Basic Catholic teaching brings often-divided ministries together

  • Written by Greg Magnoni
  • Published in Local
Thousands of pro-lifers crowded onto the steps of the state Capitol in Olympia during the Washington State March for Life on Jan. 21, 2014. Photo: Anna Weaver Thousands of pro-lifers crowded onto the steps of the state Capitol in Olympia during the Washington State March for Life on Jan. 21, 2014. Photo: Anna Weaver

Parish life, justice and peace advocates met in Seattle Sept. 24 for briefings on the issues to protect the unborn, the poor, the marginalized and those at the end of life.  

At St. Olaf Parish in Poulsbo, Joanne Graves heads up the respect life committee and is a member of the peace and justice committee. When she participates in the Mass for Life, with its pro-life focus, and Catholic Advocacy Day, with its social justice emphasis, she usually sees different people in attendance.

Some people, Graves said, “are passionate about life issues and some are passionate about social justice.”

“But the church teaches what she teaches because she loves the people out there,” she said. “This is what the church teaches, and she teaches it because we love our neighbor.”

Life, peace and justice ministries are built on one basic Catholic teaching: that dignity is inherent to every human life. However, as Graves’ experience illustrates, advocating for the unborn and the poor, and providing food and shelter to the hungry and homeless, take ministry leaders down different — and often divergent — paths.

In the Archdiocese of Seattle, for instance, pro-life advocates make a major commitment each year to the Mass for Life and the March for Life in January. Those who advocate for the poor place similar emphasis on Catholic Advocacy Day, the annual trek to Olympia to make sure state legislators don’t forget poverty programs when writing state budgets.

The good news in our archdiocese, said Holy Names Sister Linda Haydock, executive director of the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center, is that there is a partnership among the bishops, religious orders, Catholic Community Services and organizations like IPJC to address the whole spectrum of life, peace and justice issues.

Sister Linda was one of three panelists who briefed a gathering of about 40 parish leaders of life, peace and justice ministries Sept. 24 in Seattle. The gathering was sponsored by the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Faith Formation and Missions Office, to discuss advocacy measures and new developments in these areas of ministry.

One of those developments is a first-ever statewide conference that will bring Catholics interested in life issues and those interested in justice issues together under one roof. The Cornerstone Catholic Conference, jointly sponsored by the state’s bishops, is scheduled Oct. 24-25 at the Tacoma Convention Center. The event includes speakers and workshops on advocacy for the unborn, the poor, victims of human trafficking, those at the end of life and more.

Bringing people together

Frances Farrell, parish coordinator at Christ Our Hope Parish in downtown Seattle, said the archdiocesan gathering was helpful because it offered the opportunity to discuss with her peers the issues they deal with day to day. In her ministry role, she provides outreach not only to the many homeless on the city’s streets, but also to residents of the Josephinum, a low-income apartment building that houses the parish. Like Graves, she has been responsible for the full spectrum of life and justice issues.

“It’s always good to hear from and sit together with people working in the same area,” Farrell said, “because you get information supporting each other and getting to know each other and to find out if there’s something new out there.”

The table talk during the gathering also included the split between pro-life Catholics and social-justice Catholics.

“Life, justice and peace is such a mandate of our faith,” said Teri McMahon, pastoral assistant for youth ministry at St. Joseph Parish in Vancouver, who also coordinates life, peace and justice ministries. “You’d think it would be more accepted, but it’s not.”

Farrell said the ministry leaders “talked about division, and talked about how to bring people together, finding a way to bring spirituality into the conversation so that it’s not a political conversation.”

Major grant, ballot measures

Attendees also learned that Catholic Community Services has received a grant of nearly $500,000 from the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Mary C. Brown of CCS reported that half the funding is designated for Prepares, a new pregnancy support initiative by the state’s bishops; the other half will be divided between farmworker and African American community initiatives

Brown also gave an update on Dialogue for Justice, a parish-based advocacy effort that organizes in-district meetings with state legislators to raise awareness about the needs of the poor.

Dominican Sister Sharon Park, executive director of the Washington State Catholic Conference, briefed attendees on initiatives and advisory measures that will appear on the November ballot. Two initiatives take up the issue of gun sales, including Initiative 594, which the bishops support. Another initiative measure, I-1351, would mandate spending nearly $5 billion to reduce class size in public schools.