A lifetime of healing. Interesting testimony of Fr. Phil Salois MS about his experience in Vietnam and his vocation to became a Missionary of La Salette.
“I said a quick prayer to God,” he says. “I said, ‘You know, God, I’m going to go out there and rescue these guys. This is a crazy thing to do. If you get me out of this mess safe and sound without a scratch, I’ll do anything you want.’”
Salois began studying – the “first time in my life I really enjoyed studying” – and passed the test in 1972. A couple of years after joining the seminary, he was walking through the woods, praying the Rosary, when he had a flashback to the battlefield.
“I remember saying to God, ‘You know, God, I’m really happy here. I’m really glad you called me here,’” Salois says. “And I heard that inner voice say to me, ‘Well, do you remember that promise you made to me four years ago?’”
To All My LaSalette Brothers and Sisters:
My new assignment has taken me to the Diocese of Tucson, Arizona. I am working in Detention Ministry with a focus on Restorative Justice; Detention Ministry here in the diocese is called The Kolbe Society out of respect for and inspired by Saint Maximilian Kolbe who gave his life to replace a man condemned to death.
Restorative Justice (RJ) has many expressions as it strives to ‘make things right’ between a victim and his/her offender and the community. The objective is to focus on the broken relationship between the victim and the offender that has caused real harm and possibly deep hurt to the victim and within the community; while the criminal justice system looks to punishment as the reparation for the hurt/harm caused by the offender, restorative justice looks to address the hurt/harm by bringing both together (when possible) and to explore all the dimensions of hurt/harm caused by the crime.
In most crimes, the victim has sustained serious material damage and this must be addressed; the offender is responsible for just compensation. However the victim is a person and will most certainly have suffered inner hurt as well; this emotional hurt is addressed when the victim meets face to face with the offender through the restorative justice process; we should note that this face to face meeting rarely happens within the criminal justice system. This victim-offender meeting allows the victim to tell the offender the full extent of hurt, material/physical/emotional/spiritual, experienced; it allows the victim to ask questions of the offender such as ‘why?’, ‘why my house and not someone else’s?’, etc. This meeting then is beneficial for the victim since it lets him/her ‘get things off their chest’, get answers to questions not asked in court proceedings and to really meet the offender face to face (if the victim and offender choose to do so).
The offender is always responsible to make reparation for the damages caused, as much as possible; in many crimes, especially very serious ones, this may not be possible or is impossible; incarceration is the result and the victim and offender rarely get to see each other, much less meet. With restorative justice, the offender gets to see the victim as a person and hopefully understand more fully what his/her crime has really done, in terms of not only the material loss but also the emotional hurt, the loss of peace of mind, etc. This can be very beneficial to the offender: to see victims as real people and not only as another opportunity to take advantage of because “they” have what I want. To begin to really see their victim as a real person can go a long way to helping the offender decide to steer away from a life of crime.
THE RESTORATION OF VICTIM AND OFFENDER
While justice is never overlooked nor given short shrift, the meeting of victim with offender can be restorative for both. The offender, in order to be restored, needs to admit he/she has done wrong and be willing to ‘make things right’ as best they can; seeing the victim as a fellow human being is integral to the process of restorative justice for the offender. The victim can also be restored not only by being compensated, or by getting things off their chest or by getting some questions answered; restoration for the victim also happens by beginning to see the offender in a new light: as a person genuinely sorry for their wrongdoing, willing to make things right and as a fellow human being like themselves; restorative justice can make a real difference in peoples’ lives.
….works when given the chance. RJ has remarkable success with young offenders, offering them a process of meeting with their victim instead of going through the criminal court justice system. In most cases a possible life of crime is headed off, a young offender avoids a criminal record, a valuable lesson has been learned and justice has been done: restorative justice.
For those incarcerated, a restorative justice program among inmates can lead them to appreciate their own humanity in a new way as they see and help fellow inmates change for the better through specialized interactive programs. With restorative justice rehabilitative programs begun in prison, these men and women then have a better chance of not falling back into crime when they re-enter society. Restorative justice is a proven program in the countries that have made serious attempts to establish it alongside their criminal justice system.
The above paragraphs are but a glimpse into restorative justice, and incomplete at that; please forgive my incompleteness. As I learn more about restorative justice and minister more closely to those people in our jails and those involved in their care, I hope to flesh out what I am convinced is the work of the Spirit of Reconciliation.
Richard Landry, MS
For several months I’ve been volunteering one day a week at a local shelter for homeless men. In prayer and reflection, and inspired by the words and actions of Pope Francis, I wanted to get involved in a ministry with homeless persons. My full-time work allows me time for this, since I focus on weekend programs for married couples and early morning weekday Masses at local convents.
There no organized outreach to homeless persons by the Catholic diocese, so I applied to be a volunteer at the Gospel Rescue Mission, a non-denominational, mostly evangelical Christian ministry. After I responded to some lengthy questionnaires, interviews with staff members, and a criminal background check, I was accepted as a volunteer. At first some of the staff were a little concerned about my motives, whether I was looking for lapsed Catholics or hoping to convert people. I assured them that I just wanted to help. So on most Wednesdays, after my morning Masses, I go to the shelter.
At the mission I work as a driver, taking the shelter residents to appointments: doctors, parole officers, and job interviews. I also work in the front office, helping to give sandwiches to anyone who comes to the door, praying with people who request prayer, and picking up supplies and helping with other administrative tasks. I have a lot of time to talk to the men as I drive them, and also when I eat lunch with them. I am able to listen to their concerns and stories, and to support and encourage them as they work to reform their lives after prison or addiction, loss of job and loss of family support.
God has blessed me in this ministry, and opened my eyes to the complexities of the issues that homeless people experience. And it has broadened my horizons, working hand in hand with other Christians outside of my own more comfortable denominational settings.
Paul Mandziuk M.S.
