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A faith that does justice

Evan Ellis, Catholic Outlook, April 2010

All Christians who write about social justice should remind themselves of St Francis of Assisi’s dictum, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”   

Social justice is primarily about action. Words are powerful but they are not the only way we communicate and create change. Without action even the power of words becomes cheap.  

However, there is value in setting aside space to look at aspects of social justice in our Diocese. As a starting point I want to take an excerpt from Bishop Anthony’s homily given at his Mass of Installation on 4 March. 

Referring to the first reading of Isaiah 61:1-3, which Jesus would later read in the synagogue at the beginning of his public ministry, Bishop Anthony went on to say:

“To the victims of unemployment, family breakdown, prejudice or other injustice in Western Sydney the Church recommits herself tonight to bring Good News, to bind up broken hearts, to proclaim freedom from the many kinds of captivity and God’s favour for the little ones.”

Such a statement would well serve as a Magna Carta for all who commit themselves to working for justice in our Diocese.

And yet what does this “binding up of hearts” and “proclamation of freedom” look like?

To see for yourselves, you could trace an arc through the Diocese just by hopping from one work of justice to the next.

In the upper mountains there are vibrant social justice groups who work with their priests to weave the cry of the poor into their liturgy. In the lower mountains and across the Diocese, Vinnies shops sell secondhand goods to enable people to receive ‘a hand up rather than a hand out’.

Once on to the plain, Aboriginal Catholic Social Services in Penrith responds to the needs of the local Indigenous community while promoting Aboriginal culture.

North and south of the M4 motorway, numerous schools are now tallying up and sending in their donations for Caritas Australia’s Project Compassion annual Lenten appeal. 

Further east at Blacktown, Emmaus Disabled Persons Catholic Services upholds the dignity of people living with a disability, while in Granville Young Christian Workers tease out the relationship between faith, action and reflection, welcome new arrivals from overseas and promote the dignity of work.

Indeed, should a traveller take this social justice route from the west and arrive at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Parramatta at night, the way would be lit by the headlights of the Vinnies night patrol van at Prince Alfred Park, offering food, coffee and companionship to the homeless or marginalised.

There are, of course, many more works, agencies and groups that I have not mentioned. And there are still many more broken hearts to be bound and people crying out for freedom.

The reading from Isaiah, which was read at Bishop Anthony’s Mass, became our mission statement, too, when Christ said, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another”. This requires all of us to work hard for social justice and, when necessary, to use words.

Evan Ellis is the Social Justice Co-ordinator for the Diocese of Parramatta.

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