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 Go Deeper in Faith

France is important in my life and faith. My pregnant mother liked how Lorraine sounded as she took notes on the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine for my father’s PhD thesis and so they named me Lorraine. I earned a PhD in French Literature, in the process meeting Dennis. I lived in Paris for parts of high school and college and with Dennis and our children in 1986.

Eighteen years ago, I spent three days visiting favorite Paris places. At the top of my list was the Chapel of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, otherwise known as the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal at 140, rue du Bac, a couple of blocks from our 1986 apartment. The kids and I discovered it set in a courtyard behind a high wall and gate near our neighborhood playground. In that Chapel Mary appeared to St. Catherine of Labouré three times, on July 18-19, Nov. 27, and in Dec. 1830, and asked her the second time to have the Miraculous Medal struck on the model she showed her, with the words, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you” on one side and told her that “the persons who wear it will receive great graces; the graces will be inexhaustible for those who have confidence.”

I knelt a long time before Mary’s statue at the side altar asking for guidance. I had sat through a Mass for Chinese pilgrims. There came an image of my ten extended fingers with short rays coming from them. The image did not come from me. On the Miraculous Medal Mary is portrayed with long rays extending from her fingers made of rows of precious stones. St. Catherine recounted that the beauty and brilliance of the rays were so magnificent and that Mary said to her about them: “This is the symbol of the graces which I will pour out on the persons who ask me for them.” Where the precious stones emitted no rays, Mary said: “Those stones which give off no rays represent the graces that people forget to ask me for.” So, like with so much about faith, I was left puzzled and challenged by what that gift at Mary’s altar that summer day meant. The image continues to leave its power and challenge within me. Trust in her; ask grace always from her; try yourself to give out graces in small and bigger ways.

On a visit years later to that same neighborhood, Dennis and I visited the Chapel of St. Vincent de Paul, 95 rue de Sèvres. There, above the altar and reached by a staircase, is the reliquary of St. Vincent de Paul, who had appeared to St. Catherine in a dream when she was 19 and said: “My daughter, it is good to care for the sick. You run away from me now, but one day you will be happy to come to me. God has designs on you! Do not forget it!” Years later, while visiting a house of the Daughters of Charity in Châtillon-sur-Seine where her father had sent her so that she would not become a nun, she saw a picture on the wall and said: “There is the priest I saw in my dream! It is truly he, but who is he?” “Our Founder, St. Vincent de Paul,” replied the young Sister who accompanied her. She decided then and there to become a Sister of Charity. St. Vincent de Paul lived from 1581-1660.

While standing with my arms outstretched by the reliquary with his body inside, I prayed to him for guidance, remaining there after Dennis had descended the stairs. I received a message: “Abaissez-vous!” Gently and softly: “Lower yourself!” Said in the more formal and respectful French “vous,” not “tu.” The message lingers in me. It is a message to be humble, avoid pride, aspire to be a servant, be lowly.

Little did I know when we found our 1986 rue St Placide apartment that Mary, St. Catherine of Labouré and St. Vincent de Paul would guide, challenge and love me in these ways years later.

--Lorraine (Oct 15, 2019)

My faith is alive because of God’s grace. I was Roman Catholic raised and Jesuit trained for 8 years. Trying to live my faith through various ministries had still left me yearning to know what God wanted of me in my life. Reading the many works of Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen helped give me a firmer foundation in my faith. Being involved with planning Thanksgiving and family liturgies through the years strengthened my belief of putting words into action and relying on the Holy Spirit’s grace. My involvement with the Consoling Grace ministry has helped me realize the importance of Parish outreach to grieving families after the death of a loved one. Being a Eucharistic Minister, both at Church and to the home-bound, allowed me to feel the need for Jesus Christ’s presence in recipients.

I had a breakthrough after hearing the call to follow the Examen of St. Ignatius. Through the mentorship of Fr. Bill Watson, I took up this call to go deeper into my faith through daily prayer. After completion of the prescribed materials I have tried to be faithful to two, fifteen minute sessions (upon arising and at bedtime) for eight years. I worked through various reasons to discontinue these daily exercises. Today, these two, fifteen minute moments are an essential part of my life. Recently I have added a three minute reflection in the morning that incorporates scriptural passages. This has helped me to gain more insight in my daily praying.

