Father William Byron, S.J.

Father William Byron, S.J.

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, archbishop of Tegucigalpa in Honduras and past president of the Latin American bishops’ council, was on the campus of St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia at the end of April to participate in a meeting of about 250 Catholic community organizers gathered to express their hopes for the upcoming World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia next September.

He was there primarily to listen and reflect, but he also addressed the assembly. Cardinal Rodriguez’s presence was particularly significant because he is a close friend of Pope Francis and chairs the Holy Father’s council of cardinal advisers from around the world; they meet several times a year in Rome to offer advice to Pope Francis.

This meeting was organized by PICO International (People Improving Communities through Organizing), a California-based national network of faith-based community organizations interested in putting faith into action. PICO International has been helping communities in Central America, Rwanda, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Haiti.

I sat in for two hours on a plenary session of the late-April gathering and was particularly impressed by the suggestion, made by Cardinal Rodriguez, that the Catholic Church should view itself as a Samaritan church — a church patterned after the example of the good Samaritan.

Cardinal Rodriguez reminded listeners that the priest and Levite in the Gospel story failed the wounded traveler and that clericalism, in the form of bureaucracy, arrogance and aloofness, is repeating that failure in the contemporary Catholic Church in the United States. A Samaritan Catholic Church would busy itself with binding wounds and covering the expenses associated with assisting the poor.

What Pope Francis has been saying about care for the poor was repeated almost verbatim by Cardinal Rodriguez, who also spelled out the harm to families resulting from income inequality, unemployment and other problems that will surely be on the agenda of the World Meeting of Families.

Hopes were raised for the September meeting by the enthusiastic articulation of the principles of Catholic social teaching that reverberated through this meeting. Echoes of this compelling evangelization will surely be heard in Philadelphia next September. As Cardinal Rodriguez put it, “Social justice is a duty of our faith.” And he made the case for compassion modeled on the example of the good Samaritan.

“We need to see with the eyes of the heart,” Cardinal Rodriguez told this assembly.

The World Meeting of Families will, I hope, turn the eyes of the Catholic heart toward the needs of the poor and, in so doing, re-energize the love that makes the Catholic family possible.


Jesuit Father Byron is university professor of business and society at St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia. Email: wbyron@sju.edu.