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The 11th annual Social Justice Convocation held Oct. 5 at Boston College High School included Mass, workshops, small-group discussions, and keynote speaker Janine Carreiro, whom Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley awarded the inaugural Pope Francis Social Justice Award.
Following the creation of an Archdiocesan Social Justice Ministry at last year's convocation, this year's event focused on the commissioning of representatives from parishes to go forth and change their communities as ministers of peace and justice. Throughout the day, there were opportunities for networking with exhibitors from various Catholic social justice organizations.
The daylong program started with Mass, celebrated by Father J. Bryan Hehir, who set the tone in his homily that "we are called to build the earth."
"We are called to accept the world as coming from God's hands, but to recognize that the world is marked by sin, division, and injustice. We do not stop with those three -- we are called to reshape the world. That is what the ministry of justice and peace is about," Father Hehir explained.
He went on to note that the faithful must be the kingdom of God, which changes whatever it touches, overcoming sin, healing division, and ending injustice.
He said that to be Catholic is not only to be rooted in Scripture, but to be ecclesial, and he outlined "three ways in which the Church, in its ecclesial teaching, reflecting on the Scriptures, has described what the ministry of peace and justice should be."
The first is recognizing the statement from the Second Vatican Council that the liturgy is the "source and summit" of our faith, and thus "it is entirely appropriate that we start here at the altar."
Second, he said, is realizing "the work of justice and transformation of the world are a constitutional dimension of the life of the Church," as stated by the 1974 synod of bishops. Social justice is not an optional or marginal piece of the Church, but rather "central to the Church, and central to what it means to be Catholic."
Lastly, Father Hehir advised taking after the model of Pope Francis, who is "steeped in the ministry of peace and justice," not attracting attention to himself, but working to build and shape the Church from the ground up.
Following Mass was the keynote by Janine Carreiro, co-director of Massachusetts Communities Action Network (MCAN) and the inaugural awardee of the Pope Francis Social Justice award, which Cardinal O'Malley presented to Carreiro via video from Rome.
Carreiro captivated the room, speaking through tears of passion, and beginning by referring to the convocation's theme of Micah 6:8, "Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God," and then making a point to remove her shoes on stage.
Explaining the tradition in our faith to remove our shoes when walking on holy ground, she stated, "I believe that the space and opportunity we have today is creating holy ground."
She recounted her childhood experiences of service, and how after serving at a soup kitchen week after week, she wondered why the same people continued to be homeless and if anyone was helping them.
Carreiro said, "As someone who is in the world, fighting for a more loving future for all of our children -- black, brown, you name it -- I often feel like I'm in the middle of a war. It's a war for the hearts and minds of our nation, a war that if I won, every man, woman, and child would have access to a life filled with abundance, and where tomorrow is more of a promise than a threat."
Assessing the room, she asked the assembly to raise their hands if they were looking to make the world a better place, to make a greater impact, and to find where God is calling them to serve. "God's waiting for you. There's something here for you today, and I hope you find what you're looking for."
She told stories about serving as a teacher in East Timor, reflecting on the privilege of the color of her skin or the access of her passport and wondering, "What am I doing here? And where is God? What kind of God lets this happen?" She realized that volunteering alone was not going to change the world.
"Actually, my experience was more like playing in the band on the Titanic. The ship is sinking and I don't know what else to do, so I'm going to keep playing. Have you ever thought, why am I actually doing this? Does it actually matter? And when it didn't matter in the way you wanted it to, did you have the guts to stop?" she said.
After rough times and finding her way to the organizing side of service, she said she had her "rose-colored glasses" taken off. She then posed the question to the attendees, "Are you ready to remove your rose-colored glasses to the world, too? Take a deep breath; you didn't come here to be comfortable."
Carreiro proceeded to challenge those listening to reassess how they play into the "international network of slavery" that she said so many big-name brands knowingly take part in. She posed more questions: That if we believe that all people are children of God, then how does that impact how we shop, how we act, where we move, and what resources our communities receive? If we believe in inclusion, why are Christian churches filled with "images of Jesus that look a lot more like me than he ever actually did?" She concluded, "It's easy to get stuck here, but organizing is about hope."
She ended with reminders to walk with God, not ahead, to be with people in order to see them, to invest in people on the ground, to build relationships, and to "find a fight" and start working.
Archdiocesan Social Justice Ministry Chair Patricia Dinneen explained that the convocation serves as "an attempt to bring people together and build the movement. This is the foundation." She explained that the archdiocese is home to so many strong social justice groups that are independently working, but this new ministry provides an opportunity for collaboration.
In addition to continuing the convocation, the ministry has several upcoming initiatives, including a speaker's bureau to aid parishes' social justice conversations, an online resource center, and an advising group to meet quarterly with the cardinal on these issues.
Additionally, the ministry is working to help collaborative parishes include a social justice plan in their pastoral planning, and six parishes have already done so.
Dinneen said they "are not just waiting for next fall, as they also hope to host more regional convocations throughout the year, specifically at college campuses, geared toward younger people.
"This is not an option for us, this is who we are. This is part of being Catholic. By bringing people together, we celebrate that Catholic Social Teaching is part of who we are," Dinneen explained. "We can't blame people at the top, we have to take responsibility and make change. That's what is exciting about bringing people together for the Convocation; these people are meant to be ambassadors to their parishes and communities now. That's what makes me excited."