Social Justice


Seeking a “Culture of Encounter” in a Country Divided by Climate Change

By Br. Steve Herro, O. Praem.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Pope Francis has popularized the phrase “culture of encounter” in his many writings and actions.  He writes in The Joy of the Gospel (#220):

Yet becoming a people demands something more. It is an ongoing process in which every new generation must take part: a slow and arduous effort calling for a desire for integration and a willingness to achieve this through the growth of a peaceful and multifaceted culture of encounter.”

And he writes in On Care for Our Common Home (#47):

“True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution.”

So when Frank Sherman, Executive Director of Seventh Generation Interfaith, asked if I—as the volunteer webmaster and a member of the development committee—could upload his essay entitled, “How Do You Speak to a Climate Denier?” to the Seventh Generation Interfaith Coalition for Responsible Investment website, I hesitated. Our organization is not the Sierra Club or Union of Concerned Scientists … what is a commentary on communicating to climate-deniers doing on the website of 25 socially-responsible corporate investors?

After reading Sherman’s essay, I reflected further and recalled my own discussions with other leaders from Wisconsin Interfaith Power and Light about how climate change has been a source of division and tension within many of our families. My curiosity was naturally piqued when I read “A Catholic Response to Climate Skeptics: Create a Culture of Encounter” by Charles Camosy in Crux: Taking the Catholic Pulse on June 5, 2017. Camosy writes:

Pope Francis’s call for a ‘culture of encounter’ looms large here. Those of us who are worried about climate change should do a better job of genuinely encountering those who think differently. In engaging them we should listen first and answer their arguments seriously. Name-calling and label-slapping is not only antithetical to genuine encounter, it undermines our ability to be heard.”

And on a practical level, Camosy encourages climate change activists to practice what they preach by demonstrating a lifestyle that truly demonstrates a “care for our common home,” including:

  • consuming less meat
  • living in the climate (that is, limiting air conditioning and toasty warm indoor heating)
  • buying local whenever possible
DISCLAIMER: This blog represents Br. Herro’s own opinions and experiences. It does not represent an official position or opinion of St. Norbert Abbey or of any other Norbertine.

“What if they held a bake sale to fund the defense department and the schools got all the money they needed?”

By Br. Steve Herro, O. Praem.

CookiesMaybe you have heard the expression or seen the bumper sticker, “What if they held a bake sale to fund the defense department and the schools got all the money they needed?” I am not sure who gets the credit for this clever saying, but the quip has crossed my mind quite a bit the last few weeks.

Earlier this spring, I read an appeal by the Dominican Center for Women. The center, founded by the Sinsinawa Domincans in 1995, is an urban ministry program in the Amani neighborhood of Milwaukee. The center seeks to raise $200,000 to test the water and purchase water filters in this low-income neighborhood. As reported: “… The 53206 ZIP code, of which the Amani neighborhood is a significant part, has more lead laterals, lead-contaminated water, and the highest number of children with elevated blood levels in Milwaukee …”

I was dumbfounded. One year ago, the story of contaminated water in Flint, Michigan, took our nation by storm:

  • A: I rarely considered what was happening “behind the scenes” when I turned on the faucet to brush my teeth.
  • And B: I did not tend to think of who was paying for my water to arrive from Lake Michigan to the city of De Pere.

But a recent visit to a Greater Green Bay Habitat for Humanity worksite educated me on how a city’s water moves to a homeowner’s house and how it is paid for. Most not only pay a fee to the local water utility, but also property owners must pay for the lateral water pipe that connects one’s building to the city’s system of underground water pipes.

Is there anything more basic to human life than water? Why do inner-city residents struggle with lead pipes—a worry that many of us never have to face? Why do peasants in sub-Sahara Africa suffer from drought and famine when others can install irrigation systems to water golf courses without batting an eyelash? To have to independently fundraise for clean water and lead-free pipes flies in the face of the Christian understanding of the common good.

President Donald Trump announced a draft federal budget for fiscal year 2018 on May 23, 2017. Who are the winners and losers? Sr. Donna Markham OP, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA), announced:

“While CCUSA supports efforts to improve vital safety-net programs needed to move people out of poverty and protect life … cuts to anti-poverty programs such as SNAP, Medicaid and jobs training will have a devastating effect on millions of vulnerable individuals and families who depend on them.”

The budget requests an additional $469 billion for defense during the next 10 years. On the other hand, wouldn’t you rather enjoy a lemonade while visiting with a four-star general at a military bake sale?

DISCLAIMER: This blog represents Br. Herro’s own opinions and experiences. It does not represent an official position or opinion of St. Norbert Abbey or of any other Norbertine.

Sharing the Joy of the Good News of Christ

By Br. Steve Herro, O. Praem.

Washing of the Feet at St. Norbert Abbey, Holy Thursday 2017: Deacon Michael Brennan, O. Praem. (left) and Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem.

My brother Jerome and I were traveling one day. Mind you, we don’t often digress onto theological discourse, but this time he said to me, “We say this at Mass, but what does ‘descended into hell’ really mean?”

Last month as part of the Norbertine Center for Spirituality’s annual Triduum Retreat at St. Norbert Abbey, Fr. Matthew Dougherty, O. Praem., delivered a Holy Saturday conference entitled, “Descended into Hell.” He brilliantly explained how different theologians and literary figures have addressed this concept through the centuries, but his explanation of Jesus visiting people who are so devoid of life and human interaction to free them from the from the imprisonment of isolation from love of God and others really struck a chord with me. In his presentation, Fr. Dougherty included a slide of a prisoner in solitary confinement. I immediately thought that a contemporary example of Jesus descending into hell would be visiting and freeing prisoners from solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement is real in Wisconsin prisons. Faith-based leaders from WISDOM (a Wisconsin network of faith-based organizations) and others from the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin have led concerned Wisconsinites in reforming Wisconsin prison practices that include the use of solitary confinement.

The article, “Wisconsin Inmates Report Despair, Little Counseling In Solitary Confinement That Can Stretch On For Years” (Wisconsin Public Radio, April 14, 2017), noted that there were 1,073 Wisconsin inmates in solitary confinement on Februrary 28, 2017. Confinement averages 22 hours a day for 15 continuous days. But Governor Scott Walker’s 2017-2019 Wisconsin state budget requests additional funds for mental health care and outside-of-cell programming and recreation for those in solitary confinement.

Jesus did not descend into hell to have parties with the rich, powerful, and popular. Pope Francis has made a habit of washing the feet of Roman prisoners. And wherever the pope goes, the media follow; the lives of those visited receive at least a fleeting moment of international attention.

Whether we advocate for prisoners in solitary confinement, visit saddened people in hospitals or nursing homes, or pray for an end to the confinement of political prisoners, we are “descending into hell” to bring the joy of the Good News of Christ to men and women separated or isolated from human love and interaction.

Where We Minister

As stated in the mission of St. Norbert Abbey, “We give ourselves in service to one another and to people in need, with special emphasis on service and advocacy for the poor. We commit ourselves to our traditional ministries, while being open to new apostolates.”

Members of the Norbertine Community of St. Norbert Abbey minister at the Brown County Jail and at the Green Bay Correctional Institution (GBCI), among other apostolates.

If you are considering a vocation to Norbertine religious life and/or priesthood, call 920.337.4333 or e-mail vocations@norbertines.org to speak with a member of St. Norbert Abbey’s vocations team.

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DISCLAIMER: This blog represents Br. Herro’s own opinions and experiences. It does not represent an official position or opinion of St. Norbert Abbey or of any other Norbertine.

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