By Julie Asher | OSV News
WASHINGTON (OSV News) – Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington thanked attendees at the 2023 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering for “the service and sacrifices” they make to “preach the Gospel and share Catholic teaching in these discordant times.”
“Yours is a worthy and holy vocation, and a sign of faith, hope and love coming alive,” he said in his homily during the gathering’s “Sending Mass” Jan. 31, the feast of St. John Bosco. “It is ‘Good News’ which brings us together around this altar, this day. I ask you to continue to pursue this mission with creativity, persistence and fidelity.”
“You are carriers” of the social mission of the church, “articulators of this vision, builders of this ministry,” the cardinal said. “In these difficult days, we need to reach out more broadly to make our case more effectively, and call the entire Catholic community in the United States to a renewed and more urgent sense of social mission.”
The morning Mass celebrated by Cardinal Gregory came on the final day of the Jan. 28-31 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering. The liturgy served as a “sending forth” of the gathering’s attendees, who were heading to Capitol Hill later in the day to advocate on a broad swathe of issues related to the church’s social teaching in meetings with their congressional representatives and other policymakers.
The issues were reflected in the gathering’s agenda with plenary sessions and workshops focused on workers’ rights, migrants and refugees, housing inequities, hunger and food insecurity, poverty, climate change, systemic racism, gun violence, restorative justice, abortion, domestic violence, and “pro-woman and pro-family policies” to build a “truly pro-life society.”
Cardinal Gregory said the day’s Gospel reading provided Jesus Christ’s example for those carrying out the church’s social mission today.
The reading, Mark 5:21-43, recounts Jesus going to the home of Jairus, a leader of the local synagogue, who says his 12-year-old daughter is near death, and he begs Jesus to come to his house. Jesus is surrounded by a huge crowd as he walks to the house. Along the way, a woman who has suffered from hemorrhages her entire life touches the hem of Jesus’ cloak and is cured.
Once at Jairus’ house, Jesus is brought to the girl, who is now dead. When Jesus tells the crowd gathered there the girl is not dead, but is asleep, they laugh at him. But at Jesus’ word, she awakes.
“Jesus confronts and overcomes death itself. … Let us follow the example of the Lord,” Cardinal Gregory said. “This is a time for our social mission and message. This is time for a word of hope. Crisis frequently gives birth to courage. The possibility of war can awaken voices of peace. Times of trouble can bring new commitment to social ministry. We must follow Jesus, who went out ‘preaching and driving out demons.'”
Today’s demons the church must confront include “the persistent sexual abuse crisis, terror, war, oppression, racism, poverty and other threats to human life and dignity.”
Cardinal Gregory acknowledged that those in social ministry “often work in situations where most people without hope — like the crowds that declared the little girl had already died — too easily give up confidence in God’s power to achieve his goal of renewal. We cannot succumb to those who denigrate or deny our principles of justice and mercy.”
“We enter the house of Jairus determined,” he said, to keep the dignity of immigrants alive, speak for an end to racism and violence, insist on justice for workers, and stand up against those “who dismiss whole segments of society because of their gender, their language, their sexual orientation, or their physical disabilities.”
“We have a lot of work to do to repair the doubting of the crowds who cynically announce only defeat and despair,” he said, but emphasizing there are countless witnesses who have come before us and faced greater challenges only to triumph with Jesus over them all.
Amid decisions about war and peace and “budget deficits and national priorities, our voice must be heard,” he said. “When life is destroyed in the womb and on death row, on the streets of our cities or in the Holy Land, in villages in Africa and in Iraq, you help us preach the Gospel and share Catholic teaching.”
The social mission of the church is “fundamentally a work of faith,” Cardinal Gregory said. It’s “not an option or fringe, but at the heart of what it means to be Catholic.”
It must be the work of the whole church: families, parishes, schools, colleges and universities and other institutions, he added. “A Catholic community of faith which is not serious about our common social mission is not truly and completely Catholic.”
He cited Pope Francis as a model for carrying out the church’s social mission, noting that the pontiff was that day beginning a trip to Africa to visit the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Jan. 31-Feb. 3) and South Sudan (Feb. 3-5); both countries that “have only known war and poverty,” Cardinal Gregory said.
The pope was traveling there “as a frail man filled with hope,” he said. His vision and calls for peace, debt relief, religious liberty and greater development for the poor “have never changed.”
Catholic principles must “be shared more unambiguously and consistently,” Cardinal Gregory said. “Some may see the voice of bishops as perhaps understandably diminished or compromised, but our voice and the voice of the entire Catholic community is needed more than ever.”
About 500 people representing 100 dioceses in 44 states and the District of Columbia registered for the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, which had as its 2023 theme “Blessed Are the Peacemakers,” taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
The Catholic Social Ministry Gathering is sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, Catholic Charities USA, the Catholic Health Association, Catholic Relief Services and Bread for the World, along with other USCCB offices and 20 national organizations.