Going deeper into my faith is a journey that has its highs and lows. I want to listen to what God has to say, but more often I am presenting my issues and thoughts. The Examen is a way to focus on always listening, watching, and praying. I have learned how important gratitude is in my life. I look at my life as a series of blessings that comes from the grace of God. I have experienced God’s answers to my prayers while still waiting for answers to others. My ways are not God’s ways, and my time is definitely not God’s time. Learning this has helped me to be patient while accepting small changes as God’s way of doing his will.

I was fortunate to have a career as a pharmacist, but after retiring, I felt that there were other ways to live out my faith, to give back through some of my talents. Through my discernment, I was drawn to helping teachers in the classroom. For almost five years, I have found it a tremendous blessing to work with students whom teachers felt more one-on-one attention would make a difference. Some of these days are challenging as I have needed to call upon the Holy Spirit to grace me with patience, wisdom, and understanding. Regardless, I have found much joy in this.

The wind blows where it may. The Spirit flows through all of us. I am continuously seeking to be awake and aware.

--John (Jan 12,2020)

Our faith permeates everything that we do, but sometimes we do not recognize the work of the Spirit guiding us through our vocations. In 2003, I was hired for a one-year position as an assistant professor of biology. Jumping into this faculty position intimidated me because I wasn’t sure how my lifelong Catholic faith would fit within the culture of this evangelical university. However, working in a faith-filled community forced me to rethink aspects of my own spiritual life. At our weekly departmental meetings, we begin with prayer. At first, I was not comfortable leading the group because I was used to praying in a more formal way, using structured Catholic prayers. Over time, I learned to feel the Spirit working within me as I prayed for the intentions of members of my department. Being stretched through unfamiliar faith practices also has helped me to reflect on the aspects of Catholicism that are central to my personal faith practice. As a Catholic, sacramental participation is a fundamental part of my faith experience. Serving as a Eucharistic minister at Mass lets me witness the transformative power of God’s sacrifice.

For the first time in my life, in this faculty position, I also was asked to explicitly connect my faith with my work. As I reflected on connections between faith and science, I realized that I had partitioned my faith life from my academic life without examining the intersections between the two. Although I believed then and still believe that the idea of God as creator is compatible with evolution, I had not thought deeply about how faith might be challenged by a modern understanding of biology. In graduate school, I had learned that humans were not unique or better than other animals because of our shared evolutionary history. Although it was not stated overtly, the subtext was that we are not created in the image of God. However, I began to recognize that humans are unique in the ability to develop covenant relationships with God. The physiological mechanisms that underlie our behavior may be shared, but we possess the unique capability of developing and growing in faith.

As I read books and articles in attempt to understand why many of my evangelical students struggled with evolution, I also sought to better understand the Catholic position by taking an online course about “Faith and Science: The Catholic Approach” through the University of Notre Dame. In this class, we focused on the unique characteristics of faith and science, this history behind perceived conflicts between faith and science, and reconciling scriptural accounts of creation with a scientific understanding of evolution. One of my favorite quotes from the materials for this course was: “There can never be a real conflict between faith and reason, since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, and God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth” (Vatican I Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith).

--Janet (Apr 14, 2020)

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 Lift Up The Truth

When I was young I read the book by Leon Uris, Exodus: a Novel of Israel.  I was taken with the dramatic migrant story of the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people after WWII.  As with all stories, for many years I didn’t know there was another story behind the Exodus and the newly formed State of Israel, a story of 750,000 resistant Palestinians who were killed or displaced from their homes by Jewish Zionist groups and forced into refugee camps. 

I was raised to believe that persons from other religions don’t have the same rights and dignity before God as Christians.  With Muslims in particular, I found them exotic at best and not to be trusted at worst.  Along with this belief system inevitably comes the conscious or unconscious belief that ‘they’ are not as good or worthy as I am.  The notion of America First has been around since the founding of our country – for white Christian Americans.

Our Lady of the Lake is a member of Kairos Puget Sound Coalition, a network of Christian congregations and organizations in the Puget Sound region working for justice, peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land.   As a member of the Board for this organization, I have come a long way from the young person awe-struck by the Exodus.

