27 May 2023
The Power of Relationships to Create Change

In a recent NCR article, Bill Mitchell reviews Tracy Kidder’s new book Rough Sleepers: Dr. Jim O’Connell’s Urgent Mission to Bring Healing to Homeless People. The book traces O’Connell’s personal journey of serving the homeless populations in Boston and other cities like Los Angeles. For O’Connell, this is a journey of relationship that depended on listening to homeless patients.


The Sisters of St. Francis could echo O’Connell’s experiences in their own life journeys of relationships that compel action to alleviate suffering, offer healing, and change systemic structures. Their own experiences and the knowledge they have gained has encouraged the Clinton Franciscans to take steps to alleviate homelessness and advocate for basic human rights. In 2019, the Clinton Franciscans took a corporate stand on income inequality and basic human rights. This corporate stand attends to many different aspects of our society and acknowledges the increasing disparity between the rich and poor in the United States.


And yet, there are those in our society who lack these relationships and experiences and thus do not fully consider the impact of legislation on individuals and families. Take, for instance, recent actions by State Legislatures to eliminate or reduce SNAP benefits. The Iowa Legislature recently voted to enact changes to SNAP that will make it more difficult for people to qualify for benefits – to receive much needed nutrition for themselves and their families. While our Share Our Sandwiches program provides individuals with a meal, there is much more to be done to ensure that no one experiences food insecurity. Because of this, the Clinton Franciscan family advocates for basic human rights at both the state and national levels.


Currently in the United States, a prevalent lack of housing, especially affordable housing, continues to put people in jeopardy. To respond to the Cry of the Poor, the Clinton Franciscan family set a LSAP goal to support efforts to establish permanent supportive housing units and an emergency shelter in Clinton. The committee working on this goal has supported the YWCA Clinton Empowerment Center’s work to gain City approval and funding for this project. Efforts are on-going and clearly needed to assist the local community.


Coalition-building and advocacy around basic human rights quickly reveals how these necessities are related to other issues within our Laudato Si’ Action Plan. For example, a basic human right is education; however, education and access to quality education intersects with a multitude of other issues. To address some of these issues, the Franciscan Peace Center cosponsored a summer movie event that featured Encanto and included community education about supporting immigrants, especially how ICE raids affect school children and how to support immigrant parents. Similarly, a showing of Pushout and a panel discussion encouraged attendees to reflect on how the school system serves as a pipeline to trafficking and the prison industrial complex in the way that it targets Black girls. Recognizing how these girls experience higher rates of detention and suspension can encourage us to examine the practices of our own school districts in order to advocate for change. Young people are also often advocates for basic human rights and other social and ecological issues. Seeing the connections between the environmental crisis and their human rights, a group of 21 young people is suing the United States government for its role in creating the climate crisis. For Earth Day, the Franciscan Peace highlighted their lawsuit in a showing of Youth v Gov and engaged Clinton-area youth in a discussion about water pollution.


The environment, education, immigration, trafficking, basic human rights like food and housing. . . there is so much that we can be called to focus on, but we all won’t have the time and energy to alleviate suffering, offer healing, or advocate for systemic change around all of these issues. Where should we start? Often it is in relationship that we find our calling. And so, we encourage you to take some time in the coming months to nurture relationships with those whose life experiences and views are different from yours. This takes a willingness to be vulnerable and an openness to being changed by another. These relationships, however, will urge us to commit more deeply to a shared future where all people and creation are valued.


Want to learn more about basic human rights, human trafficking, and the environment? Sign up for the Franciscan Peace Center’s Action Alert Digest.

Back to Laudato Si Week Reflections 2023