Thank you for your generous support of IPM during this Holiday Season
I write to you today on what the world celebrates as World AIDS Day and just a day before our IPM delegation in El Salvador joins thousands of others commemorating the December 2, 1980 martyrdom of Maura Clark, Jean Donovan, Ita Ford, and Dorothy Kazel in El Salvador.
Each World AIDS Day brings me back to the early 1990’s when the spread of HIV&AIDS was ravaging the African communities I was working with through my time with Caritas Internationalis, the migrants forced into sexual exploitation in Rome, and the lives of my gay friends back in the USA. I am reminded of how slow my church of that time and the government of the USA were to respond—a delayed reaction grounded in bias against marginalized peoples that would lead to the unnecessary death of millions.
Similarly, each December 2nd, brings me back to that morning in high school when I first learned that Cleveland-based Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel and lay Missioner Jean Donovan were missing, that evening when my mom spoke to me about Dorothy and the following day when we first learned of the brutality of their murder by Salvadoran forces unleashed by the incoming U.S. Administration. At 15, I remember struggling with what their deaths meant for my sense of vocation and the life-shattering notion that the Catholic Church I had grown up in was in direct conflict with US Policy.
It is in light of these two anniversaries that I write. And as I think of what I would like to share with you at this time, I am strengthened by the witness of Grace & John (two AIDS “victims” whose lives continue to inspire me) and Dorothy & Jean. For each of them—John during Divinity School, Grace on a mud-hut floor in Rwanda, Dorothy & Jean reminding me of what accompaniment is all about every time I touch down in El Salvador—gives witness to what IPM means when we proclaim that “mission is a two-way street.”
The four of them, like each of IPM’s Partners, help center and ground me when it feels like life is overwhelming, that justice is still a far-off dream, and that peace is the farthest thing from every step. It can feel like that right now can’t it? That the times we live in are no better than the ‘80’s, that our political system is broken, and that a nuclear holocaust on the Korean peninsula seems inevitable.
And there can be no denying that for IPM these are especially hard times. Even with the promise of a 44th Anniversary to come in May of next year we are laden with: political violence in Kenya that is once again taking lives and challenging the inter-ethnic, inclusive nature of our Partners efforts there; inter-religious bigotry in India where IPM’s longstanding commitment to multi-faith responses to social injustice are being systematically oppressed by a nationalist government; in our own hemisphere, our friends in the USA and Partners in El Salvador and Nicaragua in particular are in a constant battle to defend the Dream Act, provide Sanctuary for those moms and dads of US Citizens threatened with deportation, and ensure the continuity of Temporary Protected Status for their communities and our Haitian brothers and sisters as well; and, a changing philanthropic climate where everything seems to be more about metrics than the transformational change global solidarity can make in each individual’s life.
These are indeed times when one’s faith and commitment are being tested in unimaginable ways! But like all such times, this is also a moment when organizations like IPM and people like you can make an even greater difference in the world.
You can help us in so many ways. Share the good news of IPM’s transformational work around the world. Bring a friend (or friends!) along on an IPM Immersion Experience Program. Join in one of IPM’s new advocacy campaigns to Defend DACA and stop the political violence in Kenya. Pray that our International Staff and Partners have the courage and strength to continue their life-changing efforts to bring justice, peace, and hope to the abandoned and forgotten. Donate your time, talent, & treasure to make our mission possible.
This is just some of what you can do. It’s much of what my colleagues and I try to do each and every day emboldened by the notion that “it is not the years in your life that count it’s the life in your years,” (Abraham Lincoln). And years like these require all the life we can give!
It may be hard to believe but IPM is concluding its 43rd year. Even harder for me to believe is that I’ve been connected with IPM, as a Project Partner, Board Member, and Staff Member, for 25 years! And each of you, over all those years, has played a vital part in making IPM what we are today—a movement more than a mission, a family more than an organization. A non-profit that couldn’t exist without you.
As I write this letter, our nation and our world may feel even more divided than they did last year. But people of faith and communities worldwide are standing up and reminding us that another world is indeed possible. That fear and hate can’t rule the day. That hope and love always win in the end. That the mission of IPM to work across borders of culture, faith, and economic circumstance is needed now more than ever.
Sometimes, at our darkest moments that might be hard to believe. But I believe and I know that you wouldn’t keep supporting our work together if you too didn’t know that you can make a difference! Your partnership with us provides IPM with the resources to accompany and nurture tens of thousands of people of who have taken up the challenge of living with and loving one another… of making our world and their communities a place where everyone is valued and no one is forgotten.
Thank you and best wishes to you during this Holiday Season and throughout the coming year!
Joseph F. Cistone, CEO
December 1, 2017
Thanksgiving—A Time to Remember Who We Are
It probably won’t surprise you to know that Thanksgiving has always been a holiday of mixed blessings for me.
Back in College, the sheer gluttony of the Thanksgiving meal tore me apart as I wrestled with my sense of vocation and, particularly, my exposure to the Catholic Worker movement and others who were living out their faith daily, providing food and shelter to the materially poor.
