By Father Patrick Delahanty, Special to the Record
About 35 people from a half-dozen parishes, including a dozen clergy members, gathered Nov. 29 to discuss Catholic social teaching and the church’s justice ministry.
Father William P. Burks, pastor of St. John Paul II Church and one of three priests who organized the event, told his listeners that the ubiquitous Christmas Angel Trees are a fine thing for parishes to support. But working to change systems that keep people in poverty would reduce the number of names on the tree — and that would be even better.
About a half-dozen people spoke during the evening program at St. John Paul II’s Goldsmith Lane campus. They focused on the “two-feet” of the church’s social outreach, a concept promoted by the US. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The “foot” of social justice focuses on removing the root causes of poverty and other issues in the long-term. And the “foot” of charitable works addresses immediate needs.
The local church stands firmly on the foot of charity. But its justice work needs to be strengthened, said Father Troy Overton, who also helped organize the gathering.
“We can no longer be silent,” he said, adding that subtle racism, violence in area neighborhoods and other problems should be addressed systemically.
Father Lou Meiman, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church, offered the crowd a summary of the U.S. church’s history as it relates to social change. He noted the movement early in the last century to demand rights for workers and cited Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical “Rerum Novarum,” which addressed the rights and duties of capital and labor.
“The Catholic Church invested itself in (the U.S.) in changing the structures of society,” demanding fair wages, fair working conditions and an end to child labor, Father Meiman noted.
While some people believe Pope Francis is saying something new, Father Meiman said, he’s actually “standing on the shoulders of those who came before him.”
And it’s time now for people in the pews to go back to these roots, too, he said. “This is about being the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.”
Among the evening’s other speakers were Ed Wnorowski, head of the local Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and Steve Bogus, director of Catholic Charities of Louisville. Both men discussed the work of their agencies, which includes charitable and advocacy work.
The participants also divided into small groups to discuss what they might do next to focus on systemic change.
A group of retired priests, who often celebrate weekend Masses at various parishes, decided to coordinate homilies that incorporate Catholic social teaching.
Representatives of St. Edward Church decided to explore the possibility of working with JustFaith Ministries. JustFaith, a national organization based in Louisville, offers intensive programs rooted in Catholic social teaching.
Organizers said they hope to have similar gatherings in the future.