Parishoners' Stories

OLL's Peace and Justice Committee has asked members of our greater parish community to submit personal stories reflecting on how they feel called to live out one element of the OLL Statement of Commitment and Action to Living Catholic Social Teaching. We are presenting them here.

We Will Listen And Respect All Voices

the Catholic Social Teaching principle that we as human beings are all part of one human family. It is not the “vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortune of so many people, both near and far.” (St. John Paul II) but to actively love and strive for their dignity. However, there are nearly 7 billion people and to practice solidarity, I must first see their brothers and sisters in Christ as they are and not who I want them to be. To do so, I must listen and respect all voices.

So I read memoirs to know other’s stories. Stories provide insight, nuance, complexity; and connection. It is a wonderful way to acknowledge other’s stories, fears, hopes, dreams, and beliefs across divides of time, language, place, culture, and any other difference. There are hundreds of stories of the human experience waiting to be read and understood.

Variation is key. The author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warned of the “danger of a single story”; that without diversity in stories not only is much about the human experience lost and limited, but stories become only about “the other” and limit solidarity.

Through these stories, I hear the stories of those I will never meet and lives I will never live. In Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive, Stephanie Land told me about the isolation, shame, and difficulty of poverty. Dr. Kay Redfield Jemison spoke eloquently of her bipolar disorder in An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness. In Dream of Trespass, I learned about life in a Moroccan harem in the 20th century, destroying all preconceived notions I had about family life in a harem.

The most valuable and most difficult is faithfully reading stories of those I disagree with on a fundamental level with an open heart and mind. There are stories of conversion away from Christianity, like The Butterfly Mosque, a writer’s story of conversion to Islam. There are stories of those who are vilified, like This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor by Dr. Susan Wicklund, who opened my eyes to the complexity of abortion in America.

My responsibility to understand to practice solidarity does not end when I close the book. Reading is merely the tool to be a better citizen and neighbor through greater understanding of the world and its people. Additionally, Christianity dictates to speak the truth at all time, but before speaking, I must know the truth.

I will never stop reading and sharing what I learn, for it is a little way I can listen and respect all voices, a way to honor the dignity of the human person.

--Jena (February 23, 2020)

We will welcome the stranger.

My family is Irish to the core. Throughout my childhood I heard the story of my great grandmother's immigration to the United States in steerage - "in the bottom of the boat" - at the age of 16. She never set foot in a boat or large body of water again. She never saw her parents or Ireland again. I have often wondered if I would have had the courage to immigrate as she did. Although the Irish were called a variety of unpleasant names and were often unable to find work that provided a living wage, they had one big advantage over many of today's immigrants - the color of their skin. Once our brogue was lost, we Irish melted into the crowd.

A young Hispanic woman cleaned house for us a few years ago. I soon learned she was married to a U.S. citizen and they had a toddler. She was delightful - always upbeat and positive, sharing stories about her child. I finally found the courage to ask if she had a green card - adding that her response was inconsequential to me and she certainly did not have to answer. After a brief hesitation she said they had never had the funds to pay for the immigration process. So, with the help of a small inheritance and donations from friends and family, I began that immigration journey with her. I had no idea how difficult it would be - emotionally and financially.

She arrived in the U.S. at the age of 15. She had been living with her baby sister and stepfather in Mexico while her mother cleaned houses in the U.S. A coyote was hired to bring her here when her mother learned that her stepfather was molesting her. She told me that she walked through the desert over the border for several days - with a couple bottles of water and tuna fish. To this day she does not eat tuna fish. She arrived in Washington State speaking no English and with very little education - and graduated from U.S. high school a couple years later.

I was surprised to learn she and her family were homeless. They had been evicted because she did not have a Social Security number. She asked me why people hated her because her skin was brown. She did not have a driver's license or auto insurance - no money for that. Her vehicle was falling apart. One snowy day she slid on ice and landed on a bush. A police officer came by to help - and arrested her since she had no ID or license. I learned all about bailing someone out of jail that day. I testified in court on her behalf - and she got a license and insurance. She told me if she is deported she will not take her beloved child with her. She does not want her to live in such poverty. Luckily for me my great grandmother never had to even consider making that choice.

Her application for U.S. residency was submitted almost 3 years ago. We were relieved and so excited when she received her green card last Tuesday. I hope that future generations of her family will remember and cherish her courage and determination just as my family remembers my great grandmother.

--Mary (October 12, 2019)