In the news Palestinians, as a whole, are portrayed as a terrorist group with the sole intent of destroying the State of Israel.  I’ve come to learn another side of the story concerning the Palestinian people.  Muslim and Christian Palestinians seek the same rights and privileges afforded to the Jewish population in Israel.  On the news I hear that Israel is a democratic nation – but for whom?  Sometimes the truth is hard to swallow.  With a certain amount of disbelief and grieving, I have had to come to terms with a different ‘truth’ regarding Israel and the Palestinians that is not simple and one-sided.  I didn’t want to believe Israel, the people of the Holocaust, were just as capable of exclusivity and racism as I was.

In Catholic social teaching all are made in the image of God and have dignity worthy of my respect.  This year for Lent, I feel a strong tug to pray and fast (beyond giving up chocolate) and to experience how the sacrifice of fasting strengthens my relationship with God, clarifies what God wants of me, brings me in solidarity with the poor and hungry, and calls me to find the truth underneath my relationship with those who are not part of my world view.  May God continue to give me a change of heart to see all life in the light of the Gospel message of love, reconciliation, and peace.

--Linda (Mar 10, 2019)

We will live our belief that all people are made in God’s image.

My father’s grandparents were Mormons. They had converted to the new faith in Scotland in the 1840s. It was a time of disruption when the Industrial Revolution was mechanizing calico printing, the family’s artisan trade, making it ever harder to make a living. Just at that time, Mormon missionaries arrived, preaching that God had given the world a new prophet, Joseph Smith, and that his successor, Brigham Young, was building a kingdom in the West to which God’s chosen were gathering to prepare for the millennium, the end times.

n the early 1850s the converted family made the hard seven-month journey to Utah by sailing ship and covered wagon. But when they arrived, it was not the heaven on earth they had longed for. Far from it. They soon realized that they had arrived during a fanatical period. The family began to doubt, but to doubt was dangerous: some neighbors were murdered simply because they had lost their faith and tried to leave for California. Frightened, the family asked the U.S. Army for help in escaping Utah. The army gave them a military escort half way across Nevada and out of danger. From there they went on to California.

Soon there were no more Mormons in my family. Nevertheless I had inherited their story along with a prejudice against the Mormon religion. With a degree in history, I set out to discover why they had converted and what led to their disillusionment. I began making research trips to Salt Lake City to their genealogy library and then the Church Archives. The latter was a scary place, in the headquarters building of the church. But they had the best material—diaries of the family’s contemporaries, tithing records, membership records, and on and on. I told the archivists what I was doing, and to my surprise they were welcoming and helpful. Later a friend told me they were delighted to have an outsider interested in their history.

I joined the independent Mormon History Association (MHA) and was eventually asked to be on their executive board. Over the years I wrote a number of papers that were published. No one treated me like a “damned apostate,” as Mormons called many who left the church in the 19th century. Ultimately, my book about the family’s experiences was published (and even won an award). That led to being asked to co-edit another book about early disgruntled Mormons.

Twenty-five years have passed since I met my first Mormon historians. I feel called to be a Catholic presence among them. A Franciscan priest who teaches history at Siena College near Albany, New York, also attends the annual MHA conference. Over the years, two or three other Catholics have turned up, and some Mormons have become good friends. In time, we friends—Catholics and Mormons—gave up our prejudices as we saw the sincerity of each other’s belief. And so we have learned that God is God over us all and cannot be confined to any one religion.

--Polly (Nov 20, 2019)

We Will Exercise the Preferential Option for the Poor, Vulnerable and Marginalized.

One of our core Catholic Social Teachings is supporting and honoring our elderly. One way I have been called to support and honor the elderly has been through our Eucharistic Outreach program.

When I was an elementary school age child we lived on the same property as a convalescent home. A convalescent home is where you go when you are unable to take care for yourself, you need 24 hour nursing care and you are unlikely to get any better. In the front part of the property was a convalescent home where 24 patients were living out the remainder of their lives. My Grandmother owned this business and my mother was the head nurse for the facility. Many of the patients had various forms of dementia, many were bedridden, but a few could talk and were very alert. Most of the patients were in their 60’s. That was an old age in the late 1950s. We lived on the back side of the property in a small house. I remember my mother often commenting how many of the patients had no relatives or friends to visit. That seemed so strange to her. That comment would make a lasting impression on me.

