Newly released “Green Book” and “Open Wide Our Hearts” place U.S. Racism Front and Center

By Br. Steve Herro, O. Praem.

“You have formed us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” —St. Augustine | Confessions 1.1

What do Universal Pictures and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have in common? Both rolled out a major production on racism and U.S. race relations in November: “Green Book” and Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love, respectively. Producers describe the movie as follows:

When Tony Lip (Mortensen), a bouncer from an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx, is hired to drive Dr. Don Shirley (Ali), a world-class Black pianist, on a concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South, they must rely on “The Green Book” to guide them to the few establishments that were then safe for African-Americans. Confronted with racism, danger as well as unexpected humanity and humor—they are forced to set aside differences to survive and thrive on the journey of a lifetime.

In the beginning of their pastoral letter, the bishops write why the production of Open Wide Our Hearts was necessary today:

Racism comes in many forms. It can be seen in deliberate, sinful acts. In recent times, we have seen bold expressions of racism by groups as well as individuals. The re-appearance of symbols of hatred, such as nooses and swastikas in public spaces, is a tragic indicator of rising racial and ethnic animus. All too often, Hispanics and African Americans, for example, face discrimination in hiring, housing, educational opportunities, and incarceration. Racial profiling frequently targets Hispanics for selective immigration enforcement practices, and African Americans, for suspected criminal activity. There is also the growing fear and harassment of persons from majority Muslim countries. Extreme nationalist ideologies are feeding the American public discourse with xenophobic rhetoric that instigates fear against foreigners, immigrants, and refugees. Finally, too often racism comes in the form of the sin of omission, when individuals, communities, and even churches remain silent and fail to act against racial injustice when it is encountered.

After viewing the former this afternoon, I understand why many see it as a 2019 Oscar candidate; it already has vaulted to one of my favorite Christmas movies. If you are looking for an informative interview/review try “ ‘Green Book’ Is About Race – And Also Friendship, Class And Masculinity” (National Public Radio, November 23, 2018).

Hollywood producers and the teaching offices of our faith traditions can continue to publish, preach, and teach to offset racism and prejudice in our history and current society, but whether the silver screen or the pulpit is more formative in our world view, the message must filter beyond the walls of movie theatres and our churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques. As one commentator noted about “Green Book”: don’t fool yourself to think that you are not a racist simply because you paid to see this movie.

In a similar vein, I reminded a friend who accompanied me to the movie that the election of the first U.S. president of color did not denote the end of racism in our country. We might also ask ourselves questions such as:

  • “Are our schools accurately portraying American Jim Crow of the 20th century?”
  • “What unfair stereotypes do we hold in regard to masculinity and lower ethnic class Americans?”
  • “Do we unjustly pigeonhole men and women who are artistically inclined?”

The movie has an extremely powerful closing scene. After racing back to New York City from Birmingham to be home for Christmas (while being delayed by a police pull-over, a flat tire, and a northeastern snowstorm), Dr. Shirley crashes Tony’s family’s Italian Christmas feast. Several generations of rough-and-tumble lower-class Italian Americans welcome the elegantly polished African-American pianist into their home for a Christmas celebration. Bread is broken, food is shared, stereotypes are destroyed, and bridges are built. By the end of the movie, Tony had finished his two month gig as Dr. Shirley’s driver and bodyguard, but the two historical figures on which the movie is based remained friends until both died in 2013.

DISCLAIMER: This blog represents Br. Herro’s own opinions and experiences. It does not represent an official position or opinion of St. Norbert Abbey or of any other Norbertine.

Addressing U.S. Hate Crimes and All Souls Liturgy

Pictured: Hand-carved wooden statues of Norbertine saints and blesseds are on display in the St. Norbert Abbey dining room. Commissioned between 2011 and 2015 by Abbot Gary Neville, O. Praem., these custom works were designed and created by Josef Albl and sons of ALBL Oberammergau woodcarvers in Germany.

By Br. Steve Herro, O. Praem.

The week of October 21, 2018, was a tragic week in our country; a pall hung over our nation. We were reminded once again of the extent of hatred in the United States, expressed by not only mentally ill or lone ranger individuals, but also people in political power.

