Justice convocation to feature papal biographer, focus on pandemic lessons

BOSTON -- The coronavirus pandemic revealed and exacerbated many forms of injustice in society, and this year's social justice convocation will examine what they are and what can be done about them.

The annual archdiocesan convocation will take place in a virtual format on Nov. 13 from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The theme this year is the title of Pope Francis' book, "Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future." The keynote speaker will be Austen Ivereigh, the official biographer of Pope Francis, with whom he collaborated on the book.

The event will include a prerecorded Mass celebrated by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley and Father Phong Pham, the pastor of Blessed Andrew Phu Yen Parish in Medford. Father J. Bryan Hehir, the archdiocese's secretary for health and social services, will also offer commentary, and MC Sullivan, chief healthcare ethicist, will give a reflection on lessons from the pandemic. Finally, Pat Dinneen will give an update on the activities of the archdiocese's Social Justice Ministry, of which she is the chair.

In an Oct. 25 interview, Dinneen said she believes strongly in the power of peer-to-peer learning. That is, she said, what the Social Justice Ministry enables by organizing events like the convocation and compiling databases of groups and resources, helping people to find mentors and companions to accompany them on their journeys.

She said the ministry's job is to be "catalysts" for parishes and collaboratives, giving them tools to establish or strengthen their own social justice ministries.

Last year, the convocation focused on racial justice, and was followed by a series of workshops. About three dozen parishes held discussion groups after the convocation or utilized resources shared during the workshops. The Social Justice Ministry compiled a database of parishes that established their own racial justice groups, which is available on their website.

"We will not give up the struggle. We will continue to focus on racial justice until the root causes of individual and systemic racism are eradicated," Dinneen said.

"We feel that our role at the ministry is to promote collaboration and to provide the resources, like the database, to help people act. And not everybody can do everything, but everybody can do something to help," Dinneen said.

She said she thinks it is "incredibly relevant and urgent for the Archdiocese of Boston, as it is for the rest of the world, to learn from this pandemic."

"As the pope says in his book, you do not come through a crisis the same. You come out for the better or for the worse, but never just the same," she said.

She said the theme "fits beautifully with what have always been our objectives for the convocation."

The first of these objectives is education and awareness.

"This pandemic has exposed so many injustices and inequities right here in Boston and right here in our own hearts as well as our systems," Dinneen said, citing healthcare inequity and food insecurity as examples.

The next objective is prayer and discernment.

"As we listen to the keynote speakers and engage in the convocation, we pray, we listen to the Holy Spirit, what is the Spirit calling us to be and to do," she said.

Finally, she said, the convocation serves as a call to action.

"This is the part that I think we really try to promote in the convocation, and the pope really tries to promote in all that he does," Dinneen said.

She said they hope to have at least one representative from every parish and collaborative participate in this year's convocation.

"We really want to hear from all the voices and increase the diversity so that this can be a real way to build solidarity in the Archdiocese of Boston and build the foundation for a more just, equitable, and better future," she said.

Information about the Social Justice Ministry can be found at bostoncatholic.org/health-and-social-services/social-justice-ministry.