As children, our parents encouraged us to visit the patients. Many of these patients were our earliest friends. There was Sue Woodworth, who loved to knit clothing for her doll collection. She was only in her 40s when she fell down a flight of stairs and the accident left her unable to walk and somehow bedridden for the rest of her life. Also there was Lee Kearny, a man in his 50s with multiple sclerosis who could not walk. Talking was a difficult task with his disease. However, he managed to hold one side of a jump rope while the other was tied to a post. He would sit in his wheelchair and turn the rope round and round as I and my brothers and sisters would jump into the middle of the spinning rope and jump up and down as the rope passed under our feet. Lee was the playmate that held the rope whenever it was time to play “jump rope”. These are two patients that I remember in detail. Many others were also a part of our visits.

So how does all this relate to Eucharistic Outreach? You see those early memories of the convalescent home patients left me with a deep affection and reverence for old people. I feel very comfortable around old people and enjoy hearing their life’s stories. It is my privilege to bring the Body of Christ each week to those in our parish unable to attend Mass, to bring to each person food for the journey of life. But I do not only bring the Eucharist. I come to visit and listen to the stories of each person’s life, to gain their wisdom and appreciate their life’s journey. I also share the homily as each is able to understand. Years ago I used to take Communion to a man each week who was in his late 90’s. I can still hear his wise words as I would complain about how bad the weather or past day had been. He reminded me that that every day was a beautiful day and we should do our best to keep it a beautiful day. Some I have visited cannot speak, others have dementia and are not always present. Still others are racked with pain. All are my teachers and I always bring back something from these visits for reflection.


--Greg (Dec 8, 2019)

As a Pediatric Nurse Specialist for over 40 years, I worked primarily with families of high risk infants and toddlers. Now that I am retired, I continue to find ways to interact and share my accumulated knowledge of Infant/toddler development and parenting strategies for families with young children.

Some of my most enjoyable experiences have been spontaneous encounters with parents. Here at OLL, I often approach new parishioners who have infants. For parents with their first new baby, I’ll ask three questions: “How are things going for you? Do you have family or close friends nearby who can give you support? Are you getting enough rest?” Depending on their answers, I’ll refer them to our OLL Mom’s Group, hosted by St Anne’s Guild. I also suggest Infant-Toddler Parenting classes through the Seattle College System.

As “rain birds” going south to California for 4 to 5 months, I found a charitable organization that has a residential home for Pregnant and New Teenage Mothers. Many of these young Teens have been in abusive situations and/or have been homeless. I met with them, informally, for 1-2 hours after high school. Topics on Infant Care or care of their own bodies were generated from the teen’s questions to me. Many times their focus was about themselves as teenagers and the social happenings at school that day. I had to address their own concerns as teens before I could share with them curriculum on Infant Care and Development.

A couple of years ago, I had a great opportunity to minister to a mother with Twins. Roxanna and her husband are new friends of ours from San Diego. I helped support her with her first child. Two years later, they were expecting Twins and had moved to Texas. As a baby gift, I offered to come to Texas for two weeks after the babies came home from the hospital. When I arrived there, I realized I had THREE babies! The 2 ½ year old decided that she wanted to be a baby again. This included drinking from a bottle, staying in diapers, and sleeping in her old baby crib. Roxanna and I decided to divide the day into shifts. She had all three cribs in the Master Bedroom. She fed the babies during the night. I took the shift from 7:00am to 3:00pm while Roxanna slept in a remote part of the house. We worked together as a team from 3:00-10:00pm doing laundry, getting dinner, feeding the twins and playing with the 2 year old. What an exhausting two weeks! I am their official “Auntie” and have a trip planned to Austin this coming February.

My most recent Parent Education episode occurred at a resort on a tiny island in the Adriatic Sea. I met a family from England with a 6 month old and a 2 ½ year old. After my initial three questions, the parents continued to ask for advice and information for the next hour. The mother was so thankful to share her concerns that she wanted to make an appointment to meet me again later that day. Unfortunately, my Tour Group had other plans.

