US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Why social justice? ‘Because we’re Catholic’

By Kristen Hannum | Print this pagePrint |

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin’s “seamless garment of life” analogy is well known—and often criticized—for arguing that Catholic social teachings should be applied not only to abortion but also to capital punishment, economic and environmental injustice, war, and euthanasia.

Cardinal Bernardin’s contemporary, Cardinal James Hickey of Washington, D.C., was a champion for social justice equally well-known for his pro-life stands. John Carr, executive director of the USCCB’s Office of Justice, Peace, and Human Development, remembers the eloquent appeal Cardinal Hickey made to donors for funds for a healthcare program that would mostly serve immigrants.

One man in the audience demurred. He acknowledged that bringing healthcare to these people was no doubt important. He didn’t, however, see it as being the work of the church. Were these people Catholics? Were they being evangelized?

Carr remembers that silence in the room that followed the man’s question, as everyone waited for the cardinal’s answer. Carr also remembers the cardinal’s gentle eloquence when he did reply.

“We shelter the homeless, educate those hungry for knowledge, and care for the sick,” Cardinal Hickey said, “not because they’re Catholic, but because we’re Catholic. They are Jesus in disguise.” 

This article is a web-only sidebar that accompanies "Social Justice: What's tarnishing its good name?" which appeared in the July 2012 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 77, No. 7, pages 12-17).

Image: Tim Foley