January 6, 2021
The Light of Epiphany

This week’s celebration of the feast of Epiphany invites us to consider the journey of the magi as recounted in the Gospel of Matthew. Their action was motivated by invisible belief and illuminated by a bright light in the dark sky. Work for justice and peace demands similar eyes of faith.

Only a similar epiphany will let us see the silhouette of Jesus standing in the pantry line or an image of the Holy Family in refugees fleeing war and persecution. May this new year be one in which we not only see with faith but also act with hope, believing that the Savior of the world guides our work.
Death penalty and federal executions

According to the United States Federal Bureau of Prisons, there have been 47 federal executions carried out since 1927. Ten of those took place from July to December 2020. It was in this context that Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, asserted in early December that: “We are all sinners. Some have done terrible things. Victims need help. Justice is needed for peace. But executions solve nothing.”  

With three more executions slated for this month, there is an urgent call for education and action on this issue. An online dialogue titled, “Killing in Our Name Federal Executions and Pro-life Witness,” is being offered this Friday by Georgetown’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life and the Catholic Mobilizing Network.

Panelists include Bishop Daniel Flores, Bishop of Brownsville and the chair-elect of the USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine; Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network, which seeks to end the use of the death penalty in the United States and promotes restorative justice; and Sr. Helen Prejean, CSJ, a leading advocate for the abolition of the death penalty who has been instrumental in sparking national dialogue on capital punishment and in shaping the Catholic Church’s vigorous opposition to all executions.

The session is FREE but you must RSVP in advance.

  • To send a request to President Trump to exercise mercy and stop the individual executions, visit the Take Action page of the Catholic Mobilizing Network
  • To take part in a virtual prayer vigil on the date of each scheduled execution, RSVP here. CMSM board member and Justice and Peace committee chairman Fr. Mike Barth, ST, will assist with the Jan. 15 vigil. 
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New law prioritizes children in U.S. foreign aid

Congratulations to Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States, for its significant work in advancing the successful passage of The Global Child Thrive Act this week. This follows a bipartisan congressional effort and two-year advocacy push that helped get the bill over the finish line.

The new law mandates that early childhood development activities be integrated into relevant U.S. foreign aid programs. Such activities, such as teaching parents the importance of pairing proper nutrition with mental stimulation like singing and reading, support children’s development in the early years when critical brain architecture is built. These activities also build a child’s resilience to unforeseeable challenges such as growing food insecurity. The law’s passage comes at an especially critical time, with experts warning that children in marginalized countries could be hardest hit by the secondary impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Read the full text of the press release here. 

Save the date for a CMSM Justice and Peace webinar with Catholic Relief Services on its campaign Changing the Way We Care: Thursday, Feb. 25, 3 p.m. ET. Learn more about how your community, institute, congregation, or ministry can become more involved with global efforts to assist children without parental care. Registration details coming soon.
Moral considerations regarding the COVID-19 vaccines

As vaccines to address the coronavirus pandemic continue to be approved for use and are being distributed across the country, the USCCB pro-life and doctrine committees are assessing each manufacturer’s vaccine on the basis of the potential for connection to cell lines that may originate in fetal tissue from abortions.

Their seven-page statement released in mid-December looks to papal encyclicals, content from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and bio-ethical analysis conducted on past vaccines to frame the current moral considerations.

In their determination, “Neither Pfizer nor Moderna used morally compromised cell lines in the design, development, or production of the vaccine,” while the process for AstraZeneca may be compromised. They conclude that, Given the urgency of this crisis, the lack of available alternative vaccines, and the fact that the connection between an abortion that occurred decades ago and receiving a vaccine produced today is remote, inoculation with the new COVID-19 vaccines in these circumstances can be morally justified.”

A recent statement from the Holy See on moral imperatives and vaccines is also available here
CALL TO ACTION: Human trafficking

National Human Trafficking Awareness Day will be observed on Jan. 11 in the United States. This day seeks to increase understanding among Americans that human trafficking happens in states and communities across the country.

Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery and occurs when a trafficker uses force, fraud or coercion to control another person for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or soliciting labor or services against his/her will. Calculated as a $150-billion industry, trafficking in persons has become the fastest growing source of illicit profit for criminals worldwide. It is connected to other issues of systemic oppression such as racism, endemic poverty, sexism, xenophobia, exploitative economic systems, and environmental degradation.

