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It is poignant that in the middle of a deeply divided election season, amid a world-wide pandemic, and against the backdrop of nation-wide civil unrest fueled by racial inequity and oppressions, The Catholic Church celebrates The 106th World Day of Migrants and Refugees.
On September 27, 2020, we are invited to stop and reflect deeply on the state of our lives and our community. Pope Francis offers a message: Like Jesus Christ, who was forced to flee, we are called to Welcome, Protect, Promote, and Integrate all those who are forced from their home.
On January 2020, Pope Francis pointed to the tragedy of internally displaced people as one of the greatest challenges of our contemporary world: “Situations of conflict and humanitarian emergencies, aggravated by climate change, are increasing the numbers of displaced persons and affecting people already living in a state of dire poverty. Many of the countries experiencing these situations lack adequate structures for meeting the needs of the displaced” (January 9, 2020).
Today, in 2020, the World Day of Migrants and Refugees aims to inspire and encourage the people of God to embrace works of charity and justice in the area of immigrant resettlement and care. Pope Francis acknowledges that this humanitarian emergency, affecting millions of lives, has been “relegated to the bottom of national political agendas… But this is not a time for forgetfulness. The crisis we are facing should not make us forget the many other crises that bring suffering to so many people.”
Pope Francis calls us to respond to this pastoral challenge with the four verbs offered in the Message for this Day in 2018: we are called to welcome the migrant, protect them, promote their needs, and integrate them into our community. What a radical call this day!
In 2020, Pope Francis adds another six pairs of verbs that deal with very practical actions and are linked together in a relationship of cause and effect. He challenges us to go deeper, living out our faith.
Pope Francis urges:
You have to know in order to understand.
It is necessary to be close in order to serve.
In order to be reconciled, we need to listen.
In order to grow, it is necessary to share.
We need to be involved in order to promote.
It is necessary to cooperate in order to build.
Pope Francis states, “Displaced people offer us this opportunity to meet the Lord, ‘even though our eyes find it hard to recognize him: his clothing in tatters, his feet dirty, his face disfigured, his body wounded, his tongue unable to speak our language’” (Homily, February 15, 2019).
Let us see our God in our brothers and sisters most in need. Let us act, give, love, and vote in ways that respond to this challenge of love, understanding and compassionate engagement.
Pope Francis gives us clear and concise direction on how to live a faith filled life. Now is the acceptable time!
Core to the mission of The Basilica of Saint Mary is our parish commitment to respond to the needs of the vulnerable in our community. Our St. Vincent de Paul Ministry (SVDP) is a cornerstone of this response. In a two-fold approach, we seek to provide compassionate and effective assistance to those in need and to provide a way for parishioners to engage in service. At the heart of this work is a priority to build relationships and an absolute belief in the dignity of all.
During these days of COVID-19 illness and unemployment, and unrest after the death of George Floyd, work of our St. Vincent de Paul Ministry is more important than ever. Yet, our work is more challenged than ever. The rhythms of daily life and the infrastructure of our community have shifted or disappeared. This is felt most urgently by those who are vulnerable. Our response requires new thinking and imagination—and steadfast commitment.
The work of Basilica St. Vincent de Paul provides a broad spectrum of care. It supports people who live in homeless encampments across the street from The Basilica. It supports people who are recent immigrants to Minnesota—working to establish their lives in our community. It supports parishioner families who lost their job during Stay-At-Home orders, and families in North Minneapolis who are struggling. Indeed, the need is great.
As we weave our way through the impact of COVID-19, SVdP provides basic care by ensuring our neighbors who are homeless have a bathroom available. While The Basilica is closed, we installed 2 portable toilets on 17th street for people to use. Using technology and creativity, Basilica SVdP volunteers continued in long-term relationships with students at Minneapolis College who experience homelessness or generational poverty. These students are persevering against great odds to make a change in their life. In May 2020, one student shared the impact of this mentoring relationship: “I am very grateful for having the mentoring program. It has been a rough year for me and my mentor helped me through it. This program is great for people who struggle like me.”
