Education equals liberation

Millennial reflections
By Father Jeremy Tobin, OPraem
It is August in Mississippi. School is back in session. Everywhere you go, in the grocery stores, you see school supplies displayed prominently. You see printed lists of supplies and books for various schools and teachers. School busses are rolling. It is the annual rite of mid-summer, moving into fall.
I want to reflect on education as a tool for liberation. Children returning to school is encouraging to all of us, but there is a lot more. It begins with the human thirst “to know,” “to discover,” “to explore.” It begins right after infancy. Little children sitting on the floor in the kitchen, opening all the doors they can reach, and pulling everything out on the floor. They are exploring their world. Parents “baby proof their houses” but the instinct to know and to explore is built in all of us from infancy on.
When the desire to know and discover is frustrated or blocked can lead to all manner of psychological ills. When children light up after learning something new is hope for all of us. School is many things, but also a laboratory for growth and development. Teachers mold and shape this, and they prepare our future leaders. They can never be paid enough for what they do.
Back to liberation.  The ability to read and comprehend and analyze in order to improve living conditions for people can only come from education. Developing writing skills enables others to learn and educate themselves and see the possibility for change. Social justice organizations will have writing workshops or contests for young people to explore and express new ideas. Giving them a safe space and permission to say what they are thinking is education for liberation.
This goes on throughout life. The traditional steps through higher education or graduate school continues, only we call it training. Teaching people to think critically is crucial in forming an educated public. Critical thinking transcends ideology. It evaluates, changes, even eliminates ideas that are causing harm to people. In educating for liberation we must teach people not to be afraid of a new idea. We hear colleagues speak of spending time at a training for some new specialty, or a new approach to accomplish their goals.
There is a certain amount of humility in all of this. The attitude of going through life as a “perpetual student” having an open mind, and not being afraid of something new and different, is in itself, a liberating experience. It is a positive attitude that wards away boredom. The critical mind set accepts new things or rejects new things, but it has a reason to do so. Merely reacting negatively demonstrates a closed mind and an attitude of fear.
We can speak of education as a tool for liberation, but the first thing we have to do is liberate ourselves. The little child on the floor emptying out the cabinets in front of him has no fear. He does not know what fear is. It is all about exploring and discovery.
Of course as we grow we learn what is safe and unsafe. We develop a healthy fear that is akin to caution and discernment. All that is growing up. What we develop over the years is a healthy curiosity, a desire to learn and to know.
I began this piece thinking that education as a tool for liberation in a political frame, but more importantly it is about liberating oneself. In doing so we develop courage and confidence. This is so important in facing a world that is trying to scare the bejeebies out of us, and most of that is bogus.
Fear is the opposite of freedom or liberation. People who are afraid are not free. Knowledge and critical thinking eliminates fear.
Education is many things. It is what kids learn in school and lifelong human development open to everyone.
Self- liberation is basic to any social change. Look at the leaders who made the social changes in the past century. They were free persons. They owned their ideas and they had courage to move forward. They were able to think critically and express themselves. They could even face death in the face and not flinch.
Education is a life-long project. Whether young or old it is seeing opportunities to learn new things and do new thing. It keeps old folks young and young folks energized.
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)

