Parishes challenged to live justice in their own neighbourhoods

Bob McKeon

JOURNEY TO JUSTICE

July 25, 2016

Last month, I was invited to speak about social justice at the annual meeting of an Edmonton Catholic parish. I started my preparation for this presentation by looking up the parish boundaries.

Then I went to the City of Edmonton website and checked out the different neighbourhoods that fall within the parish boundaries. Then I went back again to the city website and searched for the "neighbourhood profiles" for each of the parish neighbourhoods.

There were easily accessible stats about income, age, gender, family structure, marital status and ethnic background for each neighbourhood. There is a comparison for each neighbourhood with city-wide averages.

It turned out that the parish I was visiting included some of the wealthiest and some of the poorest neighbourhoods in the city. This information provided a helpful conversation starter about local parish social ministry.

I have used this approach for parish workshops for many years. I remember when I first started this work more than 30 years ago. I was leading a parish workshop in a different part of the city.

I started with a Scripture reflection about poverty and economic justice. Then I asked about how these concerns manifested themselves in the local parish context.

The response from the parishioners was surprising. They said folks in the parish were generally doing OK. Issues of poverty were not really a concern.

I had prepared for this workshop by researching the map of publically supported low-income housing and noticed there was a significant amount of low-income housing located within the parish boundaries. I found out the income limits for this housing were quite low, and that many of the households were single-parent families.

I asked if the parish had any contact with those living in these housing developments. The answer was no. They seldom visited the parish or attended Sunday worship.

Then the conversation got really interesting. One parishioner worked at the local Catholic school, and talked knowledgeably and passionately about the struggles of the children from the low-income housing at the school. Another parishioner worked as a public health nurse who did home visits in the neighbourhood for mothers with at-risk newborn infants.

PARISHIONERS HAVE KNOWLEDGE

It turned out that detailed knowledge of the local community was within the parish. It was just a question of getting the conversation started and affirming that this conversation was an important one in the life of the parish.

With the support of Development and Peace over 50 years, parishes have been addressing issues of international poverty and injustice. There are parishes in the Edmonton area that make it a priority to reach out to those who are poor and homeless in the inner city at places such as Marian Centre, E4C or Inner City Pastoral Ministry. This outreach is very important and necessary.

However, a real test is how the Gospel of love and justice is lived out at home in our local communities.

REAL HUMAN BEINGS

The Canadian bishops in their statement A Church Seeking Justice reflect on the challenge Pope Francis is making to the Church in Canada. They warn against speaking of the poor as a general category, but as "real human beings with specific needs."

Pope Francis speaks and witnesses the Gospel call to have "a direct personal relationship with the poor," a call which "summons the Church both to acts of charity and work for justice."

Pope Francis, in Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), insists that "each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society" (187).

CENTRE OF PARISH LIFE

The challenge for parishes is to move this concern for the poor, through charity and justice, from the commitments of a few dedicated individuals at the fringe to the very centre of parish life, visible in public worship, prayers, catechesis, ministries, parish meetings, bulletins, websites and budgets.

If this is not lived at home, it is going to be difficult to enter into authentic relationships of solidarity with those we seek to support at a distance.

(Bob McKeon: rmckeon55@gmail.com)