Our daily St. Vincent de Paul programs held in the Lower Level of the Church—programs that serve thousands of neighbors each year—have been suspended, due to COVID restrictions. However, through ingenuity, perseverance and compassion, we are finding ways for volunteers to connect with and assist people in the community with rent assistance through phone and email contact. We are working to bring back more services to the community utilizing technology—ways to provide assistance effectively, but not in-person.
Our immigrant support teams partner with families seeking asylum through a variety of on-line methods. The volunteers who provide meals to the hungry in our community continue with special safety protocols.
These are among many changes we are working through with our volunteers and our community partners. Our commitment to respond to those most in need has never been stronger.
Look for a special collection to donate to Basilica St. Vincent de Paul in upcoming weeks. Consider supporting this important work. One hundred percent of your donation goes directly to people in need. To find ways to get involved, call my office at 612.317.3477.
In his book, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, Peter Temin suggests, following decades of growing inequality, America essentially functions in a two-class system: “One small, predominantly white upper class that wields a disproportionate share of money, power, and political influence and a much larger, minority-heavy lower class that is all too frequently subject to the first group’s whims.”
Temin suggests a lot of factors contribute to American inequality. It is so deeply embedded it could take almost 20 years for one to escape poverty—with nearly nothing going wrong in one’s life.
There is a lot of research about inequality and income disparity. While they all paint an alarming picture of our society, they also begin to draw a clear call to action for change. Research shows that two key components required to make the transformation out of poverty include education and a relationship.
In 2013, The Basilica’s St. Vincent de Paul ministry leadership prayerfully embraced this research. We recognized, as a faith community, we can offer relationships. We looked across the street and saw the gift and needs of Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC). Ten percent of the students attending MCTC are homeless. Could we as a faith community, partner with MCTC to ensure two key components needed to make the transformation out of poverty—education and a relationship?
In 2014 we created a pilot program called Hennepin Connections: Basilica SVdP Mentoring Program with MCTC. In early May of this year, we completed our fourth year of this partnership—matching MCTC students and Basilica mentors, one-on-one. Each year we experienced profound and powerful results for both the students and the mentors.
The entire program is built on the opportunity to build relationships with students committed to their education. Relationships built through Hennepin Connections are not easy. They often bring people from vastly different cultures, experience, race and class together. This is, indeed the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of Hennepin Connections Mentoring Program.
To prepare for the mentoring partnerships, we offer resources and training for the mentors. We ground ourselves in Vincentian values and spirituality—recognizing we come to this work in humility and faith. Our mantra, as mentors, is “Accept them where they are.” We are called to listen and support, open our hearts and minds, and be willing to be changed by the experience.
At the end of this year’s program, students and mentors shared the meaning of the experience. It was an awesome and humbling evening. Over and over we heard the importance, for the student, to have someone in their life who was not in crisis, who would listen as they vented and would offer a new network for them in their life.
In sharing his gratitude for this program, a student reflected—without this program, even if he and the mentor had been sitting next to one another at a basketball game, they never would have spoken to one another. Hennepin Connections brought two very different worlds together, and made a difference. He said, “Thanks for creating a space for healthy relationships to happen.”
One woman shared that the mentor was “the missing piece of the puzzle in my life.” Another shared that her mentor helped her find calmness when she felt frantic and overwhelmed.
The mentors consistently shared the inspiration they received from walking with the students over the year. They felt they gained more than they gave.
The Basilica seeks to transform society through the Gospel of love—sometimes one life at a time. We can, and must, be proactive to build bridges and unite our community. If you are interested in being part of this important work, call the Christian Life office.
Racism is not merely one sin among many; it is a radical evil that divides the human family and denies the new creation of a redeemed world. To struggle against it demands an equally radical transformation, in our own minds and hearts as well as in the structure of our society.” Brothers and Sisters To Us, USCCB, 1979
During the summer of 2016, the Twin Cities experienced a wave of protests and unrest after the shooting of Philando Castile by a police officer in St. Anthony, MN. The upheaval throughout the Twin Cities was in direct response to the deep and longstanding effects of racism in our state. Uncovered and exposed were the inequalities and injustices behind virtually every statistic of Minnesota’s quality of life: including our state’s education gap, income disparity, homeownership, and violent crime.