Florida bishop’s words guide response to Orlando

Millennial reflections
By Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem.
Before last week, when you said “Orlando” people usually thought about Disney or one of the other theme parks in the Florida town. Now the name recalls the largest mass shooting in the nation’s history: 103 shot, 49 dead, several still in the hospital in various stages of recovery.
The response was huge. Displays appeared that proclaim only love can heal. Forty-nine crosses made by a volunteer with names of the deceased are on display.
Some responses brought people together. Gay sons and daughters, straight parents and siblings, people came together with love and compassion. Labels temporarily disappeared. It was ‘our family’ that got shot up by someone consumed with hate and false religion. Other responses were predictable: ban Muslims, attack and distort their religion.
All this in the midst of a toxic presidential election that will only get worse until it is over added fuel to the fire. I was on vacation when the shooting happened. Details came out in bits and pieces in initial reports on television: a terrorist shot up a night club, 22 dead, possible hostages. The fact that Pulse was a gay club only came out much later. These were young people having a good time falling victim to a hate consumed terrorist. As reporting developed, a picture emerged. This terrorist specifically targeted and vented hate in one place the gay community felt safe.
Among notable responses to this, I want to applaud Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg Florida, who made three points. First, he said, that “Our founding parents (note the inclusive language) had no knowledge of assault rifles which are intended to be weapons of mass destruction. In crafting the second amendment to the Constitution, which I affirm, they thought only of the most awkward of pistols and heavy shotguns. I suspect they are turning in their graves if the can only but glimpse at what their words now protect. It is long past time to ban the sale of all assault weapons whose use should be available to the armed forces.”
His second point is also worth reflecting. “Sadly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breed contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people… Those men and women who were mowed down early yesterday morning were made in the image and likeness of God. We teach that. We should believe that.”
His third point is also very important. “Responding by barring people of Muslim only faith from entering the country, solely because of their stated faith until they can be checked out, is un-American, even in these most challenging times… There are as many good, peace loving and God-fearing Muslims to be found as Catholics or Methodists or Mormons or Seventh Day Adventists. The devil and devilish intent escape no religious iteration.”
He concludes by saying that his three points must be taken seriously by society or we can expect more  attacks such as this one in Orlando.
What is courageous in his statement is his condemnation of this horrendous act as a hate crime or act of terror aimed specifically at the gay community. We are called to love and support one another on this journey. This love and support cannot come with judgment. It cannot come with demands. We must offer it freely and abundantly. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers in good times and in times of tragedy.
Bishop Lynch also points out that many prejudices and hatreds find material in religion to justify their views. He mentions that when the imam spoke to repudiate this atrocity, there would be attempts to find religious roots in this. Bad people often use religion to justify their wickedness, but singling people out for victimization because of their religion, their sexual orientation, their nationality – this has to stop also.
While we live in very polarizing and violent times, we also live in a time of opportunity. The Orlando atrocity, on top of everything else, should wake people up that it is time to stop all this. Our love could be just the thing that turns someone else away from his or her prejudice. Our compassion could be the key to opening someone’s heart.
Our country is at another crossroads. Many of us thought that these old hatreds and prejudices were things of the past. They are coming back when we need leadership that can bring all of us together, not insulated by labels, but united by common humanity and love of peace. When America responds like that it can be a light to the nations.
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)

