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Parish action to promote Social Justice

By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI

Pope Francis has asked the faithful not to forget the poor and vulnerable during the pandemic. Let’s reflect on this question: “What am I/my parish doing to help the community during this pandemic?”

Catholic News Service reported on an online panel discussion on May 5, sponsored by Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University, Washington DC.

Austen Ivereigh, an English author, “was joined by American author and Berkley Center senior fellow Paul Elie and Kim Daniels, associate director of Georgetown’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, who also is a member of the Vatican Dicastery for Communication. The three distilled the pope’s constant messages during the coronavirus pandemic, which place emphasis on groups and issues important all along the trajectory of his papacy: a focus on the poor, on the environment and the individual’s response and responsibility during the crisis.”

Daniels said that Pope Francis has called on us to “‘take the roots of our traditions and head for the mountains’ meaning that believers need to arm themselves with Catholic tradition, with the Gospel, with Catholic social teaching and focus on solidarity with the poor and vulnerable and that’s where he is rooting this process of conversion for all of us … to reimagine what our engagement with the poor is, as a community, our parishes, wherever we’re living, wherever we are in society.”

On Saturday, June 27, CCSJ & AMMR (Simone Francois-Whittier and I) ran a virtual training session on Catholic Social Teaching for members of the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP), at the request of SVP’s President Angelique Taylor. The theme was: Vincentians walking with the 2 feet of social action: works of mercy and promoting systemic change.

SVP members were reminded of the words of Pope Pius X1 in Divini Redemptoris (‘The promise of a Divine Redeemer’, 1937): “Charity will never be true charity unless it takes justice into account…Let no one attempt with small gifts of charity to exempt themselves from the great duties imposed by justice.”

Although there is a relationship between charity and justice, they are not the same. Working for justice involves changing systems, structures, institutions, and public policies that are at the root cause of injustices such as poverty and social exclusion.

Catholic social teaching (CST), is “a rich treasure of wisdom about building a just society and living lives of holiness amidst the challenges of modern society. It offers moral principles and coherent values that are badly needed in our time. The scriptures say, “Without a vision the people perish” (Prov 29:18). As Catholics, we have an inspiring vision in our social teaching ” (US bishops). CST touches on all spheres of life and provides the foundation/guiding principles for our lives and our work, as disciples of Christ.

God’s call to justice in our Scriptures is clear:

  1. Micah 6:8 “…this is what the Lord asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God.”
  2. Amos 5:24 “…let justice flow like water and integrity like an unfailing stream.”
  3. Isaiah 61:1 “The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for He has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken; to proclaim liberty to captives, freedom to those in prison; …to comfort all those who mourn…For I, the Lord, love justice, I hate robbery and all that is wrong.”

Read the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church to understand the key principles and the messages in encyclicals from  the first key Encyclical by Pope Leo XIII in 1891: Rerum Novarum—dealing with the relationships/rights and mutual duties of Capital and Labour, to Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’ (2015).

Why should we be concerned about social issues? In the Vatican II document, Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, we read: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men (or women) of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.”

May we always walk with the two feet of Christian justice: seeing, judging, and acting as Christ would act.

Meanwhile, the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction. True faith in the incarnate Son of God is inseparable from self-giving, from membership in the community, from service, from reconciliation with others.

—Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, para 88

CCSJ Social Justice Education Committee