Catholic Theological Union
I am honored to have been asked to share the story of Arm In Arm In Africa and how my life's journey connects to the time in which I was a graduate student at Catholic Theological Union. In the thirty eight years since ordination, the majority of my time and effort has been spent in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St Paul, Minnesota. A little over a year ago, I completed thirty-five years of being involved in providing hospice care throughout the Twin Cities, with an average daily census of over 600 hundred individuals and their families experiencing end of life care. I have also been priviledged to be a part of the pastoral staff at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, located in Minneapolis, a progressive, welcoming, and inclusive community that has a clear mission for social justice. It has been through the combined experiences of hospice care and the community of St. Joan of Arc that Arm In Arm In Africa came to life. I had participated by riding a bike numerous times from Minneapolis to Chicago in order to raise support and public awareness around HIV/AIDS. In all honesty, I may have been looking for another way to be involved in the the AIDS crisis other than riding a bike for over five hundred miles to The Windy City every year!
In 2000, I had my first experience of going to Guguletu, a township near Cape Town, South Africa, as well as Malungeni, a village located in the Eastern Cape. My original intention remained focused around HIV/AIDS. The community of South Africa had experienced the highest rate of transmission of the HIV virus in the world community. It became very clear, very soon that there were many layers of concern, including all areas of health care, lack of educational opportunities, and having access to basic necessities, such as food. Within a short amount of time, Arm In Arm In Africa was formed as a Non-Profit 501(C)3 and over two hundred Minnesotans have participated in the yearly journey to be with our family in South Africa over the past sixteen years. Our mission is simply that "we come as a family to make a connection, person to person, arm in arm, and along the way to share our lives. It is our honor to assist in improving conditions and to create opportunities for changing the cycle of poverty and disease in South Africa." AIAIA has remained focused in partnering with with numerous communities throughout South Africa and making a commitment to community organizing. We continue to focus on the needs around improving educational opportunities, emergency food distributions, as well as partnering with local clinics and providing desperately needed medical supplies. AIAIA was instrumental in bringing hospice services to the townships for the first time.
As a result of our shared commitment to community organizing, the Arm In Arm In Africa Board has unanimously agreed to open a residential hospice in Minneapolis.
A portion of the revenue would also assist with the ongoing needs in South Africa. I see our decision to create a hospice residence in the Twin Cities as a natural result of the shared community organizing that AIAIA and numerous communities in South Africa have been able to achieve over the years. We have come full circle in the last sixteen years and clearly share a desire to mutually improve our shared communities, and to see ourselves as one community working together.
I am sharing this story in a "post-Orlando world" in which we struggle to understand the senseless and tragic loss of life. One of the many gifts that I feel I have personally received in my African experiences is a clearer understanding of "Ubuntu," which roughly translates to human kindness. It is an idea from the Southern African region which means literally "human-ness", and is often translated as "humanity towards others", but is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean "the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity".
This belief in a universal bond that connects all of us in the world community is sorely missing in our current political landscape in the US.
As I look back over thirty-eight years of public ministry, I am also painfully aware of how that same message of valuing our shared humanity has been sorely missed by much of the church leadership. As we remember and grieve the loss of our forty-nine brothers and sisters in Orlando, it is a time to remember the importance of human kindness and our commitment to love unconditionally. I want to close with a word of gratitude for my memories of having been a student at CTU. Your mission has always been to educate women and men for leadership within the church community that reflects a clear understanding and commitment to human kindness, and that we can only be human together. You have been, and you remain a beacon of hope in the church.
The journey continues....
Fr James Cassidy
President of Arm In Arm In Africa