Notes on Peace and Justice

Newsletter broadens awareness of efforts to end human trafficking

(CNS/Victor Aleman, Vida Nueva)

(CNS/Victor Aleman, Vida Nueva)

A newsletter that serves as an exchange among religious congregations and their collaborating organizations offers news and information on the growing front to end the scourge of human trafficking.

Stop Trafficking! has been published online for almost 12 years and continues to gain new readers as awareness about trafficking  grows.

Sponsored by about 70 religious congregations, the online publication promotes awareness of human trafficking, serves as an exchange for best practices in advocacy for and empowerment of survivors of human trafficking and recommends actions to counter trafficking.

Sister Jean Schafer, a member of the Sisters of the Divine Savior and newsletter editor, told Catholic News Service that she started the newsletter when she finished her term as general superior of her order. She and a friend also staff a safe house located in San Diego for women who were able to escape their trafficking situation. The safe house, opened in 2008, is supported by the newsletter sponsorships.

Since starting the newsletter, Sister Jean said she has come across increasingly sophisticated networks of traffickers.

One concern is the growing black market for human body parts. She described a growing trend to con unwitting victims into thinking they are being hired for work who then are drugged and operated on to remove an eye, kidney or other organ.

“Doing this newsletter, I think I’ve heard it all and then I hear something else and I say ‘I can’t believe this is happening,'” she said.

But she also noted that there is growing awareness among average Americans of the existence of sex and labor trafficking.

“A lot of Americans have awakened that their kids are in danger,” she said. “We’re not just talking about poor families, but we’re talking about all sorts of middle-class kids who get sucked into prostitution and all that.”

The March issue highlights Women’s History Month and the efforts women are taking to end the trafficking scourge. Send an email to Sister Jean at to subscribe.

Dominican sisters call upon Congress for responsible gun control laws

gunThe Dominican Sisters of Peace and their associates say it’s time for the United States to adopt responsible legislation on gun ownership to reduce deaths and violence.

Citing statistics that show 31,000 people die and another 500,000 are injured annually because of gun violence, the Dominicans adopted a corporate stance calling for “common sense” gun control laws.

“Our effort is to try to be a positive influence on the issue,” Dominican Sister Judy Morris, the order’s promoter of justice, told CNS. “While saying we do not try to interfere with Second Amendment rights, we simply want to call for common sense legislation to protect lives.”

In adopting the stance, the congregation’s 575 members and 550 associates called for conducting universal background checks before gun purchases, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, promoting gun violence prevention efforts, and providing adequate funding for mental health programs for victims and perpetrators and prevention programs for people at risk of violence.

The religious order is dedicating time and personnel to support the stance. Members and associates will be urged to address the issue in their parishes and locales.

“Our work on this is a tribute also to all those who lost their lives to gun violence,” Sister Judy said.

Catholic Mobilizing Network offers death penalty scavenger hunt

The Catholic Mobilizing Network to End Use of the Death Penalty has developed an scavenger hunt type of resource to help young people 11 to 18 years old better know about the church’s teaching on the capital punishment.

The resource is designed to help teachers, pastors and youth ministers guide students through research on the death penalty and how it is applied in their state and throughout the country. It also helps young people learn about the Catholic catechism and Catholic social teaching with references to important statements from a variety of church leaders.

Sample questions can be found here.

The Catholic Mobilizing Network also offers a wide array of resources that can be used in adult religious education programs and campus ministry activities as well as in the development of liturgies and prayer services on the sanctity of human life.

Launched in January 2009, the network grounds its work in the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty and their 2005 pastoral letter “A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death.” It helps spread the word of the efforts to end the use of the death penalty of state Catholic conferences across the country.

The network also publishes a monthly email newsletter. Subscribe on  the organization’s home page.

“St. Francis Slept Here” in need of repair

ROME — A community of Franciscan friars are “taking it to the streets,” appealing to the general public — and not strapped government coffers —  to finance the restoration of a darkened cell where St. Francis of Assisi stayed during his visits to Rome.

st. francis a ripa

The Church of St. Francis at Ripa in Rome.

The Franciscans in charge of Rome’s Church of St. Francis at Ripa have turned to the Kickstarter “crowd-funding” platform in the hopes of raising $125,000 in 40 days. As of this writing, they had just $7,800 pledged with only 24 days left for the campaign.

The friars turned to Kickstarter, they said, because they wanted it to be a grassroots effort so “the highest number of people around the world” could join their efforts and have a stake in the restoration project.

Also, given today’s severe economic crisis, the friars didn’t want to ask for funding from the government, which is facing a continued budget crisis, and whose resources, they said, should be dedicated to urgent and basic public assistance.

cell entrance 1

Doorway of the cell where St. Francis used to sleep when he visited Rome. (Screengrab from the Franciscan’s Kickstarter webpage)

All donors will have their names inscribed on panels near the entrance of the restored cell as well as receive a certificate that’s “suitable for framing.”

Depending on the amount pledged, donors receive an additional gift, such as a wooden Tau key chain, a St. Francis mousepad, T-shirt or mug, or a DVD of the Franco Zeffirelli film, “Brother Sun, Sister Moon.”

Larger contributions can get you four-star hotel accommodations in Rome and a private tour of the restored cell.

St. Francis first stayed in the tiny room when he came to Rome in 1209 to meet Pope Innocent III to get official approval for the Franciscan order.

He stayed in the same cell on several occasions, using — for a pillow — a slab of stone, which can still be seen by visitors.

st francis pillow

The stone “pillow” St. Francis used to rest his head can be seen behind the metal grate. (Screengrab from the Franciscan’s Kickstarter webpage).

The Franciscans hope the room, with its soot-covered walls, rotting wooden ceiling, scuffed floors and flaking frescoes, can be restored in time for this year’s  Oct. 4 feast day of St. Francis. His namesake, Pope Francis, has been invited to the restoration’s unveiling that same day, they said.