Comments by Brian R. Corbin
Executive Vice President, Members Service Catholic Charities USA
at the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on the Catholic Church's relations with non-Christian religions Nostra Aetate.
Sponsored by The Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations with the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations
3-5 pm, Wednesday, December 16, 2015
in the United Nations' ECOSOC chamber
Your Excellencies, delegates and distinguished guests,
Thank you so much for inviting me here to speak on behalf of Catholic Charities USA which provides national leadership and service to over 165 member Diocesan Catholic Charities agencies throughout the United States and its territories, and, with Catholic Relief Services, is one of the two members of Caritas Internationalis, our international confederation.
It’s exciting to be able to join you all today to discuss the ways in which Nostra Aetate, and the many follow-up documents on Jewish and Catholic relations, began the process of moving beyond discussions of reconciliation and dialogue and called for a renewed effort of Catholic and Jews to work together in the promotion of the common good. As the executive Vice President of Catholic Charities USA and as someone who has spent over 20 years in working to address the needs of the vulnerable in our societies I have seen first-hand the powerful collaborations and deepening sense of understanding that emerges when Jewish and Catholic communities work together.
In these very brief comments, I will highlight several of the very practical ways that Catholics and Jews have worked together in the pursuit of justice and in the works of charity. Many of my comments relate to the experiences here in the United States, but are indicative of the ways Catholic charitable organizations around the world have or could collaborate with the Jewish community to promote social justice. In particular, I also want to focus on a case study in which I was closely involved as a leader of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Youngstown Ohio.
But first the US Catholic Charities experience. Catholic Charities USA and the Jewish Federations of North America -- along with some other faith based and community groups -- are standing members of the National Emergency Food and Shelter Program Board, of the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) – the US governmental agency responsible for coordinating and responding to domestic emergencies. Through this membership, Catholic Charities USA and the Jewish Federations of North America work closely together in the planning and distribution of financial grants to local communities that assist low income and marginalized persons, families and communities, with services aimed at immediate food and housing security.
This national board is replicated at the local level in many communities around the United States, where there are standing board members who reflect the national board. In places where there are Catholic Charities agencies and local members of the Jewish Federation, there can be collaboration on those active community-based boards which distribute federal dollars to local agencies that then provide food, housing, utilities, and cash assistance. Over the past several years, over $100 million has been allocated each year through this collaborative approach.
Catholic Charities USA and several Jewish partners are also standing members of VOAD -- the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster that works together to build resiliency in communities in the United States. It serves as the forum where organizations share knowledge and resources throughout the disaster cycle — preparation, response, recovery and mitigation — to help disaster survivors and their communities. There are three organizations that are “collaborators” with Catholic Charities USA through its association with National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD). These agencies are: the 1) Nechama Jewish Response to Disaster, 2) the Jewish Federations of North America, and 3) the National Association of Jewish Chaplains.
This national model for disaster response is reflected oftentimes in local communities’ VOAD boards and ongoing collaborations. One example is when Shreveport Louisiana was hit –in June 2015-- with a series of heavy storms that resulted in tornados and flooding. Catholic Charities Shreveport worked alongside Nechama and the American Red Cross to conduct initial community disaster assessments. As immediate services were being provided to affected families, Nechama shared relevant disaster survivor information with Catholic Charities and other organizations to tap into longer term resources that a disaster survivor individual or family might need along their path to recovery.
Another example is the successful encounter Catholic Charities USA Disaster Operations had with volunteers from the Jewish Federations of North America who contacted CCUSA staff during the Moore Oklahoma tornado of May 2013. The Jewish Federations of North America had a number of volunteers with a strong desire to assist CCUSA in the aftermath of the Moore OK tornado and to support Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City. Volunteers were needed to support a Catholic Charities Distribution site established at a local Catholic School (a place where disaster survivors could access immediate goods and services to assist in their recovery.) In the weeks that followed, Jewish Federations of North America volunteers became an active part of the center, working alongside Catholic Charities and Knights of Columbus staff. One Jewish Federations of North America volunteer proved to be so successful that he was hired by Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City for the remainder of the summer to oversee and operate the Catholic Charities distribution center until its closure.
One more example regarding Catholic-Jewish collaborative relations during times of disaster pertains to a sizeable gift to Catholic Charities USA given by the Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Foundation to assist our local Catholic Charities’ agencies provide intensive services to persons and families impacted by Hurricane Katrina.
Besides teamwork during disasters, Catholics and Jews continue to collaborate on the national level in finding ways to provide social services to persons and families in need. On this front Catholic Charities USA works with the Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agency especially through the National Roundtable Board of Health and Human Services Association.
On the local level, there may be various working relationships between Catholic Charities Agencies and Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies. Many of these work closely with local United Ways.