A drawing competition on the theme of peace was conducted. Many came out with various kinds of drawings. One was that of a child sleeping at the breast of its mother, another one is a flower in the desert and so many of such kind. But the price winning one was a different one; it was a painting of a sea-crow singing, sitting on a sea rock amidst the high waves approaching towards it. The picture clearly depicts peace, which is complete trust in God. As the psalmist says, it is a belief that even if one walks in the valley of death, nothing will harm him (Ps 23).
Peace is something that we seek most. We are aware of the persecutions, wars and calamities happening in the world. There are so many incidents that can cause the destruction of our serenity. Amidst all theses adversities how can one have peace? And of course one may ask, where can I find peace? According to Joseph F. Girzone, “the reason the world has no peace is that people have no peace inside themselves. How can people give peace if they have not found peace themselves? Peace means disciplining what is unruly and harmful within oneself. It means overlooking hurt and insult and forgiving those who offend you. It means reaching out to God and allowing Him into your soul, where He can become your friend. When God is within you, then you will have peace. Bringing peace to the world means bringing God into the hearts of others. It cannot be otherwise. You cannot have peace without God.” Thus, one should find it within. He needs to trust in God. According to J.Maurus, faith is involvement of the whole person. It implies an attempt to relate as well as possible with others and with God. It is a matter of inner freedom. Unless we have learned to cut the emotions down to size and control them meaningfully, we can never really live with any semblance of true and authentic freedom. In a way if we want to enjoy freedom and peace we must travel in to ourselves. To the inside of us. Peace that cannot be found within cannot be found elsewhere. Peace that is enriched inside will flow out to the world.
One method of attaining peace is, learning to forget. Forgetting two things in life: 1- The good you have done to others. 2- The harm others have inflicted on you. It is very difficult but possible. It should be possible for us who wish peace in the name of the Lord. ‘The peace of the Lord be with you always’. Often, the advocates of peace are in search of peace. We search it everywhere except in God. That is the irony of our life. Peace is not the absence of problems. Instead, it is the realization of the presence of God within us. St.Paul has rightly said it, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Will it be trials, persecution or hunger, lack of clothing, or dangers or sword?” (Rom 8:35). Remember; there is nothing wrong in touring from place to place for consolations, if only one can realize that it should begin and end in God. When we wish peace to each other, let God grant us the same peace.
 Joseph F.Girzone, Joshua in the Holy Land, (Simon & Schuster, New York, 1992) 51.
 J.Maurus, Cybernetics or Liberation, (St.Paul’s, Allahabad, India, 1981) 50.
The Day will be held on 8 February, the feast day of Sudanese slave St. Josephine Bakhita who, after being freed, became a Canossian Sister and was canonised in 2000, and will be entitled: “A light against human trafficking”. The Day is promoted by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, the Pontifical Council “Justice and Peace” and the International Union of Superiors General (UISG). (Vis)
On the occasion of this first day of prayer and reflection, all dioceses, parishes, associations, families and individuals are invited to reflect and pray in order to cast light on this crime, as indicated by the theme of the initiative. In addition, prayer vigils will be held in different countries, culminating in the Angelus prayer in St. Peter's Square on 8 February.
What can you do to fight human trafficking:
O God, when we hear of children and adults deceived and taken to unknown places for purposes of sexual exploitation, forced labor, and organ 'harvesting' our hearts aresaddened and our spirits angry that their dignity and rights are ignored through threats, lies, and force. We cry out against the evil practice of this modern slavery, and pray with St. Bakhita for it to end. Give us wisdom and courage to reach out and stand with those whose bodies, hearts and spirits have been so wounded, so that together we may make real your promises to fill these sisters and brothers with a love that is tender and good. Send the exploiters away empty-handed to be converted from this wickedness, and help us all to claim the freedom that is your gift to your children. Amen
The Celebration of the Year of Justice and Peace in our Congregation challenges us to address specific issues, which we think are included in the concepts presented here. We have prepared this calendar for the year 2015, which takes into account some topics of Justice and Peace. The United Nations has announced some days emphasizing some aspects of justice and peace. Church has own dates to emphasize different aspects of Social Teaching or support the International or World celebrations.
That is why we offer you this opportunity to plan the activities in your own calendar in relation to the initiatives of the Church or the UN. It would be good to find a day in the month in which you could invite the La Salettes or our Laity for prayer, or for specific activities, or to raise awareness concerning these issues. You might also use other days, or feasts (e.g., national or local celebrations) to talk about, to pray about, to engage in activities concerning, or to celebrate Justice and Peace. [We give only some examples the originator of the particular feast. UN - United Nations; CC – Catholic Church] On the main page you can finde some reflections. Go to
January 1 - World Day of Peace (CC)
January 18 - World Day of Migrants and Refugees (CC)
January 17 - Day of Dialogue with Judaism (CC)
January 24 - World Day of Social Communications (CC)
February 11-World Day for the Sick (CC)
February 20-World Day for Social Justice (UN)
February 23- International Day in Support of the Needy
March 8 -International Day for Women's Rights (UN)
March 21- Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination(UN)
March 22 -World Water Day(UN)
March 25 – Feast of Annuntiation - Day for Life
Last Saturday in March -Earth Hour (World Wide Fund for Nature)
April22 -World Earth Day (UN)
May 1 – St' Joseph the Worker (CC)
May 15 -International Day of Families (UN)
Second Saturday in May-World Fair Trade Day
June 1 – World Children Day (UNICEF)
June5 - Environment Day (UNEP)
June 20 - World Refugee Day (UN)
August19 - World Humanitarian Day (UN)
September 4-Immigrant Day (Argentina)
September 10 - Celebration of the Justice and Peace in the Congregation; Day of the La Salette Laity
September 21 -International Day of Peace (UN) Day of Prayer for Peace
Third Weekend in September - International Day Without Violence (environmental campaign from Australia)
October - First Monday in October-World Habitat Day (UN)
October 2- International Day Without Violence (UN)
October 4 - St' Francis Patron and Animals, & Ecology
October 14 - World Mission Day (CC)
October16 - World Food Day(FAO)
October 17-International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (UN)
December 2 -World Day of the Disabled (UN)
December 10 - Human Rights Day (UN)
December 18- International Migrants Day (UN)
December 28 - Feast of the Holy Innocents
Sunday in the Octave of Christmas - Feast of the Holy Family (CC)
The General Chapter of 2012 decided (Decision #8) that the year 2015 would be dedicated to the theme "Justice, Peace and Reconciliation" for the entire Congregation. Below is the material.
