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June 2024

This month’s articles:

Are we creating a prison-industrial complex? (Karen Donahue, RSM)

Conscience (Joanne Lappetito, RSM)

Mercy student videos address the Critical Concerns (Bob Keenan, Communications and Mike Poulin, Mercy Justice Team)


Are we creating a prison-industrial complex?

Karen Donahue, RSM

In his farewell address to the nation on January 17, 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower issued a warning that has turned out to be prophetic. He said, “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” These words were even more significant as they came from a five-star general who had served as Supreme Allied Commander in World War II.

A recent article from The Intercept discussing factors driving prison expansion, hinted at a kind of prison-industrial complex. Journalist Amada Abrams noted that architectural firms are often hired to conduct feasibility studies regarding prison expansion even though they have no expertise in criminal justice. They make the case for larger prisons and then are hired to design and build them.

She observed that “Such blatant conflict of interest is occurring in counties all over the country, particularly in rural and conservative areas where local public safety agencies often operate with little scrutiny. These studies rely on thin data to justify spending millions of dollars in public funds. The most significant consequence, though, is that more people wind up incarcerated. As a common industry refrain goes, ‘If you build it, they will fill it.’”


Conscience

Joanne Lappetito, RSM

To be a Christian, a disciple of Jesus, is a call to grow and to embrace the daily challenge to change one’s heart. Recognizing that God first loved us and sustains us, Christian morality is not a commitment to abstract principles, but to a personal loving God. The ultimate norm of Christian conduct is Gospel love: what does love of God demand of me in these circumstances? How a person perceives her relationship to God and God’s judgment is the starting point for understanding the meaning of conscience and how it functions.

A definition of conscience

As Americans look forward to their national elections, it is timely to review an understanding of how personal conscience functions. Vatican II provides us, perhaps, with the most definitive explanation of conscience in Gaudium et Spesparagraph 16:

In the depths of our conscience, we detect a law which does not impose, but which holds us to obedience. Always summoning us to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience can when necessary speak to our hearts more specifically: do this; shun that. For we have in our heart a law written by God. To obey it is the very dignity of being human; according to it we will be judged (2 Cor 6:10). Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a person. There we are alone with God, Whose voice echoes in our depths (John 1:3, 14). In a wonderful manner, conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor (Eph. 1:10). In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of humanity in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individuals and from social relationships.

The document, Gaudium and Spes, states clearly that that each person is graciously endowed with a conscience. It is integral to human nature; it resides within the inner most depths of our spirit and it must function free of any outside pressures.  Conscience possesses an almost intuitive sense of the fundamental moral principle to do good and avoid evil. Basically conscience is a guide for behavior.

How conscience functions

Ironically conscience is called upon in times of conflict when there are not clear or direct answers to an issue. Sometimes important issues are in conflict or competing with one another. In this election cycle, immigration, abortion, racism and gun control each make a rightful moral claim upon us. Conscience then, seeks out the truth factually in a thoughtful and objective process. When appropriate, a perceived good is selected. The choice is both subjective and affective, producing a sense of peace in having made the best possible choice.

The search for truth

The search for truth is a complex process, especially given the cultural, political, social and economic dimensions of our current American society. Finding accurate information is a first step. Uncovering real facts is difficult simply because there is so much disinformation and untruth on line and in social media. Too, so many issues are contentious that half-truths are often offered as solutions.

Applying time tested principles to an issue is a traditional method for arriving at the moral assessment of a social dilemma. Human dignity, the common good and justice are moral principles that are an integral part of the Catholic social tradition. Do the political platforms of each party respect, protect, promote and defend human life seamlessly across each issue? Or do some proposals respect the dignity of human life selectively in some issues, and denigrate life in other issues? Do some social proposals promote the common good, helping a broad swath of the population? Or will some proposals create chaos and economic uncertainty precipitating new levels of poverty? In such instances it is appropriate to ask: who gains; who loses?

Conclusion

Making a decision in conscience is not simply a matter of a cost benefit analysis. The Christian’s stance toward God is that sense of ‘metanoia’, continuously opening one’s heart to God. Conversion, as that ever-deepening process of seeking God, is made possible because of Jesus’ redeeming mission initiating the reign of God. Our positive actions acknowledge, participate and extend the reign of God, God’s love and justice. In the light of God’s reign of love and justice, the ultimate norm for Christian behavior is to ask anew a fundamental question: What does the love of God – who has so freely graced me – ask of me in this set of circumstances?


