WASHINGTON — Msgr. Ray East is no stranger to the nation’s social ministry leaders.
The pastor of St. Teresa of Avila Parish in Washington, and a frequent speaker at Catholic events, has been the kickoff speaker at the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington for 20 years.
This year, Msgr. East encouraged the 500 social ministry activists attending the Feb. 2-5 gathering in Washington with the theme — “Let Justice Flow: A Call to Restore and Reconcile” — to keep up the good work and to remember, in case they could forget, that they had a lot more work ahead of them.
He told the group, which filled a Washington hotel ballroom Feb. 2, that they were “set apart for God’s service” but he also reminded them: “It’s a long-distance race.”
The priest spoke of a few of the big challenges facing the Church right now: mainly its outreach to Latinos, youths, especially the “nones,” who claim no religious faith, as well as its response to the scourge of racism.
“We’re still trying to hide our collective sin of racism,” he said.
Regarding the Church’s outreach to Latino Catholics, he said this work is critical to the Church and so far it’s been insufficient. “We have to get this right or I don’t know how we’ll recover or survive as a Church,” he said.
Msgr. East also pointed out the need for more outreach to young people, stressing that “nones” are all part of us, in our families and neighborhoods, and “we’ve failed them.”
Even though he laid out some pretty big challenges, his overall message was one of hope, reminding the group that even when times are hard, God is there to help.
Tools to fix a broken world
With the gifts given them through baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist, Catholics have the tools needed to repair a world broken “in thousands of pieces,” said the archbishop who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.
“At the end of every Mass we are sent forth not merely to clear out the church, but go and share what we have experienced,” said Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services at a Feb. 4 morning Mass during the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington.
One thing people have to be prepared to ditch, Archbishop Broglio said, is their tacit acceptance of the status quo.
Referring to that day’s Gospel reading of Jesus casting out demons from a man and putting them into a herd of swine which then hurled themselves off a cliff, Archbishop Broglio noted the townspeople’s response to Jesus: “Please go away.”
“A poor possessed man was cured; a miracle occurred, but the important measure in this town in pagan territory was the livelihood,” Archbishop Broglio said. “The self-interest of the crowd fails to comprehend that the liberation of one person created in the image and likeness of God is more important and has lasting value far beyond the funds lost in the commerce of pigs.”
Confronting the past
Racism can be ended in the United States, but the past has to be confronted first for that to happen, said a Harvard professor and author who participated in a panel discussion on racism Feb. 3 as part of the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington.
“Our current circumstances are shaped by our past circumstances,” said Elizbeth Hinton, author of “From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America.” “Reconciling from racism won’t be possible until we confront our past.”
The panel was an outgrowth of the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter against racism issued in November, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love.”
“People deserve second chances,” Hinton said, “as the pastoral letter tells us — even to those people who have made mistakes and people haven’t shared the gift of love to others.”