- On April 29, 2016, the Pioneer Press reported “Minnesota has some of the worst racial disparities in the nation—gaps that have widened over the past five decades and that soon may create a statewide economic crisis. U.S. Census data show most Minnesota families of color now have median incomes about half those of their white neighbors.”
- On August 18, 2017, the Pioneer Press reported “Minnesota schools have grown more segregated and the state’s nation-leading academic achievement gap refuses to close.
- Black Students: Reading proficiency, 33% and Math proficiency, 28%
- White Students: Reading proficiency, 69% and Math proficiency, 68%
- Headline in the Star Tribune on August 17, 2017 read, “Already-low homeownership rates of Twin Cities minorities fall further,” with 75% whites and only 23% blacks owning homes.
- A report in August 2017 from the Minneapolis Police Department that covers the period 2009 to 2014 states, while blacks made up 18.6% of the population in Minneapolis, 79% of victims of homicide are black.
During the summer and fall of 2016, The Basilica leadership intentionally engaged in reflection and self-examination: How was The Basilica living faithfully by actively confronting issues of racism and being a force of racial reconciliation in the community? Strikingly, we discovered that, while The Basilica is engaged in the community in many ways, we are not living up to our mission in this area.
In the fall of 2016, The Basilica Parish Council unanimously voted to support a parish-wide, sustained effort to address the issue of racism. In February 2017, a Basilica team met for the first time—a team to help shape a parish wide initiative for racial reconciliation.
The team began slowly, prayerfully discerning direction, sharing stories, and developing trust. This Lent, The Basilica officially launched Imago Dei: The Basilica Initiative for Racial Reconciliation. Imago Dei—the Image of God. Rooted in the absolute belief that all humans beings are created in the image of God, The Basilica will devote itself to this effort by praying for empowerment to overcome this radical evil in our lives and communities, by learning about institutionalized racism and its insidious presence in our Church and society, by engaging across lines of difference, and by advocating for social change.
The Basilica of Saint Mary is dedicated to the eradication of racism, and seeks to become a community of racial reconciliation. Look for ways to engage in this important work. This is the work of our time. For more information, contact Janice.
IMAGO DEI: INITIATIVE FOR RACIAL RECONCILIATION PRACTICING RECONCILIATION
SUNDAY, MARCH 18, 11:00AM-12:30PM
SAINTS AMBROSE/TERESA, GROUND LEVEL
Please join us for the last session in this series and hear first hand from Oshea Israel and Mary Johnson about the power of forgiveness.
The Immigrant Support Ministry team welcomed the third family we co-sponsor with LSS on February 23rd of this year. They are a Karenni family of five, two parents and three young children. The parents were originally from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. The family came to the US from a refugee camp in Thailand. The father of the family had lived in the camp for the last 17 years, since he was a teenager. His wife had lived in the camp for nearly as long
With the help of the Basilica four person mentor team the family has been settling into their new home. The first task was to get them warm clothing. Coming from a tropical climate the Minnesota winter was quite a shock. The mentors have taken them shopping for groceries--and they were excited to find a nearby market that has foods similar to those from their home country. The team is also helping to find them a dentist for some needed dental work. They have been available to help get their apartment set up with many necessary items. Coming from the refugee camp, the family came with very few belongings.
The two oldest children have recently started elementary school and LSS will be arranging ESL classes for the adults. Betsy Hasselman, from the mentor team said that she has enjoyed her time with them so far and has been inspired by their determination as they start the their new lives in the US. She looks forward to getting to know them more and being able to be part of their journey.