After both planned and unplanned encounters with young, new parents, I am always grateful that I had the opportunity to share and to bring the principles of living Catholic Social Teaching to them.

--Mary Margaret (Jan 11, 2020)

Our home church, St. Cronan Catholic Church, is located in St. Louis, Missouri. It’s the parish where Jeff and I were married and where we baptized our oldest son. It’s a beautiful little welcoming justice-based church that nurtured growth and supported all who entered its doors. I was recently thinking about one of the members that we all knew and supported through her complicated life. You see, she had a severe mental illness that provided her with magnificent mental escapes and storylines.

Each Sunday during announcements, anyone in the St. Cronan congregation who had an announcement to make would line up along the wall toward the front of the church. Sometimes the line stretched all the way to the back of the church ... and sometimes the line included our friend. She would call for support from the church as she announced her adventures - including winning races in the recent Olympics or calling out a variety of nonsensical needs and aberrations. The parish as whole cheered her on in many ways. We cheered lovingly for her Olympic wins when she needed it most and supported her big and small successes during times of clearer normalized thinking. The community checked in on her, providing simple things like meals or assistance with healthcare appointments. She was an invaluable piece of our lovely quirky parish family.

On the day that we baptized our baby, 21 years ago, our family and godparents had hands around the baptismal font in the water as the priest’s blessing took place. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed an extra pair of hands slipping into the font. There she was, joining in on the baptism of our son. It was easy to make room for her in our circle as we moved into blessing our son and welcoming him into the Catholic faith. We loved bringing him into a parish full of experts on supporting and protecting the most vulnerable in our community. This same sense of supporting community and individuals is how we eventually found our way to OLL, where the actions and volunteer hours of parish members make a difference in the lives of those all around us.

--Karen (Feb 25, 2020)

We Will Nurture Family

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)

Tacoma Detention Center Vigil

We unload.
We pull up in our trusty 1999 Honda Odyssey van, in the red-lined no-parking zone, curbside and we unload. First the tables and chairs. The coffee and water. Next is the canopy that never seems to get any easier to setup, no matter how many times we do it. Out come the homemade cookies, the fresh fruit, the chips, the cheese sticks, the hot chocolate, the “gratis” signs, and the cups. On a separate table in front we stack the knitted hats, the stuffed animals, the coloring books, and the crayons. The final touch: the CSJP sign Sr. Jo-Anne gave us years ago. We unload.

They come.
The visitors drive by, eyeing us, searching for a parking space, slowly emerging from their cars, gathering themselves and their loved ones. They come from everywhere: an all morning drive from Portland or Yakima, flying in from California or Alaska, coming from right next door. They walk by us in all different manners; serious, smiling, sad, apprehensive. Yet they all have two things in common: they wish they weren’t there and they love the ones they came to visit. We tell them to come back and get something to eat, to have a good visit, to tell those inside that they are not forgotten. They come.

They wait.
They check in, load up the lockers, sit in a crowded room with a TV showing some inappropriate program. The kids, crying or silent, first-timers in shock and others squeamish in their mother’s arms. Old people who don’t understand how this country they came to has changed so much. Lawyers preparing bad news for their clients, the limited options in this optionless world. Friends and lovers who are bracing themselves for their last goodbyes to the deported. On some days, they line up outside in the cold, next to a building that looks like any other in the industrial park, a first people’s tidal flat turned Superfund waste site, paved over and sold to the GEO corporation. All for holding detainees. And making people wait. And they wait.

They come out.
Relieved. Distraught. Dazed. Hurt. We jump into action, pleading for them to take something, that it’s for free, that we don’t want to take all of this stuff home. We offer them something to drink, something to eat, something to wear, something to have. We give them goodie bags for the long trip home, we answer their questions, we give them a moment to collect themselves, we give them a bit of their humanity back. And we wait. Then some snap out of their daze and head for their cars. Some thank us and take some more. Some start to cry. And some share their stories. They come out.

