It has been a difficult year, a year in which we have struggled to find hope.
But what if a small group of people could really make a difference? What if, even in this year of forced isolation and seemingly intractable problems, people could come together, and little by little, their efforts could lead to meaningful change?
What if we could join our efforts – across boundaries of geography, class, economics, and ethnicity – to transform our lives and our communities? That is exactly what Maryknoll lay missioners strive to do every day.
One place where we are doing this work is Brazil. Much like the U.S., Brazil has been dealing with a knot of interconnected problems related to the justice system: mass incarceration, reports of excessive use of force by police, court proceedings that seem to disadvantage people of color and those without means. In addition, there is widespread urban poverty that creates the conditions for crime and violence to erupt.
These are long-standing problems. But this year, Maryknoll lay missioner Joanne Blaney and her Brazilian colleagues at the Human Rights and Popular Education Center in São Paulo have launched a new project that is cause for hope. In a program co-sponsored by the U.N. and three Brazilian organizations, Joanne and her coworkers have created online workshops to bring together judges, court personnel, and members of the wider community to learn a new paradigm for addressing crime and violence: restorative justice.
Participants in this project, the Restorative Justice Network, come from 10 state supreme courts throughout Brazil. The ultimate goal is for each tribunal to establish a local center for restorative justice. Many studies have shown that restorative justice practices reduce recidivism, address the needs of victims, and heal the divisions within communities embroiled in conflict.
For many years, Joanne has taught restorative justice practices in prisons throughout Brazil and helped individuals and groups use those practices to address conflict in nonviolent ways. This new project has the potential to make lasting change by integrating these practices into Brazil’s justice system at a national level.
Joanne’s work is just one example of how Maryknoll lay missioners are bringing people together to work for change.
In Cambodia, Julie Lawler at the Deaf Development Programme brings together deaf people and helps them to develop the skills to be successful and to work as a community for full inclusion in Cambodian society.
- In South Sudan, Gabe Hurrish works in the remote Kuron Peace Village, a model community that gathers people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds. Together they are creating a demonstration farm, mediating intertribal conflicts and providing healthcare and educational opportunities that are enhancing lives.
- In El Salvador, Larry Parr is working with at-risk youth to create safe spaces, support, and resources like Wi-Fi that allow them to continue their education through distance learning.
You are an essential part of our network of global solidarity. Your support allows our lay missioners to engage in this life-changing work.
Due to the pandemic, many of the communities with whom we work face increased challenges, which makes this work more important than ever. The pandemic also prevented us from sending a new class of missioners overseas. Your gift today will also help us train our combined 2020-2021 class of new missioners, who have already begun their virtual orientation.
Yes, the year has been difficult, but haven’t we also seen the beauty of God’s grace when we unite with compassion and creativity? Together — with your help and the brave and resourceful communities we work with around the world — we are reclaiming hope. And together, one step at a time, we can accomplish great things.