SASKATOON — A new resource from the bishops of Canada highlights a number of serious justice and peace concerns facing this country, using the lens of Pope Francis’ teachings.
A Church Seeking Justice: The Challenge of Pope Francis to the Church in Canada was released Sept. 3 by the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB).
Although not intended as an election resource, the document encourages Canadian Catholics to ponder a range of issues that have dominated headlines.
“It’s the kind of document that is well read before, during, and after an election campaign, because it addresses issues that are abiding,” says Saskatoon Bishop Donald Bolen, chair of the CCCB commission for justice and peace.
Text boxes throughout the 20-page resource reflect upon missing and murdered indigenous women, assisted suicide, refugee sponsorship, temporary foreign workers, income and salary disparities, youth and indigenous unemployment, arms sales, Canada’s peacekeeping role, Canadian mining companies abroad, inequality and solidarity, poverty and the environment.
The main body of the document explores Catholic social teachings that Pope Francis has highlighted throughout his pontificate.
“From the very beginning of Pope Francis’ pontificate, justice and peace have been at the forefront of his teaching,” says Bolen. “Weekly, if not daily, Pope Francis has addressed issues where human beings are experiencing suffering, situations of injustice and inequality, of conflict and violence and the erosion of human dignity.”
Appointed to the CCCB justice and peace commission in his second year as bishop, Bolen was named chair of the commission a year ago. “It has been a beautiful but a demanding thing to be mandated by the bishop’s conference to address justice and peace issues, in the midst of Pope Francis’ pontificate,” he admits.
At first, Bolen tried to read everything Pope Francis said about justice and peace issues, but found that he couldn’t keep up. “Hopefully this document will help all of us to keep up with the central themes that Pope Francis has been addressing.”
The pope speaks as someone who has experienced internal conflicts, political crises and widespread poverty in South America, Bolen adds. “It’s a gift to the church to have a pope who comes from the developing world and who speaks out of that context to the whole church. It is an opportunity to come to terms with global equalities and to face global issues in a new way.”
When the Body of Christ suffers in any part of the world, we all suffer, notes Bolen. “And through our political and economic practices and institutions, we are directly implicated in the structural inequality affecting the developing world, which keeps some people poor and allows wealth to be concentrated in others,” he adds.
“There are also many people in this country who deal with injustice and suffering in many ways. In this text then, we are eager to invite a conversation to take place between Pope Francis and our experience here in Canada.”
The challenge posed by the document is a Gospel challenge, stresses Myron Rogal, co-ordinator of the Justice and Peace Office in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.
“A church seeking justice is a signpost which crystalizes the reality of our Canadian story by pointing to areas in need of healing with a sense of urgency and hope in Christ,” says Rogal.
The document points to the breadth of Catholic social teaching, says Bolen. “It highlights that justice and charity go hand in hand, but the Gospel response is never just one or the other — it is always both.”
It supplements the election guide that the CCCB produces, presenting a series of issues to consider, says Bolen, while noting there is no political party that embodies Catholic social teaching in its fullness.
“Jesus’ ministry was a constant outreach to those on the margins of society, those in need. He not only reached out to them to draw them into the life of the community, to draw them into God’s mercy, to assure them they were loved by God, he also identified directly with them, saying ‘whatever you do to these, you do to me.’ ”
In interviews conducted in the weeks ahead, Bolen will reflect upon the three sections of the document, which address human dignity, war and peace, and economics.