At the expense of missing an event, what do the murders of two shoppers in a Louisville Kroger grocery store, 14 intended recipients of mail bombs, the slaughter of 11 Jewish congregants, and the daily tirade and threats of punishment against several thousand Honduran asylum seekers have in common? They illustrate the worst of our nature. And all during a week in which the ashes of Matthew Shepherd, whose bloody 1998 murder helped give rise to hate laws in our country, were laid to rest in the National Cathedral.

As I struggled to make sense of these hateful utterances and actions, we sang Bernadette Farrell’s “Christ, Be Our Light” as an entrance song at Sunday Mass at St. Norbert Abbey. A portion of the lyrics include the following:

Longing for light, we wait in darkness.
Longing for truth, we turn to you.
Make us your own, your holy people,
Light for the world to see.

Christ, be our light! Shine in our hearts,
Shine through the darkness.
Christ, be our light!
Shine in your church gathered today.

Longing for peace, our world is troubled.
Longing for hope, many despair.
Your word alone has power to save us.
Make us your living voice.

As I continued to pray and reflect on the events, I read Deuteronomy 6:2-6, which was shared in many Christian churches on Sunday, November 4. The reading capsulizes Jewish law by directing the Jewish people to love the Lord, their God, with all of their heart, mind, and soul. What a beautiful tribute to the first of the Abrahamic faiths; may every Jew, Christian, and Moslem honor the grieving Jewish community in Pittsburgh. We stand united with you in tradition and prayer.

I continued to wonder what else I could do to process my feelings surrounding these hateful crimes by my own countrymen. A friend from Washington, D.C., Kate Tromble, pastoral associate for social justice, Holy Trinity Catholic Church, e-blasted a listing of D.C.-area vigils and the name and address of the rabbi of the Jewish congregation victimized by the October 20 hate crime:

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers
Tree of Life (Or L’Simcha) Synagogue
5898 Wilkins Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15217

I thanked Kate for the information and promptly wrote to the rabbi, expressing my prayerful support as an Eastern Rite Lebanese-American in Wisconsin.

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, rabbi-in-residence at Avodah, authored “The victims of the Tree of Life synagogue massacre are martyrs” in the October 28 Washington Post. She also was featured in WBUR’s “On Point on October 29. Her column and interview are well worth your time. As the rabbi and other “On Point” speakers pointed out, one response to these hate crimes, and the pro-gun culture that helps perpetuate them, is to express yourself at the polls this November 6 and afterwards.

Her comment about martyrs also reminded me that the Catholic Church celebrated All Soul’s Day (“The Commemoration of all of the Faithful Departed”) on November 2. We memorialized the lives of all those in our community who died in the last 12 months. The First Reading speaks of the souls of the just being in the hands of God (Wisdom 3:1-9). I wonder how many preachers connected this Catholic feast to the martyrdom of the Louisville shoppers, murdered Pittsburghers who celebrated the Jewish Sabbath on October 27, and Latin American asylum-seekers dying in the desert and U.S. detention centers?

DISCLAIMER: This blog represents Br. Herro’s own opinions and experiences. It does not represent an official position or opinion of St. Norbert Abbey or of any other Norbertine.

Walking the Talk

By Br. Steve Herro, O. Praem.

Three recent Sundays reminded us of Jesus’ (and Christianity’s) special place for children.

On October 7, 2018, we were reminded that Jesus said to his disciples:

“Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them. (Mark 10:14b-18)

One week earlier, the Gospel reminded us:

Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. (Mark 9:42)

And, on September 23, we heard:

Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” (Mark 9:36-37)

The valuing and protection of children is paramount; we have a long way to go. We continue to rile from the many news stories about the sexual abuse of children, children’s impairment on the U.S. border (“A Record 13,300 Migrant Children Are Being Detained by the Trump Administration”; “Trump’s new plan to detain immigrant families indefinitely, explained”), and religious leaders reminding us of the importance of maintaining adequate nutrition programs for children in the U.S. Farm Bill.

Amidst these various serious challenges facing our children, my friend Mary was posting to me about the need for her ministry, Love Life, to find a new distribution site on the east side of Green Bay. After about 10 years, Love Life—which provides free diapers, formula, and other infant products to needy families—was asked to find a new location. After several months of research and negotiations, Love Life Leaders were welcomed at Central Church, a short distance from its former home.