Mercy student videos address the Critical Concerns

Mike Poulin, Mercy Justice Team

For the seventh time since 2017, the Sisters of Mercy have invited students at Mercy high schools, colleges and universities to participate in a video contest focused on social justice. Participants in this year’s contest were given a choice of two topics, immigration and voting, around which to create a video that was no longer than 90 seconds. All of the videos honored in this year’s contest, and winning videos from previous years, can be viewed here.

The grand prize was won by students Jaylyn Remolona and Myra Alvarez from Mercy High School in Burlingame, California, near San Francisco, for their video titled Sacrifice for Family.

Second place went to three students (Carli Amos, Aiden Arrington and Luciana Elliott) from Gwynedd Mercy Academy High School in Lower Gwynedd, Pennsylvania, for a video titled Use Your Voice! Third place was earned by two students (Riley Wichman and Angela Thiel) from Mercy High School in Middletown, Connecticut; their video was titled Vote with Faith and Mercy.

Honorable mentions went to two other submissions: Our Journeys Began with Them, from Leilani Duong-Vasquez, Sophia Hiebert, Taylor Rovetti and Caroline Phillips of Mercy High School in Middletown, Connecticut; and Be a Hero and VOTE with Faith, from Calliope Beatty, Malley Connor, Addison Foster and Grace Tronoski of Gwynedd Mercy Academy High School in Lower Gwynedd, Pennsylvania.

The video contest was launched in 2017 as a way to connect high school and college students at Sisters of Mercy-sponsored schools with the Mercy Critical Concerns. The short videos will be used on social media and in other venues to educate others about the issues of voting and immigration.

These are some of the ways in which the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas will more fully live Laudato Si’ in 2024. To see the second year action plan click here.


Responding to the Cry of the Earth

  • The climate sustainability director will:
    • Collect utility usage data for smaller residences (i.e., apartments and houses) located throughout the United States. 
    • Expand community solar subscriptions to many of our houses and apartments for which such programs are available. 
    • Continue the electric vehicle (EV) pilot project at Merion, PA, with the purchase of an additional vehicle and the installation of additional EV chargers.  One other location will be selected to house an EV. Official guidance regarding the use, maintenance, and charging of EVs, along with concerns regarding metal mining, will be developed and implemented. 
    • Finalize guidance regarding the use of various sustainable and compostable alternatives to single-use plastic products.  A pilot location will be selected to test the overall process for implementing various parts of the guidance and determining what is needed (in addition to the installation of water-filling stations) in order to make the elimination of certain plastic products practical.  Complete the pilot solar project on the Belmont, NC, campus by the end of 2024.
  • Mercy Focus on Haiti aims to support the construction of 10 cisterns per month in the Gros Marne region, for the collection of rain water, using locally available materials. Cistern beneficiaries will receive training in the fundamentals of vegetable gardening, tree planting and reforestation, supporting both food production and the opportunity to sell surplus at market.

