Rachel Weeps for Her Children

from Gabino Zavala, Justice & Peace Director
“Thus says the Lord: A voice is heard in Ramah, marked by lamentation and bitter weeping: Rachel weeping for her children, refused to be consoled for her children, because they are no more.” Jeremiah 31:15
Tuesday afternoon I took a break from writing a reflection on the shooting of Black grocery shoppers in Buffalo by an avowed white supremacist, to watch the news with my mother. As the news unfolded I started to weep. Again. The images of the children and their teachers senselessly murdered made me weep. The smiling images of those children who are no more. Just days before we saw the images of those who went grocery shopping for their families and never came home. Our hearts break for their parents and their families.
There have been 213 mass shootings in the United States this year, 27 of these shootings have occurred in schools. The funerals from the Buffalo shooting have not ended as another mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas takes place. Children should be able to go to school without fearing for their lives. People should be able to go shopping to feed their families without being attacked by someone filled with hatred. Everyone should be able to go to Church without fearing for their lives.
In response to the shooting of those innocent children in Texas Governor Abbott and other Texas politicians blamed a lack of security at the schools. Their solution—more guns. Let’s arm the teachers. Let’s hire more armed security. Let’s not talk about sensible gun laws.
As Precious Blood missionaries, members and companions, we have taken a corporate stance against gun violence. In our corporate stance, We affirm the sacredness of all life. We acknowledge the need to change laws that allow unlimited access to weapons and ammunition of any amount.
We are not talking about taking away the guns of hunters and responsible gun enthusiasts. We are talking about comprehensive gun policy reform. We need stronger universal background checks. We need to address the question of gun ownership and mental illness. We should be more aware of those who espouse racist and hateful ideologies and want to purchase guns. We need to ban assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines. We need to dismantle our extreme gun culture.
Why should someone who just turned 18 years old be able to legally buy an assault rifle? Why should no red flags be raised when a young man who is not in law enforcement or in the military has access to body armor? Should this not be of concern to all of us?
There are more than 400,000,000 guns in the United States, We have more guns than people. And yet many politicians tout the rights of the individual to own guns (of any kind) rather than the safety of our children and our communities. Governor Abbott for one has just passed laws making it easier for people to own guns. This is their solution for every problem. But guns everywhere haven’t made us safer; quite the contrary.
Contact your U.S. Representatives and Senators. Tell them that it is time to pass sensible gun laws. Tell them to stop taking money from the gun lobby. Hold them accountable.
You hear people say, “Guns don’t kill, people do!” That’s only half the story. People who are filled with hate, mentally ill, who have evil in their hearts, AND who have easy access to assault rifles and high-capacity magazines kill people.
How much longer will we weep for our children?

Laudato Si’ Action Platform

by Gabino Zavala. Justice and Peace Director

The Kansas City Province of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood has enrolled in the Vatican-backed platform that promotes a process for organizations, institutions, and families to work toward sustainability in the spirit of Pope Francis’ encyclical on care for creation.

The hope is that this allows the Catholic Church to respond to the Pope’s prophetic words in his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’ on care for our common home. The hope is that Catholic institutions, organizations, dioceses, and families might put Pope Francis’ prophetic voice into actions that can make a difference so that we might deal effectively with the catastrophe that is global warming. In other words, what can we do to protect our planet and preserve it for present and future generations?

The Action Platform outlines several areas that are Laudato Si’ goals such as hearing the cry of the earth and hearing the cry of the poor; adopting simple, sustainable lifestyles, and ecological concerns. The Platform also identifies different actions that can be taken in each area.

Action steps include using renewable energy, reducing consumption of meat and single-use items, fostering ecological education and spirituality, advocating for sustainable development, and following ethical investment guidelines including divestment from fossil fuels.

This Platform seeks in us a radical change of heart in people and institutions and thus a transformation of society. The Platform is a concrete way for all of us, united in Christ, to integrate the teachings of Laudato Si’ into our lives. This is a concrete and perceptible way to witness to our faith as we renew our local Church and care for our common home.

Action is urgently needed. God has called us to be stewards of creation. This Laudato Si’ Action Platform allows us to take our stewardship seriously so that we can care for and heal our common home.

As our Precious Blood Family joins with others in putting the Laudato Si’ Action Platform into effect, we will be offering suggestions and ideas that might help us respond to the needs of caring for our common home.

“There is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about real change in lifestyle” (Laudato Si’ 21)

Cover page of Laudato Si'

Kansas City Province Statements on Ukraine

Our Lady of Zarvanytsia

Our Lady of Zarvanytsia

Anguish and Suffering in Ukraine
from Gabino Zavala, Justice and Peace Director

As Missionaries of the Precious Blood, we join people around the world in praying for the suffering people of Ukraine. We pray for peace. As always, war is a deadly failure and is not the answer no matter what reasons the Putin-led Russian government has given. We condemn the Russian invasion and bombing of cities throughout Ukraine.

