Nation's Catholics called on to work for social justice Bishops ask faithful to live more simply

group elects 1st black vice president

November 18, 1998|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

The nation's Roman Catholic bishops called on church members yesterday to dedicate themselves daily to social justice, "to protect human life and dignity and to stand with those who are poor and vulnerable."

A social justice document approved by the bishops, "Everyday Christianity: to Hunger and Thirst for Justice," is part of a national campaign called Jubilee 2000, which asks every Catholic to sign a pledge to work for social justice in the new millennium.

The pledge, which will be mailed to every Catholic parish in January, includes promises to pray for greater justice and peace, to serve the poor and vulnerable and to give more generously to those in need.

The National Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is meeting this week in Washington, D.C., also elected Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston as its president and Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., as its vice president.

Gregory, 50, a convert to the church and a Chicago native, is the first African-American elected conference vice president and will likely become its first African-American president if he assumes that office at the end of his three-year term, as is the custom.

Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick of Newark, N.J., said Gregory's election demonstrated the diversity of the American Catholic Church and signals its coming of age. "I think it's a sign of maturity," he said.

Hilbert D. Stanley, executive director of the Baltimore-based National Black Catholic Congress, said Gregory's election will be a significant boost to the nation's 2 million black Catholics.

"I just think it's going to be a positive message to black Catholics that we now have someone at the table at the highest levels of the church in this country who can express our needs, our concerns," he said.

"So, while I know in this position he has to represent all Catholics in this country, as the pope has said, he has a special calling to be sensitive to black people."

The 14-page social justice document approved yesterday is based on Catholic social teaching and builds on the bishops' pastoral letters on peace and economic justice.

It calls on the faithful to live more simply "in an affluent culture."

And it says America's 61.2 million Catholics have special responsibilities "to welcome the stranger, to combat discrimination, to pursue peace, and to promote common good."

The message of the document, said McCarrick, is "to be a good Catholic, you must look out for your neighbor, and not just your neighbor next door, but for your neighbor a continent away."

Pub Date: 11/18/98

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