PARTICULAR INVOLVEMENT OF
All the local communities of the Provinces and Region
All the parishes of the Congregation
Religious Life that listens to the cry of the poor
We are the announcers of the Good News to all, without exception
Human rights, justice, and social development
- Our charism -
Reconciliation and human conflicts
- Our vocation -
"Among our tasks as witnesses to the love of Christ is that of giving a voice to the cry of the poor, so that they are not abandoned to the laws of an economy that seems at times to treat people as mere consumers." (Pope Francis to his Grace Justin Welby, Primate of the Anglican Communion - 14 June 2013)
“I think that each one of us ought to feel committed primarily and personally in this effort of setting afire the innermost recesses of our faith and of our own religious consecration. In so doing we will be more at ease in the heart of Church and in the world, we who are called to love and serve by following the example of Jesus, our teacher and guide.”(Superior General’s Letter for the Feast of La Salette, 2012 – the first one of his term.)
FROM OUR RULE OF LIFE
...we want to be free from excessive concern for the things of this world in order to seek first the Kingdom and provide an effective response to the “cry of the poor.” No. 10.
When a Province accepts the care of parishes, it gives preference to those most in need. No. 44cp.
Who are the poor today? Where do we meet them?
What conversion(s) need to take place so that I/we can hear the cry of the poor?
YES to equality
NO to discrimination
YES to the commandment
NO to intolerance
“but [the mighty] caused the cries of the poor to reach[the Just One], so that he heard the cry of the afflicted.”(Job 34:28)
“I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live.”(John 11:25)
SEEDS TO HELP GROW
The creation of alternative means for assuring a just economy
The disseminating and sustaining of new initiatives developed in light of the new relationships between persons
THOSE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE WORK OF THIS PERIOD
COORDINATING THIS WORK
International Commission of Justice and Peace
Internation Communications Commission and five pastors in Europe
The 2012 General Chapter of the Missionaries of La Salette asked the General Council “to declare 2015 a ‘special year for reconciliation and Justice and Peace’ in the entire congregation.” This annual provincial assembly is dedicated to preparation for that special year. Justice has been a central concept in Christian faith from the very beginning, but has enjoyed a special prominence in the last half century, with the repositioning of the Church in the modern world at the Second Vatican Council, through the first Synod of Bishops (which was devoted to the theme of justice) and the teaching of the popes from John XXIII down to the present pontiff, Pope Francis.
What is distinctive about what you as Missionaries of La Salette, along with the La Salette sisters and laity, are trying to do is to give concrete form to a ministry of justice within your charism of reconciliation. That is what I will be addressing here with you today; namely, how and in what ways work for justice and peace takes concrete shape within the framework of a concern for reconciliation. To do this, I will move through three steps. First of all, I will recall briefly the Christian understanding of justice, from its biblical roots down to more recent thought on the topic. Then, in a second move, I will relate justice to reconciliation, especially as it has been elaborated in recent years, as well as by you in your own understanding of your charism. This will lead to a third move, namely, what this might mean concretely for your work toward justice and peace as distinctively done by La Salette Missionaries. I hope that this will stimulate your own thinking and planning as you enter this special year for reconciliation, justice and peace.
The Christian Understanding of Justice
Justice is a central category in all three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is fundamental to how all three faiths look at God’s action in the world: God is a God of justice. Here I want to concentrate on Judaism and Christianity, and how they see justice, since the Christian understanding of justice relies principally and nearly completely on the understandings found in the Old Testament.
Two Hebrew words cover what we, in our time, would call “justice.” The first is sedequah, the more comprehensive term. It refers to the observing of and the maintaining right relationships in all areas of life: between persons, in the family, in society, in political and economic realms, and with God. Sedequah is often translated as “righteousness.” To live in such a network of right relationships is to be “righteous” in the full sense of the word. God’s own ordering of the world in his creation of all things is the framework of righteousness. God’s action and judgment in the world—creating, rescuing, punishing, rewarding, restoring—mark the concrete enactment of God’s justice, God’s righteousness.
The other Hebrew word is mishpat. It is about a more specific instance of justice, especially justice in its legal or juridical form. This is justice as the outcome of making of a formal judgment or the results of a procedure in a courtroom. Mishpat addresses relationships that have become broken or distorted by human actions, and need to be made right again before the community and before God. When we take legal action against wrongdoers, or enact reforms to re-establish right relations, this is mishpat.
But there is a third biblical concept that needs to be introduced here, one that provides a horizon for how we see right relationships and how we restore them when wrongdoing has occurred. This is the concept of mercy. The Hebrew word behind the English “mercy” is hesed, which refers to the unbounded love or loving-kindness of God. This sets the framework for sedequah or righteousness, where the right relationships envisioned by this loving God are made evident to us. And it is even more present in mishpat, the enactment of justice, in order that such making things right does not become vengeful or even cruel.
It should be noted that this understanding of mercy as the framework of God’s unbounded love for all of creation is different from the modern juridical meaning of mercy as used in the court system. There “mercy” means a lessening or even elimination of punishment that the wrongdoer deserves to receive. The biblical meaning of this hesed or mercy of God, rather, is one that recognizes the finitude of all creatures and wishes to bring us in our finitude as close to the fullness of justice or right relationships that can be achieved this side of heaven. This understanding of mercy stands front and center in the pontificate of Pope Francis, and is the lens through which he looks at all the issues facing us today.
