Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Just Mercy - a review

   A friend, a labor union president, recommended the book, Just Mercy.  He said, “It offered me a new perspective that I never imagined.”  The book is written by Bryan Stevenson, a defense attorney who specializes in defending death row prisoners and others with patently unjust sentences.

  The setting for the book is Monroe County, Alabama, the home of Walter McMillian, an innocent man, convicted of murder.    The story tells of his redemption, but is interspersed with other capital cases that violate a basic understanding of justice, yet are perpetuated by ‘the government of the people.’ Ultimately the book explores the themes of justice and mercy.

  In the first chapter Stevenson points out parallels of the Walter McMillian story to the famous book and movie, To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee.  Walter’s story takes place in the racist south, Monroe County, Alabama (named Maycomb in Mocking Bird); it’s about a Black man falsely convicted of murder, but conscientiously defended by a local lawyer Atticus Finch.  In the Mocking Bird, however, the innocent man, Tom Robinson, is convicted and is killed trying to escape prison.  After years of imprisonment Walter McMillian was exonerated through the legal efforts of Bryan Stevenson.

   Stevenson writes:

This book is about getting closer to mass incarceration and extreme punishment in America.  It is about how easily we condemn people in this country and the injustice we create when we allow fear, anger and distance to shape the way we treat the most vulnerable among us. [1]

He goes on to note that this is a national psychological problem. Let’s call it a collective sickness. Stevenson is asking: how can we treat fellow human beings in this way?

   Just Mercy also relates to Harper Lee’s novel Go Set a Watchman.  To Kill a Mocking Bird was published in 1960, but the recently published Watchman was written before Mocking Bird.

   Watchman takes place in the 50’s and predicts the turbulence ahead for the South and the work of Bryan Stevenson.  In Watchman, Scout – Jean Louise, challenges her father Atticus, who is a just man in the southern U.S. culture.  She notes that Atticus’s concept of justice is an abstract notion. “You love justice, all right, abstract justice written down item by item on a brief.” [2]

     Stevenson writes:

Paul Farmer, the renowned physician who has spent his life trying to cure the world’s sickest and poorest people, once quoted me something that the writer Thomas Merton said: We are bodies of broken bones. I guess I’d always known but never fully considered that being broken is what makes us human.[3]

   How do we move forward after reading Just Mercy The story of Stevenson’s experience with the legal system and with Walter McMillian leads the reader of his work, to agree with him that mercy and compassion are requisites to true justice. To acquire the potential for mercy requires getting in touch with both the prison system and the people it treats unjustly. Political action should follow.  

“Mercy is where justice is meant to terminate.”[4]

Artwork from a young immigrant detained in a Wisconsin prison. 

Rules there do not allow colored pens, pencils, crayons.  
He created color by rubbing it from magazines and using alcohol extracted from his deoderant.

[1] Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy, Spiegel & Grau, New York, p. 14.
[2] Harper Lee, Go Set Watchman. Harper Lee, New York, p. 248.
[3] Stevenson, Ibid.
[4] Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, “Catholic Herald,” May 19, 2016.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Working Catholic: Parishes, Part III by Bill Droel

Outreach and mission must set a parish’s goals, not inherited routines or personality quirks of the leaders. Outreach and mission directly inform an enlivened liturgy, especially the music and preaching. Doors are open wide to new arrivals. One Chicago parish, for example, has a sign above the church entrance: Witamy, Welcome, Bienvenidos.

Some new arrivals are immigrants; others come by way of a process called gentrification. Nowadays, in contrast to the bubble years preceding 2007, gentrification is usually a slow process. An observant parish leader understands that today’s gentrification includes more than young professionals remodeling lofts. It embraces teachers and health care workers (nurses, technicians, researchers, graduate students and more). It includes young information and service workers who find walking to work or to groceries and restaurants attractive.

Gentrification is not an unqualifiable good. Any church true to the gospel must be for the poor, including for the elderly. However, a parish’s obligation to give primacy to the poor is not a rationale for dependency on the diocesan welfare system. Gentrification is an opportunity for the parish to add competent leaders and have financial independence. But gentrification is a positive only when parish leaders engage in sophisticated negotiations. How many housing units are designated low to moderate income? How many jobs are given to local residents? What is the procedure for a parish to refer potential new residents (of all income levels) to developments?

Similar to their critical stance toward gentrification, parish leaders must put aside any interest they might have, no matter how unwittingly, in keeping the parish poor. Neighborhood upgrading is not in itself a threat to a parish’s mission. After all, for most of U.S. Catholic history, the parish saw its role as moving the poor and under-educated into the mainstream.

