TUALATIN — Archbishop Alexander Sample thanked participants at a parish social ministry training here this weekend because they “get it.”
“You all understand that to be disciples of Jesus, to be Catholics, is to truly engage in various forms of ministry that show our love for our neighbor,” he said as he welcomed attendees to the training, which kicked off Friday night at Resurrection Parish with the 25th annual Tobin Lecture.
After the archbishop led the group in prayer, the Archdiocese of Portland’s director of the Office of Life, Justice and Peace, Matt Cato, introduced keynote speaker Joan Rosenhauer.
As executive vice president of Catholic Relief Services’ United States operations, Rosenhauer is responsible for leading the agency’s mission to help Catholics in the United States put their faith into action. During her address, she suggested that the measure of our lives and faith is how we care for the poor.
Scripture calls us all to be “social ministry” people, she said. If people walked into our parishes, Rosenhauer, would they see a balance of the three core dimensions of Catholics’ missions: Celebrating the sacraments, proclaiming the word of God, and exercising the ministry of charity? When she posed this question, no one in the room raised his or her hand.
Rosenhauer also shared examples of CRS’s impact in countries impacted by poverty and violence. She shared an experience of visiting a Rwandan Catholic parish, which is helping victims and attackers reconcile 20 years after genocide killed a million people.
In the Rwandan parish, Rosenhauer watched a woman stand, introduce herself, and declare that her parents and husband were macheted to death during the genocide. Then, a man standing next to her introduced himself and said, “I’m the one who machete her family.” People at the lecture Friday night gasped at the power of the victim’s forgiveness.
On Saturday morning, attendees reconvened for the training, “Opening a Horizon of Hope: Transformed by Christ to Love All,” offered by the Archdioceses of Portland and Seattle, and Catholic Charities of Oregon and Catholic Charities USA.
During his opening keynote, Matt Cato echoed Rosenhauer’s message about the three inseparable elements of being Catholic.
“What is that third one, ‘ministry of charity?’” Cato asked the crowd Saturday morning. “Pope Benedict explains that the ministry of charity is ‘striving to secure a common good,’ not a self-interest or selfish good, that addresses the real needs of our neighbors. The more we do this, the more we love our neighbors.
“That is the commandment, isn’t it,” he asked, “‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Smaller breakout sessions focused on topics like fair trade, models of collaboration and poverty and economic inequality.
Pia de Leon, pastoral associate at St. Clare Parish in Portland, and Father John Kerns, pastor at Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Lake Oswego, co-led a session that helped participants better understand how they can engage in the work of social justice on the parish level and in their daily lives.
“Pope Francis is reminding us by word and example that every single Catholic is called to be attentive to those on the margins of society,” Father Kerns said. “Not just to provide immediate service, compassion and support, but to work to create a more just society that reflects the Gospel and can offer a sustainable hope for the future.”
In talking about social ministry, Catholics are often confronted with a multitude of concerns, social issues, methods of responding to the issues and even interpretations of the issues, de Leon said.
“We are asked to respond to the needs of people, especially those who are most vulnerable,” she said. “But in responding, we are also mandated to bring about unity among the people who serve and who are served — that we are able to come together as a community — with one heart and one mind.”
Whether Catholics are collecting canned goods, serving at soup kitchens or gathering signatures, they are called to take up the “Cross of Love,” de Leon said. She and Father Kerns presented strategies to invite people to take up this cross.
Portland resident Jesús Huerta, national coordinator of diversity for Catholic Relief Services, led a workshop on how to create a vibrant intercultural parish by fostering inclusion and integration.
During small group discussions, Huerta asked participants to share how the demographics of their parishes have changed during recent years and how their parishes are addressing those changes.
Kathy Brown, a member of St. Charles Church in Northeast Portland, said her community has seen an influx of people from a variety of cultural and language backgrounds.
“We all try to worship together and honor one another’s diversity,” she said.
Videos of the training sessions will be posted on the Archdiocese of Portland’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace website: www.archdpdx.org/jprespect/.