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Testimony from the Heart at Congressional Briefing on Policy Challenges Facing Congress

By Becky Sindelar

March 7, 2017 — On March 2, four members of the Jesuit network gave voice to the voiceless at a Capitol Hill briefing on criminal justice, environmental justice, immigration, and poverty. The panel of experts shared their views on policy challenges and opportunities for the 115th Congress, 12 percent of whose members are Jesuit educated.

Hosted by the Jesuit Conference and the Ignatian Solidarity Network, the briefing framed policy priorities in light of Catholic and Jesuit principles, grounded in the lived experiences of the people served by Jesuits and their lay colleagues.

Father Timothy Kesicki, SJ, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, welcomed those gathered and explained the reason for the briefing: Pope Francis had asked Jesuits to try to advance dialogue in politics.


Fr. Kesicki, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, welcomed those gathered at the briefing.

“As a Jesuit priest, I am political, but not partisan; that goes all the way back to our founder St. Ignatius Loyola, who banned political conversations at the dinner table,” Fr. Kesicki said. “We don’t come here to advocate a partisan platform, rather policies central to who we are.”

Tashina Rama, executive director of advancement at the Jesuits’ Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, spoke about the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would cross under the Missouri River north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.


Tashina Rama

Rama, who is Lakota/Ojibwa, said, “It has been clear to me since day one that the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline is about the right to clean water.”

“This fight is about being heard; it is about the right to be consulted as native peoples about land development decisions that affect our ancestral lands and peoples.”

Rama concluded by urging members of Congress to call on the Trump Administration to reverse the decision to proceed with the construction of the pipeline.

Father Timothy McCabe, SJ, executive director of the Pope Francis Center in Detroit, a full-service day shelter for homeless men and women, spoke about his work with homeless people. He said one of the most challenging issues faced by the homeless is felony convictions on their records, which can be a “sentence to the streets.” No one is going to rent to you, and no one is going to give you a job, he said. Because of this, he said, the “Ban the Box” movement, aimed at persuading employers to remove check boxes asking if applicants have a criminal record on job applications, is important.


Mayra Martinez and Fr. Timothy McCabe, SJ

Loyola University Chicago student Mayra Martinez discussed her advocacy for undocumented students. She came to the United States with her undocumented mother at five months old and endured hardships growing up in an immigrant family.

“Determination and hope is what keeps us going. We take any job offer we can, as long as we can bring food to the table. … We keep going. We cannot rest until our families are no longer separated … until we obtain immigration reform that is just for everybody, regardless of where we come from.

“We ask you to work with us to develop humane and compassionate immigration policies that will keep our families together and ensure that all members of our community feel safe,” Martinez said.

Jose Osuna, director of external affairs for Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, the nation’s largest gang rehabilitation and intervention center, rounded out the panel.

Osuna shared his own story of growing up in Long Beach, Calif., where he joined a gang at 9 years old. “It wasn’t that I wanted to be a criminal, I just wanted to be with my friends.”


Jose Osuna speaks at the briefing.

After serving 13 years in prison and losing a son to gang violence, he turned to Homeboy Industries and started as a trainee.

“I can’t do it alone … and the men and women leaving prison today can’t do it alone,” said Osuna. “Now is not the time to scale back on support services for those that are incarcerated and are coming home. Now is not the time to pull back on resources that will address the real issues that cause violence in inner cities.”

Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) was in attendance and briefly addressed the audience. “Faith and religion is more than ritual, it’s about action. What I appreciate about the Jesuit vision is the total, absolute commitment to social justice."


Rep. Jim McGovern 

“We need more people to tell stories like the ones we just heard on all these different issues,” said Rep. McGovern. “We need to put a human face on these issues … statistics and data aren’t enough. That’s why it’s important for individuals to come here and tell real stories.”


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