Holy Week mysteries link us to salvation story

By Father Jeremy Tobin, OPraem
On the days of Holy Week, in our tradition, the ritual itself really preaches the sermon. No powerful preaching now. Nothing to take us away from being there. We do it by the signs that bring it back. Beginning at Palm Sunday, we entered a different dimension. We transcended time. We entered a holy place where God talks to humans, and humans talk to God. In our tradition the ritual, the ceremonies are a way to go back in time, to be one with these events that saved us.
The reading of the Passion of Jesus places us in Jerusalem on that Passover Feast when Jesus died. We witness the trial. We remember the scourging. We hear the shouts, “Crucify him!” We see a ruthless Roman governor hand down the death sentence for another radical. They do not know what they do. His followers scatter. Everyone is afraid. We stand at the cross.
“Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” The old hymns have it right. “Only Jesus knows the trouble I’ve seen. Only Jesus knows the pain I feel. Only Jesus knows…” Jesus pays the price for humanity’s evil. “Down at the cross where my Savior died. Down where the cleansing from sin I cried. There to my heart was the blood applied. I was washed clean in his saving blood.” No greater love than this! He said, and proved it. He gave his life that we might live! “Glory to his name!” O, yes God so loved the world – but Palm Sunday was only the beginning.
Though we read the story, we celebrated it the whole week. There was the day we remember the gift that makes it all real again. There was the day of the cross. There was the day of burial.
Then came the entrance of the divine, the seal of our redemption. A woman  announced the news, “He is risen!” We cannot separate his death from his resurrection. We celebrated Easter for three days: Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday beginning with the night Vigil. This was Holy Week.
The entire week was marked with special ceremonies and unusual ritual all emphasizing healing, redemption and deliverance. Tuesday before Easter, at the Cathedral the bishop and the priests and people celebrated the Chrism Mass, the Mass to bless the oils. “There is a balm in Gilead, that makes the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead that heals the sin sick soul.” Once again we see Jesus present in sacred signs of healing and blessing. We speak of holy anointing. To be anointed is to be healed. To be anointed is to be cleansed. To be anointed is to be given a mission.
These oils for anointing the sick, for anointing with the Holy Spirit, for consecrating people and things to continue the work of Jesus are blessed by the bishop and sent to every parish, church and monastery all throughout our diocese. This stresses that we are in union with one another and the bishop. Then Thursday we celebrated the Lord’s Supper, the new Passover, the sign of Jesus’ presence down the ages.
Friday we stood by that “Old Rugged Cross, the emblem of suffering and shame, and cherish it for what it did to me,” and sang, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!” Thank you Jesus! We told the story of our deliverance once again. This time from John. We made present the events of the trial, the Via Dolorosa, the Way of the Cross. The Lamentations of Jeremiah wail in the background. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, be converted to the Lord your God!” Then Saturday night we gathered by the tomb. We bless the new fire, the Spirit of God alive in the world! We remember God moving in the waters. We remember creation. We remember the parting of the Red Sea.
We remember liberation. We remember the life giving waters of baptism. We remember those entering the church. “We shall gather with the saints at the river that flows by the throne of God!” This is our night and day. This is redemption time! This is liberation time! This is the day the Lord has made! Alleluia! Alleluia! We celebrate the resurrection and glorification of Jesus the Christ! Our deliverer and Messiah! Thank you Jesus for loving us in spite of ourselves! Glory to God, glory!
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)

Catholic Day at the Capitol just the start of work

Millennial Reflections
By Father Jeremy Tobin, OPraem
Social justice, “This is the fasting I want, releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke, setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke.”
Charity, “Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.” (Is. 58:6-7)
This passage of Isaiah opens up the spirit of Lent. It also resonates in the Gospels. It is what drives the two shoes, the marching feet of the official church to address the conditions of the world, whether natural disasters, wars, disease, whatever. It is not about slogans or talking points, it is about doing.
Matthew Burkhart of Catholic Relief Services used the two shoes model of social justice and charity as our means to effect change. Charity we are familiar with, running soup kitchens, clothing centers, but the social justice part, advocacy to change policy, is less familiar, but we can learn it and do it effectively.
This is a paraphrase of the message we received at the Catholic Day at the Capitol. St. Peter’s hall was filled with dedicated parishioners from the Delta to the Coast, representing many causes. We had dreamers from Our Lady of Fatima in Biloxi, who are seeking justice to regularize their immigration status. Now young men and women, they were brought here as small children, and know no other place as home. They could be deported to the country of their parents, but this is a foreign country to them. We had dedicated people in prison ministry who want to fire up other people to join them, you know, “When I was in prison, did you visit me?”
This session, our Catholic Charities’ Poverty Task Force, decided to focus on mental health and child welfare. Warren Yoder, of Public Policy Center, has for 30 plus years struggling to humanize state laws that impact predominantly the poor and people of color, opened up the “Olivia Y” lawsuit that is threatening to put the entire state child welfare system under federal receivership.
We heard the horror stories of unqualified foster homes, children dying in care, huge unmanageable caseloads, not enough trained workers, etc, etc. No meaningful resolution in sight. We heard Amy Turner and Valerie McClellan of Therapeutic Foster Care and the Solomon Counseling Center speak of the progress broken families are making, but at a most critical time, could be left in limbo, when grant runs out. Money is a huge factor in solving these and other problems.
Warren ended his remarks with a powerful statement of hope, hope that energizes, not weakens, but pushes the cause forward.
When we as Catholics go and meet with legislators we do it from a profound moral position
We heard Father Fred Kammer, SJ, talk about taxation. One major point, taxes should first meet the needs of the most vulnerable and the common good. Human rights must be respected including economic rights.
We must understand that as Catholics we have the largest, most effective means to reach out to the poor and vulnerable. We must be their voice and attempt to make our principles of social justice be reflected in legislation. We need to educate our legislators, and we need to motivate them to put the needs of the weaker members of our state first. As Catholics we have the tools to counter the tired arguments that blame the poor and re-victimize victims.
At the press conference on the Capitol steps, Bishop Morin expressed our point of view well.
We can carry this day with us by forming study groups to look at bills against the principles of Catholic Social Teaching, namely how does such a bill impact the poor and vulnerable? Does it label them or punish them?
We can write letters to the editor. We can visit the Capitol on our own or with others and follow bills. Staff is there to answer basic questions and help you contact legislators. Learn who your own legislators are, and talk to them. Most of all, keep reading more of Catholic Social Justice.
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)

Find out how policy impacts people at Catholic Day at the Capitol

Millennial reflections
By Father Jeremy Tobin, OPraem
Catholic Charities, the social service arm of the Catholic Church in Mississippi, is represented in both dioceses, Jackson and Biloxi, serving all 82 counties of the state. By far it is the largest social service agency in the state.
Catholic Charities of Jackson has a Poverty Task Force composed of members of the various parishes and other Catholics with an interest in serving the poor. Since its inception a few years ago its main project has been organizing Catholic Day at the Capitol. This year it will be February 11. In the last issue of Mississippi Catholic the schedule for the day, roughly 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., was published.
Before I go on, let me say one thing, we need your support. We need concerned Catholics from parishes all over both dioceses, from Tunica to Moss Point, all the way to the coast, to show up and be active. One other thing, all those representatives you will meet represent YOU. You have every right, and duty to tell them what you want done. Democracy is the people.
You did your first job. You elected/re-elected the current legislature. You have a new job now: speak up. Over the years of advocating for those who have no voice, I can’t say enough about how important it is for legislators to have supporters in the galleries, in the halls, encouraging, talking or criticizing what they do. We hear a lot about the power of money, but people  with  passion over an issue carry a lot of influence as well. I hope to see you there.
I have written here and in many other places about Catholic Social Justice. I have often said it is a well-kept secret. Practicing social justice can be done in innumerable ways, I am not going to give a list. It is what Pope Francis has been saying since his election. He sees it as a response to his newly begun Jubilee Year of Mercy.
It is, simply put, doing the Gospel. It is, as he says so well, going to the margins, reaching out to the poor. He tells priests don’t be distant shepherds, but “smell like the sheep.” Get out there in the slums and barrios. Hear the people tell and share their life stories. Feel their pain.
All the social justice actions you see on TV or read about, are people sharing and expressing their pain to the larger society for whom many are unaware.
As Catholics who take the Gospel seriously, we are sensitive to those who suffer for whatever reason. And we try to change it. Pope Francis says, “Go to the margins and reach out to the poor.” He preaches Liberation Theology, once suspect, now giving us hope.
Its first premise is that everything must be weighed by the preferential option for the poor that it has. A policy’s harmful impact or positive impact it has on the most vulnerable is the first critical test.
So we are focusing a lot on the tax proposals that will emerge this session. We look at their impact on mental health services, on educating our children, on vital programs. Catholic social teaching says, “The tax system should raise adequate revenues to pay for the public needs of society, especially to meet the basic needs of the poor.”
Also we teach that, “A just and equitable tax system is one in which taxes are assessed according to one’s ability to pay.”  So we promote progressive not regressive or flat tax reforms. They hurt the poorest the hardest.
We took a stand on Proposition 42 and lost. We still demand that our children’s education be fully funded, not the best go to the well off and the poor get the crumbs.
See, Catholic Social Teaching, simply put, is the Gospel. It is not some wild eyed radical upset the apple cart scheme. We hear a lot of things like that. Does it mean taking a stand? Yes.
This year’s Day at the Capitol offers all of you the opportunity to learn, to participate and take action, as Catholics with passion, to improve all our people of Mississippi.
Catholic Day at the Capitol starts at 9 a.m. at the Parish Hall of the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle on Thursday, Feb.11. Speakers include Warren Yoder of the Public Policy Center of Mississippi, who will give an update on the court proceedings against the foster care system in Mississippi; members of the staff at Catholic Charities who can talk about the real-life implications of public policy on the people of our state.
Father Fred Kammer, SJ, director of the Jesuit Social Research Institute out of Loyola University in New Orleans who will teach you how to be an effective advocate.
Register now at
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)

