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Effective social ministry stems from a strongly held faith – participants at Catholic Charities USA’s Annual Gathering in San Francisco on Sept. 14 learned in a parish ministry workshop introduced by Jesuit Father Massaro.

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Parish social ministry workers advised to ‘love people first’
September 18th, 2013
By Christina M. Gray

They may have thought they would leave with a list of concrete strategies for running effective service programs. But parish social ministry workers registered for “Becoming Instruments of Your Peace,” a daylong program held Sept. 14 in San Francisco at Catholic Charities USA’s Annual Gathering, were asked by the keynote speaker to look in the mirror first.

“Look into your own heart,” said Jesuit Father Thomas J. Massaro, dean of the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in Berkeley, leading the Parish Social Ministry Institute at the national conference. “This is my main point here today: None of us can be of much service to others unless we are at peace within ourselves and understand the priorities that guide us.”

The CCUSA Annual Gathering brings Catholic Charities delegates from around the country together in one location every year to share knowledge and exchange ideas on reducing poverty in America. The Parish Social Ministry Institute program was designed for those called to develop and lead congregation-wide parish social ministry programs.

Father Massaro, author of “Catholic Social Teaching in Action” and other books and articles on Christian social ethics, believes that parish ministry workers who do not know where their heart is will lack the interior structure to act effectively. “Your strategies will be off-kilter,” he said. “The work of our hands depends upon the state of our soul.”

But becoming an instrument of God’s peace doesn’t happen magically, according to Father Massaro.

“We must be grounded in the values of our faith,” he said. “I firmly believe that the peace we develop within ourselves is what we will have available to communicate outward to others.”

Father Massaro said this is especially true when working with youth. “Teenagers and young people in general seem to have a ‘malarkey meter’ – they know when you are not walking your talk,” he said.

Pope Francis serves as a near-perfect example of the kind of ‘servant leadership’ that comes naturally when actions are rooted in the values of our Catholic faith, according to Father Massaro.

“Our pope has walked the talk of Catholic values and inclusiveness in an unprecedented way,” he said. “Saints and sinners are walking together in locked step, letting God sort things out along the way.”

Reaching out with authenticity and inclusiveness to immigrants, prisoners, the poor, nonbelievers and even gays, the pope doesn’t insulate himself from the marginalized populations, according to Massaro.

“It is important that we enter into solidarity with the poor,” he said, something that the modern world tries to insulate us from with ever-more gated neighborhoods and skywalks built that insulate from the world of the needy. “It is counter-culture to reject this national obsession with insulation,” he said.

“Love people first,” he said. “Reserve judgment until after we have met a person’s needs. There should be nothing narrow about a faith-called Catholic.”



From September 20, 2013 issue of Catholic San Francisco.


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