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A commitment to promote Catholic social justice principles

By Fr Stephan Alexander

General Manager, CCSJ and AMMR


A couple of weeks ago I messaged a Mexican friend, a university professor, whom I have been communicating with about opportunities to grow my understanding of Catholic Social Teaching (CST) and Social Justice.

The response I received shocked me. His reply stated that he was being extorted and had to take urgent and drastic security measures to ensure his and his family’s safety.

Nothing could have prepared me to receive that message. My immediate reaction was of intense emotion. However, these strong feelings were strangely calmed by the ordinariness of his message.

Despite the content, his tone was calm and polite as he stated, (translated from Spanish) “Father, I’m sorry for the delay in responding but I’m facing a situation of extortion…”

I got the sense that this wasn’t his first experience of extortion. It was as if this was a normal occurrence. After confirming that he and his family were okay and pledging support in prayer, I began to reflect on how news of his experience had impacted me.

Our CCSJ articles for 2024 commenced with a four part series written by Fr Curtis Poyer, CCSJ Board member, detailing aspects of his 20-plus years of experience of Social/Social Justice Ministry in the diocese of Tampico, Mexico.

There, on the border of the United States (Texas) and Mexico, life can be volatile. Large-scale migration, illegal border crossings, cartels engaging in drug and human trafficking, kidnapping, extortion etc. have all been a reality in this region. Fr Poyer had previously shared with me certain experiences of threats he received and other encounters which jeopardised his safety throughout his ministry in Mexico.

Certainly, while I was concerned about those experiences at the time he shared them with me, they began to take on new meaning in the context of my friend’s experience.

Reflection included prayer, which led to inspiration as I was greatly impacted by the commitment of these people to resolutely champion the cause of social justice in the face of life-threatening circumstances.

Neither of them ran from the threats and while they followed advice to minimise risk and increase safety, they persevered in their mission to promote “structured, organic, and comprehensive social ministry” within a climate of increasing oppression, exclusion and marginalisation of the more vulnerable groups of society, “where life is most in jeopardy”.

Pope Francis’ tweet a decade ago returned to me, “None of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice.” The Pope was right! Hence, my friends are right to persevere even in the face of danger because we all have a responsibility to promote the dignity of the human person as well as all other key principles of CST. Action is necessary, especially now!

As we commemorated World Day of Social Justice on February 20, 2024 (celebrated annually on February 20) this year’s theme Overcoming Barriers and Unleashing Opportunities for Social Justice seemed particularly appropriate. “Unleashing opportunities doesn’t happen overnight. It is a process that requires creativity, wit, and determination”.

Paridhi Bhatnagar’s thoughts on the 2024 theme (via her Linkedin post) suggests that “overcoming these barriers requires a mixed approach involving both individual and collective actions. To unleash opportunities for social justice ‘Education is the key’. Promoting education and making it more accessible to a diverse population gives people a chance to grow and prosper. Starting by raising awareness and advocating for change by educating ourselves and others about the issue, and by engaging more with individuals who have different backgrounds to understand them better.”

This plays into Fr Poyer’s recommendations for the Archdiocese of Port of Spain and other dioceses in the Caribbean to implement processes and procedures identified in his four-part series such as formation of parish social justice ministries and education of the lay faithful so that the people of God can be better aware of CST, their obligations to live it and opportunities to implement good social justice practices in the face of rising injustice in Trinidad and Tobago.

As we continue to educate via our articles and encourage collaboration and support for CCSJ/AMMR initiatives for promoting CST we shall also be seeking to facilitate other opportunities to provide formation in CST for parishioners, students, and persons throughout the Archdiocese about the principles of CST and give examples of action that anyone can take to incorporate them in our daily lives.

We also want to encourage parishes and other institutions to collaborate with organisations that exist to combat the many injustices that exist all around us.

May we be inspired by the courage of those who overcome threats and other difficult circumstances to fervently promote good social justice principles.


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