One example on a very practical level involves the Jewish Federation of Greater Las Vegas which partnered with the Meals on Wheels program sponsored by Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada. The local Jewish Federation provided kosher meals and Catholic Charities delivered them to elderly, homebound Jewish people. This local practice of charity provides a great example of the Jewish community working together with the Catholic Charities’ infrastructure in order to build capacity and deliver meals in the community. It also avoided costly, burdensome and redundant efforts. These stories abound and repeat in many communities where the practical work of charity is done daily -- together.
The collaborative work for social justice continues to shine in many ways between our two faith traditions. Catholic Charities USA has worked closely with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, for example, in their “Fight Poverty with Faith” efforts over the past several years. There also are many examples of a Diocesan Catholic Charities office working with a local Jewish Public Affairs/Community Relations office on local advocacy efforts pertaining to civil rights, economic justice, peace, hunger and poverty reduction, and housing.
Catholic Charities USA and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, along with the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life actively cooperate on climate change issues in our common work together on the National Religious Partnership on the Environment.
But as I mentioned I would like to share with you a local case study on how Catholics and Jews have worked together in charity and justice, a study with which I was closely involved. For 27 years I served as an executive leader of Catholic Charities of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Youngstown, OH, which is located between Cleveland OH and Pittsburgh, PA. In those 27 years I enjoyed an incredible relationship with numerous Jewish religious and community leaders. Through those personal and organizational relationships, Catholic Charities Youngstown worked intensely and collaboratively with the Jewish Federation of Youngstown, the Jewish Family Services Agency, the Jewish Community Relations Council, and various congregations and lay leaders.
Regarding the practice of charity, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Youngstown when I was the leader served on several local, county-based Emergency Food and Shelter Boards. In that capacity, we worked closely with the Jewish Federation and the Jewish Family Services agencies in allocating local monies to various groups, and caring directly for persons and families in dire and urgent need of food or housing related services. We also worked together on our local Disaster boards during times of weather related crises. At one point in the 1990s, we worked together during a time when the local Jewish Federation resettled Russian Jews into our region; Catholic Charities supported the local Jewish efforts with as many services as we could provide, and as needed.
Regarding the work of social justice, Catholic Charities and the Jewish Community Relations Council worked yearly, for over 25 years, in planning and implementing local racial justice efforts tied to the annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Days. We worked together, for instance, to engage in creating better policies and efforts around community policing and civilian-police boards; we worked together to help raise awareness and funds for low income housing efforts; to improve local urban public schools; to develop community farmers’ markets in food deserts; and to improve racial, ethnic and religious tolerance and relationships focused on peacemaking and reconciliation.
One more example of an effort that brought together the Jewish Community and the Catholic Community in Youngstown OH was the determination to save steelmaking jobs.
Thirty eight (38) years ago, in September 1977 -- only 12 years after the Second Vatican Council ended -- a steel mill announced its closure, an event that would impact thousands of steelworkers and their families. By Thanksgiving of 1977, Youngstown Catholic Bishop James W. Malone, along with Rabbi Sidney Berkowitz of Congregation Rodef Sholom, gathered religious and community leaders to propose a worker-community cooperatively owned steel mill. These two religious leaders crafted and, together with other Christian leaders, published a Pastoral Reflection on the Steel Crisis in early December 1977.
That reflection 1) laid out the common Jewish-Christian theory of a just economic society; 2) the importance of corporate social responsibility; 3) the ethical groundings for a worker-community cooperatively owned business; and 4) the call for federal investment in basic industries like steel production.
Staff from Catholic Charities and the Jewish Community Relations Council worked on the details of the planning and implementation for over five years. Though this effort failed to produce a worker-community cooperative steel mill, and other mills closed their shops affecting thousands of steelworkers, their families, and related industries, it did show the depth of the intense relationship between the local Catholic Bishop, a Jewish Rabbi, and their respective communities all of whom worked together for justice. The effort paid off lasting dividends as Jewish and Catholic leaders continue to collaborate today in Youngstown OH by providing much-needed charitable services to struggling persons and families and by laboring to promote social justice in an area impacted greatly by economic decline.
In his encyclical Caritas in Veritate Pope Benedict XVI noted that underdevelopment and local and international poverty don’t lack in deep thought or understanding of the situation of our neighbors in need but rather lack the deeper sense of community which sees people in need not only as neighbors bur rather more deeply as brothers and sisters. I hope the examples of collaboration I provided today serve as examples of ways the Jewish and Catholic community have worked together in order to move beyond mere recognition of the needs of our separate communities to one in which true fraternal charity can emerge. I thank you for this opportunity to share these local and national stories of ongoing collaboration between Catholic Charities and Jewish agencies here in the United States Certainly, both Catholics and Jews can be proud of the close partnership they have maintained in the pursuit of charity and justice over these past fifty years, and no doubt will continue into the future..