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Pencil Preaching for Tuesday, October 15, 2019

El Paso bishop calls out racism but urges accused shooter's life be spared

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- It's a pastoral letter that pulls no punches, goes far into the past and continues up to the recent present of racism at the U.S.-Mexico border.  

Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, released a pastoral letter Oct. 13, on the eve of the controversial holiday that Columbus Day has become, pointing to the church's role in racism at the border, particularly among indigenous communities, describes the pain of Latinos in the El Paso area following a mass shooting in August, but also calls on authorities to spare the life of the accused perpetrator.  

Invoking martyrs who include St. Oscar Romero, Blessed Stanley Rother and four Maryknoll women missionaries killed in El Salvador, Bishop Seitz said he wishes that, like them, "I may speak without fear when it is called for and help to give voice to those who have not been heard."

The letter titled "Night Will Be No More" was unveiled at the end of a social justice gathering of Catholic Latino organizers, labor leaders, scholars and activists in El Paso Oct.11-13. It begins and ends with the specter of the Aug. 3 shooting at a Walmart in the city, a violent and bloody event that authorities believe targeted Latinos.

"Hate visited our community and Latino blood was spilled in sacrifice to the false god of white supremacy," wrote the bishop.

That event led him to write the letter, he explained, "after prayer and speaking with the people of God in the church of El Paso" to "reflect together on the evil that robbed us of 22 lives."

Among some of what he has heard: "Latinos now tell me that for the first time in their lives they feel unsafe, even in El Paso. They feel that they have targets on their backs because of their skin color and language. They feel that they are being made to live in their own home as a 'stranger in a foreign land.'"

The killing, he said, was an example of the racism toward Latinos that has reached "a dangerous fever pitch" in the nation.  

"Our highest elected officials have used the word 'invasion' and 'killer' over 500 times to refer to migrants, treated migrant children as pawns on a crass political chessboard, insinuated that judges and legislators of color are un-American, and have made wall-building a core political project," he said. "In Pope Francis' words, these 'signs of meanness we see around us heighten our fear of the other.'

"The same deadly pool of sin that motivates the attack on migrants seeking safety and refuge in our border community motivated the killing of our neighbors on August 3rd," he continued. "Sin unites people around fear and hate. We must name and oppose the racism that has reared its head at the center of our public life and emboldened forces of darkness."

Even as he repudiated the fear and destruction the massacre caused, Bishop Seitz made a plea to authorities to spare the life of accused shooter Patrick Crusius, the 21-year-old who is said to have left messages on social media saying he was carrying out the shooting because of the "Hispanic invasion of Texas." Texas prosecutors have said they will ask for the death penalty if he's convicted.

"Justice is certainly required. But the cycle of hate, blood and vengeance on the border must meet its end," he wrote. "While the scales of justice may seem to tilt in favor of the necessity of lethal retribution, God offers us yet another chance to choose life. Choose in a manner worthy of your humanity."

He laid out how racism can make a "home in our hearts, distort our imagination and will, and express itself in individual actions of hatred and discrimination."

"This mystery of evil also includes the base belief that some of us are more important, deserving and worthy than others. It includes the ugly conviction that this country and its history and opportunities and resources as well as our economic and political life belong more properly to 'white' people than to people of color," he wrote. "This is a perverse way of thinking that divides people based on heritage and tone of skin into 'us' and 'them', 'worthy' and 'unworthy', paving the way to dehumanization."

Dark-skinned people are subject to different standards and treatment and the Catholic Church is not without fault in this, he said, adding that "even some of our seminarians have talked about experiences in seminaries in different parts of the country where it was presumed that their academic preparation was inferior and when they were the butt of jokes suggesting that their families must know something about drug trafficking."

He wrote that the proposed border wall is a symbol of this type of exclusion.

"The wall deepens racially charged perceptions of how we understand the border as well as Mexicans and migrants. It extends racist talk of an 'invasion'. It perpetuates the racist myth that the area south of the border is dangerous and foreign and that we are merely passive observers in the growth of narco-violence and the trafficking of human beings and drugs," he wrote. "The wall is a physical reminder of the failure of two friendly nations to resolve their internal and binational issues in just and peaceful way."

But just as the letter offered criticism, it offered solutions.

"We must work to ensure all our children have access to quality educational opportunities, eliminate inequality in the colonias, pass immigration reform, eradicate discrimination, guarantee universal access to health care, ensure the protection of all human life, end the scourge of gun violence, improve wages on both sides of the border, offer just and sustainable development opportunities, defend the environment and honor the dignity of every person," he wrote.