The Code of Canon Law says that a parish “is to embrace all Christ’s faithful.” Thus, entrepreneurial parish leaders systematically develop relationships with the daytime occupants of nearby hospitals, supermarkets, colleges, mental health agencies and government buildings. These leaders also identify and meet with the women religious, brothers, chaplains, priests and lay ministerial professionals who happen to live in or near the parish. They make similar contacts among nearby Orthodox Christian leaders and Protestants.

The Code of Canon Law also instructs parishes to open their facilities to neighborhood groups, presuming the group’s agenda is not hostile to Catholic doctrine and presuming the group’s use of the facility does not conflict with the normal parish schedule. Most parishes are hospitable to 12-Step groups, scout troops and the like. An outreach and mission-centered parish goes further, personally extending the invitation to the local chamber of commerce, to social service agency staff, to public school administrators, book clubs and more. Of course, an aggressively hospitable parish needs an extra part-time janitor.

Parish planning usually means: What must be closed or consolidated? Planning premised on outreach and mission begins with signs of strength: Under what conditions will this parish thrive? The usual planning process amounts to death planning. A better process nourishes life.

Up next: schools, high-rise buildings, daytime workers and changes in suburbia.

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

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Working Catholic: Domestic Workers by Bill Droel

Domestic workers—nannies and eldercare assistants--are a major part of the growing personal service job sector. There are more than 200,000 domestic workers in New York State alone. What is it like?

Rachel Aviv profiles one domestic worker in The New Yorker (4/11/16). Emma is from Bukidnon Province in the Philippines. Even with some college education and a government job, Emma and husband Edmund could not support their nine children. So she comes to New York City; specifically to Woodside, Queens where more than 13,000 Filipinos live within walking distance to the 61st St. & Roosevelt Ave. number 7 subway stop.

The United States exports products: fuel, cinema, semiconductors and more. The Philippines deliberately exports its women. The government there promotes “labor exportation as a strategy for relieving poverty and alleviating the national debt,” Aviv writes. The immigrant women send a substantial part of their earnings home to family members who, in turn, boost consumption in Philippines. A few years ago the Filipino president asked the immigrants to stay abroad. “We are depending on [you],” the president said. “Send money to your relatives here… You should stay there.”

Emma’s first job in the United States was in Hillary Clinton’s Westchester County neighborhood. Other jobs followed. After meeting basic expenses, Emma “sent all her earnings home, except for $20, her weekly allowance.” Her daughters received most of the money, Aviv details. “But she also fulfilled requests from her sisters, colleagues and friends.”

A strain of emotional insecurity weaves in and around Emma’s family. The daughters back home underappreciate their mother’s sacrifice—or so Emma feels. They want money and the latest fashions from the United States. Emma spent $65 per month to ship clothes to the Philippines. Emma, for her part, has doubts about her husband. On occasion she suspects waywardness from the daughters, yet they complete their education. The back-and-forth tugs are strong. However, by the time Emma is introduced to New Yorker readers, she has been in the United States 16 years without a visit home.

 Thankfully nothing horrendous happens to Emma on the job, or at least Aviv does not report any instances. Wage theft, harassment, or other workplace evils are nonetheless common for domestic workers. Labor statutes on wages, sick days, overtime and more sometimes do not apply to domestic workers. Federal laws do not cover companions; that is babysitters and those caregivers for the elderly who do not perform medical tasks or run errands, though companions who sleep overnight are covered on wages, but not on other matters. Fifteen states have domestic worker laws that at least in some provisions exceed Federal standards.

Domestic workers, let’s face it, are vulnerable because they are isolated. If a dispute arises, their testimony will likely carry less weight than the employer’s.

Some organizations strive to improve the situation for domestic workers. For example, the Diocese of Brooklyn (www.dioceseofbrooklyn.org) has a Catholic Migrant Office in the neighborhood where Emma and many other domestic workers reside. It provides some services and engages in advocacy.

Since 2000 the National Domestic Workers Alliance (www.domesticworkers.org), headquartered in New York and with 43 affiliates in 26 cities, has successfully defended some mistreated workers and has lobbied for legal protections. Its thorough report on domestic workers is titled Home Economics. NDWA’s founder Ai Jen Poo is not only concerned about domestic workers but also about care for our elderly. Her book, The Age of Dignity (The New Press, 2015), is a resource for grown children who now care for their parents.

Damayan (www.damayanmigrants.org), to mention a third group, is a New York-based advocacy center for domestic workers. It claims 8,000 dues-paying members in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, mostly Filipino.

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

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Father Jerome – War and Its Legacy

World War I, 1914-1918 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin. 

JOHNNY, I HARDLY KNEW YE (Irish traditional)

With your guns and drums and drums and guns, haroo, haroo
With your guns and drums and drums and guns, haroo, haroo
With your guns and drums and drums and guns
The enemy nearly slew ye.’
Oh my darling, dear ye look so queer, Johnny I hardly knew ye.

