Senior Associate Editor, Sojourners magazine
Photo: Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Invite Rose to Speak

Rose, a native of the West Coast, lives in Washington, D.C. She has been on Sojourners staff since 1986.

For more than 30 years, Rose has rooted herself with Sojourners magazine and ministry. She is author of Bending the Arch: Poems (2019), Drawn By God: A History of the Society of Catholic Medical Missionaries from 1967 to 1991 (with Janet Gottschalk, 2012), and Who Killed Donte Manning? The Story of an American Neighborhood.

A native of the West Coast, Rose has lived in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C. since the mid-1980s. In the course of a 30 plus-year career in faith-based activism, advocacy journalism, and pastoral leadership, she has proven to be a skilled organizer, exceptional writer, visionary pastoral leader, and innovative teacher of biblical literacy.

With Sojourners, Rose has worked as an organizer on peace and environmental issues, internship program director, liturgist, community pastor, poetry editor, and, currently, as a Senior Associate Editor of Sojourners magazine, where she writes a regular column on spirituality and justice. She is responsible for the Living the Word section, poetry, Bible studies, and interviews – and oversees the production of study guides, discussion guides, and the online bible study Preaching the Word. She is also a religion reviewer for Publishers Weekly and a Huffington Post commentator. Her work has appeared in Religion News Service, Radical Grace, The Merton Seasonal, U.S. Catholic, and elsewhere.

Rose has a veteran history in social justice activism, including: organizing inter-religious witness against the Keystone XL pipeline; educating and training groups in nonviolence; leading retreats in spirituality and justice; writing on topics as diverse as the “Spiritual Vision of Van Gogh, O'Keeffe, and Warhol,” the war in the Balkans, interviews with black activists Vincent Harding and Yvonne Delk, the Love Canal's Lois Gibbs, and Mexican archbishop Ruiz, cultural commentary on the Catholic church and the peace movement, reviews of movies, books, and music.

A founding member of a small creative writing group, Rose Berger has taught writing and poetry workshops for children and adults. She’s completed her MFA in poetry through the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program. Her poetry has been published in Sojourners, The Other Side, Radix and D.C. Poets Against the War.

Rose grew up in the Central Valley of California, located in the rich flood plains of the Sacramento and American rivers. Raised in radical Catholic communities heavily influenced by Franciscans and the Catholic Worker movement, she served for nine years on the pastoral team for Sojourners Community Church; five as its co-pastor. She directed Sojourners internship program from 1990-1999. She is currently Senior Associate Editor and Poetry Editor for Sojourners magazine.

She has traveled throughout the United States, and also in Israel/Palestine, Costa Rica, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosova, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, and El Salvador visiting primarily with faith communities working for peace in situations of conflict.

Rose’s articles include:

She lives in the Southern Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C., in the Anacostia watershed on traditional Piscataway lands.

Posts By This Author

AUDIO: Sabbath Poetry Reading

by Rose Marie Berger 04-04-2014

A poetry reading from Wendell Berry's "This Day"

Our Lady of the Watershed

by Rose Marie Berger 04-03-2014
There are thousands of ways for a church to serve its watershed and all life within it.

(Richard Wayne Collens / Shutterstock)

OUR LADY QUEEN of Peace church sits atop a low bluff overlooking the Army Navy golf course. This vibrant Arlington, Va. Catholic community has a history of staring hopelessness in the eye and declaring, “Not on our standing ground!”

Queen of Peace was founded by African Americans in the midst of virulent segregation. In the 1940s, Arlington’s black Catholics had to travel two hours by buses to attend a Mass where they were welcome. There was a closer church, but black Catholics were relegated to the back pew and prevented from receiving communion before whites. In 1945, 16 families pooled their money, hired a black real estate agent, and purchased small parcels of adjoining property under various names so as to not arouse suspicion. In an era when redlining and “neighborhood covenants” protected white enclaves and economic power, this was a courageous act. A little less than two acres—their standing ground—was purchased for $14,000. The bishop blessed Queen of Peace, Arlington’s first black Catholic congregation, on Pentecost Sunday 1947.

Now, nearly 70 years later, this multicultural community is asking a new question: With global temperatures rising and changes visible everywhere in nature, how do we face the truth of climate change?

During a speaker series in March focused on “the integrity of creation,” I encouraged them to overlap the ecclesial concept of “parish” with the ecological one of “watershed.” For life to persist, there must be living water. Scientists tell us that each watershed, no matter how small, is responsive to climate change. Since human activity has destabilized the climate, changing human activity is important in undoing the harm. And since the earth’s biosphere is made up of interlinked watershed communities, perhaps restoring our particular watershed is analogous to healing the earth at its “cellular” level, which would be a positive contribution.