It is indeed that fullness of relationships that marks the fourth biblical concept that comes into play here, and in the special year in 2015 for La Salette Missionaries; namely, shalom or peace. Peace is not understood in the Bible simply as the absence of war or conflict. Rather, peace is that state where all relationships are marked by justice and righteousness, dwelling within a horizon of mercy. Peace is the fullness of life as God has intended it.
The New Testament shares the Old Testament’s vision of justice, both as the state of right relationships and the means of redress when relationships are broken or distorted. It also shares the horizon of mercy. What the New Testament adds is testimony to how all of this is enacted in the life and work of Christ, both in his ministry and in his suffering, death and resurrection. In his ministry, the proclamation and doing of justice is already evident in what has been called his Nazareth Manifesto in the synagogue in Nazareth as presented in Luke 4:16-21. His special focus on the needs of the poor, his denunciation of the powerful and rich who oppress the poor, his proclamation of the beatitudes, and his compelling parables—such as those of the workers in the vineyard, the unjust steward, the Good Samaritan, and the final judgment—all point to the justice of God. All this ministry of justice is then brought together in the saving actions of his passion, death, and resurrection whereby all of the relationships of the world are set aright with God. And from this setting relationships aright emerges peace, the interior peace or union with God that the risen Jesus imparts to his disciples, and in that final, great peace we look forward to at the end of time when “God will be all in all” (1 Cor 15:28).
It is this biblical message of justice and peace that shapes the Christian tradition. In more recent times it has been articulated with ever greater clarity in the Social Teaching of the Church, especially since the publication of Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum novarum in 1891. As already mentioned, it has been taken up at the Second Vatican Council, the 1971 Synod of Bishops on justice in the world, and the writings of the popes of the most recent period, from John XXIII’s Pacem in terris in 1963, through Paul VI’s Populorum progressio, John Paul II’s Solicitudo rei socialis and Centesimus Annus, Benedict XVI’s Caritatis in veritate to Pope Francis’ Evangelii gaudium. Almost immediately after the Council, the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace was created as a Vatican-level office (1967), and was followed by similar commissions being set up in religious institutes and dioceses throughout the Church.
The Christian theology of justice has distinguished between many dimensions of justice, such as:
Punitive or retributive justice, aimed at the punishment of wrongdoers;
Distributive justice, directed toward the universal distribution of the earth’s goods, so that everyone has what is needed for a dignified life;
Restorative or commutative justice, intended to give back to victims as much as possible what has been taken from them;
Structural justice, which strives to correct or establish social structures that prevent injustice from happening again and that assure just relations in the future.
One of the major ways of assuring the restoration of just human relations is work for human rights, first formally accepted on a wide scale in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, and embraced by Pope John XXIII in his encyclical Pacem in terris in 1963. While lists of what constitutes human rights vary in some measure, for Catholics they are all oriented toward creating what successive popes have called a “culture of life,” a “civilization of love,” and a “globalization of solidarity.” Pope Francis has brought in this regard a new emphasis on the “church for the poor and of the poor,” highlighting the “option for the poor” that was notably first articulated in his native South America at Medellin in 1968, and is now acknowledged as part of Catholic Social Teaching.
Justice and Reconciliation
In the course of nearly half a century of focus on the role of justice in faithful Christian discipleship, many different angles and perspectives have been developed to give a fuller picture of the call to living a just life and to a ministry to achieve greater justice. Any religious institute considering the place of justice in its spirituality and apostolate needs to examine how its charism might call it to specific emphases in its vision of justice. In the case of La Salette missionaries, the centrality of reconciliation provides a vantage point from which to make such an examination of how the work of justice and peace might be undertaken more fruitfully as well as what pitfalls may need to be avoided. You have already been doing a lot of reflection on reconciliation, especially over these past five years, and I wish to build upon that here, as well as use this opportunity to remind us all of some of the central tenets of reconciliation. In this second part of the presentation, I want to examine some of the questions that have emerged in recent years regarding the relation of reconciliation to justice, and of justice to reconciliation. I will begin by sketching a bit of how to think about reconciliation in view of justice, and then discuss one potential pitfall often encountered, as well as one question that needs to be addressed.
First, then, thinking about reconciliation in view of justice: how do we have to understand reconciliation as it engages questions of justice? I would suggest that we need to recall that we can look at reconciliation in three interrelated ways: reconciliation as resource, as process, and as goal or endpoint.
Reconciliation as Resource
The Christian understanding of reconciliation, as you may recall, begins with the belief that God is the source and author of all reconciliation. “All of this is from God,” Saint Paul says in the Second Letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor 5:19). Our work of reconciliation is as “ambassadors of Christ,” participating in God’s work. And God’s work is manifested to us in God’s design for an alienated creation that is being drawn back into deep communion with God’s own self through the saving work of Jesus Christ. Our access to God’s work and our participation in it comes through our participation in the sacraments—especially Baptism, Eucharist, and Penance or Reconciliation, as well as prayer as contemplative communion with God. Working for reconciliation requires more than good intentions and commitment. It is about grasping deep-seated, complicated, and confusing tangles of sin and alienation. It is about change for all the parties involved, a change that cannot come about if we all stay as we are and have been. We must find a source that is larger than ourselves, both to sustain our motivation and also to open us up to new possibilities. The work of reconciliation often comes up against an impasse or our getting “stuck”, unable to see alternatives. It is not as linear as our projects would lead us to believe. Ritual practices help us de-center ourselves, allowing us to move out of present time, either into the past (memory) or into the future (hope). Our capacity to see what has been overlooked, to celebrate the small victories, to task risks are all part of the work of reconciliation. We each must find the spiritual resources to sustain us in this most difficult work. And here our understanding of God’s work, manifested by the Father in creation and restoration, in the Son in his saving activity, and in the Spirit’s sustaining movement is the resource given to us.
Some people who struggle for justice find this too much centered on human interiority or on individuals, and not enough on concerted social action. The deeper truth here, however, is without this interiority of communion with God, the author and sustainer of reconciliation, the work of reconciliation can burn out, can lose it soul. For the work of justice to be sustained and to maintain its integrity, it needs spiritual sustenance.
