Catholic Relief Services photos by Jesús Huerta
Members of Christ the King Parish in Milwaukie discuss faith roots of work.
Catholic Relief Services photos by Jesús Huerta
Members of Christ the King Parish in Milwaukie discuss faith roots of work.

On a sunny October Sunday, 70 people representing 33 parishes gathered for an afternoon of prayer, networking and fair trade chocolate.

"Our Baptismal Call: Giving Voice to the Kingdom of God," a workshop from the Archdiocesan Office of Life, Justice and Peace, offered a mini-retreat combined with an exploration of the Catholics roots of advocacy.

After opening with prayer, song, and prayers of the faithful, Chris West, Catholic Relief Services director of Partnership, Training, and Engagement, began by recalling a chance encounter during Mass years ago. During the sign of peace the stranger standing next to him took him by the hand and said, “May the peace and love of Jesus Christ profoundly disturb your life.”

West explained that this has been a constant reminder that our concept of love is not the same as Jesus’s definition of love.

Msgr. Chuck Lienert walked the audience through the spiritual roots of our baptismal call. He shared that his spiritual foundation was shaped by remembering the importance of the communion of saints and that the core of the Mass is the Eucharist. In the Eucharist we are in communion with each other and with all the saints. In the Prayers of the Faithful we pray for our Church, our leaders, our salvation, and each other: anyone burdened by troubles.

In the Eucharistic Prayer we pray for the dead and for the living and all those who make up and will make up the communion of saints, Msgr. Lienert explained. In the Apostles Creed we profess our belief in the communion of Saints.

Participants wondered: If these are the spiritual roots of our work, then where are we on our journey? They spent time alone reflecting on their own journey, particularly where the Holy Spirit has called them – and where they listened. Small groups then formed around various issues and values to continue their reflection by sharing where they found God’s call that brought them to the issue they chose.

Reflection, prayer, song and faith sharing were woven throughout the rest of the day’s agenda.

West led the audience through an exploration of how advocacy is grounded in Catholic faith. He quoted many examples from Scripture, including one from Isaiah 10: 1-3:

"Ah! Those who enact unjust statutes,
who write oppressive decrees,
Depriving the needy of judgment,
robbing my people’s poor of justice,
Making widows their plunder,
and orphans their prey!"

Advocacy is about change, he said. But when we ask for change there will be tension. We take strength in  knowing that advocacy is witnessing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, exemplifying the lives of our saints. Advocacy is moving from coping with structural injustices to working to change them.

Matt Cato, director of the Office of Life, Justice and Peace, stressed that advocacy is Catholic and political, not partisan.

"Our baptismal call is to be political but not to be Democrat or Republican or specifically about respect life or peace and justice issues," Cato says. "Our baptismal call is to be advocates for change to create a just society." Cato said advocacy can be a tool that energizes parish committees and engages the entire parish in our ministry.

Three real-life examples illustrated the ways the tool can be used. Bread for the World’s Offering of Letters is a way to involve parishes in a letter-writing campaign once a year issue to end world-wide hunger. At Resurrection Parish, the letters have been brought up during the Offertory collection. Some parishes slipped the Archdiocese’s 2013 state Legislative Agenda in their bulletins and encouraged parishioners to choose the issues that spoke to them and advocate for them.

Members of Christ the King’s Peace and Justice Committee advocated with U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader’s office to protect food stamps from cuts and to protect the federal budget from cuts that protect the poor and vulnerable.

A highlight of the afternoon was an opportunity for different parishes to share their own examples with each other while walking around a table of fair trade chocolate.

Fair trade is a focused program of Catholic Relief Services as an example of solidarity. Jeanine Boucher-Colbert, a CRS Western Regional Relationship partner living in Portland, brought the chocolate. She also led the participants during their individual reflections.

The afternoon wound down with individual reflections on possibilities for using advocacy for formation. Msgr. Lienert sent the audience off encouraged and refreshed with a commissioning prayer. The sunny afternoon was just turning into a clear autumn evening.