The Immigrant Support Ministry team welcomed the third family we will co-sponsor with LSS on February 23rd of this year. They are a Karenni family of five: two parents and three young children. The parents were originally from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. The family came to the US from a refugee camp in Thailand. The father of the family had lived in the camp for the last 17 years--since he was a teenager. His wife had lived in the camp for nearly as long
With the help of the Basilica four person mentor team, the family has been settling into their new home. The first task was to get them warm clothing. Coming from a tropical climate the Minnesota winter was quite a shock. The mentors have taken them shopping for groceries. They were excited to find a nearby market that has foods similar to those from their home country. The team is also helping to find them a dentist for some needed dental work and has been available to help get their apartment set up with any necessary items. Coming from the refugee camp, the family came with very few belongings. The two oldest children have recently started elementary school and LSS will be arranging ESL classes for the adults. Betsy Hasselman, from the mentor team said that she has enjoyed her time with them so far and has been inspired by their determination as they start the their new lives in the US. She looks forward to getting to know them more and being able to be part of their journey.
Our day started this morning at 9:15. We cleaned this huge gathering room. After packing up the 40+ cots and them stashing them away we sorted through a great amount of toys, vacuumed the rug to get ready for the next group of travelers. We got instructions on how the intake process works.
At one 1:30 an ICE van pulled up to the shelter and dropped off 4 families with a total of 9 people. Usually the processing center feeds them lunch but when they arrived they had not eaten. The group that came were a father and son from Brazil who were going to Boston, a young mother and a two year old and a seven year old from Guatemala going to Florida, a mother and her 16 year old son from Guatemala going to Nebraska, and a father and his 10 year old daughter going to North Carolina. After a short interview one of the workers tried to call their US families waiting for them. We then helped them find a new change of clothes, show them their rooms and help them find the showers.
Every Monday a local church brings a delicious meal of beans, rice and shredded beef. One of the men that brought the food sat down at our table and talked about why he does this work. He told us that 5 years ago he was an engineer and very successful owner of a construction company when he had a heart attack. He said he was lying there close to death when he decided his life had to change. He decided he needed to give back because his life had been so good so he now makes and serves dinner every Monday night at the shelter.
The things we found out about the families are: The Brazilian man decided he wanted to go back to Brazil. He had left two daughters behind. For him to do that he would not ever be able to get back into the US again, plus he would need to go to a detention center until a whole planeload of detainees needed to go back to Brazil. The mother with her 16 year old son was pregnant with him the last time she saw her husband. The 10 year old little girl was complaining of her legs hurting and the dad just said that yesterday they had spent the entire day running.
On Thursday, February 16, 2017, Basilica parishioners traveled to El Paso, Texas to serve the families staying at a shelter for those seeking asylum in the United States. These comments are from Donna, one of the Basilica members who are serving the families in Texas.
We arrived in El Paso yesterday afternoon. During our time here, we will be staying at on the 3rd floor of this beautiful, old convent of the Loretto Sisters—directly across the alley from the shelter where we will be working.
When we arrived a Brazilian woman with two small children was being taken to the airport to catch a flight to Boston to meet family having spent the night at the shelter.
The morning was spent getting a tour of the facility, and sorting clothes that were collected by the Basilica children. In the afternoon we met with Eina, director of the shelter. She gave us a brief history of the shelter and an update on what we can expect to be helping with during our stay.
In December, there were some days where up to 150 asylum seekers were sleeping at the shelter. The people were mainly from Central America and Brazil.
People coming to the border are questioned, fingerprinted by Border Patrol and processed at a facility an hour away. They are required to wear an ankle bracelet with a tracking number. Aphone call is made to a family member or friend who can vouch for them and send them travel money.
From there ICE will bring them to one of 3 shelters. Nazareth Hall receives asylum seekers on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and people will stay for 1-3 days and then either travel by bus or plane to meet family. In the past few weeks the number of people seeking asylum has dropped so significantly that two of the shelters will be closing next week. Starting Monday, Nazareth Hall will be the only short term shelter open. No one can explain why. Some possible reasons we heard were increased border patrol and also the new administrations stance on immigration.
We have been treated so kindly by everyone we have met.