Togetherness is all

Coleman, John A.

John A. Coleman TOGETHERNESS IS ALL In the search for justice The spectacle of three thousand American Catholics spending four days reflecting on justice and Catholic social teaching was,...

...Some of the participants reported that while they were deeply nurtured by the gathering, they came away without much of a clue as to what grounded the proposed social-justice principles...
...John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, for example, spoke of his work for the dignity and rights of workers...
...John A. Coleman, S.J., is Casassa Professor of Social Values, Loyola-Marymount University, Los Angeles...
...Each of the plenary sessions was embedded in such a carefully constructed liturgical setting...
...It generates institutions because it recognizes that they anchor a vision and activate the community...
...Higgins, the legendary labor priest, could not recall, in his long career as an ecclesial social animator, a previous event remotely like this one...
...Music, song, and dance added to their symbolic richness...
...John A. Coleman TOGETHERNESS IS ALL In the search for justice The spectacle of three thousand American Catholics spending four days reflecting on justice and Catholic social teaching was, declared Monsignor George Higgins, "a miracle...
...It is those institutions, rather than think tanks or ad hoc movements, that test public policies against the church's justice agenda, and it is they that provided the majority of speakers at the Los Angeles gathering...
...The Nobel peace laureate, Bishop Carlos Belo, linked the theme of rights and responsibilities to his struggle for a just society in East Timor...
...Martina O'Sullivan, director of Catholic Charities of Monterey, California, admitted that she had not anticipated being so spiritually moved and nurtured...
...From the vantage point of religious education, the genius of the Los Angeles gathering was its pedagogical Unking of Catholic social teaching to a simplified (but not simplistic) list of seven capsule slogans...
...But a learning experience from the Jubilee gathering might take a leaf from Hehir: The church is the institutional church because it keeps generating institutions to embody and carry on its values...
...The Jubilee Justice Congress, held on the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles (July 15-18) was, he concluded, well planned, well executed, and focused entirely on justice issues...
...The impressive array of American Catholic institutions (schools, parishes, dioceses, hospitals, Catholic Charities agencies, statewide Catholic conferences) has learned to connect hands-on services with issues of public policy on a day-to-day basis...
...A final paradoxical lesson from the Jubilee gathering is that, although the institutional strength of the Catholic church is vigorous, very few of the plenary sessions explicitly pointed out this linkage or hinted that visions that are not institutionalized die on the vine...
...Institutional imagination goes strongly against the American grain with its exaggerated individualism...
...the dignity of work and the rights of workers...
...They gained little sense of the history that gave rise to the seven principles or a deeper intellectual grasp of how these cohered or were rooted in the Catholic tradition...
...Third, Catholic social teaching must speak to the mind as well as the heart...
...In retrospect, I do not share his apprehensions...
...Many of the "ordinary" parishioners were decidedly middle and upper-middle class...
...Four lessons can be drawn from the congress: First, Catholic social teaching can serve as a common ground among ideologically divided Catholics...
...Throughout the four days parallel sessions were organized for children and for high school students...
...Second, Catholic social teaching has intellectual content, a historical background, a trajectory into the future...
...There were, for example, directors and staff from Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Relief Services, and the Campaign for Human Development...
...Thus, during a celebration of reconciliation, Sister Helen Prejean spoke about her work to end capital punishment...
...The almost universal enthusiasm of these diverse participants demonstrated that, when properly presented, Catholic social teaching can still function as a common ground for Catholics engaged in the world...
...In one of the plenary sessions, the Reverend Eugene Rivers, an African-American Pentecostal minister working in Boston, paid a glowing tribute to the specifically intellectual resources inherent in Catholic social teaching that allow a graceful mediation from a biblical vision to policy and action...
...This rich and more dynamic sense of a church directed at moving toward institutionalization need not carry connotations of a status quo hierarchalism...
...But a caveat is needed...
...Four, the seriousness of commitment to Catholic social teaching is linked to institutional imagination and implementation...
...It also brought together a remarkably diverse group of people from social activists to ordinary parishioners...
...But even ordinary parishioners need and want to know not only what the capstone ideas are, but also how they are grounded in our tradition...
...Add to these a sampling of diocesan and parish social-justice commissions and a small number of community organizers...
...Catholic institutional networks were well represented...
...There is a major paradox here...
...There was too little talk about how to move from new visions to incipient forms of strategic institutionalization...
...rights and responsibilities...
...the option for the poor and vulnerable...
...A range of participants came from groups closely connected to prolife and anti-euthanasia concerns...
...the call to family, community, and participation...
...Five plenary sessions rooted the congress's social-justice concerns in prayer, spirituality, liturgy, and the Eucharist...
...Other groups included the Catholic AIDS Network, the Catholic Daughters of America, the Catholic Health Association, the Association of Diocesan Social Action Directors, the Black Catholic Congress, the Catholic Rural Life Conference, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, and Pax Christi USA...
...The institutional association of so many participants mirrored the observation of J. Bryan Hehir that the Catholic church is, quintessentially, the institutional church...
...Finally, seven conference participants gave brief personal testimonies...
...solidarity...
...Some such institutional imagination and emphasis seem essential in order to pass on the central Catholic notions of the common good and justice as we work toward a well-structured, participatory society...
...To be sure, this was not a meeting of intellectuals...
...These young people joined their elders for all the large liturgical events and plenary sessions...
...Then, lectors proclaimed brief scriptural passages illustrating each of the themes...
...The gathering was, atypically for Catholics, designed to be family-friendly and family-inclusive...
...Many Catholics, too, reject a model of the church that emphasizes its institutional character, out of fear of a static and overly exclusive emphasis on hierarchy...
...care for God's creation...
...All told, more than forty national Catholic organizations provided the initial lists for generating attendance...
...Clearly, the imaginative way the Jubilee gathering tried to link concepts to song, music, Scripture, worship, iconic banners, and living human testimonials remains an essential component for promoting Catholic social teaching...
...Commonweal 13 September 24,1999...
...If we are to construe Catholic identity partially around the centrality of Catholic social teaching, it will have to be presented in ways that will allow it to serve as a "common ground" for Catholics of varying social classes, ethnic groups, and ideological tendencies...
...He said he used it as a supplement to the personal narrative testimonials and spirituality so prevalent in his Pentecostal church...
...Perhaps the most moving plenary session occurred on Saturday when seven participants marched in procession holding aloft colorful banners enumerating seven principles of Catholic social teaching: Commonweal 12 September 24,1999 the life and dignity of the human person...
...A problem occurs when the principles, iconically and emotionally well-illustrated, remain unrooted in a richer historical and intellectual analysis...
...The Jubilee gathering was not simply the Democratic party at prayer...
...Key concepts or policy proposals were enriched with poetry, art, and song...
...Yet, in very few of the congress sessions did that larger, intellectually grounded vision find a voice...
...Jesuit peace activist John Dear, of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, grumbled to me before the congress convened that its organizers had "sanitized" and "controlled" the range of presenters...

Vol. 126 • September 1999 • No. 16


 
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