Responding to the Cry of the Poor

  • The Justice Team will deepen education and advocacy about the harms of extractivism to communities and the environment through: 
    • Mapping of extractivism near locations where the Institute has a significant presence; 
    • Educating the wider Mercy community about the experiences of communities most harmed by extractivism; 
    • Sharing more widely the statement on extractivism distributed among Chapter participants; 
    • Expanding our knowledge of extractivism to include practices such as agribusiness extracting nutrients from the land and the tourism industry dredging ports for cruise ships; and  
    • Solidarity and accompaniment of communities most harmed by extractivism
  • Sisters will continue participating in ecclesial networks (ie, in Meso-America and the regions of El Gran Chaco y el Acuífero Guaraní in South America) and will educate the rest of the congregation about how the Church is accompanying communities in these critical eco-systems.   
  • The Justice Team will participate in the “we are going to change the history of the climate and the planet!” campaign with the peoples of the Amazon in advance of international climate talks (COP30) in Belem, Brazil, in 2025.
  • Mercy Volunteer Corps has placed a volunteer yet again at Sanctuary Farm in Philadelphia and will offer short-term volunteer experiences at Mercy Ecological Center in Vermont.
  • Mercy Investment Services will expand and deepen the integration of environmental, social and governance investment strategies by:
    • Actively allocating capital to address diversity gaps amongst decision-makers and financial access within the Inclusive Opportunities Fund;  
    • Expanding the emerging managers program supporting firms owned or products managed by people with diverse or underrepresented backgrounds;  
    • Deepening Mercy Partnership Fund’s continued dedication to racial and gender equity as well as those that emphasize international opportunities; and  
    • Using our shareholder voice to explicitly call on companies to mitigate their impacts on people of color and to increase equity for disadvantaged communities.
  • Mercy Focus on Haiti will complete the fourth cohort of its poverty eradication program for women, and raise funds and set the stage for the fifth cohort. Participants from the first cohort will be able to create Village Savings and Loan Associations, which was offered to later cohorts as safe places to save money and access small loans. The first cohort participants also will be offered a tablet-based training program to develop the basics of finance and business skills.   Mercy Focus on Haiti will arrange for a physician member from the U.S. to make virtual visits with residents and walk-throughs of Bon Maison Samaritain, a house for persons who are elderly and infirm or mentally ill. Deteriorating conditions in Haiti have prevented in-person visits from the U.S.

Ecological Economics

  • Mercy Investment Services will:
    • Participate in learning opportunities to deepen our understanding of Catholic investing through documents such as Mensuram Bonam and Laudate Deum; 
    • Increase funding of mission-based environmental, social and governance investment managers and thematic managers in the equity fund;  
    • Originate additional commitments to impact managers in the Environmental Solutions Fund, which invests in renewable energy, energy and water efficiency, materials recycling, green buildings and sustainable agriculture;  
    • Commit additional investments to projects whose primary thematic area is environmental sustainability, impacts from the extractive sector or migration, or that address a just transition to a low‐carbon future in the Mercy Partnership Fund;  
    • Partner with other investors to engage corporations on water stewardship, greenhouse gas emissions, plastics use, biodiversity and other important issues; and  engage with other like-minded impact investors through the Catholic Impact Investing Collaborative, which is led by Francesco Collaborative, and through continued leadership within the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. 

Sustainable Lifestyles

  • The Justice Team and Climate and Sustainability Director will start exploring possibilities for working with other congregations of women religious to influence practices of dining service companies who serve our convents, retirement centers and other facilities. 
  • The Justice Team and Climate and Sustainability Director will continue the  Mercy Tips to Care for Earth as a monthly feature on the website. 

Ecological Education

  • Mercy Education has planned several activities for 2024:
    • “Generation Mercy,” an online meeting for students who are involved in Earth initiatives/clubs at their school, in the first half of the year; 
    • A commitment to highlight Earth in their newsletter at least 1 issue per month; 
    • Promote Mercy Meatless Mondays for the Lenten season; and 
    • Share some suggestions for Earth challenges for schools (i.e. zero waste meetings) to try to implement before Earth Day in April, then share about these in the newsletter/social media.
  • The Justice Team will organize an immersion trip to a region of western Pennsylvania experiencing an expansion of fracking and petrochemical facilities. 
  • The Justice Team will organize three immersion experiences at the U.S.-Mexico border to expand the number of sisters, associates, companions and co-workers who are educated about immigration policy and the reality at the border. One of these experiences will be solely for staff and board members of Mercy Investment Services.  
  • A Mercy associate in Guyana will develop a guidebook and set of advocacy tools for communities to understand the risks of the growing oil and gas industry in her country, and that will become a template for similar education elsewhere.  

Ecological Spirituality

  • The Justice Team will promote Laudato Si animators’ trainings and create a network of Mercy animators to work together and support one another. 
  • The Institute will participate in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious’ exploration and implementation of transformative justice work. 

Community Participation and Empowerment

  • The Justice Team will educate our network on the issues and the importance of voting our values in advance of the 2024 elections in the United States. 
  • The Justice Team will participate in a newly forming collaborative of Catholic organizations engaged in environmental and climate justice education, advocacy and practices.  
View last year’s grand prize winning video. (*Note: the contest themes have changed for 2024.)

The Mercy Justice Team needs you, a Mercy student, to create a short, social media style PSA (public service announcement) video – think Reels or TikTok – that reflects the Sisters of Mercy’s Critical Concerns. Put those creative ideas and video skills to work and you could win $500!