May God bless Love Life’s volunteers and supporters and Central Church for walking the talk for our children. It is heartwarming to realize that kids’ fortunes are being protected in one small way during an otherwise trying time for children’s rights.

DISCLAIMER: This blog represents Br. Herro’s own opinions and experiences. It does not represent an official position or opinion of St. Norbert Abbey or of any other Norbertine.

Think Before Tweeting, and We All Will Be Happier

By Br. Steve Herro, O. Praem.

I became more and more angry every time I biked passed the outdoor sign in my hometown. What was this “great place to raise a family” coming to? The bold letters “LOCAL FAMILY PREFERENCE” really rattled my cage. Was the rental company inherently prejudiced against prospective customers a shade different from the city’s natives? I found the message terribly unwelcoming.

Part of the irony was that the house in which I grew up a few miles from the sign was now owned and occupied by immigrants from India! As soon as I returned to my computer, I knew that I would compose a response to an editor, my blog, or perhaps the community’s tourism board or chamber of commerce.

But as the week wore on, I thought, “Call the phone number listed.” I could produce my own investigative report by speaking to a representative of the rental company! And besides, doesn’t Scripture admonish us to work it out in dialogue with an adversary before taking our gift to the altar (Matthew 5:23-25)? So in a fast-paced communication era of “tweet before you think,” I convinced myself to leave my comfort zone, do my homework, and converse with another who I was sure was a polar opposite.

The person on the other end of the line was most gracious and informative. I explained that I was a native of the community but had left the area at the beginning of adulthood to launch my career. Did the sign really mean that I would not be given a fair shake if I sought to rent from the receptionist’s company? The woman explained that her company was required by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to offer special preference to low-income natives for these subsidized housing choices in an attempt to address generational and local poverty. I mentioned that I was quite familiar with the Housing Choice Voucher program and thanked her for her explanation.

Moral of the story? Pick up the phone or knock on the door before going to battle with a perceived ideological foe. Furthermore, we often need “cooling-off” periods. During these days of polarization in our legislative capitals, homes, and churches, expend a small amount of extra time and energy to really get to know others and the necessary facts before flying off in judgement.

DISCLAIMER: This blog represents Br. Herro’s own opinions and experiences. It does not represent an official position or opinion of St. Norbert Abbey or of any other Norbertine.

Asking “How About a Cucumber?” Instead of Dialing 911

By Br. Steve Herro, O. Praem.

A recent WBUR “On Point” segment (“Racism, Discrimination, And Calling The Police On Black People,” July 19, 2018) and Washington Post essay (“Police calls for #LivingWhileBlack have gotten out of hand. Here’s what we can do about it.” by Megan R. Underhill, July 20, 2018) nailed an issue that we would like to sweep under the rug … but, unfortunately, the instances have become all too commonplace. I found a few of the cited instances especially egregious, such as when a white adult called the police because a black grade school kid was enterprising enough to have a lawn cutting business and was cutting grass in the caller’s neighborhood, and the instance when campus security was notified because an African-American student was napping in a common area in a U.S. university. Really? Is not academia supposed to model inclusivity and open mindedness?

Some argue that such citizen overreaches are not more common, but that we are simply more aware because any encounter can be recorded and uploaded to the web in minutes. The point is not that the instances are more or less commonplace; the point is that one unwarranted call to the police is one call too many.

Bishop Edward Braxton (Belleville, Illinois) is one of the most profound Catholic writers on race and culture. Since 2015 he has written two relevant pastoral letters: “The Racial Divide in the United States: A Reflection for the World Day of Peace 2015” and “The Catholic Church and The Black Lives Matter Movement: The Racial Divide in the United States Revisited.” In one appearance, I heard him describe how he was pulled over by an officer when he was transporting used furniture in his car to a needy parishioner in Louisiana. I take it that he was not wearing his pectoral cross that afternoon?

I have never  called the police because there was a black or brown person in my backyard. But I do recall the fear that I felt as a minority white person in a Chicago area gas station asking for directions, especially when the recent immigrant from central Europe behind the counter referred my question on directions to a young adult African-American male behind me in line. Dreadlocks, baseball hat, baggy shorts—oh my! Was I going to be roughed up in an unknown neighborhood en route to a Catholic social action conference at a Catholic university?