While at Divinity School I even took a few Thanksgiving’s “off” as I struggled with the concept of being thankful for so much abundance when I knew my new-found friends in Korea, Mexico, and even parts of New Haven would be going hungry that night.
And for seven years in Italy, I was conflicted… torn between wanting to share “the best” of the U.S. Holiday Season with my foreign-born daughter and the Refugees through whom I first encountered IPM. We’d travel the countryside to find the right “bird” and those shared meals in the basement of an Episcopal Church in the heart of Rome taught me something very special about what it means to be thankful in a world where so many are left longing.
When I returned to the States full-time Thanksgiving was certainly a welcome break from the workweek, but it also provided an opportunity for service and shared sustenance. In fact, helping to prepare a meal for the less fortunate was rewarding to me in a way that a meal replete with political and religious argument among an extended family never quite cut it.
But in the past sixteen+ years with IPM I’ve found a new appreciation for the Holiday just as I have bristled at it’s false retelling of a founding myth. Thanksgiving has become for me, my immediate family, my faith community, and the IPM Family across the USA, a unique, annual opportunity to step back, count our blessings, and redouble our efforts to make a difference in the world.
We, who live in these United States, do have much to be thankful for. Yes, we live in difficult times for sure. Yes, we seem to be increasingly divided by class, ethnicity, gender, race, and religion. The extent of our Partisan divide and the rancor that goes along with can be troubling at times, debilitating at its worst.
But there is also a spirit at work in the communities where I spend most of my time. At IPM, at worship, with my students and friends: I can’t help but feel a sense that something is changing. That all the negativity is making us realize how much there is to be positive about. That all the rancor can help us recall just how good it can feel to find a compromise. That all the hate in the world can’t squelch my deepest belief that hope and love ultimately win.
So as you and those you love head off for this Thanksgiving Holiday I’d ask that you keep IPM in your prayers, that you consider the type of year-end gift you can make to truly make a difference in our work around the world, and that you will take the time to slow down and remind yourself just what brought you into relationship with this IPM Family. Give yourself the gift of knowing—even if for only a moment—that your partnership with us makes all the difference in the world.
Best wishes for a joyful and peace-filled Thanksgiving Holiday!
This Sunday is Father’s Day in the USA. And while I’ve become more accustomed to celebrate on March 19—the Saint Joseph Day Holiday that is also my feast day and a more common date of celebration in the Latin world—I’m struck as we head into the weekend of just how powerful Father’s Day has become for me.
Part of that is because as one ages, and watches one’s parent’s age as well, the times we pause to commemorate all those who have made a difference in our life resonate more deeply. I was privileged to have spent much of the past month with my dad, but especially to watch him interact with my two youngest children both in person and from a distance as he babysat while both my spouse and I were out of the country, in her native Kenya and in conjunction with IPM’s VII Latin America & the Caribbean Regional Conference in El Salvador respectively. Another part is because as each year passes I miss the IPM co-founding father I knew, Paul Strege, more than ever and I long for just one chat about IPM with the one I didn’t know, Jim Mayer, perhaps even more.
In full disclosure, my memories of my father in my childhood are vague at best. Ours was a fairly traditional family and he was often more of a distant presence than a trusted confidant. Each summer, apart from a usually brief but wonderful camping holiday, I spent more time at my maternal grandfather’s side in the garden, than I ever did with my father as he worked extra jobs to make ends meet. But as I grew and struggled with personal and professional success our relationship deepened in both subtle and profound ways. He is now, arguably my best male friend and certainly the one man I would go to if I had a question or quandary only an older guy could answer.
At the same time, I have been blessed by more male IPM mentors than I could ever do justice here but Bob, David, Dick, Doug, Dudley, George, Hank, Jim, John, Mark, Matthew, Nick, Paul, Ralph, Tim (and multiples of some of those names) you know who you are.
And, perhaps most poignantly, my tenure with IPM has allowed me to work alongside some of the best Fathers one could ever imagine. In Carlos, Doug, Jared, Johnny, Mahesh, and Martin today I, and IPM, are surrounded my remarkable men who take being a dad, being a role model, being a partner, and being here for one another as seriously as any professional vocation.
Just last month, at IPM’s VII Latin America & Caribbean Regional Conference we heard powerful stories of Fathers and Father-figures who:
- serve as academic mentors for first generation University students in El Salvador;
- had their own life taken as part of the landless struggle in Brasil;
- model healthy & loving relationships with their daughters in Nicaragua;
- keep adolescent boys on the ball-field and off the streets in Warren, Ohio; and,
- put their weapons down for a chance at lasting peace in Colombia.
These are just a few of the countless examples fatherhood plays in the life of the IPM Family worldwide.
While I know that many of us don’t or didn’t have the kind of relationships we wish/ed for with our fathers. Some of us don’t seven know where they are. And many more, still mourn their passing each time someone invokes their name. But good Father’s and Father-Figures make the lives of young people that much richer. The right Dad’s presence brings just the right balance of tenderness as security, acceptance as abundance.
