trends and, after 1848 specifically, to combat atheistic communism. This model was more popular in Europe than in the U.S.

Eventually at Vatican II (1962-1965), Catholicism adopted the cultural-pastoral model. Church institutions in this model are fully separate from civil and secular support. Not because Catholicism is opposed to modernity, but because it has better credibility if its institutions are apolitical. This model is premised on lay Christians taking full, independent responsibility for diminishing injustice in workplaces, bringing harmony to family and neighborhood life, promoting the common good in civic associations and enhancing dignity in culture. Lay people act not as representatives of their bishop, but as baptized Christians, eager to cooperate with God’s on-going creation and redemption.

 It is true that 50 years after Vatican II a bishop here and there speaks too specifically about partisan topics. Why? Perhaps because he doesn’t understand or accept Vatican II? Or maybe because he is bored with his proper duty? A bishop is to constantly and sometimes loudly teach Catholic doctrine, including its planks on the right to life, the right of workers to make independent decisions about labor unions, about the integrity of the family, about hospitality to strangers, about dignity regardless of race or sexual orientation, about the social sin of poverty and more. It is a theological and political mistake, however, when a bishop in his ecclesial role expresses an opinion about a zoning matter, about increasing or lowering government farm subsidies, about what he thinks is the best legislative approach for reducing the number of abortions, about allocation of police personnel in various city districts and more. In recent years a few bishops have even tipped their miter toward the Republican presidential candidate. (They cannot do so in the 2016 race because the Republican candidate is blatantly anti-immigrant among other objections.)

When told he is getting a tad too specific and thereby violating Vatican II’s cultural-pastoral model, a bishop says in effect: “Well, the laity are not properly formed in the faith. They even support some anti-Catholic public policies. I therefore have to set the record straight.” This is a circular argument. The more Church employees in their role as employees talk about partisan positions, the less interested are the laity in the teachings of our faith.

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a newsletter about faith and work.