From September 2014 – June 2015, St. Ignatius Catholic Church engaged in a “Year of Discernment,” hosting events to create a space for prayer, education, and faith formation around justice issues. By highlighting the diverse issues of human trafficking, immigration, economic justice, and ecological justice, we cast a wide net to allow room for exploration. By connecting the events with the liturgical year, we’ve hoped to demonstrate how our celebration of the Eucharist nourishes our faith and challenges us to share the joy of the Gospel.
This year took place within a larger framework of discernment – what is God’s preference for how our parish community works for justice? After events throughout the year, over 60 parishioners gathered for the Parish Retreat on June 6, 2015 to attend to this very question. Reflecting on the context and experience of the past year, we imagined possibilities for action if the parish focused on a particular justice issue as a community. There were moments of connection and grace as well as conversations that surfaced the pain and tensions around these issues. During the retreat, many participants commented that human trafficking, immigration, economic justice, and ecological justice are interconnected – others observed that the possibilities of working for justice are also connected as well. By promoting human dignity and the care for creation in one area, we can contribute to the larger vision of God’s reign. By listening to one another and the Holy Spirit, we can work for justice in a way that builds up our parish community and reaches out to those on the margins.
Over the course of the Year of Discernment we have been guided by principles of Catholic social teaching and Ignatian discernment. Knowing that both charity and justice are essential to furthering God’s reign, we have taken time to reflect on how these two areas are lived out in our parish. We found many examples of charity – like our St. Vincent de Paul ministry that generously meets the immediate needs of those who hunger in our neighborhood. On the other hand, we found a need for opportunities that would enable parishioners to promote justice together.
Learning from other Jesuit ministries like Ignatian Solidarity Network and the Kino Border Initiative, we know that holistic justice work involves accompaniment, direct service, consciousness raising, research, and advocacy before decision-makers. Focusing our work for justice would allow for more in-depth faith formation and education in a particular area, leading to action and advocacy that are more unified and connected to our parish mission.
Like the Year of Discernment itself, such initiatives require significant planning and time to develop. Many of those who attended the parish retreat pledged to help in the key areas of planning future events, taking action, and providing formation. Although a particular justice issue was not discerned by the end of the June 6th retreat, the desire more formation in Catholic social teaching and Ignatian discernment was clear.
Encouraged by the connection with others and the many possibilities we had to work together, parishioners gathered again on June 28, 2015 to share the fruits of our prayer and focus our commitment. As we prayed and listened to one another, it became clear to the community that we were being called to work for ecological justice together. Many reasons were highlighted: focusing on ecological justice would bring the widest range of our parishioners together (in terms of age, ethnicity, race, gender, socio-economics, etc.) and it’s interconnected to all the justice issues that we considered. Many of our Portland neighbors care deeply about ecological justice and we felt called to move outside our parish to engage in the local and state conversations with them around climate change and sustainable living. Finally, we wanted to contribute to the global conversation that Pope Francis has just sparked with Laudato Si: Care for our Common Home. Join us as we continue to live into this discernment and be changed in the process!