Year of Mercy compliments year of consecrated life

millennial reflections
Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem.
This being the year dedicated to religious life and a  Holy Year of Mercy, both initiated by Pope Francis, we need to look at religious at the cutting edge of human misery serving the marginalized, the periphery, that Pope Francis speaks of in “The Joy of the Gospel.”
Religious life enables people to take risks and witness the Gospel in freedom of convictions, from the depth of faith. They make real, and concrete what we read daily in the Scriptures.
“When I was in prison you visited me… When I was homeless you took me in… When I was naked you clothed me…”   These paraphrases from Matthew 25 are actively changing people’s lives and healing families, and restoring hope, right now, today.
Two Sisters of Mercy, JoAnn Persch and Pat Murphy, like many other religious, inspired by the reforms of Vatican II, saw a need crying for help right under their noses in Chicago. They began the Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants.
They formed this interfaith committee after going to the Immigration Processing Center in nearby Broadview, Ill., in 2007. Each Friday morning buses filled  with shackled detainees leave for Chicago’s airport to be deported.
Their story is reported in the Global Sisters Report sponsored by the National Catholic Reporter. It states that according to the Transactional Records Clearinghouse, a data research group at Syracuse University, immigration judges issued nearly 79,000 removal orders last year. Only 23,000 people were granted relief to stay.
“We felt a strong call to do something about what we see,” said Sister Persh, executive director. “Families with men and women ripped from their arms.”
Here is what sets religious apart from lay social workers. They are grounded in a spiritual relationship with God, through community, directing them to meet human needs. Often people like them, who respond to a call, may have no professional training other than their religious formation and reading the signs of the times.
Sister JoAnn and Sister Pat began a weekly prayer vigil with those in detention, praying with them and even praying with the deportees on the bus. This witness alone was powerful both for the immigrants and the authorities. It was powerful because it was prayer, not criticism or judgment, but compassion and mercy. As their story unfolds they even got support from the court, Immigration and Customs Control, local sheriffs, the Chicago Archdiocese, the Catholic Theological Union, and those who advocate for human rights and immigrant justice.
They enlisted the help of Viatorian Brother Michael Gosch, who now oversees their two houses of hospitality. The one for men is in a former convent in Cicero Ill., a near western suburb, and the one for families takes over an empty floor in a former residence hall at the Catholic Theological Union in Hyde Park, on Chicago’s Southside lakefront. The building, a former hotel, has bathrooms in every room. It has cooking facilities, a common room, etc.
The impact on the immigrants was profound. The sisters have volunteers helping the residents adjust to a country they can’t even fathom, simple things like how to buy a gallon of milk, social customs, etc. One man spoke five languages, was a former banker in Syria, now he’s in no man’s land. His situation could change any day.
Their story reports just how they got cooperation from the court, and government agencies. They are applying a temporary  relief effort, to people whose status can change abruptly. At this point, compassion and mercy was needed.
They have two locations, more than 200 volunteers, a budget of more than a million dollars. They say they could use many more facilities like these, but, Sister JoAnn says, “It’s in the hands of God. Pat is 86 and I’m 80, who are we to do any of this? But God keeps sending us the right people.”
This is the religious life that energizes me. This is what Pope Francis wrote so well in the Joy of the Gospel. Throughout the country, throughout the world there are men and women religious, priests, brothers, sisters and deacons, bringing the Gospel in the form of genuine mercy and compassion, affirming the dignity and human rights of all they meet. They believe that love not hate is the hope for our future.
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)

