March 10, 2017, Modesto, California – Two Adrian Dominican Sisters – Sisters Cheryl Liske, OP, and Mary Priniski, OP – were among 800 grassroots community representatives to gather at the U.S. regional meeting of the World Meeting of Popular Movements. (WMPM). The first such interfaith gathering in the United States was February 16-19 at Central Catholic High School in Modesto, California.
The WMPM is a series of gatherings of grassroots people, organizers, and activists who have been called together by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace to advise the pope and the world on how to meet the needs of two “fragilities” named by Pope Francis: the poor and the Earth. The U.S. regional gathering was organized by the Vatican, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Pacific Institute for Community Organization (PICO) Network.
Sister Cheryl, a member of the planning team for the regional meeting, had attended the WMPM gathering in Rome to get a feel for the gathering and to meet with others to structure the regional meeting in Modesto. A community organizer, she ministers at Gamaliel of Michigan, one of 44 affiliates of the national organization. Gamaliel’s mission is to “empower ordinary people to effectively participate in the political, environmental, social, and economic decisions affecting their lives.”
“I worked with our Gamaliel staff in various states and produced a delegation to Modesto of over 80 leaders and organizers,” including 19 from Michigan, Sister Cheryl said. The diverse group met beforehand and will meet as a follow-up on March 23, she added.
Sister Cheryl also invited Sister Mary to the regional meeting. Sister Mary ministers with the Catholic Community of the South, a “network of clergy and laity who are compelled by faith to solidarity with those on the margins,” according to the organization’s Facebook page. Sister Mary took the opportunity to engage with 11 Southern Catholic bishops about the issues involved in the gathering, and to meet with several grassroots community groups as well.
While the world meeting focused on issues such as land, labor, and lodging, the U.S. regional gathering focused on domestic issues of specific importance. “Right now immigration is the most pressing, and something we’re all working on,” Sister Cheryl explained. “Related to that is mass incarceration. We’re working on a strategy in Michigan to reduce prison [population] by about half.”
The gathering resulted in a document that included eight proposed actions, including the call to faith communities to establish themselves as sanctuaries for people facing deportation; bold, prophetic leadership from faith communities; state and regional meetings of popular movements; and the establishment of International Week of Action on May 1-7, 2017.
Both Sisters Mary and Cheryl came away from the gathering energized and inspired by their experience – from the talks they heard and the commitment of the people involved. Sister Cheryl was impressed by the “great speeches, great panels,” not just by bishops and other Church leaders, but by grassroots activists.
Sister Cheryl was moved by the talk from Cardinal Joseph Tobin, who challenged leaders to “get out there and do the work. We can’t just be praying and hoping for change,” Sister Cheryl said. Cardinal Tobin called for Catholics to work for the poor, to work for those who have been excluded from our society and in our economy, she added.
Sister Mary, for her part, was impressed by the talk given by Bishop Robert McElroy, of the Diocese of San Diego. Bishop McElory’s talk, widely discussed in U.S. Catholic newspapers, was also described in an article in the National Catholic Reporter.
A key point for Sister Mary was the encouragement she gained from the gathering, knowing that may people are working for justice and peace. “We are not alone,” she said. “If you feel alone, you are not. There are a lot of people around the world” working to bring about justice and peace. “The pope is very much supporting the work that we’re doing to stand with those who are suffering.”
February 23, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – Racism and prejudice, on both the personal and systemic level, are difficult issues for many people to address in their own lives. But 10 Siena Heights University students – five men and five women, some African-American and some Caucasian – gave fellow students, faculty, and administrators, and Adrian Dominican Sisters, an enjoyable way to explore the issue.
In the presentation, “Culture Shock,” hosted at Siena Heights’ Rueckert Hall January 31, the student volunteers gave their appreciative and engaged audience an honest look at how they view others. The students – hypnotized by Dimondale, Michigan, expert Chuck King – acted out their unconscious views of other races, genders, and sexual orientation, and of those with physical disabilities.
The program was sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters; the Pi Lambda Phi Fraternity at Siena Heights, whose goal is to eliminate prejudice in daily life; and the University’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, directed by Sharese Mathis.
Culture Shock has been presented since 2006 in almost 40 states, in large and small institutions. The program was started by students who moved from Detroit to Grand Valley State University where they dealt with their own “culture shock” in the predominantly white culture of the area.
The humorous evening revealed that the students, for the most part, felt accepted at Siena Heights. But it also helped members of both the Siena Heights and the Adrian Dominican campuses to explore their personal challenges in a diverse world.
The day after the event, students and Sisters gathered on two separate occasions to discuss what they had learned from Culture Shock.
“Experience is one thing, but reflecting on the experience and sharing it really helps us to grow,” said Sister Mary Priniski, OP, one of the organizers of the January 31 program.
Sister Marilyn Barnett, OP, said this emphasis on exploring racism and diversity began years ago when a group of Sisters discussed the topic during a Chapter meeting. Since then, diversity and racism became an initiative of the Adrian Crossroads Chapter, based in Adrian, Michigan. The issue also fits well with the Enactments approved by delegates to the 2016 General Chapter of the Adrian Dominican Sisters.
Hopes are for the discussions between students and Sisters to continue. Sister Marilyn noted that the issue of racism can be explored and discussed in a variety of ways by Sisters and concerned citizens throughout the country, and that it’s important to keep the discussion going in any way possible.
“Systemic racism – how do we get at that?” Sister Marilyn said. “Put me in a group of people, and if I’m willing to admit to it and speak about it, then that’s one way that we can begin to wear it down.”
Feature photo: Sisters Esther Kennedy, OP, (second from right) and Annette Sinagra, OP, take part in a discussion with Siena Heights University students the day after the “Culture Shock” presentation.