Houston Dominicans host annual meeting

Justice Promoters

By Christopher Matthias
Adrian Dominican Sisters Justice and Peace Coordinator

The Central-South Dominican Justice Promoters gathered for their annual meeting April 10–11 at the Dominican Sisters of Houston motherhouse. At this time of year, grapefruits heavy with juice drop to the ground faster than they can be picked. Cuttings were being gathered for Palm Sunday. While much of the country was just awakening to spring, Houston had sprung. The undertakings of peacemaking do well to have the fragrances of flowers upon them.

Hosted by Houston Justice Promoter Ceil Roeger, OP, the group received excellent Dominican hospitality, not only in food, drink, and the deep rest available in convents, but also in time to connect with one of their partners in the pursuit of immigration reform. Carlos Duarte of Mi Familia Vota joined the group to discuss his non-partisan organization’s work to register Latino voters and empower them to use their vote. He shared powerful stories of people affected by the current immigration laws and procedures.

In one story, the Justice Promoters heard about a woman without documentation who moved to the United States with her family. While her husband works long days in the fields to make a small wage, she tends her home and children. Her home, however, is a small one-bedroom apartment, which she has not left in over six months. She is terrified that she will be deported, and sent back to a place where her life is even smaller than it is now.

Carlos also shared the story of a man whose grandmother and father were U.S. citizens, but the man—born in Mexico—is not. This man has resided for 17 years in the United States. In that time, he has held five different types of visas. Because of how the immigration system is set up, there is no progression towards citizenship. Should he be approved to initiate the processes of naturalization, he would have to wait at least another decade. Meanwhile, he pays his taxes, pays into social security, and contributes to the community and the economy. Perhaps one day he will be recognized as an equal, under the law, with his neighbors and co-workers.

With stories like this, Carlos and Mi Familia Vota worry that the Latino voters who they work everyday to empower might despair and become disenfranchised non-voters. Without Latinos as a voting constituency, it’s hard to imagine legislators will ever muster the political will to fix the broken immigration system. So Carlos thanks us for our time, and he gets back to work.

Economic Justice was also central on the meeting agenda. Following the 2010 Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission and the recent 2014 ruling on McCutcheon vs. the Federal Election Commission, the Justice Promoters worked to develop a small primer resource initiated by Brigid Clingman, OP, of Grand Rapids to help facilitate conversation surrounding the widening gap between the wealthy and the poor. The privileges afforded to the wealthy point towards both erosion of democracy and a very bleak situation for those most in need.

To further explore the issue, the group watched and discussed the film “Inequality for All.” In the film, Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, describes in detail the connections between America’s wealth, tax-structure, prosperity and middle class. While the primer remains under development, the Justice Promoters highly recommend the film as part of one’s continued dedication to rebuilding a fair and prosperous United States.

As part of the Dominican Family, The Central-South Dominican Justice Promoters spent a dedicated portion of their time together to contemplate the question “What is Earth Asking of the Order?” The Dominican Sisters’ Conference has created a DVD based on the Praxis Cycle, which regional gatherings use to deepen their understanding of climate change, and how Dominicans might work as members of the faith community to address its escalating effects. Like the stories that Carlos shared about those affected by immigration policy, the DVD offers stories from Dominicans from across the country and how they are observing the effects of climate change from coast to coast. It also gives powerful social and theological analysis, on the way to issuing a challenge for all to determine how they will act on an issue for which no-one is immune, but has immediate consequences on the most vulnerable.

Everyone in the group was able to point towards the efforts already being taken by their communities. Some have corporate stances or justice initiatives making public declarations of their commitments to Earth’s preservation. Some have taken up greening efforts such as geothermal heating and cooling, and/or committing to decreasing their footprints through energy-efficient purchases, permaculture installations, and hybrid cars. Most recently, Joy Peterson, PBVM and the Sinsinawa Dominicans produced their “Earth As Our Home Booklet,” which is available as a free download.

Human Trafficking work continues throughout the Order. Judy Morris, OP (Peace) gave a presentation on Human Trafficking and the many good works being done to address it, including the powerful efforts that helped law enforcement rescue more than 40 victims or potential victims during this year’s Super Bowl.

The Central-South Dominican Justice Promoters also make every effort to preach in the methods of the day. Chris Matthias, representative of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, led a workshop on social media. The group explored the different functions of Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, and Facebook. They also discussed strategies in creating an effective social media presence, and how to make use of it as a modern platform to preach peace and justice.

The work of justice relies on the strength of the community that carries it. During the meeting, the group dedicated time to strengthening their relationships with one another and marking important transitions. Lucianne Siers, OP, (Grand Rapids) has completed her term as Co-Promoter for North America. While expressing gratitude for Lucianne’s service, the Justice Promoters also celebrated the transition of Marcelline Koch, OP, (Springfield) from convener of this group to accept the role of Co-Promoter, alongside Chuck Dahm, OP, (Central Province). Joy Peterson, PBVM (Sinsinawa), has taken up the reigns of convener for the Central-South Dominican Justice Promoters. The group also welcomed a new face to the table: Joe Kilikevice, OP, (Central Province) of the Shem Center for Interfaith Spirituality.

The Justice Promoters shared their unique gifts to the benefit of the group. Fr. Joe led a circle of respect exercise, which powerfully deepened the bonds of the community gathered. To conclude the time together, Chuck Dahm, OP, (Central Province) celebrated Mass. Fr. Chuck’s homily further illuminated the justice imperative that runs deep throughout the gospels, offering inspiration as the Justice Promoters prepared to return to their ministries.