What does it mean to be a faith filled, values voter?

What is your own immigration story?

What is the immigration story of someone you know?

How can voting with Mercy affect our community, our nation, our world?


To receive information, updates and reminders about this year’s contest, complete this form and we’ll be in touch. Click here to learn rules for entry and how to upload your video.

View the grand prize winning video from 2022. (*Note: the contest format has changed since 2022.)

Purpose

For this year’s contest we are seeking short, PSA style videos (30 to 90 seconds) that are suitable for sharing on social media platforms such as TikTok or Reels. Video entries must focus on one of these topics:

Immigration
  • Videos should reflect the Mercy Critical Concerns, especially the Critical Concern for Immigration, but do not need to identify the Critical Concerns specifically.
  • Videos should inspire action to address the injustices that cause people to immigrate or the injustices that immigrants face in their new countries.
Voting
  • Videos should explore the ways that faith and Mercy values can influence the choices we make on our ballots.
  • Videos should inspire faithful citizenship and active involvement in elections without promoting partisanship or individual candidates.

Contest Webinar

Watch our 20 minute webinar to learn more about this year’s contest.


Who Can Enter

Any student or group of students, high school age or older, enrolled in Mercy high schools, colleges/universities, or involved in a Mercy-affiliated ministry.

Use this tip-sheet to help you as you begin the process of creating your video.

Format

Read the complete rules

Length: 30 to 90 seconds

Language: English or Spanish

Other Requirements

1. Title. Each video must have a title. The title must be indicated on the submission form. The title does not need to be included in the video itself.

2. Credits. Credits must include the name of those involved in the creation of the video. The credits must also include citations for any images, audio, or text used in the video that is not original. The credits do not need to be included in the video itself, but must be included in the submission form.

The Sisters of Mercy may delete title and credit screens before posting videos on social media.

Entrants are strongly encouraged to use original footage and graphics as much as possible.

Important Note on Rules: In order to honor copyright protections, rules regarding use of images and music were updated for the 2022 contest and remain in effect for 2024. See the complete rules for details.

Deadline

All entries must be received by April 3, 2024.

Prizes

A panel of judges will use these criteria to select the winning video. Individual winners will receive financial awards. The Grand Prize Winner receives $500.

Winning entries may be featured on the Sisters of Mercy Institute web site and social media channels. Winners and their winning institution will be formally announced.

Interested?

If you think you might be interested in entering this contest, fill out this form to receive contest information and updates.

Past Winners

Click here to view all of our past winners.

The Mercy Community engages with immigrants in a variety of ways and locations. Join us for interviews with sisters, associates and others who walk with migrants.


Episode 1. Sister Anne Connolly shares her experiences living on the US/Mexico border and how it informs her work now.

Episode 3. Sister Rosemary Welsh discusses her thirty one years living Mercy in Laredo, Texas.

Episode 2. Sisters Mary Waskowiak and Mary Kay Dobrovolny talk about Casa de Misericordia, an intentional community of service in San Diego.

Episode 4. Sisters Judy Carle and Joan Marie O’Donnell discuss their work in the San Francisco Bay area with collaborators Rev. Deborah Lee and Rev. Penny Nixon.

Border immersion trips are educational experiences. They are designed to prepare participants to return home and take action by raising awareness about immigration and its root causes, as well as engaging in advocacy for justice based immigration reforms.

The Mercy Justice Team is hosting two border immersion experiences in 2024:

April 21-26, 2024, El Paso, Texas, United States/Juárez, CI, Mexico, hosted by the Columban Mission Center. Click here for more details.

November 3-8, 2024, Rio Grande Valley, South Texas (McAllen), hosted by ARISE and its Mercy associates. Click here for more details.

To apply for either immersion delegation, please click here. Contact the Mercy Justice Team with any questions at justice@sistersofmercy.org.

Watch the video to learn more about Mercy border immersion trips.
Sister Betty Campbell, 87, in her backyard shrine at Casa Tabor, her Juárez home where she has lived for over 25 years. On the shrine’s walls, she and visitors write the names of people who have died violently along the border, as well as names of thousands of Mexican women who have disappeared.
View a border immersion photo essay from staff person Cathy Walsh

Hear and read what participants and staff have to say about their border immersion experiences in these videos: