Pope Francis asks us to walk the talk

Bob McKeon

JOURNEY TO JUSTICE

October 12, 2015

I retired from my position at the Social Justice Office at the Edmonton Archdiocese last June. My last public job responsibility was to assist with presenting Pope Francis' new encyclical Laudato si to the Edmonton media.

This meant studying the preparatory materials and speed reading the encyclical text just prior to its date of publication.

Since then, Laudato si continues to be very much part of my life as I am being asked to dig deeper into this remarkable document, and to help lead study sessions with different Catholic and ecumenical groups.

The social teaching of Pope Francis has been in the public eye in recent weeks and months. His talks during his recent U.S. trip have caught the attention of Catholics and the wider public.

AUTHENTIC MESSAGE

His challenging spiritual message of right relationship to God, neighbour (especially those who are poor and on the periphery), and all creation has an authenticity and credibility.

His courageous willingness "to speak truth to power" at the U.S. Congress and the General Assembly of the United Nations has been an invitation and call for all who hear his words to do the same.

I think a major reason people are being so receptive to his message is because his words and actions reinforce each other.

His call to reach out to those who are poor and care for creation is backed up by his personal life witness. He walks the talk.

During his U.S visit, I was struck by his personal visits and meetings at the homeless shelter in Washington, DC, the prison in Philadelphia, the Catholic school in Harlem, and the inter-religious gathering at the Ground Zero memorial in downtown Manhattan,.

At his prison talk, he put it simply: "Life means getting our feet dirty from the dust-filled roads of life and history."

TAKE IT TO THE PARISH

There is a potential problem here.

As the prophetic message of Pope Francis is being heard and increasingly taken seriously and incorporated into peoples' own lives, people are going to look to see how these values are being embodied in the life of the Church.

This will happen both internationally at the Vatican, and at the level of local dioceses and parishes which touch peoples' lives directly.

I think there is a real risk of raised expectations, and subsequent failure to meet these expectations with the result of disillusionment and cynicism.

We need to ask the question of what would a diocese or parish look like if it really took to heart the social teaching of Laudato si and the other social teaching messages of Pope Francis.

The Justice and Peace Commission of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) took this challenge on directly last month in its 20 page statement titled A Church Seeking Justice: The Challenge of Pope Francis to the Church in Canada www.cccb.ca.

This statement examines key elements of the teaching of Pope Francis and gives specific examples of how this speaks to the Canadian context.

The CCCB statement highlights Pope Francis' call for a "direct, personal relationship with the poor (which) summons the Church both to acts of charity and to work for justice."

The poor are not to be seen as a general category, but as real human beings with specific needs. These personal encounters are said "to highlight the urgency of the present moment" and to counter "the globalization of indifference."

MOVE TO THE CENTRE

One immediate question is to ask where in your parish do these face to face encounters occur? Are these encounters on the periphery of parish life or at the centre? What would it take to move these to the centre?

In Laudato si, Pope Francis insists that the present global crisis is both social and environmental. So he insists that: "strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded and at the same time protecting nature (#139).

A similar question arises about where in our parish is "creation care" talked about and action taken.

With Pope Francis we know have a truly historic opportunity. It is a time to authentically walk the talk, and also to talk the walk.

(Bob McKeon: rmckeon55@gmail.com)