We applaud the Biden administration’s ongoing efforts to resolve the crisis through diplomacy. We condemn the use of violence by the Putin-led Russian government. We call on all involved—Russia, Ukraine, Nato—and all nations to prioritize protecting human life by promoting the cessation of hostilities.

Over a century ago Pope Benedict XV warned against the “useless slaughter” of war. Today Pope Francis and the Bishops of Ukraine echo his warning. We stand with them is saying that war is always a failure of humanity. All of us are aware of the devastating consequences of war, in which the poor, the infirm, the marginalized are always the first victims.

Our hearts are with the people of Ukraine who are in anguish as they endure the violence, suffering, and devastation that this Russian invasion has brought upon them. Our hearts should break for lives lost and people displaced from their homes. We stand with the people of Ukraine who defend their homeland and cry out for peace. Let us join our voices to the plea of Pope Francis, “War, never again!”

Statement on the War in Ukraine and Provincial Donation for Relief Efforts
from the Kansas City Province Leadership Council

As Missionaries of the Precious Blood, our charism calls us to stand with all who are marginalized and oppressed, and we stand against the use of violence to assert power and control over others. The Russian leadership’s assault on Ukraine is immoral and a total disregard for human life and liberty. We condemn this action, and we encourage others to join their voices with ours. The people of Ukraine are our brothers and sisters, and we support them with our prayers and our voices, as we call for an end to the violence. We want to offer assistance to the many Ukrainian refugees fleeing the fighting. To this end, the Kansas City Province is sending $20,000 to Catholic Relief Services for Ukrainian refugee support. Please consider supporting our Ukrainian brothers and sisters in whatever way you can. Let us continue to pray for peace throughout the world, especially in Ukraine, and that the Spirit may soften the hearts of all leaders to end aggression and violence.

Las Posadas: Welcoming the Stranger

by Gabino Zavala, Justice and Peace Director

Mary and Joseph traveling to BethlehemOne of my fondest childhood memories of Advent was celebrating the Novena known as Las Posadas that takes place from December 16 to December 24. This is a Mexican Advent tradition commemorating the journey that Joseph and Mary made from Nazareth to Bethlehem in search of safe lodging (Posada) where Mary could give birth to the baby Jesus. Not finding a place of welcome in the crowded inns of Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary were forced to seek shelter in a nearby stable.

As we celebrated each Posada, a child dressed as an angel would lead the procession with a candle. If the community had statues of the peregrinos (pilgrims) Joseph and Mary on a donkey, they would be carried following the angel. If there were no statues two children would dress as Mary and Joseph. These pilgrims would stop at two homes and ask for Posada (a place at the inn) in song. The reply that there was no room would be sung in response. Finally, in the third home, the pilgrims would be welcomed. The people following the procession would enter with Mary and Joseph and the community would enjoy hot chocolate and Mexican bread while the children broke the piñata.

As Mary and Joseph are turned away and finally find welcome we should consider who is the stranger that we are called to welcome? It may be the refugee, the asylum seeker, or someone of a different color or culture. Could it also be the person with whom we vehemently disagree? We must never forget that immigrants, asylum seekers, refugees, those different than us, and those that we vehemently disagree with are human beings; we have a responsibility to care for one another as part of the human family.

We are facing the worst global displacement crisis in history. We are challenged by this reality today in refugee camps in the middle east or in camps where migrants gather in hope at our border. Pope Francis writes in Fratelli Tutti that “global society is not the sum total of different countries, but rather the communion that exists among them” 149. We are all part of the human family, the vulnerable family all over the globe, and the vulnerable family in our local reality. As members of the human family, how can we express love and solidarity with our sisters and brothers in times of crisis?

During this Advent season, as we remember Mary and Joseph searching in hope for a place of welcome, let us ask to keep our hearts open to welcome and embrace the poor and vulnerable, the refugee and the stranger, those who are different than we are and those we disagree with, those in our midst and those in our global community. Who are you going to welcome today?

Turning to One Another

by Fr. David Kelly, C.PP.S., Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, Chicago

picture of Fr. Dave KellyIt was a Saturday afternoon and I just finished doing some lawn work around pbmr. As I was walking from the Center to the Mother Brunner Home, I noticed Michael sitting alone on one of the benches near the basketball court. His phone was by his side, book bag on the floor, and head buried in his hands. I could sense that something was bothering him and, so, I walked over to see if he was ok.