I know that being a dad has been a huge part of my role within IPM and I know IPM would be nowhere near where it is today without the steady presence of the men I’ve mentioned above and so many more. This Father’s Day weekend we remain thankful for the presence each Father and Father-figure makes in the life of IPM and within each of us.
Happy Father’s Day! Joe
For more than twenty-five years I have lived and worked internationally… while living in Europe when I was younger I remember being pulled over and asked to prove who I was simply because I had a beard, tan, & afro, and was driving around with Sudanese refugees on a basketball team with me, without cause or due process, I don’t want the U.S. to be like that for me, my family, or anyone.
I could speak as the CEO of IPM–an international non-profit with its Executive Office here in Mount Desert—telling you how the deputation of our local police could lead to uncomfortable situations with our International Executive Board members, Staff, and Partners who visit here often.
I could speak as a University Professor who invites my international students to visit our home in Somesville and worries about what they might encounter on their way on or off this Island we call home.
I could speak as the Pastor of a Congregation based in Northeast Harbor & Seal Harbor, Seaside UCC, which was a Sanctuary Congregation in the 1980’s and will likely take that stance again as an appropriate living-out of the biblical mandate “for I was a Stranger and you welcomed me.”
But I want to speak as a citizen, the spouse of a gainfully employed and community-involved green card holder who many of you know and who gets pulled over all the time off this Island for driving while black, the father of multi-racial children, and the great-grandson of immigrants who were once called WHOPS—without papers!
So I’d ask you to turn to page 79. You see that child in the bottom middle who I imagine you couldn’t tell (unless you knew him) if he was Sudanese, Syrian, or Salvadoran? That’s my son.
“I don’t want our local police to be put in the position of having to determine if my son is ‘legal’ when he goes to school, walks down the street, or simply sits at home: That’s not their role nor is it the country I love.”
This was my response at the Mt. Desert Island Town meeting after which the town voted 101 to 59 in favor of a resolution that declares the town a sanctuary community.
The Maine Municipal Association says this is the first resolution of its kind in Maine.Sanctuary communities welcome everyone regardless of nationality.The idea came about through a citizen’s petition from a group of local residents.It’s in response to the Trump administration’s recent immigration policies.
Greetings of Peace from IPM!
Founded in 1974, IPM continues to pride itself on working across boundaries of culture, faith, and economic circumstance to encourage justice, peace, and hope.
For many of the members of the IPM Family this is a sacred time of the year. Passover and Lent are moments for reflection on our role in the world and the ways that our respective faith traditions guide us.
For me, as someone raised Christian but who sees the world through a particularly universal lens, Easter and Spring in North America remind me that we are each called to reflect on what it means to be a person of faith in a country and world that often seems as divided as ever. In his classic Living Buddha, Living Christ, Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that our “faith must be alive…it cannot be just a set of religious beliefs” but that we pray “with our actions in the world.”
The events of Passover and the Passion of Jesus that we commemorate this week, run counter to the normalcy of fear that is being stoked from Afghanistan to Washington, India to El Salvador.
We recount historical moments of real fear in the lives of Moses, Jesus, their family and friends.
Running from the Egyptians, Peter in denial, Judas hanging himself, Pilate washing his hands, Disciples in hiding, Moses questioning, Jesus waiting for God to come and not forsake him. The fear is palpable everywhere.
Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan remind us that: “at a broad level of generalization, Good Friday was the result of the collision between the passion of Jesus and the normalcy of civilization” or better yet, today, the normalcy of fear! 
The great holocaust survivor and political theorist, Hanna Arendt, had it right. We live in times when “normalcy of civilization” the “banality of evil” holds sway. The reason dictatorship prevails is not because everyone is evil, nope, that’s not it. It’s because we are willing—like the kings in Isaiah with their mouths’ shut—to remain silent and let evil win.
The politics of hate is that evil, whether in ancient Rome or today!
Jesus offered his life not simply to “atone” for our sins but to confront unjust structures AND as a sign that love could conquer fear. Moses, similarly, never made it to the Promised Land but his faith remains a beacon for generations.
Today as we demonize “the other”: be they a Jew in Palestine or an Arab in Israel; the refugee, which the Israelites, Jesus, Joseph, & Mary were themselves lest we forget; the unauthorized immigrant seeking a new start; the Divinity Student who reminds us that Black Lives Matter; the transgender teenager who feels uncomfortable in any non-private bathroom; the teenage girl in Maine who finds herself pregnant and alone; or the Muslim who wants the same thing for her/his family that we all want for our own; we succumb to the same evil that enslaved the Hebrew people and crucified Jesus.
We let fear become normal and push love and hope to the side.
At Passover and on Easter morning we commemorate when God conquered hate, when fear was replaced by love.
So, let’s not just look to the cross or a golden calf for our answers, but to that empty tomb and the glow on Mary Magdalene’s face—for God is risen in each of us this holiday weekend and whenever and wherever we encourage the normalcy of love.
Joseph F. Cistone
April 14, 2017
 The Last Week, p. 162.
Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, 1963.