Reconciliation as Process
We often focus our attention so on reconciliation as desired outcome or goal that we forget that most of the work of reconciliation goes on in a process. “Process” may be even too tidy a word for what happens, since it may give the impression that it is a clear, rational and linear project that has been set up. In reality, though, reconciliation always involves actions, practices, course corrections, setbacks, limited objectives, and partial outcomes. The image to keep in mind here is less of a river flowing with a single, coordinated current than one of eddies of water making their way through a delta.
But there are definable actions and practices nonetheless. If reconciliation is about building peace, one can see four distinct but interrelated practices: the healing of memories, truth-telling, pursuit of justice, and forgiveness. The four are not utterly sequential, one following upon another. They often occur together. One might add other practices, such as building basic communication and trust between the parties, mediation and negotiation, and the like. Our work of reconciliation happens mainly in reconciliation as process. These actions of communication, accompaniment, and building up that change relationships of all kinds are not separate from reconciliation: they are the very “stuff” of reconciliation itself. To think of reconciliation only as a goal implies we can jump over the hard work that goes into the healing of the world. To make such a leap is a very disembodied view of how God acts in the world. Likewise, noting the importance of reconciliation as process helps us avoid a mistake about thinking of reconciliation as resource. Reconciliation is not about fortifying ourselves with the sacraments and then going out and doing good by pursuing justice. That “going out,” that sense of being sent, is an inseparable part of the work of reconciliation, of our participating in the Holy Trinity’s reconciling mission in the world. The sacraments do not stop at the conclusion of the ritual or at the church door, so to speak.
Reconciliation as Goal
What has been said thus far about reconciliation as resource and reconciliation as process was intended to delimit considerably how we think about reconciliation in general. Most typically, reconciliation for most people connotes an end-state of peace (or at least absence of conflict) where the past no longer determines the present and the future. This remains a good description of the goal of reconciliation, although we know that in practice such reconciliation is rarely if ever fully realized. Focus on reconciliation as process is necessary. At the same time, however, we also need a horizon upon which to fix our gaze. In view of that it seems to me reconciliation as goal entails three things for us as Christians.
First of all, we must constantly remind ourselves that God is the author and endpoint of reconciliation. Ultimately it is not about us—what we do or what we can imagine for the future. The practices that keep us in touch with God as the source of reconciliation are needed equally to sustain us in reconciliation work. Put simply, we have to find the hope that draws us into the future that God has imagined. Hope comes from God, and an ever-deepening reliance upon God is essential for living in that hope.
Second, we must discover and celebrate the small victories along the way. We sometimes find ourselves in situations where there may well be no great victories. But there will always be small ones. Being able to discover them and then acknowledge and celebrate them is a way of resisting despair. It is discerning the traces of God in our midst. Discovering them reminds us not only of the nearness of God in times and places where God can seem completely absent; it also reminds us that perhaps the most important things happening are not done by us, but are part of a larger reality in which we participate. Celebration is ritually based; that is, we have set ways that allow us to come into touch with the past, but also feel that future that is reaching out to us.
Third, in seeing reconciliation as a goal, we attend especially to what is happening with the next generation. In cases dealing with social trauma, such as immigration, experience teaches that people who go through profound dislocation and trauma as adults are often not able to find complete reconciliation. It will be left to their children—to those who want to remain faithful to the experience of their parents but also who need to find a way to live differently in the future—to find the way to reconciliation Youth are a special vehicle of God’s grace. Our commitment to reconciliation as goal entails commitment and care for the future generations. That means not only involving youth in reconciliation processes, but attending especially to what they see and hear, and walking with them (or perhaps following them) into that future.
A Pitfall and a Question
This overview of ways of thinking about reconciliation helps set the stage for acknowledging one pitfall that often opens up in discussions of reconciliation and justice. It also sheds light on a frequently asked question.
The pitfall is this: Do we have to choose between justice and reconciliation? This is a question that comes from some social activists, a question that I have encountered especially in Latin America. In Latin America, it arose out of a misuse of the idea of reconciliation, especially in conservative circles that were opposed to a theology of liberation. It occurred also among those who did not want to look at the past. In the former circle, the relation between justice and reconciliation was set up in such a way to make seeking justice or liberation as being more about conflict, whereas seeking reconciliation was about communion. So it was posed in this way: Do we want conflict or communion? Which is the Christian thing to do? In the case of those who did not want to look at the past (I first encountered this in Argentina), it was voiced somewhat in this fashion. After the “Dirty War” there (1976-1983), there were those who said: “Oh, let’s put the difficult and ugly past behind us, and go now into the future together.” One has to listen in such instances to who is making such a proposal. It is quite often those who have been wrongdoers and do not want to be discovered or punished. Sometimes it is also the bystanders who should have stood up for justice but did not do so. It is rarely the victims who voice this.
From what has just been said about reconciliation, I think the response to these two proposals is clear. Justice, and the pursuit of justice, is not the opposite of reconciliation. Justice is a constitutive practice and part of reconciliation. Any reconciliation that tries to sidestep justice will be a hollow, empty, and indeed false one. As to the second question, the healing of memories, the telling of the truth about the past, and the pursuit of justice are indispensable practices of reconciliation, and no reconciliation can be achieved without those concerns being addressed. So avoiding the pitfall of being made to choose between justice and reconciliation requires a full and proper understanding of what both justice and reconciliation entail.
And now to the question, which often gets voiced in this fashion: Can there be reconciliation without full justice? Or sometimes it is voiced in a declarative way: There can be no reconciliation until there is full justice! In the 1990s, such calls were often heard from earnest voices in the World Council of Churches, wanting to demonstrate their commitment to the work for justice.
