We all marvel at the deep and simple wisdom children hold in their hearts and on their lips. In preparing to write this reflection for this issue on Human Rights, I asked my ten year old daughter what we mean when we say, “human rights.” Her reply was effortless: the right to recess, the right be whatever you want to be, and the right to dream big. With some interpretation, my daughter’s definition mirrors much of what God’s mission as lived by Columbans is all about.
For example, we might consider the “right to recess” as a nuance to our Columban commitment to non-violent peacebuilding. Of the “right to be whatever you want to be” we can see how our work for justice and the rights’ of many communities like refugees, migrants, workers, indigenous peoples and women is important to us. And of the “right to dream big,” we stand in wonder and awe of all of God’s Creation which impels us to be in solidarity not only with people who are excluded and marginalized but with the natural world that is also vulnerable and exploited.
In John’s Gospel we hear the story of the Good Shepherd, when Jesus reminds His disciples, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Jn10:10) In these words, we hear God’s desire for all of Creation to live free from that which keeps us from the fullness of life such as violence, poverty, exploitation, and exclusion.
Pope Francis in his encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, echoes this right to the fullness of life when he invites us to hear both the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth. He writes, “In the present condition of global society, where injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable, the principle of the common good immediately becomes, logically and inevitably, a summons to solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters.” (LS, par.158)
Our Columban commitment to Justice, Peace, and Care for Creation is rooted in the Gospel, Catholic Social Teaching, and the Society’s Constitutions which describes our nature and purpose this way, “Striving to have the kingdom of God permeate the lives and cultures of all peoples, we proclaim the universal message of salvation through witness, ministry, and dialogue from the stand point of solidarity with the poor.” Columbans live in solidarity with people and the natural world that are vulnerable and marginalized. We also work to change national and global policies and structures that create and maintain systematic injustices, conflict, and environmental destruction.
This month we explore Columban stories that celebrate the dignity and rights of all people, especially people who have had their rights violated by poverty, lack of access to education, discrimination and other forms of injustice. May they inspire us all to dream big and together be workers in the vineyard for a world in which all of God’s Creation rejoice in the fullness of life.
Amy Woolam Echeverria is the international Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Coordinator for the Missionary Society of St. Columban.