Vocation not just for consecrated Christians

Millennial Reflections
By Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem
Pope Francis has designated this year as the Year of Consecrated Life. Among other things, it sheds a spotlight on responding to the call to witness and serve those on the margins. In the churches I serve each week we pray for an increase in the number of priests, brothers, sisters, deacons and lay ministers.
Looking back over the years there never has been a lack of dedicated Christians who, by their lifestyle and service, have made an impact on those they reached out to. Sometimes they, and their ministry, go unrecognized. This is understandable since people on the margins are often invisible.
The initial readings for Ordinary Time stress the prophetic tradition. The Holy Spirit calls people to witness and raise the consciousness of people to rededicate themselves and live their lives authentically. The way the readings are paired up we see that John the Baptist and Jesus both come out of this tradition.
From our baptism we receive the Holy Spirit and throughout our lives we may be called to do something significant. For some of us it is religious life, for others it is a focused lifestyle and a specialized service to specific groups. Many religious congregations started out like this. For example, last week we remembered Angela Merici. She may not ring a bell with many of us, but she was an ordinary woman in her day at the end of the 15th century. Moved by the number of street children, especially girls, she got organized and with her companions started to teach these children. She founded a community dedicated to St. Ursula. The Ursuline Sisters made a huge contribution in building up the American Catholic school system. Their  convent in New Orleans is still visited by many in need of a miracle. People know of the Ursulines, but may not know about their founder.
Another example I will cite is Elizabeth Ann Seton, who founded the Sisters of Charity. She was married, raised a family, widowed and wanted to do more. Many, like these two, were ordinary people whose calling evolved into a religious congregation. Not all do.
Dorothy Day is an example. The Catholic Worker Movement, through witnessing a distinct lifestyle, is still a group made up of lay people. The point I am making is that our baptism is the source of our vocation. When you are baptized you become an active member of Christ’s body, and are called to do what he did. The acronym made popular a few years ago, WJJD, (what would Jesus do?) expresses something about our call as Christians, baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ.
Several people close to me died in the last two months, and all were exceptional Christians. Recently I was at the funeral of one whose whole life reflected her Christian faith and passion for social justice. For her, what happened in the community is as important as what happens in the church. She focused her energy on education, and the rights of students in school. She saw the direct link between dropping out of school and going to prison, so she co-founded a local group that affiliated with a national movement to break the cycle of the school-to-prison pipeline. She was particularly focused on policies that pushed kids out rather than kept them in school. She believed that human rights belong to everyone and are rooted in the Gospel.
She was a fighter for children’s rights in school, a parent advocate on Mississippi Families as Allies for Children’s Mental Health Inc. Board and for 12 years she was on the Holmes County School Board. All of this was driven by her Christian faith, her passion for children being treated fairly and her commitment to enacting policies that protected them and improved the schools.
The organizations and coalitions that she founded or cooperated with were strengthened by her unselfish passion for justice. All the money in the world could not make her do what she did. It was a calling, a vocation. She will be sorely missed, but leaves a powerful legacy.
When we look at vocations, how God calls people to do what they do, we need a wide lens. The Holy Spirit is calling people every day, and many answer the call. We need to support, encourage and pray that more hear the call of God and answer it. I will have more to say on this topic as the year progresses.
“The harvest is ripe, pray the Lord to send laborers into the harvest.”
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)