The desires that are trying to be expressed in saying that can be no reconciliation until there is complete justice are good ones, I believe. But they work out of some misguided conceptions. No justice is ever complete in this world, short of the Second Coming of Christ. After a social catastrophe such as ethnic cleansing, for example, we cannot bring back the dead. We cannot completely undo history. Justice will always be incomplete. But that is not a warrant for not pursuing the work of justice. Doing the work of justice is already a commitment to the practices of reconciliation. So this question carries with it an incomplete understanding of justice.
It also carries with it an incomplete understanding of reconciliation. It sees reconciliation only as an endpoint or goal. It unduly separates out justice from the process of reconciliation. The other practices of reconciliation contribute mightily to the pursuit of justice itself. Without some measure of healing of memories and of truth-telling, for example, justice can be a cover for revenge and retaliation rather than restorative work for both the wrongdoer and the victim. Such healing and truth-telling can focus and direct the constructive energies of anger that well up at times in people who are seeking justice and redress. Keeping in mind too that reconciliation is ultimately the work of God (as is final justice) can help focus the energies for justice as well. And as Pope Francis continually reminds us, mercy brings out the full range of the meaning of justice.
In conclusion to the second part, then, I urge you to keep in mind that justice and reconciliation cannot be treated as two alternatives or opposing tracks. They must be understood together, and key for your work on justice in the coming period is keeping that in mind, as well as seeing how justice and reconciliation might be fitted more closely together. And it is to that question—your practices of justice in a charism of reconciliation—that we now turn.
Practices of Justice within a Charism of Reconciliation
So what does a ministry of justice look like within a congregation whose charism is reconciliation? We have just explored how closely connected justice and reconciliation are. What are some of the concrete practices that flow from that relationship? I would like to explore two of them here with you: advocacy and accompaniment, and then apply those insights to two areas of justice ministry: restorative justice and structural justice.
Advocacy has become an important dimension of social justice ministry. By bringing to wider attention situations of injustice and the plight of those caught within the tenacles of injustice, a first step is taken to begin the work of undoing injustice and replacing it with more just relationships. Within the Church and well beyond, religious institutes have taken very visible and sometimes high profile stands in advocacy. I would like to explore here a little more closely how the practices of advocacy link with the practices of reconciliation.
To begin, advocacy is a practice of truth-telling, one of the four most important practices of reconciliation, along with the healing of memories, the pursuit of justice itself, and forgiveness.
Truth-telling is an important framework for pursuing justice. It involves at times breaking through a culture of silence that has grown up around unjust practices. We have learned how important it has been to break through the culture of silence that has surrounded clergy sexual abuse and domestic violence. At other times it is a matter breaking through a culture of lies. This is especially so in dealing with authoritarian regimes, as some of your Missionaries did in the Philippines during the Marcos era. The practice of truth-telling helps reveal the truth about things, a truth that has been hidden by enforced silence or distorted by cunning lies. Truth-telling may be called upon to clear the way for victims to speak on their own behalf—victims who have been rendered invisible and mute by a culture of silence or tarnished as enemies by a culture of lies. One of the outcomes of truth-telling is recognition.
Recognition has to do with putting a face on, giving voice to, and acknowledging the presence of victims. All of these—face, voice, and acknowledged presence—restore humanity to victims, both individually and collectively. Advocacy as speaking on behalf of others is not a paternalistic gesture as it first may seem, but rather is making a space for others in the public forum where they may be seen, heard, and accepted as fellow human beings who are suffering. Recognition is also essential to the reconciliation process; without it victims are not addressed and engaged as fellow creatures made in the image and likeness of God—which for Christians is the theological basis for human rights. As some authors have put it, we are doing three things when we engage in recognition.1
First of all, by recognizing, we acknowledge the presence of the victim and allow the victim to speak. This is part of retrieving and restoring the humanity of the victim. Think of this in terms of immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, and also refugees. In the current immigration debates in this country, immigrants are treated as non-persons (a culture of silence) or as predators on the American way of life (a culture of lies). Recognition gives them names and faces, a voice, and accords them a history of suffering and struggle.
Second, in recognizing, we “recognize” in the sense of seeing something or someone familiar. We recognize that the immigrant and the refugee are human beings like ourselves. Although they may at first seem alien or “other,” they are members of the human family. Sameness wins out over difference in an important way that allows us to form bonds of solidarity.
Third, through recognizing, we have to “re-cognize” or rethink or re-imagine the world in which all of this is taking place. We have to think about the world differently—not only about the webs of injustice that have ensnared immigrants and refugees and the walls of exclusion that have been put up to keep them away from us, but also to imagine a different world where solidarity marks our relationships and the full dignity of every human being is allowed to flourish. In other words, to advocate recognition is to acknowledgethe presence of victims, to bring to awareness that they are our fellow human beings, and to realize that we must create a different kind of society so that the wrongdoing of the past cannot be repeated in the future.
Besides truth-telling and recognition, advocacy has a ritual dimension as well. That ritual dimension is witness. By gathering together in witness, we point to realities that the powers of injustice would rather leave unseen and not spoken about. The power of gathering in a demonstration to manifest a greater truth, or marching together as an act bespeaking movement away from an unjust situation toward some more just and new, is a ritualized form of advocacy that gets below the surface of things and touches deeper realities. Think of the annual Mass at the border fence in Arizona, where the bishops of the two neighboring dioceses—one in Arizona and one in Mexico—point to the division of the wall that has been erected by celebrating the sacrament of Christian unity. Or in a secular mode, recall the student protests going on in Hong Kong as we meet here in Orlando. Witness challenges the narrative of injustice that presents itself as the truth about things. In doing so, witness opens up an alternative space where a different kind of future can be imagined. As believing people, we need always to attend to the ritual dimensions of the works of justice. And as a congregation with the charism of reconciliation—reconciliation itself being a complex of ritual activity that tries to heal the past and build a different kind of future—you should be doubly attentive to such possibilities.
