CCCB National Forum Looks at Social Justice: From Words to Action

Thursday, April 29 2004

(CCCB-Ottawa) – Representatives from 20 national Catholic associations were told that the social justice mission of the Church requires a well integrated sense of spirituality, a creative approach to difficult challenges and a better understanding of the people being helped.

The 37 participants were attending the annual forum of the Episcopal Commission for Associations of Clergy, Consecrated Life and the Laity of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops that was held April 23-24 in Ottawa.

The forum began with Dominican Father Michel Côté, who worked for many years as a worker-priest in Ottawa, describing how social justice involvement must spring from an understanding of God that integrates the spiritual with the physical, emotional and socio-political. To do otherwise, he said, creates an imbalance leading to excesses such as idolatry, militarism, sexism, racism and materialism that are contrary to God’s love.

“Social justice is not an ideology,” said Father Côté. “It is a spirituality of commitment that allows us to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly before our God. Each of us was created in the image and likeness of God, no matter where we are in the world. As such, everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.”

CCCB Social Affairs Director Joe Gunn, in addressing some of the chief challenges for social justice in Canada, said “the contemporary challenge for Christians is precisely to decide, everyday, in many ways, how I am not for sale, how my values are not for sale, and how and where I must say ‘no!’ to market values in order to strive to accept Christian values.” He went on to say that “Christians must be participants instead of spectators.”

Robert Letendre, former Executive Director of Development and Peace, the Canadian Catholic international solidarity organization which has a twofold mandate of providing aid in Third World countries and of educating Canadians about social justice issues throughout the world, explained that “we not only need to speak prophecies, but also to be assured that they make an impact. Jonah walking to Ninevah today is a Jonah who is learning the social sciences, mastering the world of communications, and understanding the mechanics of political change in a way that will change the world. There is nothing anti-Christian about being effective and accomplishing our projects of social transformation.”

Looking at the issue more personally, Mr. Letendre said all this is impossible if we do not have love. “Personally, our actions mean nothing without caritas, which is not only a virtue but the foundation of our faith in a Triune God who is overflowing with love for his creation. Without this love, work for justice is meaningless and has no direction. If you were to ask me to summarize the challenges that need to be overcome, I would say that it is placing charity at the heart of our actions. Tomorrow’s prophet will be everything but a judge. He will need to be overflowing with love, always ready, in this confused universe, to put forward new ideas on how we can all benefit from the goods of this earth.”

The Chairman of the Episcopal Commission for Associations of Clergy, Consecrated Life and the Laity, Archbishop André Richard, C.S.C., of Moncton told the representatives that “social justice for Christians is not an option. It is an essential activity in the life of the Church that is demanded of us through our baptism.”

The week-end forum was attended by representatives from l’Arche Canada, L’Association des Scouts du Canada, Canadian Catholic Campus Ministry, Canadian Catholic Student Association, Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, Canadian Catholic School Trustees’ Association, Canadian Religious Conference, Catholic Health Association of Canada, the Catholic Women’s League of Canada, Canadian Conference of Secular Institutes, Faith and Light, National Federation of Presbyteral Councils, Ascending Life in Canada, the Ukrainian Catholic Council, the Canadian Association of Ministries Programs and the Catholic Organization for Life and Family.

The Episcopal Commission for Associations of Clergy, Consecrated Life and the Laity holds an annual forum on topics of interest to the Catholic community in Canada.