Prison system in need of reform

Millennial reflections
By Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem
There is a growing movement in the South to speak out against harsh policies that target the poor and minorities. Communication easily breaks down when politics trump policy and ideology trumps facts. Groups of clergy and other community partners try to take it to a new level, the level of morality and ethics. Rev. William Barber and the Moral Monday Movement is the classic example. This is spreading to other southern states. In Mississippi it is called the Moral Movement Mississippi.
Rev. Barber says clergy are more competent interpreting and speaking from Scripture than compete with ideologues or policy pundits. The group seeks to stress social justice as the theme of sermons.
We Catholics have a strong social justice teaching and see this demonstrated in preaching, and more so through the works of the many social service agencies throughout the world that bring hope and restore dignity to the impoverished.
This past week in the Clarion Ledger, reporter Jerry  Mitchell wrote about the deplorable conditions in the private prison in Meridian. In the series called “Hard Time” were articles and pictures showing cells as if they were from a third world country. This prison, as well as many others are run by a private company for profit.
Private prisons are a relatively new highly profitable industry. They are all over the country. Many people are unaware of their existence. They have a powerful lobby in Congress and the state houses.
Private prisons are one of the biggest lobbies against humane immigration reform. They oppose real education reform. They have a big education lobby in Washington that urges privatizing education, and under-funding public education and remedial programs. They plan for prison bed space by using the percentage of poor performing children in third grade. They blood suck off the poor. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is the biggest player in the game.
Private prisons have a notorious human rights record. They are a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which wrote the harshest anti-immigrant legislation, especially in Arizona and Alabama. ALEC is behind these voter suppression laws, designed to disenfranchise African Americans and Latinos. The for-profit private prison lobby advocated to make certain immigration offenses felonies. Why? To fill up their prisons. They lobby legislatures to create crimes so they can fill up their prisons. They lobby for harsh sentences for non-violent drug offenses so they can fill up their prisons. Every heartbeat is cash in the bank.
It is one thing for the state to incarcerate criminals. It is the state’s duty to protect citizens from criminals. It is also the state’s duty to rehabilitate convicted felons to re-enter society.  One goal is to reduce the number of prisoners. This benefits society. For private prison companies the more people locked up the better. Crime is a profitable business. This is immoral.
To profit from human misery dehumanizes the incarcerated. It encourages crime, not to make society better, but to make money for their shareholders. Thus these huge corporations use their influence to the detriment of society, especially young people by manipulating programs that directly benefit poor people.
The goal is profit. Staff salaries are low. Many of these prisons are understaffed to make money, putting inmates and staff at risk. Many lack programs, and inmates spend long hours locked up. Why? It is cheap.
Both the people locked up and the staff that oversees them largely come from the same strata of society. Both groups are being exploited for profit.
The result of all of this is dehumanizing people.  Bluntly put, it is about greed. Greed is one of the seven deadly sins. All of this furthers the ever widening gap between the rich and everybody else.
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)

Faith traditions have deep roots in Mideast

Millennial Reflections
By Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem
This column has been percolating with me for some time as events in the Middle East grow consistently worse for Christians. In the West our understanding of Islam, much less Eastern Christianity, fails to grasp the seventh century split between Muslims: Shia and Sunni. With the disintegration of a pan-Arabic nationalism, after the American invasion of Iraq, these ancient religious animosities resurfaced. Christians and other minorities are suffering persecution from this regional religious war.
Our faith is a Middle Eastern religion. We sometimes forget that Jerusalem, not Rome, was the first center of our faith. It was from Jerusalem that the Apostles reached out to the world around them. Rome was the capital of the world. It was also the place where Christians were later fed to the lions.
It was in Antioch, in Syria, that we were first called ‘Christian.’ In Syria they celebrate Mass in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. Christianity spread both East and West from Jerusalem. Babylon, in what is now Iraq, was still a functioning city and both Jews and Christians lived there. The Jews composed the Babylonian Talmud while living there. The Talmud is a collection of commentaries on Scripture and Jewish law written by rabbis. Christians, too had a strong presence in the region, including thousands of monasteries. Basra, for instance, was a monastic city in Christian times. There was all this, and more, in the centuries before Mohamed.
When the Muslims came to power, they granted protection to the “religions of the book,” that is Jews and Christians. Jews and Christians had to pay a tax, but were allowed to run their institutions, churches and monasteries. The history of Eastern Christians to the present has been a history of generally amiable coexistence with the Muslim rulers. With the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and the creation of modern Arab and non-Arab states in the region, and especially after WWII, a pan-Arabism brought people together, both Christian and Muslim. While this lasted, it was a time of peace for Christians. That is all gone now.
The region is rife with religious and tribal warfare. Ancient hatreds came to the surface. Fanatics kill Christians, seize everything they have, and destroy centuries-old churches, monasteries and shrines. As one Chaldean Christian reported, “For 1,600 years Christians have been in Mosul, now they are driven out!”  By the way, Chaldeans are under the jurisdiction of the Pope.
History has a way to create new memories and new realities. Our religious history separated Eastern and Western Christians. With the consolidation of the Muslim caliphates and the split between Rome and Constantinople, we in the West, disconnected ourselves from the fate of our Eastern brothers and sisters. Now is a good time to reclaim that history and remember we are all united in Christ, no matter where we live.
The Crusades were a total disaster for Eastern Christians, Muslims and Jews, and centuries later, the fallout lingers throughout the Middle East. In the West, more concerned by what separates us, we became oblivious of what unites us. We are at a point where Christianity could be eradicated from the place of its birth. That is a horrible thing to think of, that the religion of Jesus is no more in the region we read of daily in the Scripture.
Further, the Western powers who could do something do not have the fate of Christians at the top of their list. Pope Francis has been speaking out, pleading, calling for prayers to save “our brothers and sisters in the Middle East.” He continues to call world leaders to reach out with humanitarian aid to help the Christians in the Middle East. As I say, “They are us and we are them.”
We must continue to pray for peace and call upon world leaders to create lasting structures to establish and support peace between the three faiths who all claim that region as their birthplace.
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)