The Harvest of Fidelity

by Rose Marie Berger 03-06-2014
"This Day: New & Collected Sabbath Poems," Counterpoint

THE STILL, ATTENTIVE, affectionate, at times lamenting, always sagacious, well-defined, occasional poems in This Day, Wendell Berry’s most recent collection, are a magnificent gift to American letters.

For nearly 35 years Berry has kept the Sabbath holy. His practice is either unorthodox or so deeply orthodox that professional religionists may not recognize it. On Sundays Berry walks his Kentucky “home place,” the roughly 125 acres of bottom land in the region his family has farmed for more than 200 years. From the seventh-day silence, solitude, and natural world, Berry has crafted his Sabbath poems.

“Occasional poems” commemorate public events, but here Berry lays quiet markers to remember personal days in the life of one man. He writes in the preface: “though I am happy to think that poetry may be reclaiming its public life, I am equally happy to insist that poetry also has a private life that is more important to it and more necessary to us.”

New Cardinals Look More Like Jesus, Less Like Rome

by Rose Marie Berger 02-25-2014
Philippine Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, via CBCP Online

Philippine Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, via CBCP Online

"The origin of the church is poverty," said newly minted Philippine Cardinal Orlando Quevedo at a press briefing in Rome last week. "And the journey of Jesus Christ was the journey with poor people. Today, the church has riches, institutions. But I would like to think that the only way the church can redeem these resources as well as its institutions would be to place them at the service of justice and of the poor for the sake of the kingdom of God."
 
Cardinal Orlando Quevedo has been a lead architect in the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, a body representing more than 100 million Catholics that has courageously pushed forward the values of Vatican II amid traditionalist backlash. According to an article yesterday in the National Catholic Reporter, Quevedo spoke of an Asian vision of church built on basic ecclesial communities with a collaborative leadership style. (Read more on Quevedo and the Pope’s new cardinals here).
 
What might that look like? According to Tom Kyle who has researched Asian Catholicism and in particular the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, there are certain identifiable characteristics in Asian Catholicism that should mark everything the local church does.

A Shift in Priorities?

by Rose Marie Berger 02-04-2014
Pope Francis wants deputies, not darlings.

(giulio napolitano / Shutterstock)

IN MINDANAO, Philippines, a cheer went up: Mayron tayong cardinal! (“We have a cardinal!”) In January, Orlando B. Quevedo, archbishop of Cotabato, was one of 19 new cardinals named by Pope Francis.

Cardinal Quevedo rose from newsboy to archbishop. He’s renowned for his interreligious work and cofounding a Catholic-Muslim peace community in the southern Philippines where there is violent ethnic conflict. Quevedo is a leader in the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, a body representing more than 100 million Catholics that has courageously pushed forward the values of Vatican II amid traditionalist backlash.

During a papal conclave, when a new pope is chosen, much of the world, Catholic and otherwise, pays close attention to the news ticker from the Vatican. For the selection of new cardinals, not so much. But with Francis, everything bears watching.

Historically, cardinals were called “the princes of the church” because of the power they wielded. Functionally, they serve in the College of Cardinals, which meets with the pope to deal with questions of major importance and elects new popes. Sadly, scoring a red hat has been for some the acme of clerical ambition. The season of cardinal picking can devolve into extravagant indulgence.

But, there’s a new sheriff in town: Pope Francis wants deputies, not darlings.

The Miracle of Christmas Bread

by Rose Marie Berger 12-12-2013
"Food brings people together."

(Nathalie Speliers Ufermann / Shutterstock)

THURSDAY NIGHT is baking night at Panadería El Latino on 11th Street. Early Friday morning, the bakers pull their weekend supply of pan dulce from the ovens. Racks and racks of conchas, cuernos, and galletas—in eye-popping yellows and pinks—are set out to cool. The entire street is redolent with yeast, cinnamon, and sugar.

From the outside this bakery looks like any another boarded-up building. “The only indication this isn’t a crack den,” one local points out, “is the overwhelmingly delicious smell of baked goods.” El Latino distributes to corner bodegas across the metro D.C. area. But, if you brave the exterior, you can get three sweet rolls for a buck. Bread of heaven!

