WASHINGTON (November 12, 1997) -- Greater solidarity with the poor and suffering of the world must be a high priority for Catholic parishes in the United States, according to a statement approved by the nation's Bishops today during their annual fall meeting.
"Through the eyes of faith, the starving child, the believer in jail and the woman without clean water or health care are not issues, but Jesus in disguise," the statement says. "The Church's teaching on international justice and peace is not simply a mandate for a few large agencies, but a challenge for every Catholic community of faith. ... A parish reaching beyond its own members and beyond national boundaries is a truly 'catholic' parish."
Called to Global Solidarity: International Challenges for U.S. Parishes was developed by the International Policy Committee of the U.S. Catholic Conference. The full body of Bishops will vote to adopt the statement today.
"Several years ago, the Conference issued Communities of Salt and Light, a reflection on the social mission of the parish," said Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of Newark, who chairs the International Policy Committee. "The statement we approved today builds on that earlier statement. It offers a set of challenges for parishes and parishoners, and more importantly, it offers a framework for meeting those challenges."
The statement lays out the moral challenge by asking the ancient biblical question, "Am I my brother's keeper?" The Bishops reply that "for the followers of Jesus, there is only one answer: Yes, indeed, we are our brothers' and sisters' keepers."
The challenge for U.S. Catholics, as members of a universal Church and as citizens of "the largest of the world's wealthy nations," is particularly urgent, according to the Bishops. The statement suggests that there are two options from which to choose.
"One is the path of indifference, even hostility to global responsibilities," the statement says. "Our faith calls us to a different road -- a path of global responsibility."
The solidarity to which U.S. Catholics are called is defined in the statement as "action on behalf of the one human family, calling us to overcome the divisions in our world. Solidarity binds the rich to the poor. It makes the free zealous for the cause of the oppressed. It drives the comfortable and secure to take risks for the victims of tyranny and war."
Grateful for the tremendous generosity of American Catholics to date, the Bishops quickly point to the success of agencies like Catholic Relief Services, Migration and Refugee Services, the Catholic Near East Association, the Holy Childhood Association, and others. In addition, they cite the work of mission societies, volunteer programs, and the generous response to national collections for the Church in Latin America and Eastern Europe, in particular.
"These efforts put the Gospel to work and change lives here and abroad," the Bishops state. "U.S. Catholics are generous and active, committed and concerned. But we must recognize that too many children still die, too many weapons are still sold, and too many believers are still persecuted."
As they noted in the introduction of their statement, however, "the demands of solidarity require not another program, but greater awareness and pastoral integration." A six-point framework for facilitating that integration is included by the Bishops as an appendix to the statement. In summary, the framework suggests:
- Anchoring Solidarity: Prayer, Worship, and Preaching. The Bishops suggest introducing themes of international solidarity into the prayers and homilies of the Mass as a way "we can deepen our understanding of our call to build a world of greater justice and peace."
Teaching Solidarity: Education and Formation. "We strongly support Catholic educators who consistently incorporate international concerns into their curricula and programs."
Living Solidarity: Work, Family, Citizenship. Lay Catholics should make decisions which reflect global responsibilities "in secular roles in business and commerce, in education and communications, in the labor movement and public life."
Investing in Solidarity: Stewardship. U.S. Catholics have responded with tremendous generosity over the years. "While we are proud and encouraged by the generosity of our people, we know we can do more." In addition to treasure, the Bishops urge generosity with time, energy, "indeed our whole lives."
Practicing Solidarity: Outreach and Charity. Parishes are encouraged to begin building relationships which will expose members to the suffering and injustice in the world. Twinning a U.S. parish with a parish in another part of the world is suggested as one possibility.
Promoting Solidarity: Advocacy and Political Responsibility. Compassionate service efforts are only part of the equation. Catholics are also encouraged to become informed and involved in legislative networks and state Catholic Conferences. "Active citizenship by Catholics is also required."
In addition to the framework included in the statement approved by the Bishops today, USCC's Department of Social Development and World Peace will offer a parish resource kit in 1998 to help parish leaders in assessing and strengthening their parish commitment to global solidarity.