I Was A Stranger & You Welcomed Me:
Refugees, Immigrants, & the Internally Displaced
A Statement from IPM
Friday, February 10, 2017
IPM is an avowedly nonpartisan organization. Any position we take that might be considered overtly political reflects our call to live in partnership with our brothers and sisters around the world while honoring our more than four-decade mission to create and nurture partnerships across borders of culture, faith, and economic circumstance.
These past two weeks have been unprecedented. The executive order instituting a poorly conceived travel ban is deeply concerning to IPM. The facts are clear. The ban suspended the entire US refugee admissions system for 120 days while suspending the Syrian refugee program indefinitely. In a direct and selective attack upon seven majority-Muslim countries, the order bans all entry to the USA by citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen for 90 days, while ignoring those nations from which the 9/11 terrorists hailed. The real news is that the overwhelming majority of mass killings that have taken place in the United States during my lifetime—from Oklahoma City to Orlando—have been perpetuated by homegrown terrorists.
On a personal note, it was through my work in the early 1990’s with the Joined Hands Refugee Center in Rome, Italy (former Project Partner #75), that I first encountered IPM. The people and stories I encountered at that time built upon what I learned as the great-grandchild of immigrants, a child of a family that hosted Vietnamese refugees, and as a Divinity School student supporting Sanctuary for Central American Refugees. Some of the most wonderful people I have ever had the privilege of calling friends are Muslim and/or hail from the seven countries from which people have been banned. Like so many of you, some of the greatest moments of inspiration in my life directly involve refugees and immigrants.
While tonight’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling provides temporary relief for those impacted by the ban, it is likely to remain in place on a de facto basis worldwide in the near term while doing little to protect the security concerns of the United States and its citizens. The ban’s chaotic roll out and irregular implementation has wreaked havoc and sewn despair for millions of U.S. citizens, permanent residents, students, already extremely vetted refugees, those whom they love, and all those who believe we should welcome the stranger. It must not be permitted.
At its core, the ban is a cynical refutation of everything this nation and her emblematic Statue of Liberty stand for. As Ronald Reagan described in his 1989 “Shining City Upon A Hill” farewell address:
I saw…a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still... a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.”
On purely economic terms, banning refugees and immigrants, for even 90 days is counterproductive. Refugees and Immigrants have always brought more wealth and vitality to this nation than they have taken. According to a January 27th study by the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania: “The available evidence suggests that immigration leads to more innovation, a better-educated workforce, greater occupational specialization, better matching of skills with jobs, and higher overall economic productivity.” Moreover, the Economic Policy Institute reported on August 12, 2014, that:
Immigrants (including refugees) have an outsized role in U.S. economic output because they are disproportionately likely to be working and are concentrated among prime working ages. Indeed, despite being 13 percent of the population, immigrants comprise 16 percent of the labor force. Moreover, many immigrants are business owners. In fact, the share of immigrant workers who own small businesses is slightly higher than the comparable share among U.S.-born workers. (Immigrants comprise 18 percent of small business owners.)
Despite tonight’s ruling, the ban continues to feed hatred and is a propaganda coup for those who would do us harm. It is also a direct violation of the international agreements to which the United States is a long-standing and particularly important signatory. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly reminded our President on Sunday: “The… refugee convention requires the international community to take in war refugees on humanitarian grounds. All signatory states are obligated to do.” (The Guardian, January 29, 2017).
IPM has always held refugees and forced migrants—those internally displaced and those forced from their countries of origin—of particular concern. The first Chilean refugees resettled in St. Louis in the 1970’s, the Sanctuary Movement in response to the United States’ intervention in Central America in the 1980’s, our Partners response to Apartheid in South Africa and forced migration in Europe in the 1990’s, supporting reconciliation among women in Bosnia in the early 2000’s, and our current partnerships around the world have all been moments of transformation when IPM deliberately worked to ensure that every human being is honored with the dignity their humanity requires.
IPM’s mission and vision is grounded in a commitment to inter-religious collaboration. The world’s religious traditions speak eloquently of the hospitality we are to provide the “stranger.” Just a few:
- “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the stranger as yourself,” (Leviticus 19:33-34).
- “Let a person never turn away a stranger from their house, that is the rule, for good people say to the stranger There is enough food for you,” (Taitiriya Upanishad 1.11.2).
- “For I was a stranger, and you welcomed me,” (Mathew 25:35).
- “Do good unto your parents, and near of kin, and unto orphans, and the needy, and the neighbor from
- among your own people, and the neighbor who is a stranger,” (Surah 4:36).
These texts and the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty—“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”—animate IPM’s historical commitment to accompany those who are forced from their homes and seek the opportunity of new life. Our solidarity with them is a concrete demonstration of what it means to be human. As I have said before, at times like this IPM and people of faith everywhere must counter fear with hope, and hate with love.
What You Can Do:
1) Work with your neighbors to formally declare your city or town a Welcoming Community, https://www.welcomingamerica.org/#
2) Encourage your faith community to declare Sanctuary, https://action.groundswell-mvmt.org
3) Write your Senators and Congressional Representatives to insist that this ban bepermanently lifted and that all those legally permitted to reside in the United States be allowed to return home immediately.
