By Kent Ferris
I have been the Diocese of Davenport’s Social Action director for two months now. I want to take this opportunity to describe early efforts in learning my position and what is occurring in our diocese. I have tried to hit the ground running, to get off to a brisk and successful start. Here is what it looks like so far:
I have received great on-the-job training! I have learned much from talking with Msgr. Marvin Mottet and Dan Ebener, both past directors of the diocese’s Social Action Department.
They have reminded me of the Two Feet of Social Justice model, which Msgr. Mottet created. Charity is one foot of the model, concerned with helping individuals meet present needs, while justice is the other foot, concerned with correcting long-term problems in communities. To have a balanced social action response, to not only hit the ground running but keep running, both feet need to land on solid ground.
In addition to on-site instruction, I have had the opportunity to attend a regional Catholic Relief Services workshop and the Social Action Summer Institute. I now have a more thorough understanding of the Catholics Confront Global Poverty campaign (usccb.org/globalpoverty or crs.org/globalpoverty) that any individual or parish can be part of. Also helpful were sessions I attended on a Catholic Response to Climate Change (CatholicClimateCovenant.org) and Embracing and Working on Human Life and Dignity, taught by national campaign leaders and representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Another workshop I have attended that deserves mention is an introduction to Pope Benedict XVI’s new encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, Charity in Truth. Every social action director should be so fortunate to have an encyclical introduced shortly after starting work!
“The more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbors, the more effectively we love them. Every Christian is called to practice this charity, in a manner corresponding to his vocation.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, no. 7.)
I have benefitted from review of this encyclical and believe all of us need to promote reading, reflecting, praying and acting on what our Holy Father has written. A good starting point is to visit the USCCB Department of Justice Peace and Human Development Web page on Caritas in Veritate at www.usccb.org/jphd/caritasinveritate.
In the few short weeks on the job, I have also learned from Loxi Hopkins, our diocese’s director of Catholic Relief Services and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Loxi and the CRS/CCHD Diocesan Board met recently and reviewed local grant requests. It is worth noting that 14 projects from around the diocese were funded for a total of $11,000. These grants speak to one of Loxi’s sayings: “We partner with, not do things for, the local parishes.”
I have also learned much from Glenn Leach, Loxi’s full-time volunteer counterpart. Glenn is our in-house senior research fellow. He provides parishes with training and education on a wide range of social action topics. Glenn also reviews hundreds of e-mails, including social action and legislative alerts, and in turn distills them for staff here and for any interested parishioner in the diocese. The list of topics reflects the legislative agenda: immigration reform, healthcare reform, pro-life/respect-life issues, to name a few. He provides thorough review and reference to national Catholic Web sites for more information.
What comes next? First, we will begin by meeting with interested parishioners at upcoming deanery meetings. We will continue to support local social action efforts. We will promote upcoming events, such as the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award ceremony, scheduled Sept. 20 at Christ the King Chapel in Davenport, and a symposium Oct. 2-3 in Des Moines commemorating the 30th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Iowa. The symposium will connect themes of social justice, agriculture, environmental ethics and “green” spirituality.
And, as we read in Isaiah 40:31, “we will run and not grow weary as we will be renewed in strength by hope in the Lord” — as we advance social justice causes.
(You may contact Kent Ferris at firstname.lastname@example.org.)