WASHINGTON — “Time is never meant to be useless,” said Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington in his homily at the opening Mass of this year’s Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, and he advised the gathering’s 800-plus registrants to “work for greater justice in our world.”
“God has intended that we, His creatures, encounter time according to His design. The passage of time always follows God’s wisdom and God’s providence,” Cardinal Gregory said Jan. 29, the first day of the four-day gathering ending Feb. 1. “Time itself can be grace. It can be ordinary, or it can be existing. It can be fleeting, or it can be prolonged. However, time is never meant to be useless.”
Therefore, he said, “we must exit this Mass with the assignment to renew the Church in our own time. We leave this moment in time with a burning desire to work for greater justice in our world.”
The tasks that remain are many, he acknowledged.
“Continue to work to end racism and bigotry in our own time,” Cardinal Gregory said. “Seek to end the destruction of human life at all stages,” and “work to lessen the poverty that stifles the lives of too many young people.”
Also, we must “improve the lives of immigrants who seek to improve the lives of their children,” he continued, and be “more courageous and more resourceful for the innocent unborn” and “for the protection of the fragile sick among us,” and act “for the dignity of the immigrant and the easing of the burden for the impoverished, for the achievement of the changes found in (the Old Testament prophet) Isaiah and perfected in Christ Jesus.”
The Mass was celebrated at St. Teresa of Avila Church in Washington, but, as was the case last year, the Mass was virtual, as were all the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering sessions, a nod to the continuing coronavirus pandemic.
Beyond the pandemic, this marks “an extraordinary time in our society that has become so fragmented and divided,” Cardinal Gregory said. “We seem to have lost the capacity to engage in civil dialogue among ourselves and work in harmony for the common good.”
“Whether you serve your diocese or your individual parishes,” he told the gathering’s participants their “work is encouraging your fellow Catholics to share their valuable time, talent and resources. You help to awaken in the hearts of your neighbors a realization of God’s gifts to them, and a desire to share them with others.”
Knowing Black Catholic history can help end racism, professor says
The history of Black Catholics and other marginalized people in the U.S. Church covering more than two centuries is one worth knowing and can guide the Church’s response to the challenges of racism and social justice, historian Shannen Dee Williams said.
Addressing the online opening session of the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering Jan. 29, Williams explained that the journey of how people who are often overlooked have influenced Church history deserves more than a footnote in historical record.
Williams, associate professor of history at the University of Dayton, focused her comments on the history of Black women religious, who faced racism within the Church from religious congregations and clergy. She highlighted the lives of Mother Mary Lange and Sister Thea Bowman, who have the title “Servant of God,” and Venerable Henriette Delille, all of whom withstood discrimination as they carried out their call to a religious vocation.
She called on attendees to learn, as she did over the past 15 years, about the history of Black Catholics since early in the founding of the United States.
Prayer guides encounters at the margins
For all the years Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, has spent ministering at the Mexican border with people on the move to the United States, it was a young girl, he said, who taught him about hope.
The girl, Cesia, was in Mexico at the border with her family seeking asylum a few years ago, Bishop Seitz said Jan. 29.
They had made a dangerous 2,000-mile journey — facing multiple attempted kidnappings — to seek a better life. The girl’s aunts and uncles had been assassinated in their homeland, he said, and the family likely would have faced the same fate had they not traveled north.
“Talk about a hope that isn’t optimism or wishful thinking,” Bishop Seitz said. “It is the poor who convert us.”
It is such hope, rooted in prayer and belief in the resurrected Jesus and the desire for encounter of others on society’s margins, he said, that guides the work of the many people in the U.S. Catholic Church working to achieve social justice — like the 800-plus attendees of the four-day social ministry event.