4) Donate to IPM or a like-minded organization supporting refugees, forced migrants, and/or the internally displaced, https://www.ipmconnect.org/donations-2?viewmode=list.
5) Keep all those individuals and families unfairly impacted by this ban at the center of your prayer life and/or meditation practice.
Please feel free to contact me directly and share your thoughts regarding IPM and this statement. I look forward to hearing from you here or at email@example.com.
Let love prevail as we do all we can to welcome the stranger!
Joseph F. Cistone
Chief Executive Officer
Thursday, February 10, 2017
Celebrating our Common Holiday Dreams
This past weekend, as we decorated our Christmas tree while listening to my still favorite Holiday Album, Peter Mayer’s “Stars & Promises,” I was reminded of the remarkable ten days in November that I spent with dear friend Peter, my colleague Mahesh Upadhyaya, and other friends of IPM in India. After everyone else went to bed, my thoughts that night also drifted to my just concluded IPM Immersion Experience in El Salvador where a delegation from across the United States came together with countless others to commemorate the 36th Anniversary of the martyrdom of Maura Clark, Jean Donovan, Ita Ford, and Dorothy Kazel.
While I sat beside the tree, I reflected on the beauty of the early winter evening juxtaposed with the injustice that still stalks our world. Peter’s lyrics filled my mind. Songs of Harmony and Joy at a time when I know so many people across this country and world are feeling desolate and forgotten.
This past month, those of us from the Christian tradition celebrated Advent together. It’s a special time of the year when we—like so many adherents of other faiths around the world do on other occasions throughout the year—reflect on the insatiable need for Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in our lives.
On December 11, we encountered a passage from the Scriptures that reflects the words of the Hebrew Prophet Isaiah but are uttered by Mary, the mother of Jesus. The Magnificat proclaims: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God” who has “lifted up the lowly” and “filled the hungry with good things.” Surely, this same sense of vocational purpose guided the lives of Dorothy, Ita, Jean, and Maura just as it continues to inspire all those who work for justice and peace in our world.
My time with IPM—as a former Project Partner, a onetime Board Member, and for the past fifteen years as CEO—is a constant reminder of how love and hope are, as Peter sings, “loose in our world.” Through IPM’s Project Partners, Immersion Experience Program, generous supporters, and incredibly dedicated International Board & Staff: we continue a rich tradition of faithful partnership in a country and world where hope, peace, and love are so often in short supply.
As I write this, I am convinced more than ever, that it is not naive to believe that another world is possible. Nor is it irresponsible to remain committed to a vision of humanity that is grounded in the belief that we all have more in common than can ever truly divide us. The vision that animated IPM’s founders and continues to inspire tens of thousands of people the world over is, in fact, more essential now than ever.
So this Hanukkah, Christmas, & Kwanzaa, my prayer for each of you is that you find deeper meaning in your connection to IPM, that our remarkable work together continues to inspire your support, and that the joy of this Holiday Season remains with you and all those you hold dear throughout the coming year.
Joseph F. Cistone
Chief Executive Officer
December 22, 2016
Finding Purpose in Thanksgiving:
I write this special note of Thanksgiving to each of you well aware of the irony of a holiday predicated upon events that never happened and at a time when our native brothers and sisters continue to be betrayed by us at Standing Rock and throughout our system of Mass Incarceration.
It's also two weeks since a divided election that once again laid bare the economic, environmental, and racial injustice which has plagued this nation since its founding.
At times like this we must dare to dream that another world is in fact possible. Each and every one of us can make a difference for all those on the margins of our society who are fearful right now because their color, creed, and immigration status seem unwelcome. We must find a way to join our hands and hearts together to counter bigotry with hospitality and fear with love.
My life and work consistently remind me that shared purpose and common endeavor are the answer when fear breeds hate. Our common humanity calls to wake-up and respond to the sense of despondency so many of our fellow citizens feel no matter how they voted. We must remember that no society can thrive when so many folks feel isolated, when they can’t seem to work hard enough to get ahead, or when they are scapegoated for the very real failings of our broken political system.
Our nation and our world may feel divided this Holiday Season. We may rue extended-family meals together. We may rightfully worry about what the next four years have in store. But when we come together across the borders of culture, faith, and economic circumstance that so often divide us, another world is possible.
For our children, our grandchildren, our brothers & sisters around the globe, that’s a world still worth fighting for.
On behalf of all of them, and the entire IPM Family, best wishes for a joyful Thanksgiving Holiday!
Joseph F. Cistone
Cleveland, OH, USA
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
#IPM #IPMFamily #StandingRock #MassIncarceration #AnotherWorldIsPossible #AWorldWorthFightingFor #Thanksgiving
India Reminds Me
In many ways, it has been cathartic to be in India during these post-election days. The world beyond our borders continues to remind me that love and solidarity are the answer when fear only breeds hate. I know that Mahesh Upadhyaya, Peter Mayer, and everyone with us in #india is feeling the same. Somehow, we will get through what has been such a difficult wake-up call for so many. While our nation may be more divided than it has been in some time, we have made incredible progress the past 1/2 century. It may not always feel that way, but our brothers and sisters around the world constantly remind me that much. In so many ways, the United States remains a beacon on the hill for all those yearning to breathe free.
