SOUTHINGTON – Pope Francis is setting the standard for reimagining, rebuilding and repairing the Catholic Church as it enters the 21st century.
Jack Jezreel, founder and president of JustFaith Ministries of Louisville, Ky., said at the 45th annual Social Justice Award Dinner on Oct. 22 that Pope Francis is emulating his namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi, to whom Jesus said, “Francis, rebuild my Church.”
The keynote speaker said that Pope Francis, like Saint Francis, lives simply, loves creation and cares for those suffering in poverty or degradation.
“He wears no miter with gold and jewels, no ermine cape, no made-to-measure red shoes or head gear and [uses] no magnificent throne. The new pope deliberately abstains from solemn gestures and high-flown rhetoric. He speaks the language of the people and emphasizes his own humanity,” Mr. Jezreel said.
“He lives in an apartment, drives a 2008 used Ford Focus hatchback and carries his own luggage; and it would not surprise us to see him wander around on the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square in a brown robe covered with patches, as was the traditional attire of Saint Francis,” he added.
Regarding Saint Francis’ love of creation, Mr. Jezreel said, “In this regard, Pope Francis continues the legacy of his predecessors in emphasizing both the environment and our responsibility” to cultivate and care for creation.
“Pope Francis has expressed his concern for those who experience life at the bottom and voiced prophetic outrage at the exploitative structures and human indifference that maintain this unnecessary suffering,” said Mr. Jezreel.
He also pointed out that like Saint Francis, who met with the sultan, Pope Francis has worked to foster positive relationships among people of all beliefs and to encourage interfaith and ecumenical dialogue.
In sharing his perspective with the roomful of men and women who are committed to social justice, Mr. Jezreel referenced stories of Saint Francis’ embracing the leper and Saint Francis’ praying before the San Damiano crucifix, where he is believed to have received his commission from the Lord to rebuild the Church. He connected these stories with Pope Francis, and inferred from the words and witness of Pope Francis that now is the time to rebuild, repair and reimagine the Church.
Mr. Jezreel’s vision of the 21st-century Church is, he said, one in which parishioners gather as a community to pray, to learn and celebrate the Eucharist and, when formed and ready, to send themselves out to the peripheries of society to proclaim the good news to the poor, liberate captives and recover freedom for the oppressed.
The dinner brought together nearly 450 representatives of parishes, organizations and agencies from across the Archdiocese of Hartford and state. Its sponsor, the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Social Justice Ministry (OCSJM), annually presents awards to individuals and groups.
This year, special tribute was paid to Archbishop Henry J. Mansell for his extraordinary accomplishments since becoming the fourth archbishop of Hartford in 2003.
Patricia Verde, OCSJM board president, highlighted “his work and attention to the issues and concerns of social justice.” Ms. Verde noted that each of the Archbishop’s Annual Appeals exceeded goal, and that “he initiated an emergency assistance component to the fund which provides resources to parishioners facing financial difficulties.”
“Archbishop Mansell helped institute the Malta House of Care Mobile Clinic, in 2006, through the appeal and with the assistance of the Order of Malta of Hartford County and St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center,” she said. “In 2010, another Malta House of Care Mobile Clinic was dedicated to provide medical care in Waterbury.”
She pointed out that in his first year in Hartford, Archbishop Mansell joined other Catholic bishops in the state in an effort to improve water quality and reduce the environmental impact of urban sprawl on low-income populations.
Beyond recognition for the countless social justice contributions made during his tenure, Archbishop Mansell was awarded the Most Reverend Joseph F. Donnelly 2013 Individual Award for his role in creating Cathedral Green, a supportive and low-income housing project on Asylum Avenue in Harford.
In addition, the Joseph Donnelly 2013 Organization Award was presented to Apostle Immigrant Services, a nonprofit agency that provides educational programs and legal services. Sister Mary Ellen Burns, executive director, accepted the award on behalf of the organization, which was established in 2008 to improve the lives of immigrants and promote greater cross-cultural understanding.
The Dr. Charlie Schlegel Award for Cooperative Parish Sharing Projects went to St. Joseph Church in Winsted. Father Ronald Gliatta received the award on behalf of his parish, which was recognized for its Life Meal delivery and elderly luncheon projects that provide nutrition and socialization for low-income and home-bound elderly residents in their community.