Parish social ministry is an expression of love, Rachel Lustig told a gathering of parishioners from the Archdiocese of St. Louis and surrounding areas Oct. 22.
“We are doing this work because of what Jesus did for us,” Lustig said.
A senior vice president of mission and ministry for Catholic Charities USA, Lustig gave a talk at the Parish Social Ministry Regional Training in St. Louis attended by more than 160 people. The program sought to re-examine the connection between faith and justice, develop skills and strategies and help participants be heard, challenged and encouraged.
Lustig cited 12 characteristics of parish social ministry, noting the U.S. bishops’ statement that one of the most encouraging signs of the Gospel at work is the vitality and quality of social justice ministries in parishes. Parish social ministry is a form of discipleship through which the parish works with individuals, families and communities to address need and suffering, eliminate oppression and build a just and compassionate society, she said.
The work is completed “as a conduit of God’s love in society,” Lustig said.
The ministry is not easy, driving people to places they do not want to go, to reach out to those who have been ostracized and name systems that take advantage of some at the expense of others, Lustig noted. Those involved in the parish ministry are called to be the face of Christ and see the face of Christ in others, she added.
The parish ministry accepts the blessedness and brokenness of all humans and believes that with God’s grace things can be made more perfect, Lustig said. Parishes minister to and with poor, vulnerable and suffering people with a combination of relief, individual development, community development and organizing, and partnership and structural-change strategies to address symptoms and sources of suffering, need and injustice.
At a workshop on advocacy, Kathy Brown of Catholic Charities USA said the guide, rooted in Gospel values, is that “we believe in the sacredness of all life and the dignity of the human person.”
She cited the story of creation in the Bible and said “we were created into a community, as a relationship. We were not created as individuals. … we are ‘our brother’s keeper.’”
This view is counter to society’s emphasis on individualism, Brown said, pointing to various saints and others who have been advocates. She noted that Blessed John Paul II stated that service to the poor also involves speaking up for them and trying to reform structures that cause or perpetuate their oppression. Pope Benedict XVI also has spoken out on the need to be involved in advocacy.
Parishioners who came to the program said they came to learn. “I want to get involved in social justice. We have some programs at the parish, and I want to see how to go about it,” said Jeanette Froehlich of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Oakville.
Karla and Jorge Perez of All Saints Parish in St. Peters, who have been involved with mission trips, had similar motivation. “We want to do something here (locally), and this is a good starting place,” Karla Perez said.
Marianne Marxkors of St. Ferdinand Parish in Florissant said, “I want to learn how to more effectively instill in the people of the parish their power and their right to be advocates.”