Father William Ayres
Because we are sinful human beings, our sinfulness also carries over into the societal structures we create – our organizations, businesses and governments, for example. Immoral laws and policies are often put into practice and even at times become enshrined and accepted parts of our way of life.
Social justice is the area of Catholic moral teaching which provides guidance for us on how to confront and overcome these “institutional sins.” In the midst of the Industrial Revolution it was Pope Leo XIII who really set out the basis of Catholic social thought. In his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum, he emphasized human dignity over the means of production and firmly advocated for a fair wage, the right to organize and other principles to protect workers from exploitation. From then until now, the popes have continued to reaffirm and expand on Leo’s teachings to address the injustices which exist in society. Themes have included war, racism, economics, nuclear disarmament and the dangers of both capitalism and communism.
Social justice is no less of a concern today. The economic crisis we are now experiencing can, on many fronts, be traced to immoral and unjust practices. There continues to be discrepancies between what men and women are paid for the same work. “Racial profiling” has made racism an institutional policy in some places in the country. Immigration laws and procedures lead to the separation of families, and often are written more for financial gain than human benefit.
Under the direction of the Vicar for Hispanic Catholics, and as a fruit of the archdiocesan Hispanic Convocation in 2007-08, the Social Justice subcommittee seeks to educate the community of the Archdiocese regarding social justice issues, especially those that affect the Hispanic community. The subcommittee also seeks to make a real impact by calling government, business and social leaders to follow principles that are more respectful of human dignity rather than those that reinforce prejudice or, seemingly, seek personal gain.
In spite of a great deal of talk and proposals over two years ago, the country has failed to make any real moves toward comprehensive immigration reform. This remains a major concern of the Catholic bishops of the United States and affects many Hispanics and non-Hispanics, citizens and non-citizens, adults and children in the country and within our Archdiocese. Sadly, too many people are poorly informed about the real state of our immigration system and rely on misguided information to guide their views. With the huge impact of this issue on our Hispanic as well as non-Hispanic brothers and sisters in the Archdiocese, this issue has taken a special prominence for the Social Justice subcommittee.
Over the coming months other members of the subcommittee will also be contributing articles reflecting on our work as a subcommittee, as well as their own experiences of injustices and the victories of God’s grace in creating a more just society. It is an obligation for all of us to overcome not only our personal sins, but those that are committed on this social level against human dignity.
In the midst of a world so torn by war and violence, we continue to recognize the truth of what Pope Paul VI said: “If you want peace, work for justice.”
Father Ayres is pastor of St. Michael Parish and parochial administrator at Immaculate Conception Parish in Philadelphia.