BLOOMFIELD – Developing our compassion for those in need — whether they are sitting next to us in the pew, reside in another town or live in another country — begins at home and in the parish, according to those who spoke at the 2018 Bishop Peter Rosazza Social Justice Conference.
The conference drew more than 200 social justice advocates to the Pastoral Center on June 9.
This year’s conference theme, “Rooted in Faith: Bringing Social Justice Home,” offered two keynote speeches and 12 workshops aimed at planting and deepening local Catholics’ commitment to social justice concerns.
Archbishop Leonard P. Blair, who offered the opening remarks, said he agrees with Pope Francis that social justice must be more than a program or an activity. Instead, it needs to be “something deeply rooted in the heart of our parishioners everywhere,” he said.
In light of the recent parish mergers, the archbishop said, he hoped a universal love of neighbor might begin in our own parishes, many of which are now more culturally diverse.
“The great challenge,” the archbishop said, “is to see ourselves as members of one family of faith.”
This year, Archbishop Blair noted, is the 40th anniversary of Bishop Rosazza’s ordination as a bishop, referring to Bishop Rosazza as “a great friend and collaborator in ministry."
“He’s filled a niche personally and pastorally that I could never have accomplished on my own,” the archbishop said.
Bishop Rosazza in turn thanked Archbishop Blair for his friendship, for his support of Catholic social justice in the archdiocese and for taking on the difficult challenge of the recent parish mergers.
“Jesus sent you here,” Bishop Rosazza said. “We needed someone like you. You’ve been able to make decisions, tough decisions … you did so and you opened yourself up to criticism, and we owe you a great deal.”
This year’s Faith and Justice Award went to Ron Shea for his many years of service to the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Social Justice Ministry (OCSJM), which sponsored the conference. Shea has served as interim director of OCSJM, assisted in hiring and mentoring the new director, has served on the board of directors, was board president and continues to volunteer on the OCSJM conference committee.
Bishop Rosazza presented the award, saying, “If I went to a social justice gathering and didn’t see Ron, I’d wonder if I was in the right place.”
Joan Rosenhauer, executive director of Jesuit Refugee Services and formerly of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), gave the keynote address titled “Let Justice Flow at Home: Rooting Catholic Social Teaching in the Family.”
To create a foundation for Catholic social justice in the family, Rosenhauer urged attendees to begin by supporting marriage and family. “We have to start with what it means to love and to be loved,” she explained. She also asked conference participants to look to the story of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25:45-46.
“What we do for the least among us is the measure of our lives. This is a call to each and every believer at every stage of our lives," Rosenhauer said.
Parishes can help local families help other suffering families around the world, she said, by offering them the opportunity to assist through action or advocacy.
“Our Church is on the front line responding,” she said, citing examples such as Catholic Charities’ drug treatment and counseling services here in the United States, and CRS’s work abroad combating diseases like malaria and Ebola in numerous African countries, serving displaced families in Syria and building irrigation projects in Ethiopia.
For resource materials on Catholic social teaching for children and adults, she recommends visiting the CRS Ministry Resource Center at https://www.crs.org/get-involved/resource-center and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Communities of Salt and Light initiative at www.wearesaltandlight.org.
Father Stephen Sledesky, pastor of St. George Parish in Guilford, provided the afternoon keynote address, “Home is Where the Heart is.”
The domestic church or home, he said, is the place where children are formed by their primary influencers: their parents. “Never underestimate the influence you have on them,” he told the parents in attendance. The best way to pass on social justice values is to involve entire families in service to the community.
“We learn by doing,” he stressed.
Father Sledesky said he consulted with one family in his parish that is especially active in social justice work. The parents, he said, were raised in families that involved them in social justice activities. Today, they involve their own children.
Together, the family collected and donated books to poor children in New Haven and played with homeless children in a shelter, making gingerbread houses. The children began a backpack drive at their parish, organized a sleep-out on the Guilford Green so others can know what it feels like to be homeless and played musical instruments to entertain homeless individuals from Columbus House who visited at St. George as part of the Abraham’s Tent project.
“Let’s remember to keep our social justice ministries intergenerational,” Father Sledesky advised. Projects such as HomeFront home repairs for low-income families, CRS Helping Hands for hunger relief and Christmas gifts for a needy local family all lend themselves to participation from entire families, he said.
Father Sledesky also advised stressing the integral nature of social justice to the mission of the Catholic Church. “It’s not an extracurricular activity,” he said. “It’s the work of the Church.”
This year’s conference also offered intriguing workshops. Some offered an in-depth look at creating social justice ministries in the parish as well as engaging young people in social justice work. In addition, the workshops tackled the tough topics of mental health support, the opioid crisis, ongoing racism and human trafficking — all in Connecticut.
Global concerns rounded out the lineup with workshops on the topic of peace and nonviolence and on Catholic Relief Services’ new Parish Ambassadors Corps.
Music for the morning prayer service was provided by the choir from St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in West Hartford.