Michael is a real quiet kid, tall and thin, around 15 years old and loves basketball. Even while he wasn’t quick to share much, I did get a little something out of him. When I asked about who he lived with, he told me his 23-year-old brother. I asked about his mother, and he said he didn’t know where she was. She left some time ago. We talked some more, and he said that he wanted more hours, meaning he wanted to earn more money. He is part of one of our programs and earns a little money, but, apparently not enough for his needs.  

It would be easy to fall into judgement or condemnation. What kind of mother could leave her child? But of course the underlying reality is much more complicated, and the only way to know the answers is to sit and listen to the child, to listen to the mother, and to seek to understand. I have found  that when you begin to untangle the story, when you hear people’s experiences of homelessness, trauma, poverty, etc., those initial judgements are quieted and understanding begins to set in. Judgement always impedes my ability to understand.

There is a poem that has helped us in these uncertain times.  It is by Margaret Wheatley, entitled “Turning to One Another.” Here is just a bit of it:

There is no power greater than a community
discovering what it cares about.
Ask “What’s possible?” not “What’s wrong?”
Keep asking.
Talk to people you know.
Talk to people you don’t know.
Talk to people you never talk to.
Be intrigued by the differences you hear…
Remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know.

For me the poem calls us to not fixate or simply cast judgement on the problems we see in others, but to seek solutions, paths of healing for their flourishing. Michael doesn’t need people judging him or his mother; he needs a world that cares. He needs people to hear his story without judgement, to listen with understanding, and to accompany him toward solutions that meet his and his family’s needs.

Both in the church and in society we have become polarized; we have become a society of judgement and exclusion. Richard Rohr says Jesus was never about exclusion or expelling or isolating people. Quite the opposite, for him that was the problem. Jesus was about transforming and integrating. He was always sending the lepers and those healed back into the city, back to the priests (Rohr, Hope Against Darkness).

PBMR was founded almost 20 years ago because we were confronted by a system that only knew punishment. There was no healing or transformation for people experiencing brokenness, only punishment and expulsion. And so we set out on a journey to focus on healing, reconciliation, and understanding.

Isn’t that what the world needs? To be listened to? To listen? I dream of a world where more people are willing to listen to those they know, those they don’t know, those they never talk to, and rather than being offended by or afraid of the differences we hear, to be intrigued and compelled. I long for a time where instead of casting judgement about “What’s wrong,” we can come together in relationship and begin to ask, “What’s possible?” 

Now, because of that short conversation with Michael, when I see him in the parking lot or in the neighborhood, he stops, reaches out to shake my hand, and says hello. “Creative solutions come from new connections” (Margaret Wheatley).

Remembering ASC Martyrs

The ASC sisters who were martyred in 1992

This week we remember the five Adorers of the Blood of Christ (ASC) who were murdered in 1992 while serving as missionaries in Liberia. Barbara Ann Muttra, Mary Joel Kolmer, Shirley Kolmer, Agnes Mueller, and Kathleen McGuire were the first victims of Operation Octopus, during Liberia’s brutal civil wars that claimed over 150,000 lives. Twenty-nine years later, we still seek justice for these war crimes.

Seven years ago Martina Johnson, a former commander of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), was arrested on suspicion of war crimes and crimes against humanity. She was arrested in Belgium where she resided since 2003. This was the first time an alleged Liberian perpetrator was charged for crimes committed in Liberia during the first civil war. Victims implicated Martina Johnson for participating in mutilation and mass killings—including the ASC sisters in 1992—under the infamous military offensive by the Charles Taylor’s NPFL on the capital Monrovia.

Martina Johnson was placed on conditional release shortly after her arrest. Belgian authorities still need to investigate in Liberia before they can bring her to court. Belgian investigators report that Liberian authorities are not cooperating. Additionally, the pandemic is holding things up. We can only pray that they will eventually be able to follow through.

Justice from the U.S. Courts

This September, a former Liberian military commander was found liable under U.S. law for participating in extrajudicial killings and torture. Moses W. Thomas supervised the slaughter of hundreds of unarmed civilians at a church during Liberia’s civil war. The decision was issued on the testimony of four anonymous plaintiffs who lived through an assault on people seeking safety at a Red Cross shelter on the grounds of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church. They recounted hiding under dead bodies to survive, smearing blood on themselves to fake death and hiding in the pulpit, clinging to a Bible.

Yes, the blood of Christ still cries out for justice. Thank God for U.S. District Judge, Petrese Tucker, who heard her call to truth and brought to justice, Moses W. Thomas. The lawsuit said that Thomas was in command as soldiers fired into the packed church from the front door through windows, targeting those trying to escape. His actions as a colonel for the armed forces of Liberia made him liable for war crimes and crimes against humanity. May this gesture by a judge in our country give us hope that the same can happen in Belgium.