And then They talk.
Siblings who visit their brother who will be sent back to a Somalia he never even remembers as a child, not knowing the language, no family, a death sentence in a war zone. A kindergartener seeing a psychologist to deal with the absence of her father from her life and his impending deportation to Mexico. A man whose wife will be deported to Cameroon, who had to quit his job, sell their things, live on a friend’s couch, hoping to save enough money to fly his infant daughter and himself to live in a land they don’t even know. A woman accompanied by a best friend and a minister who just married her incarcerated partner moments before, a happy and horrendous day, all at the same time. And a mother with children in tow who was told that she had missed her window of visitation and that she would have to come back tomorrow morning, now having to struggle to find a place to stay for the night. They talk.

And then - what do we do? What can we do in the face of such helplessness and hopelessness?

We love.
We love the people we serve and we love those who walk on by. We love those inside. We love the GEO officers, the lawyers, the ICE agents, the peace activists, the government. We love the masses that flow across the arbitrary borders of this world and we love the forces who try to stop them. We love God and we love the arc of justice that bends down to us. Why do we do this? We love.

--Bryan (February 22,2020)

During the month of May, 2021, I travelled with another Holy Names Sister to San Antonio and then Laredo, Texas, to become a Catholic Charities volunteer, helping to welcome and support asylum seekers, mostly from Central American countries, who had travelled through Mexico to the U.S., seeking a way out of desperate poverty and constant violence.

By being available to interact with the 1,800 young men, ages 12-17, at San Antonio’s Freeman Coliseum, and relieve “pod leaders” for a break, we – along with many other volunteers – were able to help make the two cavernous rooms, containing 900 cots each where the boys spent their days, be a joyful “beehive” of activity rather than a strict “detention” atmosphere.

In Laredo at the La Frontera family shelter the border patrol daily dropped off from 20 to 120 families deemed “vulnerable”, most often a mother with a toddler, after they had received papers allowing them to stay in the US until their appointment for their asylum appeal would come up. Here again, we, with other Sisters and persons from other faith communities, could “fill in the cracks” – providing food, diapers, a change of clothes, a travel snack pack, a shower pack, a freshly made-up mattress, so that the very stretched staff could focus on screening for Covid and then helping these families arrange for transportation to get to with whomever or wherever they had connections. So as volunteers there, we helped make families’ 24-hour stay an “oasis” and place to “take a breath” rather than a “processing center.”

I learned many things. One was about what makes a situation “welcoming” and personal. I certainly became more aware of the overwhelming challenges of the migration to the U.S. caused by the equally overwhelming issues related to global wealth inequality and climate change. What I participated in during May did not really address the big challenges. All it could do was - for these asylum seekers and the staff working with them – provide an experience of personal welcome, rather than institutional management.

At the Freeman Coliseum, upbeat music played in loudspeakers, boys wove bracelets, did origami, played Uno with volunteers. Volunteers were available to escort kids to their case worker appointments, practice a few English words (or learn a few Spanish ones!), just smile and comment on something. We could look for a lost laundry bag or join them in prayer at a Marian shrine with the picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe filled with paper flowers. We could relieve the “pod supervisor” for a break. Yes, each child had a number badge and none was allowed to leave until the case workers had thoroughly vetted the family member, relative, friend or stranger who would sponsor them (to avoid trafficking or abuse). But the time of waiting became a time of welcome, even of some happiness and friendship-building, a time when they encountered kindness and compassion. I hope this atmosphere of welcome will be remembered by each boy, and make a difference in his future.

The family center was different in that each family’s time there was so short. But again, there was “welcome” because of enough people (and generous donations) to receive more than efficient help with phone calls and travel arrangements. It was a “welcome center” rather than a “service counter.”

I believe that my experience in Texas was in an “island of sanity,” and I realize that this is what Jesus did in his time on earth as well.

--Linda (June 2021)

We Will Lift Up The Truth.

We Will Protect Our Environment.