The gentleman (I think that he even called me “bro”; how did he know? I was not even wearing my habit!) provided clear and perfect directions, and I got a free Sunday afternoon tour of Chicago’s southwest suburbs and neighborhood.

How can I respond to the “call the police” overreach? My abbey sits in the middle of a 160-acre soybean field and I work in the basement of the Chancery of the Diocese of Green Bay. But I do spend several hours a week in the heart of downtown Green Bay, working in an office within range of multiple agencies serving people of all races and volunteering in the front garden of the Central branch of the Brown County Library (and believe me, our downtown library does not suffer from lack of cultural diversity). I might be “inconvenienced” while weeding, watering, or harvesting by passersby who look, talk, and dress differently than me, but in today’s “I’ll call the police on you” environment, the simple gesture of looking up into the eyes of another and saying, “Hey, how are you?” and perhaps offering a cucumber or tomato can go a long way.

DISCLAIMER: This blog represents Br. Herro’s own opinions and experiences. It does not represent an official position or opinion of St. Norbert Abbey or of any other Norbertine.

“Sometimes God’s Law Supercedes Man’s Law”

By Br. Steve Herro, O. Praem.

One may well ask: ‘How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’ The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust (Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”).

I have known Fr. Bill Ribbens, O. Praem., for 30 years. He once noted that his happiest experience in ministry has been serving the immigrant Spanish-speaking community in the Green Bay area (his ministry for the last 15 years). At a time when some national political leaders are justifying the separation of immigrant children from their parents as being legally justified within U.S. law, while faith leaders quickly counteract, I am reminded of Fr. Bill’s comment of yesteryear, but so relevant today:

Sometimes God’s law supercedes man’s law.

Fr. Bill Ribbens, O. Praem.
Fr. Bill Ribbens, O. Praem.

I never have been arrested for civil disobedience, but I understand Fr. Bill’s point. Our country has a long list of laws that eventually were replaced or thrown out after years of protests, negotiations, and advocacy:

  • enslavement of Blacks
  • restricting women from the right to vote
  • use of poisons on “unwanted” plant life
  • unchecked presidential wartime power

When Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated, I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” Fr. James Martin, S.J., was one of many faith leaders who immediately counter-responded:

Mr. Sessions is engaging in what is known as ‘proof-texting’ that is, cherry-picking Bible passages to prove a point without referring to (or even understanding) the overall context of the quote. Often, especially in political battles, this technique is used to weaponize the Bible.

The problem with proof-texting is that there is always another Bible verse, or in this case many Bible verses, that can be used to refute the one chosen. To rebut Mr. Sessions, one could easily respond with a line in that same passage in which St. Paul says, “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Rm 13:8-9).

On June 14, Sr. Donna Markham, O.P.,  president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, wrote to Secretary of Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen:

As a clinical psychologist, I have also seen the consequences that not having a parent can have on a child, and it is deeply troubling that the administration has chosen to create a generation of traumatized children in the name of border security. Surely as a nation we can debate the best way to secure our border without resorting to creating life-long trauma for children, some of whom are mere toddlers.

What responses can we have? Prayer, letters to Congress (see S.3036, “Keep Families Together Act”) and our newspapers, financial support to organizations providing humanitarian and legal help to immigrants, and acts of kindness and support to immigrant families that we meet on a daily basis go a long way.

DISCLAIMER: This blog represents Br. Herro’s own opinions and experiences. It does not represent an official position or opinion of St. Norbert Abbey or of any other Norbertine.

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Why Br. Steve Herro, O. Praem., Chose Norbertine Life

By Br. Steve Herro, O. Praem.

Having grown up in northeastern Wisconsin in the 1970s, I was aware of a religious order of priests and brothers that served our region as high school and college teachers (and as a member of Congress). Church ministry was a dream of mine since early childhood; being able to serve in this context with other like-minded men in these kinds of ministries in northeast Wisconsin seemed like a perfect fit.

Furthermore, I was attracted to religious life because I believed I could lead a more sustainable life style while sharing resources with other men, as opposed to the rampant individualism which I saw in our society.

Church ministry was a dream of mine since early childhood …

—Br. Steve Herro, O. Praem.
Br. Steve Herro, O. Praem. (left)
Br. Steve Herro, O. Praem. (left)

In 2015, I was living apart from the Norbertine community in Washington, D.C., while serving the national Church through Catholic Charities USA. I was 900 miles away when my father’s health began to severely deteriorate. My attempt to balance ministry, Norbertine life, and family concerns seemed nearly impossible.

