EDSON, Alta. (CCN) — Katherine Hughes and the women who founded the Catholic Women’s League with her in Edmonton in 1912 provided prime examples of how Pope Francis’ The Joy of the Gospel can be put into action, says Bob McKeon.
In delivering the keynote address at the CWL diocesan convention in Edson, McKeon spoke of Hughes’ role in gathering Catholic women with a real concern to protect and support the immigrant women and girls who had come to Edmonton a century ago seeking work.
Out of concern that the young women would be taken advantage of and made victims of injustice, they set up employment centres, helped the transient women find housing, and quickly set up a hostel along with some of the religious orders, mobilizing partnerships with government to fund their work, he said.
In his role as associate director of the Archdiocese of Edmonton’s office for social justice, McKeon works with parishes and other church organizations on social outreach, informed by biblical values and Catholic social teaching.
McKeon told the women he had been asked to speak about Pope Francis’ call to evangelization in The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium).
“From the very beginning (of the CWL), there was a strong social concern and thinking outside the box,” he said.
“‘How can we be effective and do more than words? Let’s do really practical things on the ground to make a difference for people in need.’”
He told the 125 women who attended the convention that the founding of the CWL in Edmonton could be seen as the preface of the Joy of the Gospel.
“This could be a starting point because you were putting into words precisely what he (Pope Francis) was talking about,” said McKeon.
The document integrates throughout a social justice theme and an evangelization theme. Two themes, which for Pope Francis, are interwoven, McKeon said.
Using an expression attributed to St. Francis of Assisi — “Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words” — McKeon encouraged attendees at the convention by saying the work they do in the CWL, their service, prayers, and what they do in their families, neighbourhoods and workplaces, are all a part of evangelization.
“So what I’m saying today is not to necessarily go out and do something new but to see what you’re doing already with new eyes and maybe ground it deeper and find different ways of expanding it,” McKeon said.
Church members are encouraged to go out of our comfort zones to reach the margins and the excluded, and to draw near to new forms of poverty and vulnerability in society, McKeon said.
Among the marginalized, he listed the homeless, the addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples and the elderly who are increasingly isolated and abandoned, migrants and temporary farm workers.
“Francis uses the fascinating phrase ‘smell of the sheep.’ If one goes out, be it our clergy, be it ourselves, be it evangelizers, take on ‘the smell of the sheep.’
“Get close enough that you get dirty. Get close enough that the smell is in your clothes, in your hair, your life has been disrupted, your boundaries have been shifted. He says continuously be creative, be bold, be open to making mistakes.”
“He uses a wonderful phrase,” said McKeon: “‘I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it’s been out on the streets, rather than an unhealthy, confined security, staying back within the walls.’”
Evangelii Gaudium is a call to root ourselves more deeply spiritually, to renew our commitments, to be bolder, risk more and to go to the peripheries in new ways, McKeon said.
Other speakers at the April 17-19 convention included Gayle McKenzie-Findlay, who celebrated the strengths and achievements of Aboriginal women, and author Catherine Mardon, who spoke about maintaining joyfulness during life’s trials.
At the convention, Mardon was also installed as the new legislation and resolutions chair for the diocese.
Diocesan officers installed for the 2015-17 term at the convention also include president Mary Hunt, president-elect Cheryl Boom, vice-president and spiritual chair Mary Molloy, treasurer Jean Ashdown, secretary Mary Pat O’Neill, past-president Gwen Elliott, and standing committee chairpersons Katherine Tarras, Gloria Ducharme, Kara Pelech and Sister Susan Scott.