Child immigrant influx demands attention

Millennial reflections
By Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem
There are thousands of children crossing the border, fleeing inhumane conditions in their home countries especially El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras as well as Mexico. This was not entirely unexpected by those who advocate for immigrants and who push for reform.
What is unusual is the age of these refugees, some very young. They tell of no hope back home. This was the last desperate attempt by their parents to try at least get some of the family to survive.
For years some Guatemalans that we serve told me there is no meaningful work in Guatemala.
The same could be said for much of Central America and Mexico. Much of this has its roots in American trade policy. There will be no substantial immigration reform until we rethink and redo our trade policies with Latin America. They insure vast importation of American grain and other goods which drive out local farms and businesses.
The governments of these countries and the wealthy benefit, but the people suffer. Some years back they were rioting in Mexico over the price of tortillas after NAFTA was fully felt in Mexico.  This woke up some people, but had little effect. Every time things go bad south of the border the only hope is migrate to “El Norte.” Nothing changes that. We have got to stop exploiting Latin America.
The Dignity Campaign, among other things, advocates a revision of trade policies. It emphasizes fair trade, not just free trade. It emphasizes the local producer over corporate interests. Unless conditions improve in Mexico and Central America there can be no real immigration reform. We need to hold hearings about the effects of CAFTA and NAFTA and collect evidence about the way those agreements displace people.
Now we have a humanitarian disaster. The Catholic bishops have asked the White House and Congress to protect unaccompanied children from other countries and respond to the root causes of poverty.
Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle and head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Migration, urged the government to protect these children from the dangers of human trafficking, smugglers, gangs and organized crime. The bishops stress this as a humanitarian issue and not one to be used to make political points.
Further, a delegation from the USCCB Committee on Migration visited Mexico and Central America to examine factors driving child migration to the United States. Bishop Elizondo said, “It is truly a humanitarian crisis which requires a comprehensive response and cooperation between the branches of the U.S. government. Young lives are at stake.”
A draft memo from Homeland Security said that 90,000 children could be arrested trying to illegally cross the Mexican border. This is more than three times the number of children apprehended last year. They declare this a “crisis.”
“People that live north have no idea what’s going on down here, and if they did, they would be appalled by what the government is letting happen,” said Chris Cabrera, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council in the Rio Grande Valley, a U.S. Border Patrol Workers Union. They are overwhelmed. Needed resources are lacking. There are not enough immigration court judges to do the work. These children have rights.
The word we need to incorporate into this discussion is ‘compassion.’ We need to treat these children and their families with compassion.
Relief agencies are reaching out, but they need more help. The Catholic Church is speaking up. We can do better. No church in the country has more Latino members than we do. It is imperative that every way we can, we raise consciences to this problem.
First, by reaching out to the children to ensure that they are treated in a fair, just and legal manner, and receive fair due process. Second, support efforts to reunite families. Third, lobby the government to provide legal relief. Fourth, to push for fair and just immigration reform that goes beyond what is called comprehensive.
The bills in the works today do not really address a meaningful path to citizenship. Workers are not fully protected. The underlying causes, like those mentioned in the beginning, are not addressed.
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)