"This is how we write a new chapter in our history of solidarity and friendship that future generations can remember with pride," he added. "This work of undoing racism and building a just society is holy, for it 'contributes to the building of the universal city of God, which is the goal of the history of the human family.'"

During Mass, pastors can lead people "to a deeper consciousness of the weight of communal and historical sin that we bring to the table of the Lord in the penitential rite," he wrote. "We should ask ourselves carefully who is yet not present, and whose cultures are not yet reflected at the banquet of the Lord that we celebrate at the altar?"

At its end, the letter made a plea to President Donald Trump, Congress and the Supreme Court.

"I beg you to listen to the voice of conscience and halt the deportation of all those who are not a danger to our communities, to stop the separation of families, and to end once and for all the turning back of refugees and death at the border," he wrote.

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Editor's Note: The full text of the letter can be found at www.hopeborder.org/nightwillbenomore.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

El Paso bishop calls out racism but urges accused shooter's life be spared

It's a pastoral letter that pulls no punches, goes far into the past and continues up to the recent present of racism at the U.S.-Mexico border.  

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Indigenous woman brings message from her elders to pope as church elder

IMAGE: CNS photo/Barbara J. Fraser

By Barbara J. Fraser

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Anitalia Pijachi, an indigenous woman from the Amazonian town of Leticia, Colombia, came to the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon bringing a message from the elders of her people to Pope Francis, an elder of the Catholic Church.

The first Europeans to arrive in the Amazon were "invaders," she said. "They never asked permission of mother nature or of the people who lived there. They imposed the cross and the Bible. That caused a great deal of resentment," and in some cases forced indigenous peoples from their territories.

But when the pope, during his 2018 visit to Peru, asked Amazonian people to tell the church how it should walk with them, "that was a question that asked permission," she told Catholic News Service.

Pijachi, an Ocaina Huitoto woman who is not Catholic, said that when she heard that, she spoke to the elders of her people, who approved of her participation in presynod gatherings as long as the church respected indigenous cultures.

"The elders said that first the Catholic Church and all churches must recognize us as having a right to our own culture and customs, our own spirituality," she added. "They must not impose themselves and change" those beliefs.

For many indigenous peoples, evangelization meant relocation from their territories to church-run communities known as reductions, as well as the loss of their languages and traditions, she said. "The pain is alive and still there."

The culture and spirituality of Amazonian indigenous people remain strong "as long as we have our territory, our rivers, our sacred places, food and our seeds, the elements of our rituals," Pijachi said.

She said she sees the synod as an opportunity to talk with "a great friend, a great elder, (Pope) Francis, who can carry our voice" to places where it otherwise would not be heard.

Environmental destruction by extractive industries such as logging, mining and oil companies has been a recurring theme in the synod.

"The people who come to extract (natural resources) don't live there," Pijachi said. "They live in Europe; they live in mansions in the big cities. All they're interested in is money."

The damage to the environment "is a spiritual death and a cultural death" for indigenous people, she said, adding that some whose actions or policies result in destruction are Catholic.

"The same person who received first Communion, who was married in the church, is the one who is cutting down the forest, who does not understand respect for creation," she said. "The same one who was baptized, who went to confession, who received Communion, who goes to Mass on Sunday is the governor of a state and pays no attention" to how public policies affect people.

"I asked (the bishops), 'Is that important to you?'" she said. Pijachi addressed the synod assembly Oct. 9.

As an indigenous woman, Pijachi said, she also called for church leaders to listen to women.

During the first days of the synod, when she heard bishops refer to the "holy mother church," the words reminded Pijachi of the "maloka," the spacious, round-sided communal building where her people gather for special occasions.

The maloka, she said, "is the woman, the womb that brings her children together, the place of abundance."

Although many synod participants spoke of the important pastoral work done by women, some remained reluctant to give women a larger role, she said. That is partly because some bishops do not understand the reality of ministry in the Amazon, she added.

A priest must administer the sacrament of the sick, for example, but where there is no priest, parents will ask a religious sister to bless a dying child. She has seen sisters telephone a priest to give the blessing by phone.

"I believe it is very important that the synod give women a place in decision-making (and) the autonomy to act," she said.

"I reminded the men that they do not have to be afraid of us," Pijachi said. "The only way a man can be born is if he comes from a woman. Before he saw the light of day, he was born through a woman's vagina."

"So why, after I gave him life, I who am his mother, why does he reject me and send me off to a corner?" she asked.