During this time, Norbertine art professor, Fr. James Neilson, O. Praem., just happened to be leading a St. Norbert College tour of Washington, D.C., art museums. As a Norbertine confrere, his totally unexpected visit and thoughtful concern for me and my family that April evening was one of the most grace-filled experiences I have ever had as a Norbertine.

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Can the Church Help Reduce Political Polarization in the U.S.?

By Br. Steve Herro, O. Praem.

Jesuit Fr. Matt Malone recently wrote that 65 percent of U.S. voters live in congressional districts in which either President Trump or Secretary Clinton won the district by at least 20 percent of the vote.

San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy cited a survey that said 40 percent of Americans today would be upset if their child married someone from the other political party—compared to only five percent feeling that way in 1960.

If you observe legislative voting patterns in your local community, state, or U.S. Congress, are lawmakers able to timely advance significant legislation to promote the common good?

For example, Wisconsin has not passed a biennial budget on time in the last four or five cycles; at the federal level, who does not know the meaning of the term “continuing budget resolution”—a temporary fix to prevent the federal government from shutting down because the president and Congress have not been able to agree to a budget in seven months of negotiating?

Are you as exhausted as I am about the political polarization in the U.S. today? Does Christianity provide hope—an answer—to this vexing problem?

According to David Michael (“Alan Jacobs: a Christian intellectual for the internet age,” America, April 28, 2018), Christian public intellectuals grazed the scene 50 years ago by interpreting, bridging cultural gaps, mediating, and reconciling. Can they return?

Perhaps Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought’s “Though Many, One: Overcoming Polarization Through Catholic Social Thought” (June 4-6, 2018) can help advance Christian thought on breaking polarization in our legislatures. As Initiative director John Carr explained:

This is an attempt in a more focused and strategic way to look at how this unnecessary and unhelpful polarization reduces our ability (as Catholics) to make a difference in a really divided country.

We’re not going to debate economic issues or this controversy or that controversy. We’re going to explore the causes, the costs and how to overcome polarization which undermines (the church’s) public witness.

The beauty of Catholic social teaching is it connects things that are not connected in politics-as-usual and we want to help make those connections.

We’re high on building relationships. It’s hard to prejudge people that you’ve met.

Besides academic conferences, polarization can be met head-on by placing museums, art centers, libraries, and other educational venues in the midst of a point of disharmony. How many hearts have been touched, how many minds have been enlightened, when people have visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee (the very site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968), or the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Alabama, where Dr. King wrote, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”? The Church can promote the establishment and participation of such organizations through financial contributions and incorporating visits by Catholic parish and student groups.

Do you know who wrote:

It is the responsibility of the State to safeguard and promote the common good of society. Based on the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, and fully committed to political dialogue and consensus building, it plays a fundamental role, one which cannot be delegated, in working for the integral development of all. This role, at present, calls for profound social humility.

If you guessed Pope Francis, congratulations! Number 240 of The Joy of the Gospel is followed by #241:

In her dialogue with the State and with society, the Church does not have solutions for every particular issue. Together with the various sectors of society, she supports those programmes which best respond to the dignity of each person and the common good. In doing this, she proposes in a clear way the fundamental values of human life and convictions which can then find expression in political activity.

Pope Francis’ choice of the words “social humility” and “together with various sectors of society” jump out at me. Humble people don’t breed polarization; nor do people or organizations who cannot act multilaterally.

Several years ago, I volunteered with “Dan” on a regular basis. Besides sharing a desire to serve our community in our cathedral’s ESL program, we enjoyed talking about current events (as do a lot of people in Washington, D.C.!) and the Catholic Church. I learned that Dan had a past college internship working for one of the wealthiest political action committees (PAC) … and that this PAC funded many candidates that I probably would never vote for. Today, Dan is working for a national legislative leader of whom I share very few political preferences. Nevertheless, when my LinkedIn message announced his job to me, I congratulated him.

Are we willing to congratulate one on his or her good fortune … even if the accomplishment is totally contrary to our own political leanings? It might seem like a minor gesture toward dismantling political discord in the U.S., but I am glad that I e-mailed him, anyway.

