BRISTOL – Nearly 300 proponents of transforming Catholic social teaching into action attended the fifth annual Bishop Peter Rosazza Social Justice Conference on June 14 at St. Paul Catholic High School.
Organizers attributed a 20 percent attendance increase to what many call the “Pope Francis effect” and the pontiff’s immense global popularity.
“There’s an increase this year in the number of participants, parish representation and young people,” said Lynn Campbell, executive director of the Office of Catholic Social Justice Ministry (OCSJM) of the Archdiocese of Hartford.
In fact, the conference theme, “Rooted in Faith, Building a Better World,” was taken from Pope Francis’ message at World Youth Day last year, when he urged young people to “be builders of the world”… not as observers, but by immersing “yourselves in the reality of life, as Jesus did.”
The keynote speaker was artist and author Brother Mickey McGrath, an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales, who used images and inspiration from his book, Saved by Beauty: A Spiritual Journey with Dorothy Day, to make connections between her activist life and spirituality and the writings of St. Francis de Sales.
Brother Mickey talked about his own experiences working in his studio, which is located in an impoverished Camden, N.J., neighborhood and also about the work of the journalist and humanitarian Day, who had a gift for finding beauty in the midst of desolation.
The book title is taken from a famous saying by Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky that was frequently quoted by Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker movement in the 1930s with Peter Maurin, and who was named “Servant of God” in 2000 when her cause for canonization was opened.
The inaugural Bishop Peter A. Rosazza Faith and Justice Award was presented to John Ryan, pastoral associate for the social outreach ministry at St. Bridget Parish in Manchester, where he has worked to cultivate Catholic social teaching within parish life since 2003.
The award was named in honor of Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Rosazza for his years of service to OCSJM and in recognition of his “personal, unwavering commitment” to Catholic social justice. It will be presented annually at the social justice conference to recognize an individual, group of people or program that enhances social justice in the archdiocese.
Bishop Rosazza, who offered an opening reflection and blessing, urged participants to be “makers of peace.” He recalled the influence of Pope John XXIII during the Cuban missile crisis, which contributed to the end of the standoff; and the impact of his final encyclical, Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth). “People have to be treated with respect,” urged Bishop Rosazza.
Participants also heard from four panelists who talked about work in their parishes during a presentation on the cornerstones of parish social ministry – prayer, direct service, education and advocacy.
“Social justice is the best-kept secret of the church,” said panel moderator Karen Herbert, parishioner at St. Mary Star of the Sea in Unionville.
“The parish is where the church is,” said Ms. Herbert. “We are the church … called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. You are the cornerstones of the parish.”
Participants also attended a morning and afternoon workshop from among 18 offerings, including four in Spanish, on topics ranging from hunger to criminal justice, climate change, immigration reform, aging and strategies for leadership development.
Displays from 20 exhibitors provided an additional opportunity to learn about the work of community groups and programs, including the Springs Learning Center, JustFaith, Cooperative Parish Sharing, Brake the Cycle of Poverty, Franciscan Action Network and the Malta Criminal Justice Initiative.