Meditation is simple…but it is not easy
October 19, 2022
30th Sunday in OT (C)
October 19, 2022

Social justice and the listening Church


By Amílcar Sanatan
CCSJ Board member

As a boy, I dreamt that I raised my hand during Mass to ask a question. When my hand went up, the congregation appeared to be aghast by the deviation from the church’s norms and the priest refused to acknowledge my raised hand.
This dream is surely rooted in the reality that church settings, like many social spaces in the Caribbean and Americas, are rigidly hierarchal.
The design of the space illustrates who has the power and who does not and the people with authority and people without. This dynamic is so fixed in our architectural and psychological spaces, when the priest solicits participation from the believers in front and back pews, responses are slow and sparse.
We do not have to look too far back in our history when altars were turned, and priests celebrated Mass with their backs facing the congregation.
Vatican II changed this design of the church’s space. This was no simple ‘shifting of furniture’, it was an attempt to spatially and spiritually face the people of God.
St John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council in St Peter’s Basilica 60 years ago. These reforms were fundamental to the contextualisation of theology and the Church in the Caribbean and Americas.
Racial prejudice and cultural biases by priests and nuns were questioned by the bourgeoning group of homegrown aspirants seeking a religious formation that was attentive to our culture and reality. Can we speak in the language of a market woman selling avocados in Port of Spain on the altar of the Cathedral? Should boys be ‘allowed’ to grow their natural hair in Catholic primary and secondary schools? Is there an inherent superiority in the knowledge of Latin and (European) classics?
These questions were advanced in congregations, classrooms, and corridors of power. The unity of the Church was called into question.
The ‘modernisation’ of the Church, in the long-term, appeared to strengthen the institution in the Caribbean and Americas, Asia, Africa and the Pacific but the conservative retreat and in some cases, disengagement, in Europe and North America, revealed the factions of “progressivism” and “traditionalism”.
In Barbados, I attended a technical meeting on ending gender-based violence and protection for vulnerable groups in the Caribbean. The discussions highlighted the severe social injustices and experiences of violence by people in the LGBTQI community.
At the end of the meeting, I met a mature Deaf woman. She was mentally ill, unemployed and lives with HIV. Once, she was shot by a stray bullet. In her community, some think of her a ‘mad woman’ who ‘tripped’ when she took a ‘bad smoke’.
Sexual exploitation, limited resources for sustained mental health care and social exclusion which has effectively deskilled her and removed her from the formal economy mean that there are multiple dimensions to her experience of poverty.
Feminist and women’s rights scholars and activists have advanced a concept and framework of intersectionality to explain the way that multiple experiences of social advantage and disadvantage intersect to create unique and dynamic experiences for people in society.
The social justice calls for the eradication of poverty must be multi-dimensional because the injustice people experience in their lives are also multi-dimensional. Ending gender-based violence, protecting the rights of vulnerable groups, improving the material well-being of the poor, developing inclusive economies, ensuring people with disabilities have socio-economic opportunities and strengthening health systems for all are not discrete issues that can be tackled in isolation because they intersect and effect social varying social outcomes.
Pope Francis’ decision to extend the Synod on Synodality to 2024 provides an opportunity for the Church in Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean to listen to the soul of the society.
How can the Church be a force to strengthen the social, economic, and political equality of women in the Church and society?
What bold steps can the Church make to abolish homophobias and prejudice against LGBTQI people, who are also believers in congregations?
What levels of participation and democracy can be inculcated in the Church to project the vision of democracy we have for our societies?
My hand is up.
These are some questions I really must ask.

“Fraternity is born not only of a climate of respect for individual liberties, or even of a certain administratively guaranteed equality. Fraternity necessarily calls for something greater, which in turn enhances freedom and equality.” (103)

– Pope Francis, Fratelli Tuitti.
CCSJ Social Justice Education Committee