Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 9, 2008
Charity opens the door to justice – McKeon
Inner city advocate addresses St. Vincent de Paul Society
By RAMON GONZALEZ
"We should try to see the world from the perspective of the poor."
- Bob McKeon
"So what we are doing in our work with the St. Vincent de Paul Society is part of this much larger God-initiated enterprise. But our hope is ultimately in the promises of Christ and the privilege we have of being called to collaborate with that large enterprise."
Also speaking at the conference was Sister Gertrude Mulholland, a Sister of Charity of Immaculate Conception who serves as pastoral assistant at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Sherwood Park.
Mulholland spoke about Service in Faith, saying our life of service is rooted in Baptism.
"At Baptism we receive the light of Christ and we are commissioned to keep the flame of faith alive in our hearts," she said. "When that flame is alive our response to those in need is on fire with the love of Christ."
Added Mulholland, "As members of Christ's body we follow in the footsteps of St. Vincent de Paul who knew that when he encountered someone in need he was meeting Christ."
About 60 members of the society from across Canada attended the conference at St. Albert's Star of the North Retreat Centre.
One purpose of the event was to "revitalize" the membership of the society, said Bernie McCracken, one of the organizers. "The idea is to help members recharge their batteries, empower them so they can accomplish their works of charity and justice."
"What form of charity deserves the name that does not aim at establishing the reign of justice?" asked McKeon.
"Charity humanizes justice. Justice amplifies the imaginative works of charity. Justice spreads the work of charity. Justice makes compulsory what was optional by giving charity.
"In other words, individual service in favour of the most deprived does not dispense us from working to change social structures."
McKeon said when one is engaged in face-to-face charity and journeying with people the wider issues inevitably arise. He has lived in the inner city by choice for 30 years and has seen how one thing leads to another.
- WCR photo by Ramon Gonzalez
Bob McKeon addressed the Western Assembly of the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
He recalled how faith and social justice groups in the inner city began feeding the poor and listening to their concerns. That led to the creation of the Edmonton Food Bank, housing coops, the Boyle-McCauley Health Clinic and even the establishment of a loan fund with donated funds to help the poor start their own small business.
"What happened there was fascinating because we didn't go to people and say what are your needs," noted McKeon.
Often, as faith groups reached out to those with urgent needs, the conversation shifted and the groups were able to learn about the long-term needs of the poor and the things that would help them move forward in their lives, respecting their dignity.
"That shift in conversation for me was really amazing. (Meeting the basic needs of the people) inevitably forces us to raise our eyes a little bit higher and take some issues a little further."
McKeon praised the St. Vincent de Paul Society because of its focus on advocacy, rather than charity alone. He also noted the society's website is called voiceofthepoor.org, which shows where its priorities lay.
"The beauty of what St. Vincent de Paul does is that you take time for visits, you take time to listen to the poor, which is crucial."
McKeon said the same fears and anxieties that overwhelmed AISH recipients a few years ago when the Alberta government tried to change the AISH program are coming back as the cost of housing, fuel and food increase.
"St. Vincent de Paul . . . knew that when he encountered someone in need he was meeting Christ.""
- Sr. Gertrude Mulholland
"As we hear this, we need to find ways of collaborating and of working together with the poor (to find solutions)," McKeon said. "If we are going to journey with these people sooner or later we are going to have to address these issues."
Charity and justice work are part of a Catholic tradition called Catholic social teaching. "It's important for those in ministries such as St. Vincent de Paul to be able to see your service in the context of this teaching of the Church," McKeon said.
"(This teaching) is rooted in the recognition of human dignity; (in the fact) all people are sacred . . . made in the image and likeness of God.
"So the emphasis on human dignity that you seek to live out in your outreach (as members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society) is the core of the social teaching tradition. You are living that tradition now."
McKeon also spoke about the principle of solidarity, which calls Christians to see everybody as part of God's family and to work globally for justice.
He urged his Vincentian audience to continue to look at public policy decisions in terms of how they affect the poor. "We are called to have a preferential option for the poor which means we should try to see the world from the perspective of the poor."
McKeon called justice work a "privilege" few in the parishes have and urged members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society to share that privilege with the wider Church.
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