In Your Midst

Life, Peace, and Justice

November 2012

Creating a parish deeply rooted in Catholic Social Teaching

What do climate change and homelessness have to do with each other?  How does immigration reform relate to the right to life?  What does the war in Afghanistan have to do with world hunger?  And what does any of this have to do with our faith?  The answer, in short, is Catholic Social Teaching, a body of church teaching that speaks to certain fundamental principles of our faith and which informs how we, as Catholics, should respond to the economic, social and political issues of our time. With such an array of complex public issues, it’s good that, here at St. James Cathedral, we have a group of informed and engaged parishioners to help bring some guidance in this area.

The Life, Peace and Justice Committee was formed in late 2009, with the following mission: The St. James Cathedral Life, Peace and Justice Committee works to create a vibrant parish deeply rooted in Catholic Social Teaching, as embodied in the consistent ethic of life.  We accomplish this by integrating education and understanding of Catholic Social Teaching into all aspects of parish life, and encouraging respectful dialogue about social justice issues.  Our mission is to foster parishioners’ commitment to and involvement in social ministry and advocacy for justice.

To better understand the work of the committee, it’s helpful to look closely at this mission statement.  The first thing that stands out is the name of the committee:  the Life, Peace and Justice Committee.  In many parishes, there is a divide between the groups working on pro-life issues and groups interested in peace and justice issues.  Here at St. James, the Life, Peace and Justice Committee is dedicated to promoting the full spectrum of Catholic Social Teaching, emphasizing the consistent ethic of life in all its manifestations.  Respecting life means not only respect for the unborn, but also for the poor, the homeless, victims of war and violence, the elderly, the sick and the powerless.  Since the committee’s formation, there has been “an increased emphasis on life issues, particularly abortion,” says committee member Ted Nutting.  But that issue does not stand in isolation, and the committee seeks to find ways to help parishioners see the value of life in all its stages. 

Another important piece of the mission statement is the commitment to “integrating education and understanding for Catholic Social Teaching into all aspects of parish life.”  “I see the committee as a catalyst for incorporating the Gospel and the church’s social teachings integrally into the life of the parish, through our prayer and worship, faith formation, advocacy and action,” says Sr. Judy Ryan, also a committee member.  “We support individuals and groups already active at St. James and assist in creating new ways to ‘walk our talk,’ thereby bringing our faith to the world that cries out for God’s mercy, justice and compassion.”  One of the educational efforts of the committee was the Living the Gospel small group series held during Lent of 2011.  Through that small group process, parishioners were able to make connections between the weekly Scripture readings and the principles of Catholic Social Teaching, thereby relating the Gospel to today’s justice issues.

The committee also looks for ways to connect charity with justice.  We are blessed to have so many parishioners involved in our many social outreach ministries.  The Committee seeks to find ways to support these hands-on ministries, but also to help the volunteers in those ministries make the connection between their work and the larger issues of social justice those programs touch on.  For example, we can respond to hunger by volunteering to cook and serve at the Cathedral Kitchen, but also by supporting advocacy efforts to eliminate domestic and international hunger through our Bread for the World offering of letters.  Helping parishioners make these kinds of connections really helps us to live out the call to practice both charity and justice. 

Finally, the committee promotes advocacy for justice, and is involved in a variety of advocacy efforts:  promoting Faithful Citizenship, Catholic Advocacy Day, the Dialog for Justice, and the March for Life, all of which seek to connect parishioners with public officials to bring our concern for the poor and the marginalized to those in power.  The committee also serves as an umbrella group for other issue-specific advocacy efforts here, including the Housing Advocacy Committee, the Environmental Justice Committee, and the Justice for Immigrants campaign. 

Given the complex issues in our contemporary world, there is no end of work for the Life, Peace and Justice Committee.  We’re open to your thoughts—please feel free to contact us!

Patty Bowman is the Director of Outreach at St. James Cathedral


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