By SISTER PAT KEATING, OP
LOS ANGELES, Calif. — The campus at the University of California at Los Angeles buzzed with excitement the week of July 12. By the week’s end, more than 3,000 Catholics had descended upon the school to reflect on the challenges facing us as we approach the new millennium. Those of us who were there representing Catholic Charities participated in The Roundtable, an association of diocesan social action directors. The Roundtable was founded in 1985 to serve those in diocesan offices that link justice and faith in light of traditional Catholic social teaching.
This smaller setting of 100 participants gave an opportunity to slowly immerse in the spirit of jubilee justice and prepare for the days ahead. Jesuit Father Bryan Heir gave an inspiring presentation on the foundations of Catholic social teaching. The Roundtable theme for this year, “Justice Where We Work, Justice Where We Live,” highlighted the role and responsibility of the Church to advocate for justice in the workplace as well as to promote peace and equality in our neighborhoods and communities. Ernesto Cortes, director of the Industrial Areas Foundation, addressed the question: “Where Have We Been, Where Are We Going? The Church and Issues of Race and Ethnicity, Sex and Class.” It gave the participants much to reflect on and a renewed commitment to carry forth the teachings we profess in daily life.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28). A statement from The Roundtable exclaimed, “Nearly 2,000 years have passed since Paul’s letter to the Galatians, and issues of race and ethnicity, class, and sex are still principal obstacles to unity in the church and to justice in the world.”
s we finished up the days at The Roundtable, the flurry of activity on the campus was increasing with the arrival of people from all over the country for the Jubilee Justice gathering. We were happy to meet three other participants from the Diocese of Charleston (no small challenge in this large gathering). There was an air of excitement, a joyful anticipation of so many Catholics coming together to witness to the social mission of the Church. We came together, 3,000 strong, in a spirit of peace. There seemed to be an unspoken solidarity and communion with each other.
We had come to consider the challenge of Isaiah 61:1-3: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has chosen me and sent me to bring good news to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom to those in prison. He has sent me to proclaim that the time has come when the Lord will save his people.”
his Scripture was a recurring theme throughout the weekend, beginning with the homily of Bishop Wilton D. Gregory at the opening liturgy. Bishop Gregory reminded us that today our prisons are not only full they are often temporary dwellings for those destined for death in greater and greater numbers … those who suffer blindness far greater than mere lack of physical vision but rendered blind by hatred and bigotry grow bolder as they not only defend their enmity against others but also shamelessly seek new followers to share their depravity.” His challenge that the next millennium “become for us all a new moment of grace to extend the Lord’s compassionate presence into the lives of those who are still prisoners, poor, forgotten and without a vision of hope” rang loud and clear to all assembled.
ome highlights of the conference in addition to the great enthusiasm and energy generated were:
The wonderful mix of laity, clergy and religious (of course, the overwhelming number were the laity).
The encouragement and support of Church leadership. More than a dozen bishops and archbishops attended, including Cardinal Roger Etchegaray from the Vatican, who brought greetings from Pope John Paul II as well as support for “the struggle you are waging for social justice.” The Catholic Church has taken the lead in linking the celebration of the Jubilee Year 2000 with a renewed call for justice and peace.
The inclusiveness of the gathering. The liturgies, the musical selections, the presenters and the facilitators all represented the beauty of the Church universal in race and culture.
The clear and articulate statements on social issues:
“To reject the immigrant is to kill the spirit of generosity, creativity and open-heartedness that has made this nation great. A nation such as the United States, which has so much, cannot in conscience turn away those who seek only the opportunity for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” said Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“The end of the second millennium is a time of so many paradoxes. In the economic realm tremendous advances in the Internet and other stocks that are making a record number of people into billionaires, while at the same time, so many people are living on the edge of human decency,” said Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles.
The opportunity to explore and more fully comprehend the urgency of some issues. The international debt and its impact on the poorest countries, the campaign to ban landmines, the rights of labor to unionize, and child labor, to name just a few.
The witness of so many faith-filled people:
Bud Welch, whose 23-year-old daughter died in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, met with the father and sister of Timothy McVeigh. He said, “It took me nine months to realize that the death penalty would not heal me.” Welch now speaks against the death penalty and urges bishops and clergy to teach parishioners that the Church opposes capital punishment. Sister of St. Joseph of Medaille Helen Prejean also shared her experience of Death Row in a reconciliation service.
Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo of East Timor, who received the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on human rights. Bishop Belo arrived late for the conference because of trouble with his passport. One of the goals in his country was “to try to teach the military people not to use their guns against others but to defend justice and peace.”
Maria Julia Hernandez, director of Legal Aid for the Archdiocese of San Salvador, who worked with Archbishop Oscar Romero before his assassination. In spite of threats on her life she has continued to work for human rights and reconciliation in that Central American country.
The reflections of the seven themes of Catholic social teaching through individual stories of faith-filled dedicated Christians.
It is somewhat impossible to both capture and communicate the height, breadth, and the depth of such an exciting gathering as this national Catholic conference. I hope that all who experienced it firsthand, including the students and larger community of UCLA, have been energized and motivated to look beyond the Y2K concerns to the real meaning of millennium 2000. For those not present at the conference, there is much that we can do to prepare as individuals, as families, as parishes and as a diocese. It was encouraging to note that so much of what is happening in the Church at large has been set forth for us in Synod directions in the Diocese of Charleston. Catholic Charities USA has instituted a Parish Social Ministry Section to help nurture, foster, and support Catholic parishes in their direct service, advocacy, community organizing and justice education because they see the parish as the focal point for this ministry. Perhaps one commitment we can make is to revisit our Synod documents and recommit our energies to carrying forth these directions. Wherever we start, let’s take heed and give heart to the challenge of the Church to live and work for a more peace-filled and just society for the next millennium.
For information on the Jubilee Pledge for Charity, Justice and Peace, contact your deanery Catholic Charities office.
Dominican Sister Pat Keating is regional coordinator for Catholic Charities in the Coastal Deanery.