Extending our tables to feed the multitudes is a practice Jesus asks us to imitate (Matthew 14:16). When Jesus hosted that feast for “more than 5,000” with “only five loaves and two fish,” it was called a miracle. But the mystery wasn’t in magic math. Rather this is a tale of two parties. In Matthew 14:13-21, the dilemma was that there was too little food and too many people. But in the preceding verses, there was too much food and too little humanity.

Matthew 14:1-12 tells the story of Herod’s birthday party. Here, only the upper 1 percent, the elite and powerful, are gathered in a setting overflowing with the rarest wines, mountains of meat, and the finest breads. But Herodias’ daughter demands a different dish. The main course is served to her on a platter: It is the head of John the Baptist.

On Being a Child of the Freedom Struggles

by Rose Marie Berger 12-09-2013

In the fall of 1981 I was a freshman at the University of California, Davis. It didn’t take long for me to step into the “Free South Africa” divestment movement sweeping the U.C. system.

I already had some traction with political protest. My first “demonstration” that I can remember was the 1966. I was 3 years old and it was the United Farm Workers march on the California state capitol in Sacramento. I was — and still am — a child of La Causa.

The University of California system had billions of dollars invested in South Africa — as did many U.S. and international corporations and governments. The aim of the divestment movement was to “drain the swamp of the apartheid regime.” The African National Congress and the South African church movement were calling for divestment and sanctions against the South African apartheid regime — even though it would but additional burdens on ordinary people. Millions around the globe responded.

The divestment movement spread like wildfire through the U.C. system. We had regular noon rallies outside the administration offices. And more than once in my college career we blocked the steps to Sproul Hall and were subsequently arrested by campus police with the Davis city police looking on.

Talking Taboo: The Christian ‘Lean In’?

by Rose Marie Berger 11-06-2013
In recently released Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank about Faith, edited by Erin Lane and Enuma Okoro, 40  women under age 40 write essays in, what Femmevangelical’s blogger Rev. Jennifer Crumpton calls, “the Christian version of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In.”
 
Crumpton, interviewed this fall by Fox News' Lauren Green, asks “How can we ‘lean in’ to our faith in a way that empowers us and makes us know that we have a voice, know that we have value and worth, know that we can do anything, even that we can be leaders in the church, even be reverends behind a pulpit?”

Pope Francis Asks Global Catholics What They Think

by Rose Marie Berger 11-04-2013
Iacopo Guidi / Shutterstock

Pope Francis I in Rome, Italy, in September. Iacopo Guidi / Shutterstock

In an unsurprising move, last week Pope Francis issued a questionnaire of sorts to the world’s Catholics to find out what we think about issues related to the family. He wants to know what we think about contraception, same-sex unions, and communion for divorced and remarried couples.

The Vatican has asked the world’s bishops to distribute the survey “immediately and as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes so that input from local sources can be received,” according to a letter from Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary of the Synod of Bishops. A copy of Baldisseri’s letter was obtained by National Catholic Reporter. 

Water Is Not A 'Privilege,' Says Catholic Bishop

by Rose Marie Berger 10-11-2013

Photo credit: SouthWorld/Comboni Missionaries

Is access to clean water for public use a human right? According to Luis Infanti, the Roman Catholic bishop of Aysen in Chile, the answer is yes. This week marks the opening of Chile’s “First Cabildo for Water,” a meeting organized by the Coalition for the Defense of Water and Life, comprising civil society and religious groups.

People from all over Chile are attending and bringing water samples taken from lakes, streams, and rivers in their communities to be blessed by Bishop Infanti. “Water has often been captured, kidnapped and commodified,” said Infanti, according to Agenzia Fides, “but we know that it must give life and reach all our brothers and sisters, flow in abundance and not be anyone’s privilege.”

Jon Stewart to Malala Yousafzai: 'Can I Adopt You?'

by Rose Marie Berger 10-10-2013

Just as she left the world speechless when she addressed the United Nations in July, Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani advocate for women’s rights and access to education, rendered America's jester Jon Stewart tongue tied when he hosted her this week on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Her new book I Am Malala is just released.

"Education is the power of women. That's why the terrorists are afraid of education. They do not want women to get education because then women would become more powerful," said Malala, who is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize to be announced this week.

The Taliban first targeted Malala on "Googlenet" in 2012, she said. But she decided that it was better to not respond to the threats with violence, even in self-defense.

"If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then you will be no better than the Talib," she told a star-struck Stewart.

"Can I adopt you?" Stewart asked.

Unlawful Entry

by Rose Marie Berger 10-02-2013
I watched the police toss Steve, age 70, into the crowd behind me.

