By Lara Pickford-Gordon
Catholics have a responsibility to get involved promoting social justice in the society. This message was stated in different ways by speakers at a recently held symposium for Social Justice Day.
First, was Fr Arnold Francis who stated, “I believe that it is the Christian civic responsibility to be active and productive participants in the life of the society while ensuring that they follow the principles of Catholic social teaching, especially the first principle, the sanctity and dignity of human life.”
He added, “Under this heading, we need to hold together in a seamless garment all the other principles that come up…and the various issues that come up.”
The principal and dean of the Theology Institute, parish priest of Fatima RC, Curepe provided a theological perspective on the theme Catholic Social Teaching: The foundation for a culture of care (Pope Francis) while addressing the online symposium Friday, February 19.
He cited some issues encompassed in social justice. Under the sanctity and dignity of human life from conception to natural death, was the Church’s stance on abortion, capital punishment and euthanasia.
He referred to race relations: discrimination, prejudice, economic justice, the environment crisis etc. Fr Francis said Catholics should seek to practise social justice and ensure they provide an example for the rest of the society.
He called for every Catholic to get involved in at least one issue or social activity mentioning the Society of St Vincent de Paul, education issues, ministry to youth, refugees etc. “It is our duty to do that…that is what our Christianity calls for.”
What is social justice for the Catholic? He explained it is the application of the gospel to all areas of life for the common good in order to build a culture of care. “Catholic social teaching principles are like the pillars on which to build such a culture of care.”
Fr Francis discussed passages from the Old and New Testament showing that social justice was “part and parcel” of the judeo-Christian tradition. He said the prophets of the Old Testament became instruments of God denouncing injustice and announcing He was on the side of those who had no voice, who cannot defend themselves, the “little ones”, the orphans, widows, strangers.
St Pope John Paul II referred to them as “beloved poor”.
In the New Testament of Luke 10:27, Jesus tells of loving God “‘with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and Love your neighbour as yourself.”
Fr Francis said this statement was followed by the Parable of the Good Samaritan and is meant as an explanation of the great commandment. “What it tells us is the commandment is not an intellectual exercise but speaks to an obligation of individuals and groups, not only to family and nation but to the whole human community,” Fr Francis said. He continued, “by extending the idea of neighbour to include the Samaritan, Jesus is saying to us God’s family includes everyone.”
At the centre of the Church’s social justice teaching is the transcendence of God, the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person.
Fr Francis noted the principles of Catholic social teaching extends to all peoples and is beyond cultural differences. It is practised in the love and respect in human relationship and also in the human relationship with the environment. He cited Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ which raises awareness that the use of the earth’s resources and treatment of the environment affect the dignity of the human person.
Social justice was not only about individuals, families, and the environment but also systems, structures, and institutions. “These can help us to live out or not live out our duty to respect the rights of people and protect the environment.”
Rebuild our wounded world
Deborah de Rosia, foundress of the Eternal Light Community (ELC) and directress of the Pontifical Mission Society, presented on ‘Practical examples of a Culture of Care’.
She described a culture of care as “one on one” relationships, recognising that each person has intrinsic value.
“We are talking about restoring the dignity of people who are suffering because oftentimes when people are suffering, they are no longer visible to us,” she said. The Good Samaritan lingered and rendered assistance while others passed the beaten man. “Each of us has the capacity to rebuild our wounded world so we can rebuild our society, T&T and by extension, our world.”
De Rosia outlined local efforts. In the country’s history, missionaries have over the centuries demonstrated care. “We have had men and women who have responded to the call to give their lives in the service to others; they have transformed their call to a culture for the sake of many.”
She listed some examples: Society of St Vincent de Paul, Corpus Christi Carmelites, Holy Faith Sisters (HFS), Holy Ghost Fathers, Dominicans.
De Rosia said, “we have evolved and allowed a culture to grow amongst us that we as a Catholic community have been able to reach out to others through the centuries.” De Rosia described facilities run by the Carmelites and HFS, SVP and ecclesial communities.
She discussed the ELC’s outreach to children who have dropped out the education system, pregnant teens, the elderly. It supported female victims of domestic violence and prisoners, distributed food to persons in need and acted as a liaison with mental health services.
De Rosia observed the culture of care was visible not just in groups but also individuals and families. In the latter, showing care was passed from “generation to generation.”
It is a human virtue to care. It is a Christian virtue to attend to others whose needs are greater, she remarked.
“There are many, many people whose needs are greater than ours,” De Rosia said. She emphasised that a culture of care should be second nature for Church and society.
She ended with a quote: “And who is my neighbour?” (Lk 10:29). This is a question which all must ask “from [the] depth of our own hearts,” she said.
Chair of the Catholic Commission for Social Justice (CCSJ)/Archdiocesan Ministry for Migrants and Refugees (AMMR) Leela Ramdeen also spoke at the symposium, which was moderated by Programme Coordinator, AMMR, Darrion Narine.