group of people and friars

The JPIC reflection group at Mercy Community at Winton Woods includes friars Robert Seay, Max Langenderfer and Dominic Lococo.

“Who were the significant people in your life? What experiences shaped who you are today?”

Each Thursday after the 9:30 a.m. Mass at Mercy Community at Winton Woods, a group of 10 to 12 of us, including Dominic Lococo and Robert Seay, gathers to reflect on our spiritual journeys.

At the beginning of Advent in 2020, we began reading Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti. We asked ourselves questions like: “How do we relate to other people? Minorities? Members of our families on the other side of the political divide? What has been our experience of racism?”

More recently, we have been reading Laudato Si’. Now the questions become: “How have cell phones affected our families’ relationships? What does Pope Francis mean when he says everything is interconnected? How does what we do change the natural environment?”

Pope Francis reading paper

Pope Francis. Photo by

Pope Francis’ years of life and ministry in the favellas (slum or shantytown) of Buenos Aires have given his writings a perspective of life and human experiences, as well as issues, well beyond what many Americans have experienced themselves and rarely see even on television. On Mondays, my homilies often center on the historical and cultural world of the First Reading: “What were these early Christians or Old Testament peoples experiencing? Where were they? What century was it? What was the message the writer was offering?”

Tuesday homilies pick up the themes of the particular Laudato Si’ paragraphs we will read on Thursday: “How do we experience here in Cincinnati the topics Pope Francis is writing about? What are the moral and theological issues of our times? How does our thinking influence our behavior? What role do our feelings play in how we interpret events?”

Often, the lives of the saints we celebrate give us examples of how believers in other times and places dealt with the very issues we are dealing with. “The lives of the saints are the history of the Church, and the history of the Church is the history of the world” is one of my favorite themes. Wikipedia articles are a treasure house of historical and cultural background, as well as adding the geographical setting to the saints. My own stories of times and places help people look at the times and places in their personal histories. We even ask, “What are the examples of values and human behavior our political leaders are giving us?”

By the time we meet on Thursdays, many issues and topics are familiar. As we read the Laudato Si’ paragraphs, each person is invited to share his or her insight or reflection. Many share their own personal stories. Some have official ministries in the Catholic Church. Some have foreign experience or other places in the United States to talk about. Some ask questions. Often, individuals will come to share a particular inspiration or point of view.

The idea is that each person has value and each one has something to share from his or her life story. We have learned new vocabulary. We understand better how Pope Francis is speaking to the whole human family about what we each experience in some small way. Everyone has a chance to express their thoughts and ask their questions. We often ask, “What can we do?” Sometimes on Friday, one of the group will share a personal reflection with the whole congregation.

We have learned to listen to one another better. We have learned to look for and make connections between the daily readings at Mass, what we learned as kids and what is happening in our day to day lives. We are trying to help one another be better human beings and more loving in what we feel, think and do.

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we see how this event is not only a terrible disaster for the people of Ukraine, but how it is a disaster for human relationships throughout the world and a disaster for the natural environment of Europe. Everyone will be affected in some way, from food shortages throughout the Middle East, to rising prices for gas and food in the United States. Trust among governments and nations will suffer. Styles and qualities of leadership become lessons for all of us.

In Fratelli Tutti and Laudato Si’, Pope Francis has given us the tools, concepts and vocabulary to better understand the world we live in and how our thoughts, feelings and actions either build up or destroy our human family.