In her people's creation story, Pijachi said she told the bishops, "God put man and woman together in the world ... to walk together." If the two are not working in harmony, one indigenous elder told her, "it's like walking with only one leg."

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

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Experts offer advice to help people confront anxiety over gun violence

IMAGE: CNS photo/Briana Sanche pool via Reuters

By Patricia Montana

PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) -- Firearm attacks have changed society in the United States as mass shootings have become more frequent and the public is forced to face the psychological consequences, often silently.

More than half of American adults consider mass shootings a latent threat, a Reuters/Ipsos survey in August discovered. Many respondents reported experiencing a sense of insecurity with increased levels of anxiety.

"This situation puts you on alert because you never know when or where the next massacre will happen. There is an imitation effect and it is happening very frequently," one respondent said.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said recent mass shootings reveal a terrible truth.

"We can never again believe that mass shootings are an isolated exception," they said in a statement after a pair of early August attacks in Texas and Ohio. "They are an epidemic against life that we must, in justice, face."

Statistics from the Gun Violence Archive website show that as of Oct. 10 in the United States there have been 326 mass shootings in which four or more people were killed or injured. The shootings accounted for 363 deaths and 1,329 wounded, leaving countless families mired in pain.

After a white supremacist shooter in El Paso, Texas, sought to "kill as many Mexicans as possible" Aug. 3, fear is especially strong among Hispanic families. Mental health hangs in the balance, experts said.

"I feel that the focus of the attacks and racism is directly against us," said Edith Castillo, executive director of the Catholic Charities program El Programa Hispano in Gresham, Oregon.

Castillo, a mental health counselor, does not mince words in blaming President Donald Trump's rhetoric and federal immigration policy for some of the violence, especially against Latino people.

It's not a stretch to say that terms such as "invaders" can spark criminal actions against Hispanics, Castillo said.

"Many people have been fleeing places with a lot of violence in search of a place that gives them peace and quiet, but people are afraid of the current situation," said Elsa Tzintzun, a mental health counselor at El Programa Hispano. "This causes immigrants to feel isolated and marginalized."

Even those who were not present during an attack are affected by news reports, she said, explaining that trauma becomes an invisible and silent companion.

In 2014, after a shooting at Reynolds High School in suburban Portland, which left two students dead and a teacher wounded, El Programa Hispano offered psychological support. It was then that staff began to wonder how young people were affected by such incidents.

Tzintzun explained that after violent events it is normal for people to feel anxious and afraid; children may begin to behave differently and the changes can dampen their performance in school. The counselor listed irritability, nightmares, insomnia, tremors, sadness, apathy and lack of concentration as symptoms of fear.

Post-trauma symptoms do not necessarily mean people will develop a chronic problem, she said.

In Hispanic culture, many people think psychologists serve only those with severe mental illness or the rich, Tzintzun said. Mental health professionals who speak Spanish are also difficult to find, she said.

The professionals at El Programa Hispano offered several strategies to help manage stress and anxiety caused by violent events:

-- Physical and emotional care by eating well and on time, exercising and adequate and restful sleep.

-- Take time to pray or meditate together as a family and strengthen religious traditions.

-- Create support groups with family and friends or with community or church groups.

-- Have an action plan to increase the feeling of security, organize personal documents, have a power of attorney for your children and designate a trusted person to take charge if necessary.

-- Strengthen cultural identity by embracing one's origin, customs, traditions and values.

-- Seek counseling assistance from mental health professionals.

Tzintzun also offered suggestions on how parents can help their children:

-- Dialogue is essential, so devote time to talk -- such as during a daily meal -- to allow family members to share concerns, ask questions and discuss emotions.

-- Reaffirm safety by allowing children and young people to express their fears and concerns and help them to feel well and safe; a good way to combat fear is by providing information and cautioning children against becoming consumers of political rhetoric.

-- Limit television, internet and cellphone time in order to reduce exposure to violence and death, which can cause anxiety and distress.

-- Observe changes in behavior: Tell children that after events such as shootings it is normal to feel different; let them know that such feelings can cause misunderstandings or create tensions among family or friends. Establish guidelines that help promote respect and tolerance in the family.

-- Strengthen training in values because continuing a faith tradition can help in mental health crises.

"I think that the family is the first school of life and if a child has a solid formation in faith and values, that helps them develop a stable base for managing their emotions and facing life," Castillo said.

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Montana is editor of El Centinela, the Spanish-language newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at [email protected]

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