OFFICER MARIO normally worked for Homeland Security. On this Friday night he’d been seconded to the Washington, D.C. Metro police, who had their hands full. Not only did they have the usual “drunk and disorderlies,” but now 54 people who looked like card-carrying members of the AARP were filling up their holding cells. Officer Mario, of retirement age himself, was feeling fortunate. He’d been assigned to the women’s side.

“Ladies, ladies, ladies!” Mario said, sauntering in with a mischievous smile. “This must be my lucky night.”

The evening before, we’d all been at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church running role plays on how to “flash mob” the corporate headquarters of Environmental Resources Management (ERM), the firm hired by the U.S. State Department to provide an environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL pipeline. To the disbelief and concern of climate scientists, ERM claimed that TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline would not significantly contribute to climate change. ERM was suspected of “misleading disclosures” regarding conflict of interest and material gain from the pipeline’s completion.

Our white-haired mob of mostly grandparents converged on ERM headquarters at noon to shine a light on such shady dealings. While six silver foxes blocked the elevators by chaining their arms together inside a PVC pipe, I watched two D.C. police lift Steve, age 70, and toss him into the crowd behind me. I knew this nonviolent civil disobedience wasn’t going as planned.

Top 10 Most Dangerous States for Women

by Rose Marie Berger 09-27-2013
Violence against women illustration, Ron Zmiri / Shutterstock.com

Violence against women illustration, Ron Zmiri / Shutterstock.com

Considering a move? Think twice if you are female, single, and headed toward any of the states below. According to data recently released by the Violence Policy Center, these are the states that have the highest murder rates of women by men.

...

What’s being used to murder us? Take a guess.

A 2002 study from researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that although the United States represented only 32 percent of the female population among 25 high-income countries, it accounted for 84 percent of all female firearm homicides.

The study’s lead author, Dr. David Hemenway, concluded that “the difference in female homicide victimization rates between the U.S. and these other industrialized nations is very large and is closely tied to levels of gun ownership. The relationship cannot be explained by differences in urbanization or income inequality.”

The Families of Colombia's 'False Positive' Victims Are Still Fighting For Justice

by Rose Marie Berger 09-16-2013
Sojourners editors Rose Berger, Elizabeth Palmberg, and photographer Ryan Rodrick Beiler have all covered stories in the Colombian drug wars.
 
We've visited the Christian base communities. We've traveled with Witness for Peace. We stood in the cash-yielding coca fields of subsistence farmers. We've met with the priests and Protestant pastors who spend more time burying their congregants than marrying them. We've prayed with the families.
 
Writing for VICE, Ellie Mae O'Hagan continues the story of dangerous peacemaking and the demand for justice in Colombia:
I was there with the NGO Justice for Colombia to hear about the country's 'false positives' scandal, which first broke five years ago and shows no sign of relenting any time soon. The scandal has its roots in the Colombian 50-year civil war between the government and the left-wing peasant insurgent group FARC. In the early 2000s, then-president Alvaro Uribe, out of an apparent concern for the army’s reputation, started putting pressure on soldiers to increase their kill figures.
 
According to media reports, soldiers were promised cash payments and more vacation time if they produced the bodies of dead FARC guerrillas—an accusation the government denies. In an effort to increase their quotas, soldiers allegedly started luring young, impoverished men away from their homes with the offer of work. Once away from their families, the soldiers executed the men, dressed them up in guerrilla uniforms, and presented them as combat kills. Many victims were dismembered and buried hundreds of miles away from their families.

Read more.

Pipeline Prayer Walk: 'In the Wide Open Air'

by Rose Marie Berger 08-02-2013

Photo by Shodo Spring

Five walkers have completed 380 miles of their three-month pilgrimage along the proposed route of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. They have crossed from Monchy, Saskatchewan into the United States as part of the Compassionate Earth Walk and will continue their trek toward Steele City, Nebraska. In the flat unbroken prairies of Canada and the U.S. it is, as Dr. Seuss used to say, “opener out there, in the wide, open air.”
 
The walk began at the Fourth Annual Tar Sands Healing Walk led by Canadian First Nations members to protest mining in ancestral lands, expansion of tar sands mining, and TransCanada’s proposed system of pipelines, including the Keystone XL, which would cross into the United States. More than 500 people walked through the Ft. McMurray tar sands pits.
 
“Seeing the tar sands during the Healing Walk and being in a spiritual place with all those people wishing for healing, set a profound foundation for the Compassionate Earth Walk,” said Lina Blount, a recent Bryn Mawr graduate.

