CLINTON — A crowd of about 85 people gathered March 7 at St. Boniface Center for the first of five weekly “Peace Soup” discussions of the Lenten season. Following the soup supper, three Clinton Franciscans led the discussion on income inequality as part of the “Our Invisible Neighbors” series. Peace Soup is sponsored by the Sisters of St. Francis and Pax Christi of Prince of Peace Parish, both in Clinton.
Months ago, without knowing it, the two groups had chosen a topic that Pope Francis addressed just recently via a letter read in Modesto, Calif., at the U.S. World Meeting of Popular Movements. Sister Janice Cebula, president of the Sisters of St. Francis, reiterated the words of Pope Francis: “The grave danger is to disown our neighbors. When we do so, we deny their humanity and our own humanity without realizing it; we deny ourselves, and we deny the most important Commandments of Jesus. Herein lies the danger, the dehumanization.”
Sister Joan Theiss, OSF, and Sister Teresa Kunkel, OSF, joined Sr. Cebula to guide the audience through the misconceptions about the distribution of wealth in the United States using visuals and activities. Group-participation exercises helped make the information provided in PowerPoint charts and graphs more palpable while also encouraging questions from the audience. Several comments were also generated regarding tax breaks, myths about the market, the power of lobbyists and the change in the economy since the 1980s and 1990s.
Sr. Cebula shifted to solutions for the nation’s income inequality as she brought the event to a close. “That last exercise (about income inequality) was first demonstrated to me on Nuns on the Bus by Sister Simone Campbell, who said, ‘What we know is that policies made this problem. So policies can change it.’” Sr. Cebula added, “Working locally would create a healthier community here in Clinton County.”
A note of gratitude from an audience member capped off the evening when Rachael DeSpain of Fulton, Ill., said, “I want to thank everyone from across the river. I work for Head Start in Sterling (Ill.) and the stories told tonight are the stories of every one of our 701 families. You came to educate yourselves and to support those whose voice is going unheard. Thank you. I appreciate all of your time.”
The second discussion, held March 14, focused on affordable housing and options for homeless people.
The third Peace Soup discussion is March 21 at 6 p.m. at St. Boniface Center, and will focus on the needs of the working poor. Admission is free. Attendees are welcome to contribute to a free-will offering for Stay n Play of Clinton. Paper bowls are provided but attendees are welcome to bring a dish to help reduce waste. Details on the Peace Soup series are available at www.jcpop.org and at www.clintonfranciscans.com or by calling Prince of Peace Parish at (563) 242-3311 or the Sisters of St. Francis, (563) 242-7611.