My profession is that of a scientist who studies Earth as a system, with a particular focus on climate change. From the scientific perspective, human evolution and human-induced climate change are well-established facts. No doubt exists on these points. Fortunately, as a Catholic Christian, there is no conflict between science and my religious beliefs at the present time. Nonetheless, in my professional life I do not bring up my faith. Recently, though, I was asked to join a panel discussion about the relationship of faith and science as they address issues of the environment, which would form a couple of episodes of Challenge 2.0*. This made me uneasy, because I wanted to identify both as a scientist and a Christian, and that would be a new thing for me to do publicly. I generally never mix science and religion in my professional life. It would have been possible to present the scientific facts without bringing up my own religious beliefs, but I decided to reveal myself as both a scientist and a person of faith. I thought about the relationship of science to Scripture, which is an issue with some Christians who think that the Bible should be interpreted literally. The same people also tend to deny science, evolution and human-induced climate change. I wanted those people to hear me.

The first thing for a Christian to ask is, what would Jesus say about the relationship of faith, science and the environment? In answer to a lawyer who asked for the greatest commandment, Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment.  The second is like it; You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments the whole law is based, and the prophets as well.” Mt 22:36-40. Based on current understanding of how the world works, and our role in it, I have to conclude that our ‘neighbor’ includes all creation, all life, present and future. Scripture tells us about God and our relationship to God, and what God expects of us. God’s creation is also a book of revelation that can teach us about who we are, where we came from and how we should behave. The Universe was made to follow methods and rules that can be understood by using the brains God gave us. God speaks to us through nature, too. The messages we take from God’s inspiration of Scripture and God’s creation should be in harmony.

After I had said what I know about climate change, the moderator asked me whether I saw a conflict between science and religion. I answered with a story. You are a person of faith. God appears and is willing to entertain questions. Do you ask, “How did you bring the universe into existence? Was it a big bang followed by 14 billion years of evolution, or was it the Garden of Eden, the man, the rib and the woman?” I don’t think this is the first question that most people would ask in that situation. You might be more likely to ask, “How do you feel about me?”, “What do you want me to do?”, “How do I have a right relationship with you?” Those questions are what Scripture is about. Another panelist was an Episcopal bishop who is very concerned about the environment. He said he believes that God’s creation of life by billions of years of evolution is a beautiful thing to contemplate and take inspiration from.

--Dennis (Jan 26, 2020)

Even before I came to OLL, I had an interest in practices and common efforts aimed at caring for Earth Our Common Home. My first memory of recognizing how important environmental action is happened in college when I learned that all the fish in Lake Michigan were dying. I recalled seeing this lake as a child, amazed that this lake was so big I couldn’t even see the other side. How could this much water possibly be polluted to kill all marine life? (The lake since has been cleaned up.)

Since I have come to OLL, my commitment has grown stronger. Some of this I can trace to having somewhat regularly attended the Wedgewood Meaningful Movies series. I am so grateful to Bill Lavelle and others in OLL Parish and other area churches for supporting this effort, as it has helped me greatly to understand on a deeper level systemic issues in many areas.

With relation to Creation, I have been prompted through the film series, the witness of others and the reading I have done to stretch myself to use public transportation almost exclusively (and use my feet!) and to enter into an almost meatless menu. While sometimes it is inconvenient – and often I am inconsistent – I have discovered that I can actually enjoy the challenge (and occasionally freedom!) of finding new routes, doing things car-free, and of exploring new recipes, not foregoing taste and pleasure in my choices.

On a common level, working through the OLL Justice and Peace committee, I try to help out when there are efforts around Earth Day to raise consciousness in us all. I work to make better known the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment (NWCRI) which does shareholder action with fossil fuel industries, timber and paper corporations, etc. Elsewhere I’ve participated in some “book clubs” related to reading Pope Francis’ amazing encyclical, “Earth Our Common Home.” In my residence, I am grateful that my Sister-companions are willing to also consider the earth in what we cook for each other and how we purchase.

For folks who love to read, I have greatly enjoyed, and felt strengthened in my ecological commitment, by reading the novel, The Overstory, and by reading an article by Father Richard Rohr, titled “Creation as the Body of God.” Bill McKibben’s books (Eaarth; Falter) are sobering calls to action. I’ve also been moved by Zero Hour, a youth Climate Change organization started a couple of years ago by a passionate 10th grader at Holy Names Academy where I work, who is addressing this cause with amazing passion and energy, and, I would say, desperation. I am becoming convinced that we all MUST quickly learn about and act on this planet-threatening issue.

--Sister Linda