Central to the long-term work of justice is the accompaniment of victims of injustice. Accompaniment, while perhaps a more feeble word than its Spanish counterpart “accompaniamiento,” connotes a profound commitment to, and longer-time traveling with, victims of injustice. If we represent a different culture from those whom we accompany, then it is especially important that we understand and practice what accompaniment means to those with whom we are trying to walk in solidarity. That is manifested especially in two things we try to extend to those we accompany: safety and hospitality.
Safety is marked by an environment in which we feel secured from harm and where the people who surround us are trustworthy. Taking again the immigrant and the refugee as examples: the world they enter is alien and often hostile toward them. The familiar features of their world are now suddenly remote and out of reach. Safety creates a space where they can be themselves without fear of retribution.
Hospitality makes the space more than secure in a neutral sense. It makes the space welcoming, acknowledging the humanity of the immigrant and the refugee, and encouraging them to speak and to act. Hospitality is especially culture-specific, and should be attended to carefully.
Creating social spaces of safety and hospitality are fundamental practices of reconciliation as well, especially in setting the stage for a healing of memories. It functions equally as part of a ministry of justice, especially in its moments of working with victims.
It was noted earlier that justice can be focused around different processes of justice: punitive justice, or punishment of wrongdoers; restorative justice, or justice for victims in restoring to them what has been lost or taken away from them; and structural justice, or justice that changes some of the social structures in which we live, so that the injustices of the past cannot be continued or repeated. I wish to speak here of restorative and structural justice especially—not because other forms of work for justice are less important, but because these two modes of justice are especially appropriateto the justice ministries of religious institutes such as your own.
In speaking about reconciliation and your charism with you five years ago, I singled out restorative justice as a prime consideration for living out your charism of reconciliation already at that time. Let me reprise a bit of that discussion here.
Punitive or retributive justice focuses upon the punishment of the wrongdoer, which is the prerogative of duly constituted authority. A ministry of social justice can be related to such a form of justice, at least indirectly, for the sake of getting an acknowledgement of wrongdoing and providing some form of redress for victims. Restorative justice focuses upon the plight of the victim, and the relationship between victim and wrongdoer. It goes a step further than traditional distributive justice (which focused upon the redistribution of the goods available) by attending closely to relationships between individuals and communities, and by seeking to provide all that is needed to bring about restoration of such relationships. Methods of restorative justice are being used in the civil justice system now in some parts of the United States, especially with juvenile offenders. It is now being advocated as an especially appropriate way to pursue justice in a framework of reconciliation.2
Restorative justice methods are particularly appropriate in situations where people have experienced loss. Those who have taken something or someone from them may receive punishment, but the punishment may not address the questions that arise for victims out of the experience of loss. While certainly efficacious in juridical settings, practices of restorative justice could be applied profitably to situations of parish closing and mergers, as follow-up for victims of sexual and domestic violence, as well as in other settings where social change carries with it the experience of loss.
Restorative justice is a particularly apt work for a religious institute with the charism of reconciliation because, like reconciliation itself, restorative justice focuses upon the needs of the victim.
Bringing about the change of social structures is typically a work that must be sustained over a long period of time, a work that entails mobilizing a great many people and resources. Efforts to change legislation at local, state, or national levels provide one example of this. Chipping away at entrenched racism would be another example. Intensifying efforts to address climate change offer yet another example. Effective work in this area usually requires building coalitions with other interested parties, a skillful use of social media, and overall good communication skills. While it can seem an impossible task, we have seen how citizen efforts have brought down totalitarian regimes in many parts of the world within the last twenty-five years. Religious institutes, especially those who are international in scope, are especially suited to the work for pursuing structural justice. The results can be seen in the efficacy of coalitions of religious institutes who now have lobbying groups at the United Nations.
Structural justice finds its place within a charism of reconciliation as one of the forms of justice that is concerned with building a different kind of future. As such, it is easily locatable within your own charism as a work closely connected to that charism.
I hope that what I have presented here makes a little more clear how the works of justice find a secure home within your charism of reconciliation. Pursuing justice is a constituent part of the practices of reconciliation. Indeed, looking more closely at aspects of justice such as advocacy, witness, and accompaniment all help us see how these give special contour to doing justice under the aegis of your charism. As you move toward the special year of reconciliation, justice and peace, it is my wish for you that you will be able to bring your work of justice into clearer focus through the lens of your charism of reconciliation, and at the same time deepen your understanding of reconciliation so as to overcome some of the common misconceptions of the relation of justice and reconciliation. Here, looking to Mary, through the lens of her Magnificat, her concern for the suffering of the world and its alienation from her Son, and her desire for greater reconciliation, we find a worthy guide as we make our way along the path to deeper communion with God, the author and end of all reconciliation.
1 Erin Daly and Jeremy Sarkin, Reconciliation in Divided Societies: Finding Common Ground (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007), 156-157.
2 See the engaging essays in Jennifer Llewellyn and Daniel Philpott (eds.), Restorative Justice, Reconciliation, and Peacebuilding (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).
The family and reconciliation go together, because the family comes from marriage and is founded on love. It forms the primary cell of the Church and of society. Reconciliation is one of the experiences of Christian life and God´s love. It is the ongoing possibility of welcoming the grace of God that allows the regeneration of man and woman, created in his image and likeness (Gen 1.26). It allows the reconciled to experience the source of blessing. This meeting was in parish our lady of Fátima is our Parish in Namibe. Participated the Marriage group of parish. The conference was given by Francisco Bambi MS and Cícero on May 1, 2014.
THE CRY OF THE POOR
When we gathered in General Chapter in 2012, we had no idea that within a year we would have a new Pope. So there was no way we could know, when we decided to name 2015 a “Year of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace,” that Pope Francis would subsequently name 2015 the “Year for Consecrated Life.” At first, this seemed to take us in a different direction. However, further reflection suggests that these two themes are not opposed, especially if we believe, that both a General Chapter and a Consistory are the work of the Holy Spirit! There are three “objectives” mentioned in the proclamation introducing the Year for Consecrated Life; the first is that of giving thanks for the recent past (50 years since Vatican II) of consecrated life in the Church. “The Spirit can turn even weaknesses and infidelities into experiences of God’s mercy and love.”
