The plight of seasonal workers and the need for affordable housing were among issues at the centre of a social justice workshop in Nelson last month which lead participants to search for meaning in Catholic social teaching.
Another issue which provoked discussion was the care of the elderly and the appalling wages paid to caregivers by the multinationals who own most residential aged-care facilities in New Zealand. All this was alongside a realisation that the Eucharist with its call to action is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life’.
The rain didn’t deter three car loads of parishioners from St Mary’s in Blenheim joining others from Nelson, Richmond, Reefton and Motueka at the workshop in the Richmond Parish Centre on March 1.
Facilitated in an engaging and inclusive way by Sr Mary Hepburn, the workshop began with a reflection from Nelson parishioner Judy McInerney on the gifts, life and sudden death the previous weekend of a social justice stalwart from that parish, Joe Kelly.
We were then asked to share our motivation to work for social justice. Responses from the close to 30 attendees included: injustice; the fact that a member of our family could be suffering; Jesus’s invocation to love thy neighbour; consciousness raising; as an expression of our faith; an attempt to take on board the character of Jesus and it was an expression of authentic Christianity.
In a getting-to-know-you exercise we were asked, among other less weighty concerns, to name one of the church’s social justice documents. For this writer anyway, a dearth of knowledge provided an incentive to come to understand in greater depth the church’s teachings in this crucial area.
Sr Mary reminded us that the 2006 Synod expressed a conviction that “by 2011 everyone will know and understand that social justice is at the heart of the gospel”.
It’s a big ask but the workshop was one small step on this journey. We were reminded that Catholic social teaching gives “principles of reflection, criteria for judgements and directions for action:”. The workshop listed modern Catholic social teaching and briefly outlined the 11 principles of Catholic social teaching: human dignity; human equality; respect for human life; the principles of association, participation, the common good, solidarity; preferential protection for the poor and vulnerable; the principle of stewardship; the universal destination of goods; and the principles of subsidiarity. The workshop also looked at methods for analysis and actions as a way of moving forward, rather than becoming overwhelmed by all that needs to be addressed.
As well as the consideration of the central role of the Eucharist as “the source and summit of the Christian life”, we heard that a Eucharist “which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented”.
Towards the end of the workshop we were asked to divide into groups and come up with a social justice issue, what resources would be needed to enable action and what actions could be taken to ameliorate the need. Here we discussed housing, and the multinationals’ domination of rest home care facilities.
One action that came out of our discussions was the idea of holding a parish forum for local election candidates to share their views and policies on local and national social justice issues.
A shared lunch provided an opportunity to connect with those from other parishes and to talk about what we could do within and across our parishes to make social justice an integral part of parish life.
Sr Mary commented that it was a privilege to have three priests at the workshop: Fr Pat McCulloch (Stoke), Fr Phil King Turner (Reefton) and Fr David Dowling (Blenheim).
All those who attended the workshop felt energized by it and determined to together, play their small part in making the synod vision a reality.