'Why Are White People So Mean?'

by Rose Marie Berger 07-17-2013

The metro is crowded today, and the 20-something, well-dressed white man has to stand, one hand holding the bar and the other his smartphone. It’s the end of the day. All the commuters — but one — are turned toward home. The young man’s face, like most of the others, is dulled with exhaustion. No one makes eye contact.

    In a seat near the door, one woman sits facing everyone, looking backward. She studies the young man’s face intently, uncomfortably. He shifts. She rearranges the bags at her feet. Her reflection in the window shows an ashy neck above her oversized T-shirt collar. The train hums and clicks through a tunnel. As if in preparation, she takes another sip from the beat-up plastic cup she’s holding.

    At last, she raises her voice and asks: “Why are white people so mean?” Boom! The electricity of America’s third rail crackles through the train. Faces fold in like origami or turn blank like a screensaver.

    Catholic Justice and Peace Commission Intervenes on the Recruitment of Christian Arabs into Israeli Army

    by Rose Marie Berger 07-09-2013
    The Catholic Church's Justice and Peace Commission of the Holy Land led by Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah has issued a statement against attempts by the Israeli Defense Force to begin conscripting Christian Muslims into the military, saying "the use of army service to divide the Arab population against itself is detrimental to the interests of the Arabs as a community." According to Agenzia Fides:
    ...The army is used as "an institution that promotes social cohesion" and a "principal place" of forming national consciousness and participating in the nation building project "as conceived by the authorities, i.e. promoting Israel as a Jewish national state". In this perspective, according to the Justice and Peace commisssion operating in the Holy Land, "talk about drafting of Christian Arabs rather than the Arabs in general - Muslims and Christians - is clearly an attempt to drive a wedge between Christians and Muslims in Israel". On addressing these delicate problems, the Church should keep in mind that "the army is used as a means of imposing and maintaining the occupation of Palestinian territories and thus preventing Palestinians from achieving dignity and independence". The army is primarily "an army of aggression rather than an army of defense". Therefore "the use of army service to divide the Arab population against itself is detrimental to the interests of the Arabs as a community."

    'Why Are White People So Mean?'

    by Rose Marie Berger 07-01-2013
    Laments engage "the most unbearable questions of faith."

    (Jose AS Reyes / Shutterstock)

    THE METRO IS crowded today, and the 20-something, well-dressed white man has to stand, one hand holding the bar and the other his smartphone. It’s the end of the day. All the commuters—but one—are turned toward home. The young man’s face, like most of the others, is dulled with exhaustion. No one makes eye contact.

    In a seat near the door, one woman sits facing everyone, looking backward. She studies the young man’s face intently, uncomfortably. He shifts. She rearranges the bags at her feet. Her reflection in the window shows an ashy neck above her oversized T-shirt collar. The train hums and clicks through a tunnel. As if in preparation, she takes another sip from the beat-up plastic cup she’s holding.

    At last, she raises her voice and asks: “Why are white people so mean?” Boom! The electricity of America’s third rail crackles through the train. Faces fold in like origami or turn blank like a screensaver.

    But this was no rhetorical question. When no one answers, she asks again, this time aiming her question at the young man with his phone. A flush creeps up his neck. “You look like you could be a sheriff,” she says to him. “Good and mean. I can see it in your eyes. You got mean eyes.” When he realizes her attention is stuck on him, he replies, “I hope I’m not mean. I try to be good.”

    A Step Closer to Global Jubilee?

    by Rose Marie Berger 06-18-2013
    World map, Feraru Nicolae / Shutterstock.com

    World map, Feraru Nicolae / Shutterstock.com

    In the green hills of County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, the world’s leading developed nations agreed on Tuesday to make individuals and companies pay the taxes that they owe. With the release this morning of the Lough Erne Declaration the G8 countries plan to implement greater tax collection internationally through fairer tax policies, greater financial transparency, and open trade.

    The G8 plans to clamp down on tax-evaders and require shell companies — often used to take advantage of tax loopholes or to invest money anonymously —to identify their effective owners or primary beneficiaries. Developing countries, reported CNN, lose more in tax avoidance than they receive in aid. With the protocols agreed to today, indebted poor countries will be given access to the global information they need to collect the taxes they are owed.

    Some anti-poverty campaigners describe the G8 deal as a historic achievement.

    Illuminated

    by Rose Marie Berger 05-11-2013
    A poem: Mass in Las Choapas, Mexico

    On my knees I beg forgiveness for my greed—
    and for starving myself.
    By your eyes I see you love this priest,
    follow his lyrical fingers in praise of
    a small white host he points here,
    there.