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Introduction

Welcome to Paths of Renewed Encounter: A Restorative Justice Engagement Guide for Catholic Communities.

Whether you are reading this for your own personal learning, facilitating a small group, or leading a ministry, it is good that you are here.

About Catholic Mobilizing Network

For more than a decade, Catholic Mobilizing Network (CMN) has worked to end the death penalty and promote restorative justice. Since its inception, CMN has amplified restorative justice principles, practices, and approaches that model Jesus’ reconciling way instead of the punitive, dehumanizing, and often racially biased system of punishment that pervades our criminal legal system.

At a time when our nation and church are experiencing deep divisions and grappling with a racial reckoning, CMN believes it is imperative to build the capacity to understand, experience, and implement restorative justice in Catholic communities. CMN humbly offers this resource to help illuminate a renewed path forward.

The Influence of "Fratelli Tutti"

In October of 2020, Pope Francis released his third encyclical, "Fratelli Tutti." Centered on the parable of the Good Samaritan and the core question, “Who is my neighbor?” Francis issues a clarion call for Catholics — every one of us — to be peacemakers, and urges that the peace we seek be connected to truth, justice, and mercy. Themes of restorative justice resonate throughout the encyclical and are echoed in this guide. 

A Catholic Hub for Restorative Justice

Positioned as a national restorative justice hub deeply rooted within the Catholic community and connected to the larger restorative justice movement, CMN has a unique perspective on restorative justice practices in the United States. This positioning has opened the organization to the incredible wisdom and practical experience of restorative justice practitioners working at local, regional, state, and national levels.

Drawing from this collective wisdom, CMN created Paths of Renewed Encounter to further prepare people for Gospel-centered responses to harm that enable personal, communal, and systemic transformation.

The foundational concepts and practices of restorative justice outlined here can better equip and enable parishes, ministries, and communities to discern engagement with restorative practices.  

A few important considerations for use of this guide:  

A Springboard, Not a Manual

First, a note about our intentions in creating this guide. Given that every context of harm or crime is different and unique, no single resource is “one size fits all;” this one is intended to be a “springboard” rather than a “how-to manual.” The guide draws upon the pastoral cycle method of “see, judge, act,” incorporating context analysis with personal and group reflection to inform faithful action.

We also understand that users of this guide come from many contexts and, understandably, will choose a variety of entry points into the content. No matter where you begin, we hope you will make your way through all the sections of the guide and that it serves as a useful launching pad for your learning, exploration, and discernment in integrating restorative practices into your life and your areas of influence.

Much like one’s journey of faith, this sort of exploration is non-linear. Allow restorative justice to resonate with your spirit, challenge you, captivate your imagination, or even frustrate old ways of thinking.  

The Fruit of Collaboration

Second, as you’ll see from the acknowledgments, the content included in the guide is the product of a highly collaborative process.

It draws on the learnings, expertise, and lived experiences of a wide array of academic, pastoral, and community-based restorative justice practitioners, which include directly impacted personsthose impacted by crime and incarceration, including murder victims’ family members, men and women who are on or have been exonerated from death row, and those who minister with them.

As such, any success of this resource is due in large measure to their wisdom. On the other hand, any limitations or incompleteness in the guide rest on CMN.

It has been both humbling and exhilarating to realize that new, important perspectives continuously emerge in the field of restorative justice. Gratefully, the guide’s digital delivery will allow for updates and additions to this living resource as needed. 

Grounded in the Gospel, Open to the Spirit

Lastly, an essential aspect of this guide is how it integrates the richness of Scripture and Gospel values, and aligns with the principles of Catholic social teaching.

The heart of the Gospel reveals how God works through God’s people. God has bestowed dignity on each human person and every life is a precious gift. By God’s great design, the Holy Spirit takes root in each of us, giving us a unique purpose, enabling us to partake in God’s reconciling work in the world.

In healing us, stirring us, and empowering us, the Spirit draws us closer to God and to one another. The Spirit fills spaces fraught with confusion and uncertainty and creates something new and unifying.  

When we do our part, restorative encounters can set the table for the Holy Spirit to move, even in the darkest of circumstances. As a result of the Spirit's workings — in tandem with our own — we are blessed to accompany fellow travelers on the journey, and to be accompanied ourselves. Along this path, courageous stories of reconciliation, powerful accounts of mercy, and testimonies of transformed hearts and lives await.