SALT LAKE CITY — Local Catholics joined with social action directors from diocese and archdioceses across the country July 25-28 for the national Roundtable Association of Catholic Diocesan Social Action Directors Social Action Summer Institute, which this year was held at the University of Utah. At the opening Mass on July 25, Bishop Oscar A. Solis welcomed conference participants.
“We come here in response to the mandate of Christ to put our faith into action according to the spirit of the Gospel,” he said. “We are aware of the sacred responsibility to promote, protect and uphold the sanctity of life from the moment of conception until death.”
Catholics also have the duty to preserve the dignity of every human person, who is created in the likeness and image of God, he said.
With a theme of “Two Feet, One Voice: Building a Home for All,” the conference was focused on “giving voice and fostering systemic change for people experiencing homelessness or statelessness,” according to its website.
One issue at the forefront currently is immigration and the plight of migrants throughout the world. Conference attendees heard from two individuals who are closely involved in providing support for refugees in the United States: Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, whose keynote address focused on the Catholic’s Christian duty of welcoming the stranger; and Norma Pimentel, a sister with the Missionaries of Jesus and executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in San Juan, Texas, who spoke of her work.
Archbishop Wester said that Catholics must work toward a systematic change in how refugees are treated and in helping bring about global change so that families would not be forced to free their homelands just to survive (see story, right).
“We’re at a pivotal moment in our country’s history where we either maintain our values as a safe haven for those who are oppressed, or we become a different country which places an emphasis on nationalism over the global common good,” he said.
At the Institute’s awards banquet on July 25, Sr. Norma was honored with the Harry A. Fagan Award be for her work as an advocate for immigrants and refugees. Sr. Norma shared some of her experiences in working with her local community to care for migrants coming across the border, including interacting with guards who had dehumanized the refugees in their care.
“We cannot lose our humanity in the process of doing our job,” she said. “We must hold each other accountable in what we are doing and how we respect life, all life.”
Over the four-day event, conference-goers heard from speakers and participated in hands-on workshops. Some visited local programs including Powerful Moms and the Crossroads Urban Center, Spice Kitchen Incubator and the Wasatch Community Gardens Green Team Farm. Others stayed at the university and learned the principles of congregation-based community organizing from One LA IAF, a diverse group of institutions in Los Angeles County working to create a more just society.
Topics for the sessions included serving the poor, employment options for the homeless, affordable housing, fighting human trafficking, and social trauma. The conference also included diocesan and parish tracks where participants could learn how to more effectively integrate Catholic social teachings into their lives and their ministries.
St. Vincent de Paul parishioners Mindy and Jeff Allen made attending the Institute a priority after responding to a call from diocesan Office of Life, Justice and Peace Director Jean Hill to participate and learn how to make a difference.
The conference was amazing, said Mindy Allen, who is completing the diocesan lay ecclesial minister program. “There are great organizations out there … that need us. The conference motivated us to contact our legislators on several issues to help make changes.”
Jeff Allen, a diaconate candidate for the Diocese of Salt Lake City, said it was great to see what the Church is doing outside Utah, and to tour local programs that are serving the underprivileged.
“The conference gave me a renewed urgency for the need for help on some of those issues,” he said.
Archbishop Wester and Bishop Solis concelebrated a Mass on the last day of the conference to send participants on their way. In his homily, Archbishop Wester thanked the participants for all they do.
“Gospel justice begins with Christ, it’s sustained by Christ and it ends in Christ. God has brought us to a very close relationship with him and we do what we do from this perspective,” he said. “…Your work as Gospel ministers is centered in this closeness, this intimacy with the Lord.”
“The Lord Jesus is at work in what you’re doing. He’s very fond of you; he’s very close to you,” he said. “He loves you beyond distraction and so you and I are called to trust that he will make our work efficacious and that our work will give his father, Abba, glory and praise.”