A toolkit co-developed by Migration Refugee Services and the Coalition of Catholic Organizations against Human Trafficking offers excellent ways for you to work to end human trafficking. It includes tips on writing letters to the editor, sample social media posts, and how to become a responsible consumer to avoid purchasing products made with exploited labor.

Additional resources:

  • Become a SHEPHERD community and incorporate anti-trafficking into your ministries and activities.
  • Consult the human trafficking section of the Justice for Immigrants website.
  • Pray to end human trafficking.
  • Follow these Catholic agencies on social media during January: @MRSServes and @USCCBJFI
  • Plan now for the World Day of Prayer, Reflection, and Action against Human Trafficking & the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita on Feb. 8. See examples of messaging from 2020 here.
The St. Francis Springs Prayer Center in Stoneville, NC, a ministry of the Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province, has opened a new African-American Resource Room – perhaps one of the most comprehensive of its kind, with more than 1,100 books on Black history, from biographies and poetry to fiction and religion, some dating back to 1860. These were gifted to the center by Fr. David Hyman, OFM, from his personal collection. To learn more about the resource room, read the full story here.

Catholic Social Teaching in the Spirit of Augustine is an interactive community-building webinar series on important social issues offered by the Province of St. Thomas of Villanova.

This four-part series is available now and includes recommended preparation materials, followed by an hour-long video. For example, “Augustine on Catholic Social Teaching as Applied to the Challenge of Immigration” provides a thorough list of applicable videos and readings, as well as downloads on Catholic Social teaching; the video features Fr. Arthur Purcaro, OSA, and Michele R. Pistone, professor of law at Villanova University.
Prayers for newly elected officials

Prayer for elected officials is always important, but perhaps even more urgent in a time of significant national crisis when decisions about human dignity, public health, economic wellbeing, and more weigh on civic leaders. Some options suitable for community prayer, a parish bulletin or e-newsletter:

Immigration platform for 117th Congress

As a core member of the Justice for Immigrants (JFI) coalition, CMSM is pleased to share the group’s recently released recommendations for the incoming Biden Administration and the 117th Congress. These policy and practice recommendations were generated, researched, reviewed, and prepared in a series of working groups in the final months of 2020.

Four general categories – legalization, border policies, enforcement, and root causes - are intended to guide discussions with legislators and can be found here
National Prayer Vigil for Life

Catholics across the country are encouraged to observe a nationwide prayer vigil from Thursday, Jan. 28-Friday, Jan. 29, 2021, marking the 48th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions legalizing abortion through nine months of pregnancy. Since those decisions, over 60 million abortions have been performed legally in the United States. The National Prayer Vigil for Life will be hosted virtually this year with a televised Mass and live-streamed holy hours.

Thursday, Jan. 28 (all times are eastern time)
  • 8:00 p.m. | National Rosary for Life
  • 8:30 p.m. | Opening Mass with Kansas City Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
  • 9:45 p.m. | Holy Hour for Life
  • 11:00 p.m. | Livestream of holy hours throughout the night from across the country
Friday, Jan. 29
  • 8:00 a.m. | Closing Mass with Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori
You can watch the broadcasts, Jan. 28, 8-11 p.m. and Jan. 29, 8-9 a.m., via EWTN and on the Basilica’s website. Livestreaming information for the overnight bishop-led holy hours will be provided on the USCCB’s website. Consult the Respect Life page for updates.
JPIC Winter Meeting

CMSM JPIC Coordinators meeting on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2 p.m. ET. These quarterly gatherings are open to those who represent or coordinate the justice and peace work for their respective men's religious institutes, monasteries, or abbeys. Sign up here.

Webinar: Planning and Facilitating Virtual Lobby Visits

On Friday, Jan. 15, 1 p.m. ET, Ashley Feasley, director of policy for Migration and Refugee Services at the USCCB, will walk us through how to plan and facilitate productive meetings with members of the 117th Congress and the new administration. Sign up here.

Bethany Welch, Ph.D., CMSM Fellow for Justice and Peace
Visit us online: cmsm.org/justiceandpeace