With much work ahead, I join with all people of goodwill in the hope-filled promise that we can make our country and world a more tolerant and loving place. Call me naive, but I have the suspicion that this election may have just been the wake-up call we have needed to shake us from our complacency and remind us exactly what is worth fighting for.
1/10/2016, Ahmedabad, India
Dear Partners & Friends:
One morning last month, my eldest daughter shocked me out of another day of juggling work and the summer camp schedules of her younger siblings with a text message that did nothing to hide her anger at U.S. policies. Born in Rome, Italy, raised in Cleveland, and now working with Teach for America in Florida, she is horrified by the rising tide of gun violence and mass shootings across this country. What nation are we creating for the generations to come?
While she was particularly upset by the killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, she knows that our national horror goes much deeper than that. Mass killings, acts of terror, and the targeting of people based on race, religion, and sexual orientation are tragic symptoms of the divides that torment our nation. White vs. black, conservative vs. progressive, police vs. community, the list goes on and on.
And it seems to be no different internationally. Paris, Turkey, Bangladesh — we are being ripped apart by acts of violence often perpetrated in God's name and which have absolutely nothing to do with the core spiritual values Christianity, Judaism, and Islam share: love of neighbor; hospitality for the stranger; care of the most vulnerable.
Although Ramadan is a holy time meant for introspection, peace, and piety, it has been transformed in the hands of the extremists who have thrived during the recent decades of turbulence around the region, particularly in war zones like Iraq, Afghanistan and more recently in Syria.
But from Brexit to blatant racism and anti-Semitism in this presidential campaign, our political leaders and "wanabees" only continue to drive wedges of hostility between us. Fear and hate sell. Audacity and offensive behavior dominate headline news. So when anger and hate are what predominate in campaigns and on our airwaves, why are we surprised by mass murder in Charleston, Orlando, or Nice?
As the father of biracial children, the spouse of a Kenyan-born attorney, and the CEO of an organization deeply rooted in the struggle for civil and human rights, I feel particularly compelled to speak up.
The killings of Alton and Philando — just as with the cases of Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, John Crawford, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and so many others — offer further, tragic examples that there is something terribly wrong with how so many of us devalue one another and how we continue to police this country. Their deaths are ample proof that black lives don't matter in the way my white life does.
If you don't believe me, just think of the media's vastly dissimilar depiction of Tamir Rice and Ryan Lochte — one with the appearance of a "threatening adult"; the other a "kid who needs to grow up"?
Their deaths are ample proof that black lives don't matter in the way my white life does.
Need further proof of the racism that continues to pervade our culture? Try walking a few days in the shoes of my biracial nephews, the black students who enrich my graduate courses, or my African spouse. Right here in Northeast Ohio, our inner-ring home surrounded by police with their spotlights and voices threatening, demanding my spouse's ID and proof she lives there while I'm overseas, apparently for being black and home alone. Or how she and my daughter were followed across my parent's leafy suburb by an overzealous policeman for having the audacity to drive a Volvo station wagon home from a Harry Potter midnight screening?
The killing of Deborah Pearl in Solon last weekend — just as the murder of police in Baton Rouge and Dallas last month — tragically reminds us that while there are those amongst us who will murder on the basis of race, many of our veterans are returning to the United States with trauma insufficiently addressed and gun laws no civilized society should permit. The cocktail is indeed deadly.
A few weeks ago when discussing the brutal massacre in Orlando, a friend of mine who serves as a secondary school principal in Connecticut said to me: "When a third-grader on our playground picks up a stick and starts to beat another kid we take the stick away. We don't give all the kids sticks."
It is simply unconscionable that politicians on both the left and the right have been unable to come to any sort of agreement on even the simplest of background checks for assault weapons. Why is the response always the further militarization of our police forces and an escalation to more weapons of war?
Why can't those of us who happen to be white trust our black and brown fellow citizens when they provide ample evidence that so much of our nation remains biased and violently skewed against them?
And, why can't so many of our police find a way to do their essential and courageous work without racial profiling and the excessive use of force?
I don't have the answers to much of what I've written, but I know that we are on the edge of a precipice. We can either stop the bigotry and answer with love, or we are going to witness the further division and militarization of our country and world. No amount of bombast or walls will keep the world at bay. No amount of settlement money will ever bring Tamir or Deborah back. And, no one claiming to believe in God can simply sit by and watch this path to ruin without a broken heart.
In Peace and with Love, Joe
July 8, 2016—Mount Desert, Maine, USA
I write you from New Delhi, awaiting a flight to Nepal, with the world on edge after the Paris terrorist attacks of yesterday. With over 100 people killed across the City of Light, the anti-Muslim rhetoric is rancid here in India and bigotry is all over Facebook, but I’ve spent the past few days with my colleague Mahesh Upadhyaya meeting with friends and IPM Project Partners across the faith spectrum.
