The Catholic Pro-life Social Ministry Gathering
The biggest issue at the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering has been promoting the right to and dignity of life (and it always has been, as far as I can tell). Life is central to all the issues discussed this week from the environment to international assistance to, of course, health care reform.
This morning many gathered for a strategy session that yielded a great deal of good about seeking the common good in the promotion the life and dignity of the human persons.
Participants acknowledged the problem of partisan politics seeping into Catholic life, with the pro-life side sometimes becoming too entrenched with the Republican Party and the social justice side sometimes becoming too entrenched with the Democrats.
"In order to become all embracing pro-life, I think we have to give up political power," said one person. Few seemed to have confidence that pro-life democrats could be elected in most places, let alone truly consistent life politicians.
But the overall tone of the conversation was hopeful, as participants suggested ideas to bridge this gap on the ground. Message and action need to be consistent and unified, they agreed.
Show up-both at pro-life rallies and social justice rallies, some said. Build one-on-one relationships and mobilize respected lay leaders within organizations at the parish level. Create overlap on boards and committees too, and make sure people know about collaborations through effective communications strategies.
Many said they already do this. Some dioceses use Respect Life month to discuss abortion, the death penalty, war and other life issues. Some diocese have combined "justice and life" committees, and certainly the offices for Pro-Life Activities and Justice, Peace, and Human Development at the USCCB collaborate frequently, including at the gathering.
When I interviewed him for U.S. Catholic (to appear in May), Jack Jezreel of JustFaith Ministry said that a big challenge is simply education. Beyond learning about the many issues that affect the right and dignity of human life, everyone also needs to learn to appreciate each other's work. I am only one person, he said, and I can't do it all.
What's not healthy is an "us versus them" mentality. One participant shared a funny but true joke overheard from a priest: "Whenever you're talking about us versus them, God is usually on the side of them."
Can Catholics work together under a unified front for life or at least learn to appreciate those who work on other issues?