According to several sources the song, ‘Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye’ dates from the early 1800s.  Irish troops were heavily recruited by England to serve in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).  During the American Civil War, the song was re-framed as a celebratory one, ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home.’  A side note: ‘Johnny we hardly knew ye’ was a comment by Cardinal Cushing at John Kennedy’s funeral.

          Jan Maher, Most Dangerous Women – Script, Dog Hollow Press,      Plattsburg, NY, 2015, p. 3 & 95.

 I remember my mother talking about her uncle, Father Jerome (religious name; Timothy was his baptismal name).  He stayed with the family in Chicago for a short time before being established as a priest in Sioux City, Iowa.  My mother said that she thought he was strange.  Father Jerome insisted that she and her younger brother go over to the church and go to confession even before their scheduled First Communion and First Confession.  They went to the Catholic school, had religion classes, and were surprised by their uncle-priest’s insistence that they move ahead of the school’s timetable.  Mom explained that Father Jerome suffered from ‘shell shock,’ now called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Father Jerome had served as a chaplain in the British Army during WWI. 

   Timothy Walsh (Fr. Jerome) was born in Coolaclarig, Ireland in 1878, a time of rebellion over land domination by the British.  My grandmother told me that the family was evicted from their farm, but forced the sheriff and his men to carry them out of their home.

   At 16 years old, Timothy joined the Franciscan Order and was sent to England for studies.  He was given the Latin name Hieronymus – Jerome in English.  ‘Jerome’ was ordained a priest in 1901 and assigned as a chaplain in the British Army in 1915 and served in France.  Father Jerome was discharged in 1919.  He left the Franciscans, emigrated to the U.S. and joined the diocese of Sioux City, Iowa as a parish priest.  He died in Keokuk, Iowa in 1928 and was buried in Chicago’s Calvary Cemetery.  My grandmother traveled from Chicago to Keokuk when his health became critical.  The hospital report said he died of ‘Septic exhaustion neurosis, (shell shock)’ now called post traumatic stress disorder.  My brother and my uncle’s middle name is Jerome and I have a first cousin named Timothy.  They are all named after my grandmother’s brother, Father Timothy, Jerome Walsh.

   Other possible influences on the family: An uncle refused bombing runs in WW II and transferred to the Medical Corps.  My brother and a first cousin were rejected for conscientious objector status during the Viet Nam war.  Did Fr. Jerome stories have anything to do with my vocation to the priesthood?

   A docent at the Imperial War Museum in London told me that in WWI Roman Catholic chaplains were on the front lines in contrast to the Church of England chaplains who stayed back.

   What was it like for Father Jerome on the front lines?  Consider an excerpt of a letter of a Finnish officer defending Finland from invading Russians, a letter written to his brother in winter of 1940:

Dear Brother,

…If there had not been that frightful, tearing artillery fire with its rending explosions, one would almost have pity for the grey Russian masses.  … Obediently and silently, they came … against the death spitting mouths of our machine guns… Murderous fire swept the field time after time leaving only twisting heaps of bodies, which soon became immobile.  …

One would have felt sorry for these grey hordes marching to the slaughter, but the incessant artillery fire aroused merciless hate in us who were subjected to it.

    I am not ashamed to confess that artillery fire to me, as well as to most others, is simply revolting.  I have not yet suffered from ‘artillery sickness,’ although I feel like pressing my hands against my ears and crying out in pain.  The explosion of six inch shells on an average of every fourth second during nine consecutive hours, the incessant detonations, screaming splinters and blinding bursts of flame create in our bodies unspeakable terror, which can be overcome only by exercising one’s entire psychic courage…
Yours, Lassie

 Virginia Cowles, Looking for Trouble, Harper Brothers, New York & London, 1941, p. 323.

So many questions remain; I would appreciate your comments.  Consider and respond to one, some, or all of the following:

What would Sir Roger Casement say?                                                                 

Sir Roger Casement, a knighted subject of the King, was hanged as a traitor for his involvement in the 1916 Easter Rising for Irish independence.  Seumas MacManus, in his book Ireland’s Case,  (Irish Publishing Co., N.Y. 1917, pp. 208-9,) argues that Casement did nothing more than Sir Edward Carson of Northern Ireland who appealed for help from Germany’s Kaiser in trying to prevent Home Rule for Ireland.  Carson became a Cabinet member.              

For the full story see:  Mario Vargas Llosa, The Dream of the Celt, Picador, New York, 2010.

Why would an Irish - Franciscan priest volunteer as a chaplain in the British Army?

Why would Roman Catholic priests be on the front line while Church of England chaplains stay in the rear?

Did Father Jerome’s religion fail him?     

What is the evolution of this term, PTSD?    

Is there ever an end to war?  Why protest – what good does it do?