As we approach the US Thanksgiving holiday, moments like this are a particular reminder for me of all that the IPM Family has to be thankful for and, particularly, how our intentional, interfaith posture remains so important in our world.
On October 29, our International Executive Board held its first in-person meeting since being constituted at IPM’s inaugural General Assembly in October of 2014. While our meeting pre-dated the tragic events in Paris, we reflected intentionally on IPM’s mission in the context of increasingly strident inter-religious conflict around the world and the racial injustice that continues to torment the USA.
That meeting, my time here in India, the recognition of Oscar Romero in El Salvador last May, my teaching of Liberation Theology in the Context of Colombia this semester at Yale, and our plans for Nepal this coming week all provide a vital reminder that IPM’s uniqueness lies in our ability to work across the boundaries that so often divide our human community. Seated alongside two women in interfaith marriages at Gandhi’s Ashram in Ahmedabad this past Thursday was a personal reminder of that same revolutionary stance: IPM’s belief that when we truly and humbly enter into partnership with one another we learn and gain more than we can ever give.
When I landed in Delhi earlier this week, the night sky was awash in the color of Diwali fireworks. The smell of sulfur engulfed the cabin and for those newer to flying the whole landing process was rather nerve-wracking. But there, in the Delhi night sky, were the colorful lights celebrating the festive triumph of good over evil.
Tonight, awaiting our flight to Nepal, my backpack is full of solar lights that your generosity helped IPM provide to bring light back to the earthquake stricken villages where IPM Partners in Nepal. Yet another small triumph for IPM in our rich history of bringing light to the world.
My thoughts, however, are with the people of that beautiful City of Light on the River Seine where so much of my love of Europe and connections to work for justice have been nourished through friends and gatherings over the years. The terror in Paris is not a triumph of evil over good. It is a sickening reminder that our collective work for justice, peace, and hope is far from complete. Another frightening example of how global solidarity continues to be threatened by those who would choose violence in the name of God as there means to force us into further war.
We simply can’t let them win. We must counter hate with love, terror with hope, and evil with good.
That’s what IPM has been doing for more than four decades. It is what your partnership with us makes possible. And, it is how we will continue to fight for what is right in the world when others would have us strike out or retreat into a shell.
Thank you for all you do to sustain and nurture this beautiful, counter-intuitive, movement we call IPM and best wishes for a reflective and peace-filled Thanksgiving Holiday.
Joseph F. Cistone
November 14, 2015
Forging Connections on Giving Tuesday
4 in the morning at Boston’s Logan Airport may seem like an odd time and place to reflect on gratitude and significance of what has come to be known as “Giving Tuesday” but as I head out of the country again it seems completely apropos.
I am on my way to El Salvador for the December 2nd commemoration ceremonies and related IPM activities held in conjunction with the 35th Anniversary of the martyrdom of four North American Churchwomen—Maura Clark, Jean Donovan, Ita Ford, and Dorothy Kazel—murdered by a Salvadoran junta that was backed with significant financial and logistical support from the USA.
Despite the profound tragedy of their murder, the families of the Dorothy, Ita, Jean, and Maura quickly learned, their sacrifice was not in vein. Their deaths shed new light on the United States’ longstanding policy of backing dictatorial regimes across Latin America at the expense of representative democracy and human rights. These were not “gun-toting” Sisters as Alexander Haig proclaimed on behalf of incoming the Reagan Administration. Quite the contrary: they were deeply spiritual women who chose to say in El Salvador even after the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero knowing that their lives were at risk but confident that this was a risk their faith required of them—to be willing to lay down their lives for their friends.
While the deaths of four North American women—just as the martyrdom of six Jesuits their housekeeper and her daughter nine years later—should not overshadow the more than 75,000 Salvadoran lives lost during the 80’s, they both drew heightened international attention to the wars carried out in our name.
Moreover, they galvanized the actions of IPM and so may other organizations and individuals whose sense of solidarity was honed during that tumultuous decade. Many of us—I know I was one of those—found that our faith was in direct conflict with US Foreign Policy as we sought to shape and effective and integral response to the cry of the people rising up throughout our hemisphere.
A vivid mural depicting their sacrifice in art and poetry is being reinstalled in Zaragoza this month through the support of IPM and our local Partners as a reminder that while the vast majority of us will never be martyred, each of us is called to live out our role in the world in a uniquely transformative way.
For me, reading the writings and biographies of the martyred churchwoman, particularly Dorothy and Jean from my hometown Cleveland’s Diocesan mission team, were watershed moments. Thirty-five years later, their witness continues to inspire thousands of us who could imagine ourselves in their shoes—murdered simply for siding with those on the margins of our societies.
Today, the sacrifice of these four remarkable women, Oscar Romero, and all the Salvadoran martyrs continues to inspire a new generation of Latin and North American citizens who know that the struggle for justice and peace continues.
In Armenia, El Zaite, Mejicanos, Zaragoza and countless other places, IPM Partners and friends live out the witness of Dorothy, Ita, Jean, and Maura in a manner that reflects their passion for life and their commitment to accompany the poorest of the poor in their quest for liberation.
