WASHINGTON (November 18, 1999) -- The nation's Catholic bishops today issued a statement challenging all people of faith to greater solidarity with people in need and calling on Catholics to turn the Church's social message from theory into action by learning about and responding to their vulnerable brothers and sisters.
The pastoral letter, "In All Things Charity: A Pastoral Challenge for the New Millennium," was approved today by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops at their annual meeting in Washington.
Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan, Auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn, who chaired the committee that wrote the document, said the pastoral's message for the average Catholic is that "charity embraces justice; the two virtues are integral to the church's social mission."
"Charity's minimal demand is justice," Bishop Sullivan said, adding that the pastoral is designed not only to recognize the accomplishments of Catholic Charities and other Church social agencies but also "to inspire the broader Catholic community to an active participation in the works of justice and social charity."
The barriers preventing billions of women, men, and children from sharing the Earth's bounty will be lifted only when believers put their faith into action, the bishops wrote. They urged Catholics to deepen their commitment to serve their neighbors in need as the third millennium begins by signing and promoting the Jubilee Pledge for Charity, Justice, and Peace. (See Pledge at end of release.)
Noting the extent of poverty that still exists at home and abroad, the pastoral delivers a challenge to individuals and groups in the Church.
As a new century approaches, the bishops call all Christians to reject lifestyles of individualism, excessive consumption, and "me-first" politics. "The Gospel … urges us to be persons for others, deeply committed to the well-being of all members of the human family," they wrote.
In the interest of the common good, Catholics should nurture their alliances with private-sector businesses, associations, and unions as well as with the public sector in their efforts to help people in need, the bishops said. Society's public policies form the litmus test for whether that society is just, and government insurance and income support systems must ensure an economic safety net for people who cannot find fair wages or cannot work due to age, disability, parental responsibilities, or another cause, they wrote.
While it has been evident since the Great Depression that the government alone can develop resources to ensure regular income support for aged, disabled, or otherwise needy families, this principle has been under attack in recent years, the bishops wrote. A negative attitude has "developed with regard to the responsibility of government to develop the policies and programs that make it possible for all people to fulfill their basic human needs," they said.
Families, besides taking care of their own, are children's "first schools of compassion and mercy, of solidarity and justice," the bishops wrote. Parents can teach their children action for charity and justice by being involved in parish social ministry activities or volunteer service to people in need through Catholic Charities or other organizations, they wrote.
Parishes are called to greater consciousness as well as more determined action on behalf of people in need.
"Our social tradition remains unknown to many parishioners, and parish social ministry remains the task for too few," the document states. Parish leaders and members should collaborate with Catholic Charities agencies, diocesan offices for justice and peace, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Catholic Relief Services, and Migration and Refugee Services in order to enhance service and advocacy.
The word of God proclaimed during Mass "must affirm and celebrate the parish's work for charity, justice, and peace," the bishops said. "The word must inspire social analysis and concerted action, leading the people of God to a renewed commitment to the poor."
"We strongly appeal to our diocesan and parish communities to support the activities and form partnerships with Catholic Charities," they added.
Noting the millions of people helped each year through local Catholic Charities agencies, the bishops extended their "heartfelt gratitude and encouragement to those countless individuals who, over the years, have been engaged in Catholic Charities service at the parish, diocesan, and national levels."
"We in the Catholic Charities movement appreciate the bishops' acknowledgment and vow to continue our works for justice and service to people in need," said Jesuit Father Fred Kammer, president of Catholic Charities USA. "We invite all Catholics—individually and through their parishes—to join our efforts to bring charity and justice to everyone in need, including the 10 million people helped by local Catholic Charities agencies each year."
The bishops also laud the Catholic Campaign for Human Development's strong and effective history that "convinces us that community organizing, community-based economic development, and education for social change must be integral components of a wider range of Catholic social ministries."
Catholic Relief Services was praised for its efforts abroad where, in more than 80 countries, "CRS provides active expressions of Christ's love in the world and strengthens the local Catholic Church's ability to serve the poor and to advocate justice."
The refugee assistance efforts of the U.S. Catholic Conference's Migration and Refugee Services, in partnership with many Catholic Charities agencies, are "a testimony to our solidarity with the poor and disenfranchised," the statement said.
The bishops lauded the Church's long tradition of defending those living in poverty, supporting charitable institutions, and promoting justice.
"A celebration of our heritage in charity should be observed with our grateful and joyous acknowledgment of the many holy women and men who shaped our tradition and ministry," they wrote, citing saints and others "who challenged us to deepen our identification with and commitment to those living in poverty."
The pastoral also recognizes the contributions of religious congregations and lay associations of the Church and urges them to collaborate in Church efforts for charity.
A Jubilee Pledge for Charity, Justice, and Peace
A Catholic Commitment for the New Millennium
The jubilee of our Lord's birth calls us "to bring glad tidings to the poor … to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free" (Lk 4:18).
As disciples of Jesus in the new millennium, I/we pledge to:
PRAY regularly for greater justice and peace.
LEARN more about Catholic social teaching and its call to protect human life, stand with the poor, and care for creation.
REACH across boundaries of religion, race, ethnicity, gender, and disabling conditions.
LIVE justly in family life, school, work, the marketplace, and the political arena.
SERVE those who are poor and vulnerable, sharing more time and talent.
GIVE more generously to those in need at home and abroad.
ADVOCATE for public policies that protect human life, promote human dignity, preserve God's creation, and build peace.
ENCOURAGE others to work for greater charity, justice, and peace.
Prepared by the Subcommittee of the Third Millennium and other committees of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/U.S. Catholic Conference.