DISCLAIMER: This blog represents Br. Herro’s own opinions and experiences. It does not represent an official position or opinion of St. Norbert Abbey or of any other Norbertine.

Don’t Judge Another Without Walking in the Other’s Moccasins

By Br. Steve Herro, O. Praem.

On January 8, 2018, Pope Francis, in his annual address to international diplomats working in the Vatican, said, in part:

The Lord Jesus himself, by healing the leper, restoring sight to the blind man, speaking with the publican, saving the life of the woman caught in adultery and demanding that the injured wayfarer be cared for, makes us understand that every human being, independent of his or her physical, spiritual or social condition, is worthy of respect and consideration. From a Christian perspective, there is a significant relation between the Gospel message and the recognition of human rights in the spirit of those who drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I was particularly attracted by the link of Catholic social thought to Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which reads:

  1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
  2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Sadly to say, how are these rights threatened by the proposed Wisconsin Works for Everyone reform plan? Amongst other things, the plan seeks to force Wisconsin FoodShare recipients to increase their number of weekly hours worked from 20 to 30 and requires a drug test for FoodShare recipients. People’s schedules can be complex; maybe some adults cannot or should not be “punched in” 30 hours a week. For example, I don’t see the plan accounting for the possibility of a parent’s time to transport a child to school, or a middle-aged son’s time to transport a loved one for weekly errands and appointments. Furthermore, the plan may hamper a child’s nutritional growth on account of a parent’s work schedule or drug use.

A human service provider recently asked me what message I would like to communicate to the public about homelessness (and poverty) in our local community. After a slight pause, I replied, “Don’t judge another without walking a mile in his or her moccasins.”

Just two days after hearing a state government official retort, We also propose putting asset limits on public assistance so people with giant mansions and fancy cars don’t get welfare checks while hard-working taxpayers have to pay the bills. … You see, public assistance should be more like a trampoline and not a hammock,” might we commit ourselves to a relationship of encounter with a person or persons before passing judgement?

DISCLAIMER: This blog represents Br. Herro’s own opinions and experiences. It does not represent an official position or opinion of St. Norbert Abbey or of any other Norbertine.

Human Trafficking and Supply Chain Economics

Pictured: Photo by Jennifer Hardy/Catholic Relief Services (used with permission)

By Br. Steve Herro, O. Praem.

What do an investigator of the Brown County Sheriff’s Office and an international documentarian have in common?

Sgt. Matthew Wilson and Shraysi Tandon appeared in a discussion panel about the documentary Invisible Hands at the Green Bay Film Festival at St. Norbert College (SNC) earlier this year on March 1.

Human trafficking—whether child slavery or sex trafficking—is a popular issue for human rights advocates. As I viewed Tandon’s documentary and reflected on panelists’ comments (three other panelists were Sr. Sally Ann Brickner, O.S.F., a local social justice advocate; Kimberly Sandstrom, a licensed professional counsellor who volunteers at a Green Bay safe house for trafficking victims; and Dr. Elena A. Khapalova, assistant professor of business administration at SNC and an authority on supply chain management), I wondered why we often fail to recognize the sources of challenges facing our global and local communities. I was very touched by the common concern of a male sheriff investigator and females from academia, the counseling profession, Catholic religious life, and cinematography (when was the last time you saw a law enforcement official hanging out with such an assortment?).

As we consider stomping out the use of child slavery used to produce cheap textiles or electronic devices, or harvest chocolate or coffee beans, will we challenge ourselves when we shop for bargain-rate shirts and pants made in Bangladesh? Do we consider purchasing Fair Trade coffee (which has been certified to pay fair wages to those who grew the coffee) instead of the morning jolt from the popular coffee shop drive-through? As we imprison women who have been implicated in human sex trafficking, are we as quick to address the behavior of the buyers?

I left the viewing and discussion comparing the human trafficking issue to another current social debate: immigration and deportation. And this is why the question of supply chain and the basic economic principle of supply and demand is so important: our local and world communities would be further ahead if we examined behavior of consumers rather than just throwing the book at victims—be they child slaves, trafficked women, or immigrant workers.

DISCLAIMER: This blog represents Br. Herro’s own opinions and experiences. It does not represent an official position or opinion of St. Norbert Abbey or of any other Norbertine.