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 many weeks together in 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 (see page 14) and our local Partners (page 4). While in El Salvador, the first Pope to bear Francis of Assisi’s name made his inaugural journey 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. I was moved to joy as I read the Pope speak prophetically from the White House and the 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.
But 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 here in DC, New York, and Philadelphia he also repeatedly denied the inherent equality of women and girls. His refusal to even entertain women’s ordination and gay marriage pushes another generation of young women like my daughter to abandon the church of their upbringing. And, as I accompanied the powerful women and girls in El Salvador with whom IPM Partners—many leading figures and the backbone of their respective Catholic parishes—I could only feel that they were being slapped in the face yet again.
The noted author and Benedictine Sister, Joan Chittister, summarized my feelings perfectly 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.” The faithful and faith filled women and girls in my home and, as you will read throughout this issue of Connections, with whom IPM Partners in El Salvador and around the world deserve so much more.
Joseph F. Cistone
October 8, 2015