The Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) Social Policy team supports those participating in advocacy efforts in their local community, including local Parish Social Ministry groups (PSM). CCUSA’s team helps identify positions, suggests speaking points, and offers guidance to promote the dignity of the human person and the common good. With this support and resources, the Social Policy team reminds PSM groups that a “culture of encounter” can be developed.
Pope Francis invites us to work for “the culture of encounter…as Jesus did: not just seeing, but looking; not just hearing, but listening; not just passing people by, but stopping with them; not just saying ‘what a shame, poor people!’, but allowing yourself to be moved with compassion.”
Developing a culture of encounter means living Catholic Charities’ mission, which is providing service to people in need, advocating for justice in social structures and calling the entire church and other people of good will to do the same. As individuals look, listen and stop with compassion, they become equipped to fulfill this mission.
PSM teams around the country practice charity. They may provide funds for a utility bill or call a utility company to help clarify a bill. They also might support legislation such as payday lending reform. Direct service and advocacy combine together for a culture of encounter.
For some parishes without a PSM team, the subject of advocacy may seem daunting and too political. Catholic social teaching helps to assuage these feelings through sound instruction about the importance of civic action in the life of parishioners.
The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church declares that participation in the public square involves everyone, including churchgoers: “The social and political involvement of the lay faithful in the area of culture moves today in specific directions. The first is that of seeking to guarantee the right of each person to a human and civil culture” (No. 557). This section also states that, “At the root of the poverty of so many peoples are also various forms of cultural deprivation and the failure to recognize cultural rights. The commitment to the education and formation of the person has always represented the first concern of Christian social action.”
In other words, social policy activity in the name of the parish is a deliberate and planned ministerial activity. Building a social ministry team of parishioners with diverse skills and insights greatly benefits the pastor in his responsibilities and uses well the gifts of the laity. Having a parish social minister who coordinates social justice efforts would also be a great benefit.
If you want a PSM team at your parish, support your case with material from CCUSA’s Social Policy team, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, or your state Catholic conference. But whether you have a PSM team now or want to build one, the CCUSA Social Policy team is eager to work with you on your social ministry goals. For support, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.