For this I continue to be grateful and remain inspired. For the hundreds of you who have traveled with IPM to this remarkable country, I know the sense of inspiration and gratitude is the same. Knowing that more than four decades since our founding, IPM continues to embody accompaniment, solidarity, and trust with our Salvadoran Partners is a gift for which we all should be deeply thankful.
There are countless organizations we can support this Giving Tuesday and many who join with IPM in the important work of cultivating justice, peace, and hope in El Salvador, India, Kenya, Nepal, Nicaragua, and so many other countries around the world.
Please know how grateful we are for your work with us as IPM”s continues to immerse, inspire, and invest in all those who seek to live out our common Abrahamic call to act justly, love mercifully, and walk humbly with our God.
FORGING CONNECTIONS WITH WOMEN & GIRLS STILL LEFT BEHIND
One of the great joys of my fifteen years as IPM’s Chief Executive has been the opportunity to travel with my eldest daughter Francesca. These “extended daddy-daughter dates,” as she refers to them, have provided some of the most moving moments of our life together.
This past May, as a celebration of her graduation from the College of Wooster, we travelled to El Salvador. It was far from our first time there together, but it was the first in many years. Francesca grew into her sense of self and her roll in the world during our visits to that tiny and tortured country at the heart of IPM’s mission. As a father, our sojourns there provided particularly special moments to share our faith and for me to challenge her to be the woman for others I knew she could be.
In August-September we sent Francesca off to Homestead, Florida, for a year of volunteer service with City Year, and I headed back to El Salvador to work alongside one of my newest colleagues, Fatima Pacas and our local Partners. While in El Salvador, the first Pope named Francis made his inaugural papal visit to Cuba and the USA. Pope Francis and Francesca share with me a special connection to Francis of Assisi—Francesca’s namesake and my baptismal name—a man well ahead of his time when it came to the inclusion of women in his inner circle and the leadership of the broader Franciscan Family that lives on today.
I was moved to joy as I read the Pope speak prophetically from the White House and ever-dysfunctional Capital Hill about environmental and social justice. I was moved to tears when he cited four of my heroes—Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton—and my dad simultaneously texted me that this was an affirmation of everything I have worked for. The inclusion of the remarkable Day, in particular, raised the expectations of many that the Pope was signaling a more inclusive direction for women in the church and beyond.
But as the week went on, I was also deeply torn. Here was this Argentine octogenarian making statements I could hardly imagine a Pope enunciating during my lifetime. This first Pope from the “new world” was rebuilding my nation’s tortured relationship with Cuba and finding a way to solidify a peace agreement in a country, Colombia—where IPM has a growing presence and about which I am teaching a course on Liberation Theology at Yale Divinity School this semester. All of this in the span of a ten days!
Yet in DC, New York, and Philadelphia the Pope also avoided upholding the inherent equality of women and girls. His refusal to entertain women’s ordination pushes another generation of young women like my daughter further from the church of their upbringing. As I accompanied the powerful women and girls in El Salvador with whom IPM Partners—many laying their lives on the line like Day and serving as the the backbone of their respective parishes—and emailed with my colleague Soni Shrestha in Nepal regarding IPM’s ongoing response to that nation’s devastating earthquakes; I couldn’t help but feel that women and our daughters around the world were still, once again, being left behind.
The noted author and Benedictine Sister, Joan Chittister, summarized the feelings of many of us when she wrote on September 21: “It is impossible, Holy Father, to be serious about doing anything for the poor and at the same time do little or nothing for women.”
As you will read throughout this issue of Connections, the faithful and faith-filled women and girls with whom IPM Partners around the world and within my own family, deserve so much more.
Joseph F. Cistone
Chief Executive Officer
October 8, 2015
We need your advice!
I've been reflecting about this week's tragic events in Charleston, the still pending decision regarding the murder of Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Missouri's reaction to Ferguson, and the growing realization that a revived Civil Rights Movement for racial and economic justice is needed now more than ever.
As many of you know, this is both professional and personal for me. Every time I read about or witness video of a black child killed, African-American parishioners gunned-down, or bikini-clad teenage girl of color thrown face down on the ground; I am reminded of the very real experiences of racism those I love encounter day after day and that these very images could be of my spouse, my kids, my nieces, nephews, colleagues, students, partners, and friends.
As progressive as I've ever been, truth be told I don't think I ever truly understood white privilege until Alyne and I married and our two young children were brought into this world. I could tell your stories from our personal experience that I'm certain many of my white brothers and sisters would find impossible to believe.
All this makes me think that perhaps IPM's 2001 decision to disengage from most of our domestic Project Partnerships (outside of Metropolitan Saint Louis and Northeast Ohio) may have been premature and need to be reconsidered.
What do you think? How can IPM make a productive difference in bridging the chasm of racial injustice in the USA? Who should we be partnering with in this regard? What role could/should we play? As always, we value your opinion tremendously! This is your organization. So let me know by reaching out to me directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I look forward to hearing from you and pray that this weekend passes without another horrific example of racial intolerance. Peace be with all of us, Joe
Joseph F. Cistone
Chief Executive Officer
July 7, 2015