So we begin with the Spirit. We La Salette Missionaries have just concluded a year under the title, “The Spirit Renews the Face of the Earth,” (Ps. 104:30). This affirmation calls us to recognize the work of the Spirit as renewing, reforming, renovating, recreating, etc., the present world, just as the Spirit was first at work as a “mighty wind” sweeping over the waters of creation (Gen. 1:2). This coming year we invite our Congregation, the La Salette laity, and all those we serve, to hear the cry of the poor. We do so, knowing that God hears the cry of the poor: “The LORD is close to the broken-hearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves (Ps. 34:19).” “For the LORD hears the poor, and his own who are in bonds he spurns not (Ps. 69:34).” And there is this telling verse from Proverbs (21, 13): “He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will himself also call and not be heard.” Not only is such crying out very likely the work of the Spirit (see Romans 8,26-27); but so also is the existence (and renewal!) of consecrated life (see Perfectae Caritatis, esp. #1 & 2).
The stage is set, then, for recognizing the connection between “justice, peace and reconciliation” and “consecrated life,” precisely because the Spirit is at work in both areas. The third objective for the Year for Consecrated Life is “to live the present with passion.” The document uses Pope Francis’s concept of “waking up the world” with our prophetic witness as religious, especially in terms of our presence with the poor on the “existential peripheries” of life. As the Pope has consistently called the entire Church to be with the poor, to see life from the perspective of the poor, and to allow itself to be evangelized by the poor, so these points are even more pertinent for those “who have left everything” to follow Christ. In its letter in preparation for next year, the Congregation for Religious (CICLSAL) quotes Pope Francis: “We are called now, as the Church, to go outside in order to arrive at the margins, geographic, urban and existential – the margins of the mystery of sin, pain, injustice and misery – , to the hidden places of the soul where each person experiences the joys and sufferings of life (pp. 50-1).” The point is that we may not need to go a long distance to reach these peripheries! Naming the peripheries calls for some personal and communal reflection.
We La Salettes do not have a long history of working in the area of Justice and Peace, as do some of our confreres in other Institutes. However, once we see that Justice and Peace values are central to the Gospel, a shift takes place, enabling us to see these values at work in the way Jesus proclaimed the Reign of God. We see that the “Social Teaching” of the Church is not a digression, but flows from her commitment to Jesus and the Gospel. This perspective will guide us to see those same values at work in our Constitutions and the mission entrusted to us La Salettes. As part of our patrimony we La Salettes have the phrase, “combatting the evils of the day” as a way of understanding our mission. Father Eugene Barrette has done a good job of bringing this part of our history to life for us. It might help to ask ourselves, what are the “evils of the day” in our time? What is it that gives rise to the “cry of the poor”? Or, as Pope Francis might ask, “Where are the peripheries where people are suffering?” How do we do “combat” in such places?
At La Salette, the Beautiful Lady never used the words “justice” or “peace.” Then neither did she use the words “reconciliation” or “Spirit.” That does not mean that her message was about something else. In his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis wrote, “We incarnate the duty of hearing the cry of the poor when we are deeply moved by the suffering of others (193).” Mary is present at La Salette as one deeply moved by her people’s sufferings. Our Lady is brought to tears at the thought of her people holding their dying children in their arms. She weeps, knowing that, when they go to give their children bread, they will only find dust. Perhaps she weeps most copiously because these situations could be reversed if people would only allow God into their lives. Our brothers (I think of Fathers Roger Castel, Marcel Schlewer and Maurice Tochon among others) have done a good job of depicting the social situation in France at the time of the Apparition. The “famine” that occurred around this time was not widespread. The deaths and suffering that resulted could have been avoided if addressed by the State, which chose to do nothing while people in other areas hoarded their supplies. It would still be decades before the Church’s social doctrine would begin to be articulated in any systematic way; however, the situation at La Salette and environs was certainly not in keeping with the Gospel or with a vision of Church in the Apostolic Age.
In James 5:4 we read, “Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.” One depiction of the cart-drivers at La Salette shows a cart full of grain. Perhaps it is not far-fetched to identify our La Salette cart-drivers with the harvesters about which James writes. The Lord indeed heard their swearing, as Our Lady attests. But perhaps the cart-drivers were victims as well as sinners. When we ask why they were swearing, perhaps it was because of subsistence wages; perhaps it was the fact that their carts were carrying produce they and their families would never be allowed to consume. The point is that long before Leo XIII published Rerum Novarum, the Church was aware of social injustice and knew that the Gospel gave us a key to hearing the cries of the poor.
We are called to hear the cry of the poor as a result of our Christian faith (Evangelii Gaudium, 191), and even more so as a result of our call to consecrated life. Our La Salette heritage gives us a particular slant on this call, since we have Our Lady modeling “divine concern” for God’s people (her people). In hearing the cry of the poor, our Constitutions might give us some insight for formulating a response. “Drawing our inspiration from the message of Our Lady of La Salette, we dedicate ourselves to … the struggle against those evils which now compromise the salvific plan of God and the dignity of the human person (Rule of Life, Part I, #23). In our Norms, #39cp notes that “hatred, violence and injustice” are three realities that “every La Salette Missionary must work to eliminate.” A re-reading of these parts of our Rule with hearts attentive to social justice and the cry of the poor will help us formulate appropriate responses in our given locales. We may begin by crying out to God in our own poverty, knowing that, when we do, God hears our cries as well.The second objective given for the Year for Consecrated Life is “to embrace the future with hope.” Without hope, there is no future to embrace. Our solidarity with the poor and those on the peripheries will enable us to witness God’s presence there. Wherever God is, hope abounds. We La Salettes have this vision of hope to offer: a vision of an abundance of wheat and potatoes, a vision of hearts converted, a vision of a world living in justice and peace.
Fr. Silvano Marisa MS